Part Time Job

Over the last few weeks, my blogging schedule hasn’t been quite as regular as it normally is, or as I’d like it to be. That’s because I recently started a part time job as an assistant housekeeper at a local assisted living home. My mother is the head of housekeeping there. She’d been needing some help as her workload has increased  somewhat over the last year for various reasons. Plus extra money is good. (But the main reason I took the job is to make my mother’s life easier. But don’t tell her I said that.)

By and large I am happy with the job. It’s only a few hours a week, but for most of those hours, I’m left to my own devices. If you know me, you know that’s a huge plus. And if I do need help with something, I need only seek out my own mother.

There is a certain satisfaction to making something clean that starts out dirty. I particularly enjoy vacuuming carpets for this reason; dirt is there, I move a machine around in a regular, almost meditative pattern, and moments later dirt is not there. Same with wiping down the windows, or cleaning up the metal elevator.

There’s a task that’s in many ways suited to my brain, cleaning elevators. Alone in a quiet box, making a collection of metallic rectangles as shiny as possible. (Okay, there are some wooden parts to one of the elevators, but my point is the same.) There is also a remnant of childlike appreciation with my mind for elevators. I think every parent at some point has to tell their kids to quit playing with an elevator: Don’t push all the buttons at once. Get out of the way, people need to get in there. Stop sticking your hand out to make the door open again.

When my sister and I were young and Mom would take us on vacation, one of my favorite things to do was go on the elevator to the high floors of the building, (where Mom would never book a room) and come back down. She’d let us do that sometimes.

All by way of saying, unless they suffer from claustrophobia, I dare say most kids love elevators for whatever reason, but in many cases don’t get to use them unless they have some reason, or very lax parents. Adult me now gets to go in and out of an elevator any time I damn well please. Actually, I usually take the stairs for fitness reasons, unless I have a lot of cumbersome items I need to move, but the point remains.

Yes, I do clean bathrooms. I doubt anyone looks forward to cleaning bathrooms, but I don’t dread it either. It is what it is, and it’s only part of my job anyway. I admit, probably my least favorite part, but I get to do them on my terms at least. Chemicals bug me a bit at times, but we have organic stuff I use too, which isn’t as bad.

I mentioned the motion of vacuuming being meditative before. You won’t have to research long to find all kinds of traditions in various religions about meditative cleaning. It’s a mindfulness thing. Cleaning and picking up keeps you right in the present. My particular mind still wanders and worries far more than it should even when I am on the job, but the nature of my tasks do afford me the chance to practice mindfulness and presence, which i do.

And of course, the residents. I don’t do much directly with them, though naturally I see them all the time, and I’m cordial with most. They always get the right of way in the hallways. That’s how I prefer it. It’s there home, after all. I try to remember that in everything I do; people live there.

And of course, people die there, as happen just last night. Actually, the resident died after a brief stay in the hospital, but I was present when the emergency vehicles took her to the hospital. That particular woman stayed mostly to herself, but I do recall seeing her here and there. An odd thing to get used to, the near-expectation of death “before long” in such places. The quickness with which everything is normal after it happens throughout the place.

But it’s not a place of death. The residents are on varying levels of functionality. Some are healthy, but just retired. Some in wheelchairs, and one that never leaves her room. (I don’t go into private rooms, as my domain is the public spaces.) But those that live there play games, watch movies. Even exercise. I admit I thought I might find working there depressing before I started, with so many people that have health issues. There is a tiny fraction of that, but mostly, it really is just a place people live and work, like so many others all over the world. One small community, part of a larger one, which is part of a larger one, and so on in the obvious outward spiral.

I think about that spiral particularly on days when I am outside doing work. Most of what I do is inside, but I have a few outside tasks, one of which is to bring in the large trash cans once a week. The person walking their dog, the car driving by, people walking into their jobs in the building across the street. A mosaic of “alive” of which I am a chip. I have always been so of course, by virtue of my being human, but I am somehow more aware of is as the scraping of the trash cans wheels on the brick walkway in front of the home echoes through the block as I drag it through the morning sunshine and toward the back of the building. Pull up, and I am visibly one of the cogs in the morning machine that cranks out a day in the city. It’s all sort of Walt Whitmanesque in a way.

I’m a writer and an actor. I imagine I will always be so, in one way or another. Those are my callings, and I make money doing them, here and there. I don’t imagine I will still be a part time housekeeper 30 years from now. Yet today, and for the foreseeable future, I am an artist making some money at a job not connected with my calling.

Or is it? Are not the concepts of story, character, expression, art, service all at play during the few hours a week I clean the public areas of that home? They are. My preferred form of them is the stage and page, but I’d have to be an elitist or a fool to believe they are absent during my part-time gig.

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