Monday, March 17, 2008

why you should always cover that sneeze*

I just realized that I've been doing this for a couple of years and yet I've never written much about how I spent ten years of my life. And I know that y'alluns are simply slavering like hounds to hear about the fast paced, exciting world of cleaning mucus off television screens, so here goes._________________________

The first job I got as a maid I got by literally pounding the pavement.

I was living with the Dishrag at the time. We had just discovered I was pregnant, and so in the grand tradition of useless boyfriends everywhere he promptly quit his paying job and devoted himself to his 'music career'. I had just been let go from my own promising career as a sandwich maker at Arbys, and since nobody looked like they were going to pay the bills my pregnant ass hit the bricks.

I walked from 52nd and Powell Boulevard all the way down to 82nd, stopping occasionally to cry, light up another smoke and take a hit off my inhaler. By the time I hit 82nd I simply had no pride left. I was hitting everyplace. I didn't care if I had no idea what the place produced or if I could do it; I applied. Gas stations. Beauty salons. A place that sold Mexican pottery and bottle rockets out of a van in a field. Everywhere.

This is not to say that the jobs weren't out there. Every time I sat down to rest at a bus shelter a car would pull up, and I'd have to turn down an offer of temporary employment. Sometimes my prospective employer was so eager to take me on that he stayed alongside me as I walked, and tried to negotiate a price. Nothing says 'chin up, little buckaroo!' like being followed by an undercover cop who simply cannot believe that you aren't a prostitute, while he desperately tries to trick you into naming a sex act and quoting a price.

I was pretty damn footsore by the time I walked into the lobby of 'D' motel on 82nd and lit up a smoke (back then it wasn't considered bad form to smoke in a job interview, and besides, I was kinda past hope at this point.) I was sniping a handful of matches out of a bowl on the counter when the manager came out of his apartment. I gave him my 'looking for a job' spiel...and be damned if the guy didn't hand me an application and tell me to come back the next day. Quickly regaining my savoir faire, I laughed in his face.

Part of that was because he had about 30 of those small pink plastic curlers stuck all over his remember those? I could smell perm solution or something going on too. I had no idea what to think of this. So I enquired, tactfully, 'Whats with all that shit in your hair?' and he just smiled and told me he was styling it. It ended up looking like this:
I know because I did come back the next day, and I was hired. For some reason.

This place was pretty typical low-end lodging. It just missed being a hotsheet place, and we tried to keep the prostitution down, but we didn't attract many vacationing families either. Mostly depressed salesmen, people bumped off their flights, and criminals of various kinds. Working at this place was a real education.

Maid work is not a skilled profession, nor does it take any particular smarts or even a working knowledge of English. It is a great job for people who are down on their luck or have problems with authority- both of which described me- since you operate under minimal supervision for the main part of the day and you don't have to maintain much of an appearance beyond 'being clothed'. All you need to do is show up for work and do it. And that suited me down to the ground.

Most of the women I worked with spoke using that hard Oregon twang that says 'I went to Eagle Crick high school but I never gradjiated.' Most were divorced. A few were married. Some of them were working a second-income job, but most of the married women were sole support for a family and an alcoholic or disabled spouse. Disability, Unemployment or Welfare supplemented their income. It was standard for their hours to be scheduled so that they still qualified for a full grant with medical and food stamps, a practice which can get a place shut down but was nonetheless common. (After I had my daughter I played this game too. It really helped me get out of the poverty hole, and I owe those employers a tribute of thanks.)

My manager, 'C' was a really good guy. He ran the place like a charity, truth be told; anyone with a sob story could get a break. His useless nephew worked there or pretended to; mainly what he did was wander around stoned, bother the prostitutes out on the side street and pretend to paint parking lines. The maintenance guy spent most of his time with his head over the tank of the lawnmower huffing fumes. He was just out of military jail for drug trafficking. He was also an acidhead and was completely in love with me, not that those states were mutually necessary but there ya go.

One of our maids was the sweetest, chirpiest, nicest little drunk with the best work ethic you ever saw; the designated 'pet old lady' that every place I ever worked had. These poor things were usually widows living on Social Security, barely able to crip along behind their carts. They always kept one of their chemical bottles topped up with bourbon or vodka. They were given an easy string...usually on the first floor down at the end of the building in what they called the 'smokers'. Every month a couple of the younger girls would come in and give the smokers a thorough going over so we could keep our 'A' rating. (The 'smokers' were the cheap rooms, and the customers who rented them weren't the complaining type.)
My head maid was living under an assumed name and identity because her ex was stalking her. A couple of times he found her. She came in so beat up one morning that we called the police and made her give a report. The rest of us were on the same loser hit parade, down to the new hire: pregnant, unmarried, living with a drug-addled 'professional musician'.

Surprisingly this place did not see the kind of spectacular rock-star messes that the more expensive places I worked at did. We did see more than our share of weirdos, though. We had one nice little old man move in and decide he wanted to die there. A couple of U-Haul vans showed up one day with his entire collection of sparkly evening gowns. He liked sparkly. He could be found wandering around in the parking lot on a nice evening, dragging his wheeled oxygen bottle behind him, smoking an unfiltered camel as he tottered along in one of his pretty dresses, wearing the worlds biggest gold bar mitzvah pumps. He'd wave and smile. Nobody had any idea what he was supposed to be dying of, but he was convinced he was, and he liked us for some reason. After he left the sheetrock had to be stripped off the studs and all the bedding, linens and curtains thrown away. The carpet-you don't wanna know.

Back then the customers we hated to see were the Japanese businessmen. Oregon was being purchased by the Japanese at the time, and the little sapsuckers were everyplace. Every single one of them smoked like a fiend and lied about it (presumably to get a better room)...rotten, compost-smelling cigarettes with a picture of a bird on the package. Not even the most desperate smokers would bother to filch one. With the smoking came the coughing, and with the coughing came the wads of snot. For some reason the television screen was a favorite place to leave these particular souvenirs from overseas. It was really horrible. I mean, a television screen way up high on a wall-mounted arm is the last place you expect to run into something ooky, and yet you'd be dusting along and bliiiiiiikkkkkk, ah geeziz shit you've smeared a big old wad of snot across the glass and there it is, dangling and swinging from a string like a horrible cave worm. I said fuck it and started dusting with toilet sanitizer, even though it took the fake wood finish off the plastic.

Even worse were the pipe smokers, the ones who smoked Borkum Riff. I remember taking mattresses out to the dumpster, upholstered chairs, innumerable sets of curtains, simply because there was no getting rid of that horrible vanilla stench AT ALL, not back then. What the fuck can this garbage have been doing to their lungs? Wreaking a horrific karmic payback, one hopes.

The worst of all? Pimps. I have never met up with any other creature in my life as filthy, nasty and downright disgusting as a pimp. And I mean the oldschool meaning of the word; a guy who ran a string of whores. For all their money and flash, these guys were vile. They had a signature funk repetoire too.

Every single surface where an ass could rest or a hand could be placed was coated with a foul, freaky brown combination of grease, nicotene, wine, cigarette ash, various bodily secretions and hair. The tub. The mirrors. The walls. EVERYWHERE. It was like Mark Trails Nature Journal-'the presence of the Pimp is given away by the distinctive and uniform coating of filth which adorns his surroundings.' I don't think any of them ever figured out what toilet paper was for; they left ass stripes on the sheets, the bedspreads, on wadded-up shirts in the bathroom behind the door, on the hems of the curtains...they pissed in the wastepaper baskets and in the beds, there was food smeared everywhere, ashtrays dumped in the dresser drawers....and the sons of bitches ALWAYS STOLE THE TOWELS. These habits crossed all racial and national barriers. It never varied. Not in the lousiest place I ever worked at, not at the classiest. Pimps are the vilest form of life on the face of the earth.

Speaking of pimps, this is the place I was working when I was shot at.

All you really have to do to advance in the ranks at a motel is keep the thievery down to a minimum and continue to show up on time. Soon I was head of housekeeping, which meant a raise and a whole bunch of keys to keep track of. It also meant that I was in charge of rousting. To this day I have hard calcium deposits on the first two knuckles of each hand. Those came from rapping loudly on solid doors. I went around at 10:00 am and again at 11, knocking authoritatively, waking up the profoundly partied out and telling them it was time to get the fuck down the road.

Everyone had to check out by 11: 30. If your shit was still in the room after that time, we put a steel case over the doorknob called a 'lockout' and you got charged for another day. In order to get your crap, you had to pay up. My job was to inspect these rooms for valuables and evidence of illegal goings-on, make a report, and attach the lockout. You can see what kind of potentially dangerous situation this could be.

On this one occasion I was doing my first 'wake up' run down the line. When I knocked on the door of this particular room I heard what sounded like someone hitting the other side of the door with a rolled up magazine-THWACK THWACK THWACK THWACK- and figured "Ok, well they're up," and moved on. I came back later to clean the room, and thats when I noticed the four shiny new indentations on the inside surface of the door.

Yeah, I freaked. I also showed up for work the next day.

Anything that was left behind and remained unclaimed for 90 days went to the maids. We'd put sticky notes with our names written on them on the items in storage and if we still wanted them after the time was up we'd flip a coin. Of course, if anything of an illegal nature happened to fall into our clutches it never made it as far as storage, with the exception of the occasional hand gun. People were always leaving guns behind. We'd call 'C'. He'd put on a pair of gloves and come pick it up and put it in the office safe. The police didn't like us much (being scum of the earth motel employees and all), and...well, yeah, fine, most of my co-workers had warrants out. Anyway nobody wanted anything to do with fingerprints on guns.

It became clear early on that there were two main stereotypes associated with motel maids. The first was that they're included in the price per night. It wasn't that way. Maid work is hard work, and most maids are there to earn an honest paycheck. Anyway, the last thing you felt like doing was giving one of the pigs you just cleaned up after a little play. I have only worked one place where the maids tricked, and as soon as that became clear I left (although therein lies a tale, lemme tell ya). This is not to say that we were not a fun loving bunch; any given group of maids is rastier and ranker by far than the scurviest, saltiest restaurant crew you've ever worked with.

The younger women were tough, if nothing else, hanging on by their teeth and fingernails to keep their kids fed. A lot of the older women had come up the hard way...cut firewood, picked apples, worked as laborers in the shipyards, turned tricks in logging towns on the coast. Maid work for them was nothing; it was easy money, the best job they'd ever had. We younger girls would start bragging about our mileage and they would not only shut us up, they'd leave us slack-jawed. These were the first older women I'd ever met who not only admitted to having had a wild youth, but were proud of it.

Let me return to that 'honest paycheck' issue. Earning honest money is a point of pride with maids. These are women who have difficult lives for the most part, but who make the decision to take the high road, even when it means cleaning up after a suicide. That honestly describes most of the maids I worked with. Of course, so does 'former inmate', 'addict', and 'all six of my kids have different fathers'. As well as 'sticky fingers'.

Which brings me to the second, and unfortunately true stereotype: maids are thieves.
Yup. Lots of them are. And the ones who thieve keep the stuff they steal and show it off to each other like trophies. It's weird. Put your valuables in the office safe. Maids make minimum wage. If you trash your room, bet your bottom dollar that somethings going to get ganked.

On a lesser rung of the same ladder, most maids will go through your shit while you're gone. I did.** It started out as part of my job when I did lockouts, and I returned to it every now and then just for something to do. Why? Sheer nosiness. Information, too.

That's one of the unspoken-but-understood parts of the job...everyone reacts in horror to the very suggestion of going through a strangers belongings, but it is expected that you will. In defense of that I'll say that it's often very good to know what you're dealing with when you have a long-term guest, because long term guests in low-end lodging are often shady characters. If you want to keep the police on your side, you contribute information. Word gets around that you co-operate and some of the criminal traffic drops off too. Thats life in the big shitty.

Which is not to say that we really do it for that reason because we don't. Oh yes. We not only go through your shit, we compare notes and laugh at you behind your back, too. Hiding your double-ended dildo under the mattress is fooling nobody, Rev. Miller. We make the beds, after all.
Yes, you never forget the first time you tug a bottom sheet out from between the mattress and box spring and it brings a vaseline-smeared vibrator flying out with it, and same hits you in the leg. And turns on. And lies on the rug going 'RRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrr' while you hop and flap and go EW EW EW EW EW. You know what happens then? I make your bed, and your little buddy ends up on your pillow.
Have a nice stay.


*and now for the answer to todays question 'why you should always cover that sneeze': because if you don't you risk getting window cleaner tipped into your bottle of japanese nasal spray.
hey, respect is a two-way street.

Of course, if you happened to have a bag of weed, I pinched out of it. You bet I did. Are you going to complain? No you aren't, you lawbreaker you. By the way, I dipped into your painkillers too. Lock your suitcases, people. You're dealing with minimum wage workers here, and the swankier the establishment, the more they resent you. You'll be leaving a tip whether you choose to or not, in any event.


  1. Sing it, sister! I can tell you that the high end trade is not much different. High end trade? there's an oxymoron!

  2. I was head of housekeeping at the Hilton Hotel in Portland, Oregon. I know. Oh, I know.

  3. Unbefrickinlievable.

    I love it when you blind side me with these gritty treks down memory lane. Your amazing descriptions and insightful recollections transported me into that underbelly of society that we all try to avoid. Awesome.

    Speaking of renting a room I stayed at a Motel in Grand Forks NoDak all weekend and let me tell you..for two 5 star germophobes this is no easy feat. If only I could learn to hover.

    The first thing we do is hose down the remote because we all know what people are doing and watching in their rooms EEWW..
    but now I have to worry about the screen too?

  4. Wooo hooo I was reception shift leader at the Kensington Hilton.
    We are like Hilton twins :-).

    I wouldnt have missed it for the world Donn , I sure got to meet some interesting people with some rather creative attitudes to getting along in life :-)

  5. that is the one job i never had...i don't know why really...just never even applied...i guess i figured i cleaned up after everyone else when i got home and didn't want to do it all day AND all night...however i was a private housecleaner for this uppity family when i was young and stupid...they were slobs!

  6. see now, i read this and i think "wow, what a tough woman," and "ew gross gross gross gross gross," and "i will never make a mess in a hotel room again." i have those thoughts, but what i really want to know is: what did you have to do to get yourself fired froom Arby's???

  7. I think that there just might be a pimp college where they all learn to be pigs. Or just a seminar kind of makes you wonder who teaches it. Dr. Phil perhaps?
    I always clean my room and straighten up when I rent a room, its just good manners. And tip? yes yes I do.

  8. Yes, fired from Arby's? Where is that story? But thaks for all the lines.
    I had a really good contract one year and splurged on a fancy NYC vacation, with a nice room in a fancy hotel. Yes, things ended up missing from there too. (no, I didn't leave anything under the matress).

  9. baron von coppens: so I shouldn't tell you about the handle on the bathroom door, anything on the nightstand including the switch on the lamp, or just beneath the rim of the sink, huh. because that would make you paranoid, huh. or what regularly happens on those pieces of furniture that stand about hip high? or how the bedspreads only get stripped once a month, or....

    beast: you know the Hilton wasn't a bad gig. i liked the calibre of person they hired. what chased me out was the trade union. what a damn racket that was.

    daisy: ive done private housekeeping too! i was family was lovely. but thats definitely an exception to the rule, i know.

    cb: i got fired from Arbys for exchanging one of our sandwiches for one of the ice cream cones at the baskin-robbins next door. that was the spoken reason. actually what I got fired for was busting the slutty married manager (who was cheating on her husband with the falling down alcoholic night manager) french kissing the night crew leader (a teenaged boy to her 35 yrs) back by the deep sinks.

    gale: most visitors are very nice like you. but if you leave a tip, leave it under the pillow. if you leave it on the dresser the maid will never see it; the floor manager will scoop it first.

    joeVegas: thats right, you're in the trade too! you ever worked out on the floor? it am GRITTAY.

  10. Can I have my gat back please?

    and my weed and pain killers.

    the double ended 4speed dual action ass master 3000 belongs to a friend can I have that back too?

  11. Those pimps should have been stealing those little mini soap bars.

    How did I end up under Knudsen again?

  12. ew, ew, ew snotwads. fucking EW. I love how you told me about the dildos and whatnot, but never the phlegm chunks. SIIIIIIIIICK.
    What's funny, is waitressing in farm country, you saw a lot of the ol farm boys hock dips or loogies out into their empty bowl/plate/water glass. Fucking crass. Or the gum/booger under the plate rim.

  13. knudie: no. finders keepers. *shoots out streetlights, teases neighbors cat with 'vibrating mousie'*

    mj: destiny.

    SSA: used dildoes are ookier than snotwads. it says so in this book here *displays copy of 'DIANETICS'*

  14. Me again...some folk now leave the tip inside the pillow case because the only poor bugger who'll find it there is the lowly maid.And she's the most deserving.

  15. this story makes me glad i don't have any money to stay anywhere.

  16. I didn't know that about pimps. Interesting.