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.