Cleaning House

Adam Lawrence Dyer
4 min readFeb 1, 2023

SOMETIME in the early 1990s I wrote the outline for a musical. I was still entertaining the idea of being the next Cole Porter/Stephen Sondheim and made it a regular habit to fully think through the concept, major plot points and even sketch out some of the numbers for the next great American musical. One of those ideas was about a cleaning woman in an office. As someone who spent much of his early professional life as an Executive Secretary (we weren’t yet called Administrative Assistants), I spent a lot of time after hours with the cleaning crews that came in at the end of the day. In New York in the late 80s early 90s most of them were from Mexico and Central and South America with the odd Eastern European here and there; many of the maintenance folks were black men…the same age and generation as my parents. None of these people were stupid or incompetent regardless of their language skills. They were all working hard to support families and often putting children through expensive schools. They were understandably proud of what they did.

My idea was a story about a woman who cleaned the office of a rising junior executive. Unbeknownst to her, it was the office of her own son. He Americanized his name and fabricated a story about his parents being dead…so his boss and the office didn’t know about his mother…let alone that she was a cleaning woman…let alone his cleaning woman. Basically, both the mother and the son were keeping each other secret from one another.

Mayhem ensues….

I think this story is not unusual in some ways. Many hard-working parents do things that some kids with certain kinds of aspirations might not be super proud of…although they should be. These parents clean, they janitor, they cook, they wait tables, they work retail, they work on assembly lines. And they do it out of love and the belief that if they provide something for their children that can give them a solid education and a belief in their own ability to achieve something, they will have more choices than their parents. This is one telling, out of many, of the American dream. We like this story. Sacrifice, success, dignity, pride, paycheck to paycheck, tough choices…its all there.

It is a shame that with so many working Americans having these stories, more of them aren’t told honestly. The halls of government are increasingly for the…