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
) 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.