cleaning lady

cats sweeping broomWhen I was in college, I lived in a dorm. Dorms can be great equalizers. It’s hard to tell who’s as poor as you are or as rich as Midas when everyone’s living in the same building, schlumping around in sweatpants and pajamas. Hardly anyone at Cornell had a car (the campus isn’t vehicle-friendly) and this was way back in the day before cell phones, laptops and even computer ownership might have given some clue. One telling factor was Spring Break plans — if you were off to Prague on a moment’s notice, that probably meant you weren’t down to your last two dollars, as I often was. The more economically challenged among us often stayed put for Spring Break (and had a fun time, too).

Another thing I noticed was cleaning ladies. Every now and then, one of my friends would mention their housekeeper, or the cleaning person that came to their house, back home. I couldn’t fathom such a thing. We’d never, ever had a cleaning person. Quite frankly, at the time, my mother was working a second part time job *as* a cleaning person, to keep me in school. You can imagine how galling I found it when a fellow student protested to me that having a cleaning person wasn’t a luxury; his mother worked, after all. She didn’t have time to clean. Meanwhile my mother worked all day, worked cleaning offices at night, and cleaned her own house with whatever energy she somehow had. It’s not an entirely fair comparison, but I still think having someone come to clean your house, unless you’re physically incapable of doing so (and a lot of those people can’t afford help, sadly), is a luxury.

You have to imagine, then, how weirded out I am by the fact that we have cleaning people coming to the house this week.

I mean, this isn’t a regular thing. We had a Groupon, and it’s a spring cleaning kind of deal. Dave’s super busy in tax season. And I have a little trouble doing certain things, especially when there’s bending involved. It’s still a luxury, though, and I feel strangely guilty about it.

I’m a lousy housekeeper. I didn’t inherit the Leonard cleaning gene, the one that guaranteed my grandmother’s basement floor was safer to eat off of than most people’s kitchen plates, and the one that made my mother stress about dust bunnies in the storage closet. Yeah, I missed that. I don’t have it in me. But I grew up with it, so I end up looking around my reasonably neat house and seeing nothing but dust and dirt and feeling ashamed.

So as a result of all that matriarchal genetic pressure and guilt over economic divide, I’ve been desperately restraining myself all week from cleaning the bathroom ahead of time, because I don’t want the cleaning people to see that my bathroom is dirty and think I’m lazy. I haven’t succumbed yet, but there’s still more than 24 hours to go. I’d say it’s 50/50. At best.

how did I get here?

yearbook1

With my name spelled wrong and everything.

This is me, in high school. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed. I’m not mentioning that to brag — the opposite, really. It’s more that I sometimes ask myself, how did I get here, from there? Wasn’t I supposed to end up doing something, I don’t know, important?

Honestly, I started out on the wrong foot: the only thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was an astronaut. This, despite a fear of heights, speed, fire and airless places, also no aptitude for science and an utter lack of the physical skills needed for astronaut-ing, made that particular goal a pipe dream. So when I graduated from high school, despite a resounding endorsement from my peers, I had no particular idea what I was going to succeed at. I’d been on Debate Team, and I was pretty good at it too, so my yearbook is filled with a lot of “good luck in law school” comments. I have not, however, ever in my life entertained the idea of attending law school. Too dry. Too dull. (Though, I will say that when I was in about third grade I told my mother I didn’t want to be President someday, I wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. Presidents only get to keep their job for 8 years at most. Supreme Court judges get hired for life. This future union member already knew the value of job security.)

During orientation in my first week at Cornell, I wandered into the open house for the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance. Four years later I graduated with a background in costumes and directing. Three months later I quit graduate school before I’d even started, and for the next five years or so I worked at mostly meaningless jobs that didn’t quite pay the bills.

Sooner or later I decided I needed, you know, a career, or something. And in 1998, believe it or not, Library Science was a good field to study if you wanted a job. When I graduated with my Master’s from UB, there were recruiters at the school every semester. I had three job offers to pick from. I chose Amherst Museum. And that’s where I spent the next decade as a solo librarian. I had a great time organizing my library, processing the archives, getting involved in regional professional organizations like WNYLRC, where I spent some time on the Board. It was a terrific experience. I’d be lying, though, if I told you I was following my heart’s desire. Being a librarian mostly appealed to the OCD part of me that liked organizing things. That still likes organizing things. But I saw people who had passion for librarianship. I wasn’t one of them. So when I stopped being a librarian, I missed my colleagues, but not the rest.

So I never did get around to deciding what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, to be frank, Dave and I both try our best to work as little as possible. 🙂 I have a job but it’s not anything worth mentioning; it’s just a job, not a career. I’m not really anything, professionally, and probably never will be. I’m just a little surprised that doesn’t bother me more.

You know, it’s twenty-five years since that picture was in my yearbook, and I look at it now and think, if I’d done a few things differently, maybe I would have fulfilled that promise and done something “important”. There were few times I believe, objectively, that I made the wrong choice. I should have picked a different major in college, or a different graduate school for theatre, or a different library to work in. Those were turning points for me. And it clarifies things for me to see that now, definitely. But in the age-old tradition of everyone who’s lucky enough to be happy, it doesn’t mean I’d go back and change anything now, if I could. Because whatever I did, right or wrong, I ended up somewhere I want to be. I didn’t succeed the way I thought I was going to, or the way my high school classmates apparently expected I would, but I wouldn’t trade my life for the world, wrong turns, failures, and all.

museum

I worked for just over a decade at a living history museum. It was my first job out of library school. Back in the day, hard as this may be to believe, I had three job offers to pick from — librarians were actually in demand. It’s unfathomable now, unfortunately, with the job market what it is. But back then, I had choices, and I chose a local museum, even though I’d had other plans. It seemed different, and interesting.

It was both of those things. It was also frustrating, and hard. There was a unique collection of people,  and a convoluted setup with a lot of cooks in charge: the Board, the Town, the staff. It was many times wonderful, many times awful, and sometimes exhausting. I have amazing memories of children enjoying our Halloween event, of bagpipes at Scottish Festival, houses being raised off their foundations and restored, festive holiday tours and events, school groups traipsing around the grounds in the sun. My library, and every painstaking step I took over that decade to organize it, fix it, make it useful and nice, with no budget and no money to spend — saving pennies to buy a table, working in the tomb-like archives day after day. My volunteers, some of them more precious to me than they could ever know. The genealogists, crazily obsessed with history. The ever-present smell of freshly-cut grass in the summer, walking around the grounds at the end of the day with my friend. The foxes, the rabbits, the deer. The best salad I ever had, one year at Quilt Show, and the day in December we stayed late during a snowstorm.

Unfortunately, I also remember the ax that hung over our necks at all times. The threat of budget cuts, of closure, of layoffs. The people who sneered at how unnecessary we were. The Board members who were unreasonable, the newly-elected politicians who found us an easy target for scoring points with taxpayers. The mean visitors at events, the bugs and the heat working at admissions at Harvest Festival, Halloween in the rain, holiday tours that were sparse, dark and depressing. Bad bosses, bad plans, bad co-workers. Watching beloved volunteers getting older and not being able to participate, and sometimes losing some of them forever. Worst of all, I remember being sent away, feeling unimportant and unvalued.

I try not to be bitter about it, but I usually fail. I still wish the museum well without me, of course, and there are some people involved now that I have a great deal of faith in. Some of them, though, I don’t. Some of them didn’t sweat those years out with us and shouldn’t get to feel proud of things they didn’t accomplish. Some of them were there and didn’t do anything to help, and don’t deserve to still be a part of something wonderful when other people were forced to leave.

The truth is, I would have left the museum by now, regardless, and moved to Long Island, so in some ways how I feel about it all is moot. I just wish I hadn’t had to go the way I did. And I wish, when I think of the museum, I could still feel a connection instead of an ache. Every book in that library and every box of archival material is there because I put it there. I picked the fabric on the chairs in the library, I set up the membership database, I ordered the microwave in the kitchen. I feel like part of me is still somewhere I don’t feel welcome anymore, and that makes for painful memories instead of good ones.

On the wall behind the main exhibit panel, all of the employees signed their names — hidden from view, but still there, documenting what we did. My co-workers and I, the volunteers I loved and I, we did a lot of the heavy lifting of making the museum what it is today. We couldn’t make it work because of conditions outside our control, not because we didn’t try hard enough, and I resent the implication that we failed when the deck was stacked against us the whole time.

do you know the way to santa fe?

88px-NY-347.svgI started a new job a couple weeks ago. I like it very much, and the hours are great. Apparently the woman I’m replacing — she retired — was a bona fide hoarder, however, and the office is filled with pile after pile of papers, folders, Sweet & Low packets, old used stamps, and sheets of yellowed labels. There is no rhyme or reason to it, and some of those piles contains fairly important things, including invoices, requisition forms, even (so far) two checks. It’s a disaster, and if you know me, you know every minute I’m around that kind of disorganization makes me want to jump out of my skin. So I’m trying to work my way through it, a little more cleaned out each day, but — good lord.

Anyhow, the thing that I’m noticing the most about my new job isn’t about the job at all. It’s about the drive back and forth, getting ready in the morning, coming home when I’m done. It’s the strangest thing, but it’s almost as if having a job is what’s finally making me feel at home here.

I don’t mean our apartment. I’m very at home there, and I remain as enamored of our laundry sorter, our balcony, and our fireplace as I was right from the get-go. I’m even happier at home now that our crazy-ass downstairs neighbor moved out to torture someone else. The new neighbors have two loud, noisy, yappy dogs, and it’s like heaven to us — normal people making normal noise, and not getting mad at us for walking across a carpeted floor in our socks at two in the afternoon. But I digress — our apartment has always felt like home, and I love it there.

It’s the neighborhood, I guess, that I felt strange in. The general area. I mean, I don’t usually know where I am. I sometimes get the general direction of where we’re going, but it’s all sort of vague. The city is thattaway. Dave’s mom’s is the opposite direction I think it’s in. The closest Chipotle is just way too far away, but doable in a pinch. Shop Rite is not where my GPS says it is (it’s just a bunch of trees! there’s no store in there, I checked), and on my way back from Astoria I spent a lot of time driving in circles in Flushing Meadows, because Apple Maps declared I had gone off the grid. In other words, I got so lost, satellites couldn’t find me.

Suffice to say, I’m still not great at getting around on my own. I’ll probably be using my GPS for awhile, even if it evidently can’t always be trusted. But at least now I go back and forth most days to the same place. I stop at the same red lights, see the same businesses, go around the same bend. It’s only a few miles of road that have become familiar, most of it strip malls and developments and Whole Foods. But it’s mine, and it’s familiar, and that’s a start.

it’s just my turn

My wedding is four weeks away. I’m 41 years old, and I’ve been waiting for this for quite a few of those years. So I’m not going to apologize for being excited, anxious, or even a little wedding-obsessed. I’m no bridezilla, but it is my turn.

photo

It took a long time to find the right guy. I didn’t kiss a lot of frogs, per se — I just waited, hoping he was out there, but not willing to settle if he wasn’t. And Dave is more wonderful than anything I could have imagined, and worth all of that wait. And then some. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a little lonely sometimes.

I’ve never begrudged my friends or my family their turns. I’ve been genuinely happy for each of them as they found love, got married, had kids, did whatever it was that made them happy. I’ve been to their showers and weddings and christenings with a glad heart, and truly wished them well. But you hit a certain age, where the showers all turn to weddings, and those turn to christenings, and then it’s the birthday parties, and then graduations… and you’re still soldiering on, on your own. Thinking, I don’t want to be greedy or ask for too much, but I wish I wasn’t always the one attending. At some point, just once at least, I’d like to be the one celebrating.

So it’s my turn. Just this one day, me and Dave. And after that we’ll go to christenings and graduations and other weddings, just as glad for our friends and family as we were before. Just doing it together, which makes all the difference.

the person on the other end of the phone

Hi. I’m the person on the other end of the phone. The one you just called and belittled, laughed at and mocked, at 4:30 PM on a Friday, when moments before I’d been thinking what a good day it had been and how great it was that it was the weekend.

In a given year, my job brings me to tears about, I’d say, four or five times, and I’m not really the crying kind. But the stark, mean, unmitigated venom of some of the people I talk to on the phone sometimes just breaks me down, and today, thanks to your call, was one of those. If I was anywhere else, of course, and someone talked to me like that, I’d stand up for myself. But when you work in any job where you deal with the public (and who doesn’t?), and you’re not, you know, Oprah, you have to take a certain amount of abuse. I’m used to that, but you went above and beyond. So while I would have liked to tell you off, that’s not how it works, and you know it — which I’d also like to call you out on, a little. Is it particularly empowering to berate someone you know can’t defend themselves? I wouldn’t think so, but maybe that’s just me.

You know, I know you’re angry. I know you think your bills are too high. I know you can’t get through to the right department on the phone, I know you think it’s just incomprehensible that someone is asking you to spend eight dollars to license your dog. But to be perfectly frank, you’re barking up the wrong tree (pun intended).  Do you really think the girl who answers the phone is the person who can do anything about that? That I can tell you, no problem, then. Don’t pay your bills — whoosh — I’ve erased them, you don’t have to. I’ve also abolished licensing of all kinds, and I’ve fired everyone in every department, anywhere, that’s not answered your call. Because that’s the kind of power I have, and at most companies, after all, the girl they stick with answering the phones is the one who gets to make the big decisions, right?

The thing is, I’m just trying to do my job, quickly and efficiently and without getting yelled at. I like to go to work, do work, and then go home and live the rest of my life — that’s pretty much what you do, too, isn’t it? Well, given that, I was just wondering if you could possibly remember, next time, that the person on the other end of the phone is you, just somewhere else. Just a regular person, doing their job, and maybe someone you shouldn’t treat so badly, or yell at quite so much.  I would very much appreciate that.

Thanks.

90 days and counting

As of today, I have 90 more days at my job. I’m not counting weekends or holidays or vacation days I have already approved. Just actual work days, and there are 90 of them to go before I leave for… well, I don’t know yet.

sealI’ve worked for the Town for 14 years altogether. Especially since leaving the museum, which was always enjoying a precarious existence, it’s been a stable, secure job with good benefits, one I’ve been grateful for. A job that allowed me to stay in my home when my mother died, and to support myself since.

Leaving a job without another job lined up is scary. The only other time I’ve ever done it was way, way back, just after college. I was working in a grocery store as an assistant manager and doing okay, but we got a new manager who was, to put it politely, a total jackass. He refused to treat me fairly and I gave my notice and left, without anything else in the wings. I found something after a little bit, but more to the point, I was in my early 20s, and living at home, with a little bit of a safety net, and *still* it was scary to walk away from a job. Now? It’s terrifying.

I shouldn’t be scared. I’m not going to be on my own. I’ll have Dave, and I know he will make sure the kitties and I are okay no matter what. Contrary to what some people think, I’m not expecting him to work more to support me, or to become one of the Real Housewives of Smithtown. I’m going to get a job, one that helps with the bills and gets us health insurance. That’s the plan. It may not happen as quickly as we like, but it will happen. And I know it’ll be okay until it does. We’ve talked it out, and planned, and it’ll be fine. So I shouldn’t be scared… but sometimes I still am.

In the end, sadly, we’re always our mother’s daughters, aren’t we? The lesson I learned from my mother’s example is that you can’t count on anyone else to keep their promises, and you can’t count on someone else to take care of you. You have to do that yourself. So quitting my job and moving to a place with one of the highest costs of living in the US, and trusting this guy who put a ring on my finger to be there for me and my furry guys? It seems a little crazy, on the surface. Except that, luckily, the one thing I did *not* inherit from my mother, or any of the other stunningly bad examples I’ve had in my life, is her bad taste in men. Thank goodness that when it comes to that one particular trait, I’m nothing like her. I picked the best guy, hands down, anywhere. Dave always, always keeps all of his promises, and I can trust him with anything. That’s why I’m marrying him.

I’m still scared, and I probably will be as those 90 days wind down. Change is hard, and changing something that’s as big a part of my life as this is huge. But I know it’s going to be okay. A very nice man promised me so.

Finally?


The other day someone asked me “what’s new” and, of course, I answered by saying I was getting married this fall. This was a person I don’t know that well, and only in a work-related context, but I’m excited about getting married, and freely admit that I rarely miss a chance to talk about it. So I said, I”m getting married”, and she replied, “Oh, finally!”

Finally?

photoI know, right? I’m withering on the vine, here. A spinster. Long past the point where I’d given up hope, of course. My hope chest itself was covered in dust and stored away in the attic. I’d been thinking idly about taking up crochet and getting a few more cats, maybe playing some mahjong. Someone should give Dave a medal for taking me on, aged though I am. It’s like when Taki says in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “We never think this day would come!” Finally. Who says these things? Does no one think before they speak anymore? I think even she was a little chagrined at her slip because the rest of the conversation was rather awkward and couldn’t have been over quickly enough for either of us.

Look, I’m a thousand times happier now that I have Dave in my life. I feel like the luckiest person alive. That doesn’t entirely mean that therefore my life was miserable beforehand. I was okay. Nowhere near as happy as I am now, but okay. I would have been okay, too. I wasn’t languishing around feeling worthless because I didn’t have a man. So I don’t know that I like putting it that way, because it makes it sound like the reason I’m happy now is that I finally have someone, not because I finally have Dave.

So, finally? Well… yes, in the end, even if not in the way she meant it. 🙂

Someplace I used to go

So this morning I paid a visit to the place I used to work, well, two days ago, though that’s misleading. I worked there for over ten years, full time, and then was transferred to another department and location. But I still did a little part time work, up until this week, so even though I’ve said goodbye to the place more than once already, today turned out to be another one of those times.

My friends planted some lilac bushes for me there, on the grounds, when my mother died in 2004. They’ve grown really well. They started off as tiny little things, and now they’re ten or so feet tall.

Lilacs1lilacs2013

Nice, yes?

I’m not prone to sentimentalism. But standing there I couldn’t help but think about “then” and “now”. Back then my life was completely, utterly different from how it is today. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I felt connected to my career. I was lonely. I spent most of my waking hours at the place I worked. I spent most of my time with people I don’t know now. I thought I would spend my life alone, and here, in Buffalo. Now, work is a secondary characteristic to me; I spend time there, but I’m not focused on it. I’m not lonely, at least, not when I’m with Dave, and not when I think about the rest of our lives together. And I’m leaving, entirely, and going someplace I never had any reason to even visit before. So it was a bit of a moment, I guess, staring at my mother’s name on the plaque, thinking about the people who’d surrounded my days, and the friends I’d been closer to then, and the person I used to be.

Next year I won’t be here to see the lilacs bloom, though my friend says she’ll send pictures. I think that’s all I need, from now on. I think you can only keep going back to someplace so many times, before it starts to haunt you a little. I’m good with saying goodbye this one last time, but I think that’s enough.