Sunday, February 3, 2008

You asked for it, you got it

Before our town was lassoed by President Eisenhower’s freeway system, Highway 30 ran right through Pocatello and kept on going. Travelers on their way to California or Salt Lake City were forced to slow down to 25 miles per hour, passing in front of the college campus and a row of motels with names like the Lamplighter or the Sunset.

Starting when I was 13, I spent three summers working as a chambermaid at the Sunset. Each June I worked nearly every day cleaning the efficiency apartments that the students rented for the school year. After that I had regular tourist rooms to clean the duration of the summer. In spite of the minimum pay and hard work, I was able to bankroll enough to buy record albums and fabric to sew new clothes. After three months, the drudgery actually made me look forward to fall and school’s start.

Cleaning the tourist rooms had a mind-dulling routine: strip the beds, empty the trash, remake the beds, gather up the soggy towels, scrub the tub, sink and toilet, hand mop the bathroom floor, dust, vacuum and open the drapes. The only job I’d had prior to this big break was babysitting and it became a rite of passage of sorts. In my naiveté working in a motel where it wasn’t uncommon to find underwear left behind in the sheets, I was at once a little shocked and curious. A cardinal rule for us was to knock first before entering a room even if we were certain the occupants had checked out. So one morning I knocked but apparently didn’t time my wait, walking in on an embarrassed couple.

I could ease the boredom and lack of air conditioning by carrying a transistor radio from room to room. Saying I’d gone to California and learned to surf during that first summer seemed like the best way for those freshman boys to notice me, or at least that’s what I thought the Beach Boys were telling me as I swabbed someone else’s toilet. Summer of 1966 I played the bad boys of the British invasion as loud as I could while I looked down those same toilets. My last summer at the Sunset I spent planning to hitchhike to Haight-Ashbury. I knew just where I was going to get the flowers for my hair.

During the month-long blitz to return the student apartments in the basement to their semi-original state, I felt like a miner or a mole, never seeing the light of day. This was no easy gig and we took bets on who had the worst place to clean that day. Endless bags of trash were filled and lugged up the stairs to the dumpster. The kitchen area took the longest time to clean followed by the bathroom. Luckily I only remember a couple of things that haunt me about those apartments: they were small, painted a fleshy-pink color, and had only one basement size window. One day I won the coin toss and was cleaning cupboards while my friend cleaned out the refrigerator. The shelves were usually empty and just needed to be sponged. They ran to the ceiling and even the top one couldn’t be reached except by standing in the sink. So I’m standing in the sink straining to reach the crumbs and mouse droppings when I feel something hard under my sponge. I pushed it toward me until I could pick it up with my other hand. As I turned it over in my palm I realized that I was holding someone’s toenail. Not just a clipping which would have been bad enough but an entire brittle, yellow nail from a big toe, which had been safely kept on the top shelf next to the corn flakes and maple syrup.

From my chambermaid days, I learned that life demands you work hard for your living, that there will always be dirty toilets, and that music can make anything better.

Like the old Toyota commercial, "Toyota. . .you asked for it, you got it!' this is my take on Sunday Scribblings' promp foul.


myrtle beached whale said...

Great post. I am sure that maids find some amazing leavings. I would have to wear a decontamination suit to touch anything in an unmade hotel room. Even as a guest I strip the bedspread and never, ever lay on it. I have been told by reliable sources that they are never, ever washed. I have also seen what a black light reveals in a hotel room. Foul.

Julie Schuler said...

I was a hotel maid in college! Once I found a fecal contamination right in the middle of the bedspread! And I'm not talking about a little smear, either. The pay was terrible and the work would break your back! People are such filthy animals!

keith hillman said...

Better be careful what I leave in hotel rooms in future! Great post, I really enjoyed reading it.

Marianne said...

Oh Yargh!!!
I know I've had jobs that seriously... I don't have much recollection of.... the big old block out!

Loved the line... you knew where you were getting the flowers for your hair :^) (but you knew I'd love it, right?)

Chris said...

Once again your life stories draw me in and make me ponder the eternal question -- if you were stranded on an island who would you take -- with little doubt it would be you if only to never miss even one of your tales. This one is richly written. I have a mundane job and music definitely gets me through the days.

Old Wom Tigley said...

I really enjoyed reading this account. The toe nail cracked me up.. I did laugh at the thought of that. Jane said that was the kind of thing I would have done. I used to clip my toe nails and leave them in a match box just so Jane would find them.. ho! she would go mad at me.. yet she fell for it many a time. Hard work and music... I think you are right it can go hand in hand. A lot of factories here in England would play the rabio through big speckers for the workers.. not to relieve the boredom but the thought the workers would work harder.
I enjoy your writing today..

anthonynorth said...

A (toe)nail-biting memoir there :-) Everyone should have a go at this kind of job. Nothing teaches the work ethic better.
But it's so nice to move away from it.

Julie Marie said...

I love this, absolutely love it! What an excellent slice of life. You are a good writer.