Coming clean…

August 29, 2010 § 10 Comments

 When we vacationed in WDC in July, I was always last out of our room.  HM was working; I was vacationing.

I knew of course that Housekeeping would be showing up during the morning hours to do those things which I should do every morning in my own home (and don’t always, more like occasionally) such as dusting, cleaning the bathroom, arranging towels, making the bed so smoothly you could bounce a quarter off the sheets (ok, I always do that), and in this hotel,  Housekeeping’s visit also included setting out mineral waters, fresh stationery and more L’Occitane gels and lotions, filling the ice bucket, cleanin the wet bar, hanging up the fleecey robes, arranging our shoes just so, opening the drapes and sheers just so, leaving the newspapers, and polishing every single thing, ultimately leaving the place looking like a photo shoot for a getaway resort.

So before leaving the room, I would wonder how much picking up should I do, prior to Housekeeping’s arrival? What did our room tell about us, and did they discuss guests and their habits, terrible, funny or otherwise? I would not wish to have HM and I discussed over the break table in the staff room. Ugh. Of course, I’d never know.  

Better, however, to err on the side of bland or boring, in that our room would be tidy.  And not offer any details of our lives to be “read aloud” during any Housekeeping chatter.

So I would fluff the pillows and set the blankets straight on the bed. I collected our empty water bottles and tossed them in the recycling bag provided. I straightened the towels on their racks. I hung up any clothes, put away jewelry or bits of things you collect when you travel like ticket stubs, maps,  etc. plus stuff HM collected from the conference each day which I organized and put in his business briefcase. 

I tidied our morning newspapers, saving them for him to read upon his return. (He is not an early riser and gets up in time only to get ready and leave for the day, not to linger over coffee and the paper!) I tell you this here, but did not want the housekeeping staff to have any tales to tell!

In truth, in smaller rooms, I cannot bear a mess, either. So, I’d sweep through, an eye out for things we might have left on the dresser or bathroom vanity. It’s easy to be tidy  in small rooms. I like it. It’s controllable.

But what about the stack  of books and magazines I had brought along? The magazines were getting toseed as I read them. The two books were light enough, but might have given the impression that I was staying for one month rather than one week. But you can’t go light on books; what if you did finish one at say, 1 a.m. and had nothing next to read? 

And then, did the book and magazine titles tell too much about me/us? Pooh. I took the stack and set it on the deep window sill just behind the drapes, near the wing chair. I would set a bottle of mineral water there, too, for later, and hoping they would give me another to replace it.  Mineral water (bottled water, that is) is a luxury when you travel. You can take it with you, out and about; you can chug it in your room if you’re not familiar or fond of the tap water taste in a different city. And at home, we don’t buy it.

And they always did give me another one.. Whether they saw the one I tucked away with my books, I don’t know.

They took care of things; I started to look forward to it, but did not become lax in my pre-clean prior to their arrival.
Oddly, I noted how much I enjoy cleaning, picking up, taking care of silly small things  – like cleaning our hairbrushes, tidying drawers, I even ironed while there! – all the things that make things “nice” but get looked over when the household is running out the door to work every morning. 

I had no idea what Housekeeping sees on a daily basis. It occurred to me that they must witness the stuff of novels. Is there a “cleaning woman” mystery series? there must be.

About a week after getting home from WDC, on one of my “shopping” tours of the library, I spied a book about writing that I had never seen. It is Nancy Peacock’s A BROOM OF HER OWN.

It’s a series of essays, about her life as a writer. Although she was a published author, with two books, life kept driving her back to a housecleaning gig to sustain herself.  ( A hard truth.)
And out of that, at the encouragement of her agent (or editor, I forget which)  came this book of essays. Each is a story, though.
Although it’s a book about writing and the writing life, it’s is certainly a book about life. It’s a book for everyone, especially those who love to read, to see how it works, this writing thing, and to see how it dovetails constantly with “being there,” being in the thick of real life.

Peacock talks of the people she’s cleaned for, what she sees or knows, how she puts her writing together through all of it, how she befriends some clients, leaves others. Through it all, she has her feet on the ground and her ear always listening to her writer’s heart.

I gotta recommend it. It’s a skinny book that is rich rich rich with humor, mercy, compassion, and it also illuminates the creative drive. 

In retrospect, I suspect my hotel housekeepers would have labeled us as “vanilla.”
That would be perfectly fine with me.

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§ 10 Responses to Coming clean…

  • shoreacres says:

    There’s a wonderful old Irish saying:

    The new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows the corners.

    Applicable here in several ways!

    Love the word play in the title. I suspect Virginia would approve. (BTW: re: your last essay – loved to see your suggestion about titles. You know how I am with titles. I have a file full of titles, a surfeit of titles. Every single title is looking for its very own entry! I don’t dare tell you how many titles I have, but let us just say they could easily keep me going for a time…)

    • oh says:

      Shore – I used to ignore titles…’til I realized they were a huge part of any story and also helped keep the word count down if it was a really good title (since good ones tell part of the story).
      That being said, I suspect reading through your titles is a great deal of fun (as well as insightful) and what a great idea to keep them simmering in a pot of sorts, readyto be dished when the need arises!
      They would also make a cool blog entry “list”, you know, if you had some that you were never sure what to do with…

  • Becs says:

    I worked for a summer as a maid in a London hotel. Yes, we did talk about weird things guests had and did. We would also “recycle” any newspapers, magazines or books we found in the trash. It was not a happy thing to see that a guest had kindly made the bed already, as we had to undo it and make it the way we were taught. Same thing when they checked out.

    We loved guests who:
    – On their last day, stripped their beds.
    – On any day, piled up their wet towels on the bathroom floor.
    – On their last day, left us a tip, however tiny.

    We didn’t touch the change left on any bureau or table.

    It sounds like you stayed at a very nice hotel.

    • oh says:

      Becs! How great to hear from you!
      BTW, it was you who told me some years ago about tipping the Housekeeping staff – I don’t remember what we were discussing at the time, and since then, I make sure we do.
      At the aforementioned hotel, Housekeeping even left us a thank you note for tipping them.
      Very cool.

  • jeanie says:

    I had this conversation last week. When we went to Mpls., on the first night in the hotel, I got very sick. Let’s just say, neither of us got any sleep and I don’t know if the stains will ever come out of the bathmat, which was the softest thing on the cold hard floor at 1 and 2 and 3 a.m. I felt terribly sorry for the housekeeping staff and felt I should (but didn’t) write them a note and say, “I’m sure it was the pizza…”

    Like you I try to not have the bed be too much of a mess, toss the used kleenex and empty drink bottles or cans, not leave the undies in the middle of the floor. There are some things people not me should never pick up! (Home can be a different matter, however!)

    That said, I think you must stay at far nicer hotels than I — when you said “L’Occitane” and plushy robes, I realized we were in a different league!

    • oh says:

      J – actually, it’s hard not to make the bed, is it? i mean, I really don’t mind doing that – it was one of the things I was taught growing up – a “made” bed makes the room. Ah, but it’s those darn details (like dust and stuff) that I choose to ignore. Well, not choose, I just do ignore sometimes. So it’s a treat to travel and be spoiled a little. ANd it’s a huge treat to come home.
      And you made me LOL with “some things people not me should never pick up!” Oh, so true and so funny for the truth of it.

      Now what projects are you working on? something new, I suspect?!

  • my hubby and i always try to be respectful of the folks who make their living in the service industry. i’m sure it’s not an easy job, so we keep our hotel room tidy and always leave a tip.

    sounds like your stay was plush! we’ve brunched at the FS in philly–it’s quite a treat! i’d like to flip through ‘broom of her own’ as it sounds like an entertaining read. 🙂

    • oh says:

      Nat – I should have given more detail re: Peacock’s book. Yes, do give it a whirl; you’ll be intrigued by her experiences and the neat little way she constructed each essay/story/point about writing.

  • Carrie says:

    Nicely put. I really like the idea of identifying patrons via their “stuff” in their room. Maybe there’s a writing prompt…

    The hotel I stayed in Bejing had L’Occitaine toiletries. The best.

    I too don’t want to leave a mess – in a big or small space. Maybe it’s pity, maybe it’s practical. My sister on the other hand could care less and looks likes she’s lived there for years within ten minutes.

    Sounds like a nice read – thanks for the rec.

    Thanks to Becs for the hotel tips…

    • oh says:

      Carrie – true confession. I do have one room that is truly “lived in,” where anything goes and I like to think it’s ok. My office. the writing table is neat and kept bare. But the books are stacked and shelved and I put all kinds of pictures and posts and ephemera all over the bulletin board and walls.Just that one room, though, yup.
      One must be careful however, to not be overwhelmed by stuff.

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