Thursday, March 25, 2010


When money got real tight, (I am not sure when it was loose) I panicked and I knew I had to get a part time job. I also knew that I would have to do this job when my husband was home, so he could watch the girl's, as we could not afford childcare. I thought about waiting tables, and quickly remembered how I had tried that before. In Southampton, at a restaurant on Main Street, that my friend was managing. It was also my hangout on my jaunts home from NYC. I was laid off from my job, and collecting unemployment. My friend was willing to pay me under the table. My first day of waiting tables was my last. Someone needed ketchup, and tugged at my apron strings from behind me, while I was taking orders at another table. Let's just say that I didn't give off the impression that I was willing to accomodate this particular customer. I was immedeately put upstairs into the office, to do the books, and keep my distance from paying customers.
OK, so waiting tables was out. I considered working at our local hospital at night, but questioned wether I could still carry out my daily duties on no sleep. I saw an ad in the paper. Housecleaners wanted. I called. The owner of the company was looking for "professional" cleaners. What did that even mean? I knew how to clean. I cleaned my house everyday, for free. I talked him into it, and he said, "he had a good feeling about me". I got the job.
You think that I would have been happy. You think that I would have been excited to begin earning money that we so desperately needed. I was not. I felt humiliated, and I felt filled with dread. I felt ashamed. I didn't want a soul to know about this. I made the decision to do this because it was necessary, but inside, I felt that cleaning someone else's home was beneath me.
When I worked in Manhattan, my boss at the time had a housecleaner. Her name was Wanda. She lived on like, 199th Street, somewhere so high up, into the Bronx, and so alien to me. A foreign country. A place I had never been. She was extemely ugly, and short. Her teeth were awful. She almost resembled one of those pug dogs. Her eyes bulged out of her head like that. She cleaned my boss's apartment, and did all of her laundry, and ironing. Even put the stuff away. If you even mentioned to Wanda that you had a problem, or didn't feel good, she would make everyone stop what they were doing, and gather into a circle, and make us hold hands, and pray to Jesus. I thought she was nuts.
 She cleaned slowly. She was being paid hourly, and she really took her time. Some days she left when I was leaving, and I would see my boss pay her. Cash. A lot of it. More than I had made that day. Way more. It dawned on me that I was the idiot. I was working at a fever pitch pace all day, dealing with clients, and sewers, and design problems. Making phone calls to our cashmere producers in Italy, who spoke no English, and I spoke no Italian. Dealing with fittings, and running back and forth from the garment district, to clients' mammoth apartments on Park Avenue, delivering their gowns in time for another Hampton weekend, and I made less than Wanda, the pug??
My first housecleaning job was nerve racking, to say the least. It was a cabin, on a dirt road, beside a stream. I approached the house, and I swear to God, I thought for sure, this was where I was going to be raped, and left for dead. I found the key, and entered. It was cute. Someone's vacation cabin. It was dusty, and there were spiderwebs, and dead bugs on the floor. I had to clean it, in preperation for the owner's summer. There was an envelope of cash on the table left for me to collect. My "boss" said that I was to keep half of what was in there. He got the other half. There was $200.00 in the envelope. It took me an hour and a half to clean that tiny cabin. It would have taken me less time, but I felt I had to do a really good job. At least a hundred dollar job. I got into my car, and drove away thinking, I just made $100.00 for 90 minutes work. That is more than nurses make hourly. That is so much money. Cleaning people's homes beneath me?? What was I thinking? This was going to be great!! I could clean houses, make extra cash, A LOT OF IT, under the table. This was a dream come true.
Except....not all people trust a housecleaner to be alone in their home, and insist on being there, when you clean. The first time this happened to me, I felt a little bit awkward, but I could do it. I gathered up my supplies, and knocked on the door. The woman opened up the door. I gave my best smile, introduced myself, and proceeded to talk to her. I noticed something strange. She didn't look at me in the eye, once. She interrupted me, and told me how she liked her house cleaned, what she wanted me to really pay "special attention" to, and told me, very sternly, "start upstairs". I was actually offended. I realized at that moment, she thinks that I am beneath her. She thinks that I am just the cleaning lady. She would be more willing to talk to the person next to her on line at the supermarket, than me. I was here to clean. I kept thinking that she must think that I am dumb, or uneducated. She must think I live in a trailer, or that I am a single Mom, or maybe I have a loser of a husband. I remember becoming so angry. I thought, she doesn't know who she is dealing with. She doesn't understand who I am. This isn't what I want to do. This is what I have to do. For now. It wasn't always like this, and I hold onto the hope that it won't always be.
I remember leaving her home that evening. She "loved how I cleaned". She threw me an extra $20.00. She said she only wanted me to clean her home, from now on. She asked me how long I had been doing it. I lied. I told her that I had done it for quite some time. I told her that the money was just too good, that the hourly wage I made was so much, it was a no brainer. I had just cleaned her home, and my take was $140.00, plus she gave me an extra $20.00, and I made that money in less than three hours. Her eyes popped out of her head. She worked full time. She commuted Monday through Friday, had her one child in day care, and all of a sudden, she looked envious of me.  Me.  The " cleaning lady".
I had a lot more experiences like that. People talking down to me. People feeling sorry for me. I even cleaned houses while I was pregnant. The looks on people's faces when I showed up to their doors. Oh god, they were priceless. But they tipped me even more. I guess out of pity. I didn't mind. I took it. If it made them feel better, great. It sure made me feel better. 
I enjoyed being away from my kids for a while. I enjoyed being paid so highly for doing a job that no one likes to do. Scraping strangers fecal matter off their toilet's isn't a dream, don't get me wrong, but it was no worse than my friend Nichols' job. She was a nurse, in the ER, and the stuff she told me she had to do, was out of control. This was nothing compared to that. Nothing.
And I thought Wanda was nuts.

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