Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Working Life - Part One. Other People’s Toilets

A Working Life - Part One. Other People’s Toilets

This past Spring I completed my first full year of teaching (college composition). It was a rewarding experience and one that solidified my initial feelings that a bad day teaching is better than the best day of cleaning toilets.

I cleaned houses once for a about half-a-year. It was one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had (although not the worst – see later tangent). A lot of kids my age (at the time, early 20s) who did a lot of crank and listened to heavy metal. Everyone always looked grimy and haggard. Dunkin’ Donuts at 4:45 in the morning, waiting for the supply guy to arrive and give us our day’s supply of cleansers and sponges. The pay was terrible because of two assumptions (neither of which originated with us, the workers.). Assumption #1 came from the management who told us that while our hourly pay was low (about a buck above the minimum wage), the owners of the houses we would, like our wait-staff brothers and sisters, be compensated by gratuities. Assumption #2 originates with the actual homeowners (or renters) who felt that the job we did was so grueling, so demeaning, that it was assumed we must be getting well compensated for our work from our bosses. After all, we were Caucasians in an industry dominated by Hispanics. So, between the willing ignorance of management and the ignorance bred of misunderstanding the work-to-pay ratio in this country, we cleaners took home a little less than $300 bucks a week through salary, and about $10 a week in tips (in a good week). Over the course of six months, I raked in about $60. When folks did tip, they barely recognized denominations beyond Hamilton. Somehow, the hedonic fuckwad who slithers over with your $10, over-iced gin and tonic is more deserving of a reasonable recompense than he or she who just spent two hours picking god-know-what off the sides of your bathtub (some sort of blend of mineral salts and human gravy? I don’t really want to know.). All of my co-workers hated the job and hated the customers. The revenge was simple: steal as much as you can possible get away with. I was always too chicken-shit to take anything myself but then again I didn’t have a crystal meth habit to feed. I also didn’t stay there very long. Among other things, the cost of gas to drive from one end of the South Bay to the other was cutting into my already meager profits.

After the initial disappointment of not getting the tips I was promised in orientation, I was burned out by month-six. Usually inertia will keep you working a bad job for years sometimes, but house cleaning is irregular and choppy in scheduling. I would sometimes have three cancellations in a day which was a mixed blessing. It was great because it meant I didn’t have to lug vacuum cleaners (yes, plural), buckets, mops and brooms all over creation, but of course, not workie, not money. A particularly bad/good week might have 80% cancellation. Anyway, there was no “getting used” to the “flow” of the schedule. Sometimes I’d be working from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm, other days, I might have one office cleaning (my favorite gig. Easy. No one around. Usually a longer gig so more pay) and be home by noon.

I wish I had some sexy story to tell you, but I think only our cohort in pool cleaning business get those. Or, it is more reasonable to believe that they might get laid, there is that beach bum, slightly Lebowski-looking fellow with pack of Newports and John Holmes mustache who just seems to be attractive enough to the fabled housewives of Rancho Palos Verdes to allow in for a quick screw. But we house cleaners, girls and boys alike, are a grubby bunch. We smell of bleach and whatever you puked up on to your carpet last night. In other words, no perks. But crank-heads love to clean, and delusions of grandeur come easy to those without a thought-filter to catch all wild shit as if flies from idea to action.

Words to Live by:

“You can never clean someone else’s toilet to their satisfaction.”

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