Living the dreamSeptember 17, 2023
Originally published in my newsletter of Feb '23
Welcome back! Hope your winter is tolerable. Ice storms in TX have passed for the season . . . I hope. Been out on my bike a bit, which is nice. In the meantime, I want to know: What makes you angry?
My youth wasn’t entirely misspent. Like many of you, I worked a variety of jobs before settling into some version of adulthood. I remember well a woman whose house I was assigned to clean. The state agency I worked for provided services to those in treatment for cancer or had need of someone to pop in and swish a toilet. Another of my glamourous beginnings.
But this woman came with a warning. The lady at the agency told me she’d already run off a few of her would-be helpers. They were ready to drop her from the roster due to complaints from the staff.
I planned to work this job until my college classes started that summer. I’d recently left another job as a machinist, a 9-month stint rife with stories for another missive. My other cleaning clients were sweet, friendly, and appreciated my effort on their behalf. But I didn’t sign up for abuse by anyone, even if she was sick.
On the appointed day, I arrived at her home with much trepidation. Most of the people I worked for were elderly, gentle. When she opened the door, I was met by a stern-looking woman in her fifties. She greeted me curtly and ushered me into the room. I surveyed her turf.
No Dobermans on voice command. That was a plus.
Inside, she had cleaning agents and tools laid out on a tray as if prepped for surgery. I only hoped my deep sigh wasn’t audible. She glared at me and said, “Let’s go.”
I dutifully followed her—in case that Dobie was hiding somewhere—while she gave me a tour of the areas she wanted cleaned and instructions on exactly how she wanted them cleaned. Which products, what tools.
Clearly her expectations were higher than my ambitions.
But I bleached what needed bleaching and scrubbed with only the designated implements. At the end of my two-hour gig at her house, she saw me swiftly to the door. No doubt she was off to find her white gloves for the inspection.
I survived. Made my way through her gantlet.
My rotation with her was every other week. When I went the next time to clean, the routine was the same. She met me at the door and pointed.
Here’s the stuff. There’s the dirt. See ya!
I went about my business, remembering the process from our last encounter. Do this. Don’t do that. Simple if definite instructions.
When my two hours were up, she met me in the hallway and led me to her kitchen.
She had cookies and milk set out on a table. I blinked.
Cookies for me?
Was this a trap?
I scanned for the Dobie.
But she invited me to sit with her and even chatted a bit, asking about my life while I munched. This time, she was friendly and even smiled. I stayed long enough to kill the cookies and left her home.
When the surreal nature of the encounter subsided, I grasped the real dynamics in play.
Then, I got angry.
This lady just wanted her house cleaned. Her way.
She was allotted two measly hours and wanted me to make her home comfortable during her convalescence. I did nothing special for her. I simply did what she asked me to do.
I met with the lady at the agency, who made the assignments. I told her the problem was with the cleaners and not the client. There was no reason this woman should be dropped from the program or considered in any way unreasonable. She just wanted to receive the services promised by the agency.
The agency needed to quit sending people to her home who were lazy.
This woman was battling cancer, and these lazy butts had the hubris to complain about her wanting the work done a certain way and for the full duration.
Even now, I can get a bit emotional about it, and I am so not the emotional type.
I continued cleaning for her until it was time for me to go back to school. Only years later did I have any real sense of the physical disruption she experienced on chemotherapy. I know now there were days getting out of bed was a struggle. Or impossible. She gave me a hug the last time I saw her.
She was thoughtful, kind, and nothing like the woman advertised. I don’t know what became of her. But I like to think that she kicked cancer's butt and went on to enjoy a long, full life.
Maybe she even got that Dobie. Most of them are sweet too.
p.s. Dobermans were originally bred by Louis Dobermann for protection. He was a tax collector.