As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be a maid. I was employed by a famous international maiding-type agency, and was paid piddly squat to polish and empty the homes of the upper classes of debris and rot. I sprayed cinnamon smelling chemicals and tri-folded towels and quarter folded toilet paper rolls (or was it the other way around?) all the while dreaming in my head of the day when I could sit and write and have someone else clean my modest home. I also thought about sex, violence, drugs, celebrities, books I was reading, makeup, my boyfriend (who’s now my husband), and how much I’d love to squeeze and pinch the upper arms of my annoying co-workers.
Most of them were horrid. Some of them were all right, though, and we would flit from one house to the other and I would listen to them talk about their children and their ex husbands and their new boyfriends. They might buy me a Little Debbie and a pack of cigarettes in exchange for being the one to drive to all the houses that day – how I tore up my car with back and forth travel – and I might turn away from their sloppy cleaning habits that involved not lifting up area rugs, just vacuuming around them.
One of them, though. One of these women caused all of us so much pain and trauma that to be partnered with her for the day meant a day spent in a bleach-fumed Hell. Not only was she a tyrannical team leader, double checking floors for vagrant flecks of dust or strands of homeowners’ long glossy hairs, but she was also vile, bizarre, crass, and terribly effluvious.
This woman was stinky. She was whiffy. She reeked. And she proudly acknowledged it. She owned her cysty-rotting smells and trumpeting farts that sailed from beneath her khaki work shorts. This pungency verged oddly with her looks: she was wholesome looking, German stock, long blonde hair put neatly into twin braids every morning. Her face was ruddy, friendly, she was always smiling and laughing. She appeared happy. So the horrors that emanated from her pores and her pants were doubly frightening when held up against her innocent look, like the seemingly innocent Damien or the spooky twins in The Shining. Her name was Mary*, but I’ll call her Evelyn here because I’m a writer and I can name people what suits my fancy.
Every morning, all of the maids would listen to a debriefing of sorts from the manager of the company, a woman I’ll call Janet. Janet was a veteran. She’d cleaned for twenty years. She was college educated and she could make a cesspool sparkle with various potions and sponges and tenacity. I loved and feared that woman. While she spoke, handing out our schedules and routes and informing us of any complaints or compliments from clients, Evelyn would solidly and noisily consume her daily favorite breakfast: McDonald’s Pancakes and Sausage. With a big cup of orange juice. Slurped. Syruped. Salivated over. She would gesture at other maids with her plastic fork, calling out their faults and giving them cleaning advice,
“When you go on to the Smiths? Don’t forget to use a bit of that Borax Mrs. Smith has laid out on her washer-dryer. It works really good on her floors and she always checks behind you. I call her Old Hawkeye.”
Evelyn had a name for every client she cleaned for. Old Hawkeye. Porny Penthouse Man. Mrs. Rich and Lazy. Evelyn was a young woman, maybe around 28 when I worked with her, but she seemed older and wiser than even some of the old women employed at the agency. She was charismatic and funny. I usually laughed at her highly random stories and stating the obvious nicknames. I liked the woman in spite of her putridity.
But wait. I’m not getting soft in the eyes sentimental. She was also awful to be around for any length of time past the five minute morning meetings. The one time I had to work on her team, when her silent (but not deadly – that was Evelyn’s arena) and shy partner called in sick, I was biting back chunks of vomit riding in her Geo before we even left the parking lot.
She started in farting almost immediately.
“Whoo! I’m so glad to get out of there. I’ve been needin’ to fart for a while.” Feeeennnnnnnnnnngggggggggh. “There goes another one. Broooo haaa hhaaa I’m so damn gassy!”
I recall looking out the window in attempted obliviousness and trying to change to subject. I noticed the cross around her neck and asked if she went to a certain church or not.
“Oh, yeah, but they don’t like me any more. I’m too bossy. I don’t really like that pentecostal church anyway, you have to wear skirts and I don’t like it when someone tries to make a woman less than a man, you know?”
I did! I did know! Ooooo maybe we could talk about some meaty philosophical stuff while we cleaned today! Maybe she was normal, after all!
The smell was like animal corpse gas. It stiffened my nose hairs and turned the yogurt and bagel and coffee I’d ingested for breakfast turn to black bubbling sludge in my stomach. Oh, shit.
We made it safely to the first house (Evelyn was a careful, lawful driver), and luckily no one was home. I always hated it when clients were home, they’d either scatter and not acknowlege the fact that you were wiping their toilet bowl or they would engage you in patronizing conversation,
“Do you like being a maid? How long have you done it for?”
I always felt like saying, “Lady. If I had the money to finish college I would not be here on my hands and knees in an ugly green shirt and khaki shorts mopping up your dog’s long tawny hairs and scrubbing out your scabby sink.” Instead, I always said breathily:
“Oh, it’s all right. Gives me time to think. Kind of Zen-like in that way, you know?” All the while hoping that since I’d used the words “think” and “Zen” that they would 1. Know that I wanted to be left alone and 2. Thought I was smart, too smart to be a maid.
But no one was home today. The house was pretty, as most of them were. It was a basement rancher, common in Ohio. It appeared spotless already, but Evelyn marched into the kitchen and started clucking like a fetid hen at the state of things.
“Well, they usually ain’t too messy but looks like they’ve been cooking a lot this weekend….you do the dry. I do the wet here**. Oh. Oooooooooh, man. Oh, hang on. Oh” FFFFFFFFFfflecccccccccht. “Oh, man. I got to get to the bathroom.”
I watched with a mixture of fascination and horror as Evelyn clutched her ample khaki bottom (it trumpeted beneath her stubby hand) and shuffled to the nearby half-bath. As she passed me, she looked at me directly in the eyes and said, “This one. Is going to be a Major. Danger.” and then she nodded once, swiftly, her blonde braids jerking up and down, and then continued her shuffle to the bathroom.
I’m not going to describe what I heard because I’ll leave that up to your very adult, very active, and very astute imagination. You would be correct in guessing that it was thunderous. I don’t know how it smelled because I went outside to ride out the wave and avoid smelling the Major Danger. You would also be correct in guessing that I was thanking Jesus under my breath that I was indeed on “dry” work that day and wouldn’t have to touch any of the bathrooms she had unleashed a “Major Danger” in.
That’s my story today. I could go on but I won’t for your sake.
*Not really. I don’t remember her name. Only her aroma.
** Wet: Bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms. Dry: Bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, etc.