Other people's messes

For a year, right out of college, I ran a bed and breakfast in Northern Maine. I laugh every time I hear someone say how when they RETIRE, they're going to run a bed and breakfast because I have to tell you, that was the hardest job I've ever had (until motherhood, of course) and I fervently pray that my retirement does not include activities like smiling at racist, sexist a-holes over cinnamon scones that I woke up at 4:30 am to bake just for them.

It was a great job actually, racist and sexist a-holes aside, and my time there taught me a lot about myself. I thought it would be all Walden: I would get to live in nature and read the great books and ponder the meaning of life. Instead, I watched the entire OJ Simpson trial and I got called "Girl" a lot, like it was my name, and I pondered the best ways to remove bodily fluids from bed sheets.

That last part? Was GROSS, and unfortunately, the most informative for my life right now. Cleaning up other people's messes is LOW on my list of favorite things to do. Right below going to the dentist and right above making phone calls to, well, pretty much anyone.

Something happens to you when your job is to make things work for other people, seamlessly, with a smile. To be a duck, body placidly gliding along on top, legs furiously paddling away underneath. To be invisible, flying under the radar because you are just there to serve.

You notice how people treat one another. How one elderly guest pulls out the chair for his wife, while another talks over his. How one wife rolls her eyes behind her husband and then yells at her daughter for rolling her eyes at her.

You notice how people view those of us in the service industry, whose job it is to clean up other people's messes. To pick up their toenail clippings from the bathroom floor (because putting them in the trashcan 6 INCHES AWAY is too hard?!?). To scrub every manner of bodily fluid from their bed sheets (Because they can't use a tissue? Because they forgot their sanitary lady materials? Because they mistook the bedsheets for TOILET PAPER?)?

My least favorite task, for some unknown reason, was clearing every surface in the bathrooms of all dark and curlies. I do not want to estimate how much time I spent staring at white tile, searching for someone else's stray dark and curlies. TOO MUCH, that's how much. If you ever stay in a place of lodging and there are no wayward pubes in the bathroom LEAVE A TIP for the person who was on their hands and knees making sure that's the case, is all I'm saying.

I think about that time a lot these days. Mostly I think about it on Wednesdays because that's when the cleaning lady comes. I don't know what else to call her, actually a rotating band of "her"s, so I call her the cleaning lady in my head, though I know they all have names and families and dreams that don't include scrubbing our toilets for us.

I struggle with this privilege. I can now add this to my list of suburban SAHM cliches: I clean up before the cleaning lady comes and I worry about what she must think of us. I feel guilty that she cleans up other people's messes for a living and I do all I can to tidy and clean before she gets here to make it easier for her. I put a tip in the check but I'm not sure if it ever gets to her.

I know how incredibly lucky I am to have this service, to be on this side of the house cleaning equation.

I think I need to learn their names.


Fran said...

All I can say is "WOW!!" I believe it was the hardest job prior to motherhood. I have only stayed in a B&B for one night and it was lovely but I can see how it would be an all-consuming job as well.
As for your cleaning lady (or ladies as you mentioned a rotation), if you aren't sure they get the tip out of the check, leave it in cash with the check. Or do something else like leave a plate of treats. Every year at Christmas I give the FedEx, UPS and mail persons a bag of treats. I also give them to our trash guys on the last pickup day before Christmas. They smile and say thanks but I didn't realize how they REMEMBER it until a couple weeks ago. I had an old mattress in my garage and I kept forgetting to call and ask for a bulk trash pickup. You have to call by Tuesday and the trash comes on Thursday. I wasn't even sure they would pick up mattresses. I happened to be outside when the truck arrived and so I asked if they picked up mattresses. They said they did. Then I asked if I need to call first and he grinned and said, "Normally you do, but you're the cookie lady." and they took that nasty old mattress right then. Sometimes, it's the little things...
BTW--I will NEVER take for granted the absence of dark and curlies ever again!!

Hillary said...

I keep thinking about getting a monthly cleaning service, but the one time we've had cleaning ladies in -- right before The Lad was born -- I felt so weird about it. I loved having my house super clean, BUT it felt too privileged for this girl who grew up in a trailer. It seemed so strange to have my stuff moved around, subtly out of place. The cleaning ladies might stress me out more than the dirt.

Marianne said...

Love the duck analogy.

Grateful Twin Mom said...

I love that part about being in the service industry that you so eloquently describe with the duck analogy. I'll have to remember that the next time I want to take out my frustrations on my students. I can pay it forward like you mention. Extra tips for "the cleaning lady," and learning their names. Mine's name is Juana.

miyoko said...

wow. well now i know i'm too much of a germophobe to run a bed and breakfast. never really thought about the fluids aspect of that line of work. GROSS. After i read your post i was reminded that in our utility sink were a onesie, pants and one of my shirts all stained with baby poop, as well as a hat stained with swing-fall-faceplant blood. Ah the joys of parenthood. you inspired me to go scrub and wash it up.

i am not even going to there about cleaning up other people's bathrooms. i can't even type about it it gives me the heebie jeebies. when we moved in our current house i was dizzy for about a week from all the uber toxic bleach cleansers i used to remove all previous owners' slime. blech blech blech. I wore gloves but constantly found myself doing the paranoid mom googling - "inhaling bleach breastfeeding" etc.

and yes that duck analogy-- perfect.

Sarah said...

I always check hotel bathrooms for pubes, first thing. How do they GET in the places they get?

Marie Green said...

Would it make you feel better about having a cleaning person if you hired an independent one? Around here, there are many reputable women who all work for themselves. They do a great job, their families love them, and you can pay them (directly) a fair wage and know exactly where your money is going. Also, they use each family's OWN cleaning supplies (and many buy replacements and leave receipts) so that you don't have to worry about just HOW MANY people's toilets has that sponge touched?

It's so weird how having a cleaning person seems so much more personal than, say, having someone mow your yard. Both are services being provided; both are hard work...

We don't have a cleaning person right now, but whoo-boy. It's first thing on my list if I ever return to work full time. (Did you know they clean CAT BOXES too?) (Don't know if I'd feel ok asking them to do that... but then again: no more cat box cleaning!)

Marie Green said...

And when I say "their families love them", I mean the families they CLEAN FOR. Because, OBV, their own families love them. ;)

Astarte said...

I worked as a maid in a hotel when I was in college one summer, and I can only imagine how much harder it would be to have to do *everything* instead of just that one aspect, for that many people. I will never forget the time I went to strip the bed and it looked like a crime scene - what are people THINKING? At least put down a towel, people!!!

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