Sunday, December 16, 2012

Last Cleaning on the 14th Floor

Today I clean the Anthony’s for the last time.  I wrote a little bit about them in the Good Neighbors essay.  I’ve learned over the years that the sense of loss at these farewells creeps in quickly and is stronger than I would expect.  I used to say goodbye to friends as though they were going off on a weeklong trip and we would be seeing each other again soon, which cloaked the parting in a festive air of liberation.  If a friend was leaving I was looking forward to seeing how upcoming adventures would change and invigorate them.  In the case of customers the relationship sometimes ended because they were moving into a retirement home where housecleaning was included in the deal, and I felt frankly relieved to shed responsibility.  As much as I love my customers, I am always happy when a work obligation, no matter how well rewarded when fulfilled, is removed from my life.  I float on the anticipation of freedom that will come with extra time and energy and look forward to new opportunities that I will be able to explore.

The Anthony’s are from the beginning of my second wave of customers when I went back to work after a three year break to take care of my son.  They all came to me through Liz Hunt, a friend and neighbor from when we lived near the Governor’s Mansion.  To tell the truth I really don’t feel up to writing about all this, which is ironic since it has been one of my fantasies ever since I started cleaning.  Even when I worked as a server on the salad bar in Balentine’s Cafeteria I spent hours thinking about what how I would entertain an audience of other food service people with insightful and humorous observations about the job of feeding the public.  So here I am taking one of the first well deserved steps toward retirement from a very fulfilling life cleaning other people’s homes and facing the fact that I’m not sure I can do this (write about it) now that the time has come.

I guess I am like my customers who appreciate me when I don’t come even though it might be an inconvenience; when they do a job I would normally be doing they remember why they hired me to do it in the first place.  Among many other things they remember the patience required to complete the details that will go unnoticed by casual observers, but add up to a home that feels orderly and well cared for.  As I go back and forth between this essay and washing my own dirty dishes I wish someone else would tell my story, or that I could tell it to them and they would present it in coherent prose that doesn’t put the reader to sleep or make them cross eyed with incomprehension.  I have yet to read an account of a servant who has enjoyed the depth of friendship that has benefited me for the last 27 years among my customers.  I see so much advertising about employees being members of a corporate family and think how lucky I am to have real intimate and honest partnerships with every one of my customers.  We trust each other, tolerate each other, sometimes we get irritated with each other and barely keep from striking out in anger.  We experience in the limited amount of time that I’m in their house most of the emotions that are associated with home and family, in the sanctuary of the family.

I wish I knew how to shape a story to convey the sense I have gained over the years that a house really is a sanctuary for its inhabitants.  Even if people don’t have altars in corners with candles and pictures of saints or loved ones, there are relics of special bonds to loved ones throughout the home.  No one has more opportunities to handle these brittle icons of hopes and memories than the housecleaner and, if they are lucky enough to be able to visit and share stories with the customer, the various bones and images are literally brought to life, infused with the history and aspirations of the owners.

So today I go to the Anthony’s, who moved from their big old house in a historic downtown neighborhood of shady streets and progressive families mixed in with a few remaining low rent rooming houses, into a 14th floor unit in a new high rise building.  They can see their old neighborhood from the floor to ceiling windows in the new condo, as well as the highway leading south to the beach.  At night they look down at moving lights on the streets and see the lights stacked in windows of all the other tall buildings of our growing city center.  Last spring I watched the sun set, the bottom of the great orange circle touching the distinct line of the horizon, and stood transfixed at the western window watching it …now here is a problem.  How do I describe the motion.  I have to stop because I cannot think of a word that contains the deliberation of movement that impresses me with such a view of the sunset.  It reminds me of a dancer making a deliberate, pageant like exit from the stage, gliding with perfect control not a millisecond too soon, into the wings.  This is the impression I got from watching that one sunset from their west window, followed by the appearance in the darkness of Venus and Jupiter like two jewels suspended in the fresh sea of night.

Well, I suppose it is now evident that I would bring romantic notions to any job or situation.  I guess what’s important to me are the people who can live with that, the customers who have kept me over the years are the ones who could put up with a woman who sees magic in everything and looks for love in every nook and cranny.  All this romance can be very distracting.  It fans the flames of emotion and leads to a lack of self control.  What I’m getting at here is that my customers have been heroically patient with my habit of showing up later and later and taking longer and longer to complete tasks.

This morning I am calculating for the last time how late I can arrive and still have plenty of time to finish before they get home.  I can probably get away with 11am; there would be time for 30 minutes of rest, or time wasted and I could be leaving by 5:30.  Their son and daughter in law are arriving tonight from Taiwan, so there’s no telling what their schedule will be.  What time do flights from the other side of the globe usually arrive?  My first guess is late in the evening.  I want to make brownies before leaving but only half of the dishes are washed and I’ve got that funny feeling in my chest.

I went to work yesterday with the intention of working only two or three hours to hold a customer over till I could come for a full cleaning- I wanted to be in good shape for the big final cleaning at the Anthony’s today, but of course I got intoxicated on the after party dirt in the Hat house (they have a collection of hats hanging in the breakfast nook) and ended up rushing through to finish in 4 ¼ hours.  I still must take my dog for a walk and take a quick bath.  I know I will need 30 minutes in the bed before I leave just to keep the shaking down.  Brownies would be so nice.  But with an hour left before time to leave they will have to wait.  I can’t rush anymore.  I can’t fit things in the way I used to, like spreading light or peanut better a little bit farther.  My body rebels at the least expectation of hurrying through life.