Sunday, January 27, 2013

Episode VII: Maid (No, seriously. Maid)

On a few occasions, I have overheard people of my parents' and grandparents' generation say that my generation doesn't know how to work and that we expect to get something for nothing. I don't really know if that is true or not. What I can tell you is that for as long as I can remember, I have held the view that work is a necessary part of life. In fact, there are few things as rewarding as supporting yourself and your family with your own labor. I've never expected something for nothing. I've never considered any kind of honest work to be beneath me.

When I was a teenager, I earned money through several informal and temporary jobs such as salvaging old bricks, planting trees, mowing lawns, weeding gardens, roofing, and shoveling snow. A few times, I filled in for a friend of our family from church who cleaned offices on the weekends. I appreciated the opportunity to earn money by working after hours, alone, with nobody breathing down my neck.

By now you've probably figured out that I prefer to work alone. I'll admit that sometimes I don't handle criticism too well, and I like to do things my own way. This is probably because I'm not normal, and I CAN'T do things somebody else's way, although that has not yet been officially diagnosed.

A year or so after getting married, my wife and I were given the opportunity to clean a dentist's office on the weekends. The money was pretty good, and I maintain that we did an excellent job, despite what the nitpicky office manager lady said about lint on the mirrors. That job ended after the same lady convinced the dentist that she would be better at cleaning the office on the weekends than my wife and I. Oh well. The $400 extra dollars per month was good while it lasted. I hope that money was more useful to her than it would have been to a hungry young couple with their first baby on the way.

Around this same time period, in between finishing my bachelor's degree, there was a guy from church who was starting his own cleaning business. I ran into him at the grocery store one night and he was asking me the typical questions that guys in their early to mid-twenties get asked. What are you doing with yourself? Are you in school? Where do you work? What are your long-term goals? Do you have a plan?

I told him that frankly I didn't know what I was doing. I was getting a bachelor's degree in political science, because everyone I ever trusted told me to go to college. I told him that even though I had thought about becoming a lawyer, I was leaning away from it, because I had worked at a couple of law firms, and I knew enough about it to know that it wasn't the type of thing I would be interested in. So, at that point I really knew more about what I didn't want to do than what I did want to do (still true).

He explained the new cleaning business he had started and asked if I would come work for him. He said he wouldn't be able to pay me much, but if I wanted it, the position was mine. Not knowing what else to do, I politely accepted.

I showed up a couple of days later and filled out the necessary paper work. The next night I was given the assignment to go clean an office. I showed up at the appointed time, went inside, found the cleaning supplies, and went to work. I did the bathrooms, emptied the trash, swept, and mopped. I did a thorough job, and it took me a couple of hours. I wasn't too excited about the 12 bucks or so I was going to receive for the job, but I liked the work just fine.

A couple of days later I went into the office so they could give me another assignment. The owner explained that they wanted to try and get into the residential cleaning market, and he asked me if I would be okay with cleaning some houses. Honestly, I wasn't too excited about it. I'm not a fan of going into the homes of strangers. I find the up-close and personal setting a bit uncomfortable, and I'm afraid of dogs. Yappy dogs make me nervous. Big dogs put me on edge. Pit bulls pick up on my fear immediately, and it's never a good experience. Don't try to reason with me. I haven't met a single pit bull owner who hasn't told me that their pit bull would never hurt anybody. I've heard it all before. I can't tell you how many times I've heard pit bull owners say something like, "That's so weird. She's never acted that way around anybody." Well, they act that way around me, so if I must come into your house, put the pit bull away.

So, despite the fact that I wasn't really comfortable with it, I agreed to go clean a couple of houses that day. The first one was one unit in a four-plex. After driving around for an hour looking for a place to park (because the developers in Las Vegas apparently didn't think it was necessary to provide parking spaces for visitors at large multi-family housing complexes), I showed up and asked the guy at the house what he wanted done. He didn't really know. A quick survey of the place explained why. I doubt this guy ever cleaned anything in his life. I spent the next couple of hours picking up underwear, sweeping up week-old cereal spills, scrubbing sinks, and finding places for things I wish I could forget. When I left, the apartment looked completely different from the rat hole it was when I got there. By then I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was only going to be paid about $6 per hour for the disgusting deed I had just done, but I pressed on anyway.

I am aware that cleaning houses is not typically a job that men line up to do, but like I said, I've never been one to think that any kind of honest work was beneath me. Furthermore, I'm not one of those guys whose mom cleaned up after him every minute of every day from the day he was born until the day he moved out on his own and beyond. In fact, my mother worked at a cleaning-supply store for several years, and she taught me all about how to remove soap scum from bath tubs, how to get sticky gunk ('gunk' is a word, I'm sure of it) out of carpet, and how to clean windows without leaving streaks. I have done my own laundry since the age of 10. My wife would be the first to tell you that I know how to clean. If that makes me less of a man, I don't really care. I can't play basketball either. I drink chamomile tea on a regular basis. I am what I am. Whatcha gonna do about it?

So, I wasn't entirely surprised by the experience at the door of the next home I cleaned that day. The house was in a somewhat upper-class neighborhood. It was the type of neighborhood where you would expect people to afford paying other people to clean their homes while they discussed business deals on golf courses or went to lunch with other women who aren't really their friends.  I knew the social situation was going to be a bit awkward, and honestly, deep down I felt a little embarrassed about driving up to this nice house in a nice neighborhood in my crumby little Toyota Corolla to clean somebody's house. I just reminded myself that it was honest work, and I went ahead and knocked on the door.

I don't think I'll ever forget what happened next. A woman comes to the door. Everything on her looks expensive. She looks at me, pauses, stands there with her mouth half open, looks me up and down and says, "Do you even know how to clean?"

You would think that in this day in age when women can do anything a man can do, the opposite wouldn't be such a big deal. Not so. I nearly said what I really wanted to say, but instead I just motioned toward my car and asked, "So, do you just want me to go?"

She said something to the effect that I just wasn't what she expected. Yeah, well it's not what I expected either, lady. I was always an A student. I was fluent in a foreign language by the time I was in second grade. Other kids used to make fun of me for having a big vocabulary. I once got an award for being the outstanding male student in the whole school district. I always thought I'd wind up working in the White House or something, or maybe arguing cases in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But life happened, and here I am on your porch with a mop. Do you want your house cleaned or not?

She eventually let me in and told me what she wanted done. Then she left to go run some prissy rich lady errand. I did a remarkably perfunctory job and left within an hour. Then I went back to the office and promptly resigned. All in all I think I made a grand total of maybe $40 at that job.

As for that idea about no honest work being beneath me? Yeah, that's completely out the window. There are definitely some things I will not do anymore. And if that makes me a bad person, well whatcha gonna do about it?

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