david heti - thoughts

David Heti - thoughts

cleaning ladies

Walking into the washroom in my towel, about to take a shower, I overheard my lessor's cleaning lady say that she's had vertigo for the past six years. Most of the entire shower was spent wondering whether, when making my coffee, I should mention something about vertigo or just the ailments of other cleaning ladies I know. (Certainly, the half-delivered "maybe you should simply stop spinning around all the time" joke didn't take. I like to believe, however, that its lack of success was a function only of her not speaking English as a first language.)

I don't know. I just always tend to see cleaning ladies as cleaning ladies; as if cleaning lady is a kind, or kind of person, unto themselves; or as if everyone else can be what they want to be, whereas a cleaning lady is born a cleaning lady. (There was actually an entire appendix to The Second Sex devoted to the clarification that while most women are not born, but rather become, women, cleaning ladies on the other hand....Thankfully, or, perhaps, regretfully, it was deemed to be a pretty terrible, arguably ruinous addition to the text. Shopped around to all sorts of publishers, no one would take on the work as it is/was/is. "But," de Beauvoir plead, "it's not that it is a ruinous addition to the text...")

It was exciting, though, to see a cleaning lady of Central American descent for the first time. I'd only ever grown up with Eastern European or Filipina cleaning ladies. Who would clean better? Who would clean cheaper? Who would have the better professional qualifications back home? (I overheard this cleaning lady say, "in my country, I was lawyer." And I thought, "me too!")

I'm never quite sure how to interact with cleaning ladies: are they a part of the house? a part of the home? do they want to be made, allowed to, partake? be left alone? How do they see us?

For who else is in the home, working on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when all you want is to be yourself, and not at all performative? Truly, the cleaning ladies have a privileged view into the lives of others, save perhaps for valets too, but then how many valets are there today and how many different homes or kinds of homes do they get around to not many I bet.

One time, when I was about ten, wanting to go downstairs, knowing full well that the family cleaning lady was there (she'd cleaned my grandmother's house, my parents' house, then my father's and mother's respective houses, my uncle's house and my sister's house and then apartment), I sat there in my room wondering whether I ought to go down and eat my cereal in my normal state of boxers-only half-undress or whether it would be more appropriate to put on a t-shirt. And I thought, "well, I do feel some sort of familial affection for her and she is sort of a part of the family and she's known me almost all of my life, so perhaps it might hurt her if I were to cover up and sort of distance myself thereby, reifying the us-them/her or whatever distinction." But, then, "would going down with no shirt on be considered a sign of disrespect, as if she's a non-person and it doesn't matter what she sees while in the/her/our house/space?"

If I recall correctly, I think that I went downstairs in my boxers only and ate half the bowl, but then returned upstairs for a t-shirt for the second half.

Years later, in a carful of comics (referred to, colloquially, and, perhaps, even technically, who knows, as a "carful of comics"), I started talking or asking about cleaning ladies and accepted cleaning lady norms of attempting to balance personal freedoms with social compact rights and obligations, etc., and then all of a sudden one of the comics piped up with a, "whoa, whoa, whoa, Mr. Fancy, with your 'cleaning ladies'," and I immediately came to my defence, saying that I didn't think it was such a classist thing. For don't even most cleaning ladies have cleaning ladies? (What must that interaction be like?) So I asked the one comic who hadn't said a word, "Mike, has a cleaning lady ever been in your home?" And he gave a bit of a pause and then said, "well...my mom's a cleaning lady." And then I think we all sort of shared a slow motion laugh and the credits rolled, etc. (For the record, Mike's family has a condo in Florida or something for Christ's sake. And, his mother "ha[s]"--his words, not mine--her own cleaning lady.)

Anyway, this morning's cleaning lady apparently also cleans the house of a far more successful comic who has a house and a cleaning lady apparently. (She said she would give him my card.)

I could neither really afford, nor see the point of, having my own room in the apartment cleaned by another person. Mine is the only room in the apartment that hasn't been cleaned.