Cleaning Lady

So here’s something to think about.

We have a cleaning lady at the store, she’s been working for Pat for years, does Pat’s house and the store every week. It’s a big job and she’s paid decently, although not in any way that’s going to make her rich. She’s paid in cash, of course, because she’s from somewhere in South America, though I’ve never bothered to check exactly which country. I do know that she’s been working on getting her citizenship for about 20 years, and that she almost moved home at one point because she needed a hysterectomy. I think Pat may have helped her out, I didn’t ask, primarily because I am distracted and self-involved and don’t pay that much attention to what’s going on with her unless it inconveniences me in some way.

This lady is very soft-spoken and nervous and she gets on all of our nerves because she whispers and winges about when she’s asking for anything. The culture at Patricia Field is hardcore; gays are mean, shit moves fast, we yell to make a point and there is no time for whispering nervousness. So I will admit to being short with her in the past when she was dancing around poorly expressing her needs. I am not the only one, although over time we’ve all gotten used to her manner and we’re not quite as harsh. You just have to take a breath and wait for a second longer until she says whatever it is she needs to say.

Tomorrow is her long-awaited citizenship ceremony and after she is official she plans to go to college. I haven’t asked her what she wants to study (see afore-mentioned self-absorption). She did mention to one of the glamourous girls working in the Patricia Field salon last week that the ceremony was happening and that she might like to get her hair done. The girl wasn’t paying too much attention either and told her she shouldn’t cut her hair because she’s doing labor and sweating and having it down and in her face will get in the way. My latest bff Rebecca, who runs the salon, overheard this and was mortified and saddened. She pulled our lady aside and told her that she would make her hair beautiful any time she wants, free of charge.

So our lady cleaned the house and the store in the morning (dusting, vacuuming, buffing the floor, wiping down a million surfaces, numerous bathrooms, etc) and came back in late afternoon for a blowout. When Rebecca started shampooing her she became emotional and shaky, and when her hair was finally finished (smooth and parted on the side with a soft curl on the ends) and we all stood around her telling her how beautiful she looked (which she did), she put her face in her hands and cried. She admitted it was the first time she’d ever gotten her hair professionally done.

Julie marveled, “Imagine that…crying over a blow-out…” It blew our minds.

Watching her look at herself in the mirror with wet eyes reminded me of how spoiled I’ve become. I’ve been feeling sorry for myself all week over some relatively minor shit in my personal life, so I can be found at my job whining into my new smartphone while Rebecca curls my hair and a person I just see as the cleaning lady most of the time mops around my designer boots. Sometimes if I’m really in mode I might not even notice that she’s there until she asks to get paid, then I sigh and get out of the salon chair and stomp to my desk like it’s really hard work.

I should shut the fuck up already. I’m a white girl born in America with an educated upper middle class upbringing and a whole support system of friends and family. Our country, and our lives, with all of their flaws, are still better than many. And it’s my thought that because we are born into that privilege it is our responsibility to pay attention to the people around us who may have to work harder than we do to get half as far. It’s probably the least we can do.

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