.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wash-Day Red Hands

I am one of those persons who loves to do laundry.

It's an odd pasttime to admit to, I'm sure, but you see, I have this almost preternatural need for tidying up.

It calms me.

Whenever I have had a tiff, or am feeling a little antsy, all I have to do is to start shelving books, or taking the smudges off my computer monitor, that I feel instantly chipper.

(I once read Laura Bush spent a lot of her time washing her shelves down with Clorox, but don't expect me to go, "that's my kind of gal!" here, because that's just freaky)

Freud explains, as the Brazilians say.

There must be something in me that needs the psychological therapeutic need to erase stains, perhaps to make things around me outwardly glisten, almost as if in doing so, I am erasing that momentary smudgey flare-up.

So, since neither of my parents have any desire to do the laundry, my mother because she was raised with servants in a time when you didn't have to be rich to have servants, my father likewise, but added to that, he's never touched Daz or Persil (or Tide or ERA) in his life, I am graciously handed the laundry duties in my home.

Now, in my family, at age 13 or 30, you do what you do for the family, without recompense.

Americans have a very beneficial, common-sensical approach (they would) to doing "chores".

You get this wonderful thing called "an allowance" for doing stuff.

It teaches you the value of money -- how to earn it, by hard work, and self-motivation, which you can then spend either wisely, or ditzily, as the mood takes you. Cause and effect, as always.

That was never my lot.

People from my cultural and social background have a cradle-to-grave security, where you are assured complete freedom of worry of paying your own way through life, until you marry, just because.

Some people call this the Welfare State. We call it "family".

Having preambled extensively on my cleaning predilections, you will be let down enormously to hear that I also love taking my gear to dry cleaners.

My mother jokes that should she die, she wants to be buried either in Saks Fifth Avenue, or our local dry cleaners, because that way, she's assured I'll visit her at least three times a week.

Germans are rarely funny, so please guffaw accordingly. Thank you.

So today, bright and early as Pepys would have it, I head down to my local dry cleaners, already packed even at that 9 AM hour with assorted yentas, WASP'y country clubbers in their crisp tennis skirts, and as ever in that neighbourhood, six-pack-abbed effeminate toy boys, who would not look amiss on a Versace runway or on a Calvin Klein bed.

They were all there, doing what I was doing, dropping our clobber off so someone else could have the pleasure of washing our combinations (or what Americans call Long Johns -- hey, it's been chilly down here. Almost 60F! *brrrr*).

The problem was that the woman they had behind the counter, spoke not a lick of English -- not even a hello escaped her mouth.

She was new, this girl. About 20, I'd say. And certainly Central American.

See, the thing of it is, my neighbourhood is one of the last bastions of non-Spanish-language domination in the area.

Sure, there are plenty of Hispanics here, but if you live where I do, if you're Hispanic, you speak English. And the other residents, well, they just don't habla Spanish (or don't want to -- since I'm fairly sure a few took it in High School, as I did).

But this girl was thrown in the deep end because her boss, and all the other attendants, were late. Real late. The place opens at 7 AM on the dot, every day.

The other customers were incredibly irate, all shouting at her, gesticulating, posing, pointing at her, as they leant over the counter, demanding their two-piece wotsits they had to have NOW.

And hey, listen -- they had a point. Even if they didn't know how to properly make it.

She was near tears. They were near lynching.

So in I walked, with my Spanish at the ready: surveyed the situation for a few moments, and calmly asked for quiet. It's easy to do, if your voice is commanding and your manner, self-assured. Try it. You'll see.

I then translated, translated, and translated, until those 10 or so people were outtie, off to their pool cabanas or tennis lessons, befrocked and be-stuck up.

She then helped me, pathetically, servilely grateful for what I had done. She even offered me a discount, which grade-A, prize-winning moocher that I am (see above), I accepted.

Her name is Carla, and she comes from Honduras. She is 18. She arrived 3 months ago, and got this job because to her, it's like a miracle.

In her hometown, she was a laundress.

She worked almost 12 hours a day, only to take laundry home privately, to make a little money on the side. It's only her and her mother in this world.

She came to America -- how, I didn't ask. She didn't divulge.

Carla said she had been working since the age of 8, and like her mum, she entered the laundry biz.

There she worked at the back of the laundry, which wasn't air-conditioned, and didn't have even a mangle -- just a rusty old iron.

Other customers came in. I waited, translating when needed.

When she was operating that spin thingie which brings you your clothes, matching your ticket-stub, I looked down at her hands.

Chapped would not describe them. Red, would be a compliment.

She came back. We talked some more.

In real life, I am aloof with strangers, because that's how I was raised.

Being too chummy is a lack of sophistication (the exact opposite of Americans, whose hail-fellow-well-met attitude is sneered at when they travel, say, in France -- now you know).

But something about people who work hard, in dirty jobs especially, be they rubbish collectors, or builders, or char ladies who clean my toilet, something about them makes me pause, and open up.

You know, chances are, I'll never have to have to do what they do, because my family made sure of that.

Furthermore, I can't conceive doing what they do, because I have no frame of reference for it.

But this slip of a girl, not that much younger than I, has had 100 times more reasons to be angry at life -- so was she?

Not a bit of it.

She was happy to be working for those irate, spoilt customers. In her homeland, they treated her just as bad -- worse. It's her own people.

She was happy she didn't have to use those crappy bars of ridged laundry soap found in all Third World countries (which come in pukey pastel shades, like testosterone baby blue).



She was happy she didn't scrub to clean the clothes, and had industrial washing machines which did her old job, which took slaving-intensive hours, in 20 minutes flat.

She was happy she had a huge mangle, which made creases almost as good as her old iron (a bit of vanity, good for her).

And she was happy with the money she earned, although most of us blow one hour of her labour on a venti caffe latte in a trice.

For some people are born like me -- content to do laundry because it makes her feel good to help out her family.

But then some people are born like Carla -- content to do laundry because it makes her feel good to help out her family.

The only difference is, my hands are lilly-white.

And I'm not pathetically grateful for anything.

This post is dedicated to the Carlas the world over. You have the finest thing I can give you: my endless respect.

18 Comments:

  • You really do have a way with words; and with people! Great job helping out a young overwhelmed hard working girl!

    My favorite line today was:

    Some people call this the Welfare State. We call it "family".

    By Blogger Jose Aguirre, at Sat Nov 26, 02:16:00 pm GMT-5  

  • but you see, I have this almost preternatural need for tidying up.

    It calms me.


    Well, "dayum," as you say, Victoria.

    Any time you want to achieve a truly zen-like stance, please feel free to trot your self right up to Iowa, were I live. Believe me when I say that I have enough "tidying up," not to mention stains, to keep you in a positive stupor for months, at least.

    Terrific post. I have had the same feelings that you have in similar situations. And how timely this story is, it being Thanksgiving weekend!

    (And can you check your "tips" e-mail?--I sent you a note with a link to a story you might find hilarious.)

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Sat Nov 26, 02:50:00 pm GMT-5  

  • An old Brit patrician friend of mine once said, "The greatest labor saving device is another person."

    I shall queue my laundry just in the hope Victoria will appear; it's the least I can do to make her happy! ;-0

    By Blogger Ron, at Sat Nov 26, 03:05:00 pm GMT-5  

  • You really do have a way with words; and with people! Great job helping out a young overwhelmed hard working girl!

    Thanks, Jose! :)

    I helped her because (a) it's the decent thing to do (b) I can speak Spanish.

    Would I have helped her just the same, if I had seen her begging in the streets, or at the Welfare office?

    I'd like to think so. But I don't know.

    My character tends to look up to and reward hard work.

    My favorite line today was:

    Some people call this the Welfare State. We call it "family".


    Jose, that's wonderful for you to say!

    Any writer always likes to hear feedback on what the reader liked, a word here, a phrase there -- and I'm no different.

    And hey, that's my favourite line of the blogpost too. ;)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Nov 26, 03:23:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Well, "dayum," as you say, Victoria.

    Nonono. You have to Larry the Gable Guy it.

    Dayyyyyyyyyyum.

    What? I love Blue Collar TV! ;)

    Any time you want to achieve a truly zen-like stance, please feel free to trot your self right up to Iowa, were I live. Believe me when I say that I have enough "tidying up," not to mention stains, to keep you in a positive stupor for months, at least.

    *LOLOL*

    Read what Jose wrote about my line, and double it here from me to you.

    Aside: I don't get so chipper when I have to do someone else's chores.

    Hey, I never said I was poifect.

    Terrific post. I have had the same feelings that you have in similar situations. And how timely this story is, it being Thanksgiving weekend!

    You're right, by gumption. I guess the spirit of the season is overcoming me, just as the credit card fumes from yesterday ebb away.

    (And can you check your "tips" e-mail?--I sent you a note with a link to a story you might find hilarious.)

    COOL! My first SundriesTips email, TTBOMK.

    I'm going to the university lab later for printing (yes, I don't have a printer, what?), and will check there. ;)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Nov 26, 03:28:00 pm GMT-5  

  • An old Brit patrician friend

    We are legion. Sadly.

    of mine once said, "The greatest labor saving device is another person."

    *rolls eyes*

    But he's right, isn't he?

    I'm not sure where I heard this (an American stand-up comic routine, I think), but someone said that today...

    ...we don't have the need for "slaves" anymore.

    (That's how I know it was an American comic. An European one would've said maids).

    You have your entertainment slave -- TV, DVD, iPod, radio, computer.

    Your cook-slave -- microwave.

    Your laundress-slave -- washing/drying machines.

    And so on.

    Living in the year 2005, Ron, rocks.

    I shall queue my laundry just in the hope Victoria will appear; it's the least I can do to make her happy! ;-0

    I am your unworthy slave, master.

    *salaam*

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Nov 26, 03:33:00 pm GMT-5  

  • When I told my dad the story (using much the same language as I did in the post), he interrupted when I said, "that spin thingie which brings you the clothes":

    "You mean, the conveyour belt?"

    Show off.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sat Nov 26, 03:40:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Actually, sorry, but it's not a tip. I thought the other night you had suggested e-mailing you at that one rather than your regular one due to the fullness of that mailbox.

    It was actually a link to a funny story (see "psycho syrup") on my blog, which I thought would give you a kick, but I was trying not to link to myself in your comment section, since I've been given to understand that I'm not supposed to do that.

    Please forgive me this time.

    But I'll try to come up with a tip, in penance (although, I think you already know more on the topic than I do).

    By Blogger reader_iam, at Sat Nov 26, 04:13:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Victoria, this post, is why I love you.
    Also, I thought your mother's comment quite smile-worthy. And your color description unique. Testosterone Baby Blue, I think my room may be painted in that. Not in any significance, it just happened.

    By Blogger Paul, at Sat Nov 26, 11:43:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Actually, sorry, but it's not a tip. I thought the other night you had suggested e-mailing you at that one rather than your regular one due to the fullness of that mailbox.

    Oh that's fine now. I have an INBOX free of clutter (for now...).

    Email away at either address. :)

    It was actually a link to a funny story (see "psycho syrup") on my blog, which I thought would give you a kick, but I was trying not to link to myself in your comment section, since I've been given to understand that I'm not supposed to do that.

    Oh I see. I look forward to it, but alas, today I've been a bit low with my "toof" so I shall look for it tomorrow, R_I!

    (I am actually connected via a game room-cum-internet cafe I once used during Katrina)

    Please forgive me this time.

    But I'll try to come up with a tip, in penance (although, I think you already know more on the topic than I do).


    Bah, pooh, piffle. You don't have ta!

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Nov 27, 01:12:00 am GMT-5  

  • Victoria, this post, is why I love you.

    Awww. I should post about Third World laundry soap more often!

    Also, I thought your mother's comment quite smile-worthy.

    She uses it a mite too frequently for my tee-hee tastes.

    And your color description unique. Testosterone Baby Blue, I think my room may be painted in that. Not in any significance, it just happened.

    Wow. That is something. Queer Eye for the Paul Guy anyone?

    Or how about the real thing -- a woman. ;)

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Nov 27, 01:14:00 am GMT-5  

  • Wow. That is something. Queer Eye for the Paul Guy anyone?

    Hey! Stop that! I fly straight as an arrow, not a Queer bone in this body, Not That There's Anything Wrong With That.

    Or how about the real thing -- a woman. ;)

    Know anyone, sweetheart? It's cold up here. :)

    By Blogger Paul, at Sun Nov 27, 09:15:00 am GMT-5  

  • [raises hand discretly]

    If Victoria is to be finding the women for Paul, Ron gets in his request as well! 38 long, less starch this time!

    By Blogger Ron, at Sun Nov 27, 12:35:00 pm GMT-5  

  • WHOLLY UNRELATED: Get a load of what NZ Bear has done to the Ecosystem. I've devolved. Have you?

    By Blogger Ruth Anne Adams, at Sun Nov 27, 11:02:00 pm GMT-5  

  • Hey! Stop that! I fly straight as an arrow, not a Queer bone in this body, Not That There's Anything Wrong With That.

    Ooh, touch a noive? ;)

    Anyway, my dear Paul, those Queer Eye fellers are for straight guys!

    You know -- the ones who you (allegedly) belong to.

    Ooh, I'm bad when I want to be, hehe.

    Know anyone, sweetheart? It's cold up here. :)

    And it's hot down here.

    See, what I mean?

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Nov 28, 07:28:00 pm GMT-5  

  • If Victoria is to be finding the women for Paul, Ron gets in his request as well! 38 long, less starch this time!

    Starch is great! Stiffens up shirts a treat.

    It's all in the wrists, Ron.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Nov 28, 07:30:00 pm GMT-5  

  • WHOLLY UNRELATED: Get a load of what NZ Bear has done to the Ecosystem. I've devolved. Have you?

    It's awful, Ruth Anne. I wonder what Ann has devolved to -- watch her be a Sneaky Squirrel.

    Oh hush.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Nov 28, 07:31:00 pm GMT-5  

  • And it's hot down here.

    See, what I mean?


    Consider me ready to meet the heat and be warmed. I can say things like this because everyone has passed this post and moved onto newer subjects. So no one sees.

    By Blogger Paul, at Wed Nov 30, 10:42:00 am GMT-5  

Post a Comment

Who linked Here:

Create a Link

<< Home


 




Advertise on blogs
British Expat Blog Directory.