Tag Archives: wage slave

Roll-Away

roll-away

 

Krista and I smoke cigarettes by the door to the employee garage. She’s just off work and I’ve just rolled in. It’s February and it’s freezing. The garage can park forty cars but there’s only five here now. It’s just her and me, smoking and complaining about work. Occasionally she curses our managers in bubbly Greek.

“Christ,” she says, rubbing at her eyes. “I gotta be up in five hours for my shift at Hilton.”

It’s a quarter past eleven now. “Shit,” I say. “And you live all the way in Clarksville. That’s two hours coming and going.”

“Yeah.” She takes another drag on her smoke. “Fuck it. I’ll just sleep here in my car. I’ve done it before.” She shrugs and says something in Greek that sounds dismissive.

It really is cold in here. “Oh, fuck that!” I say, digging my houseman keys out of my pocket. “Here. Stub your smoke and follow me.”

We take the service elevator to the housekeeping floor, and I grab a bundle of roll-away linen from the racks in back.

“Front desk to houseman,” my walkie squawks. I unclip it from my belt and answer. “Go ahead.”

“Guest in room 307 needs a roll-away.”

“10-4.”

Krista and I ride the lift to storage. Storage is a little warmer than the garage, just because heat rises. It’s just as much a concrete box as downstairs, but here every available space is filled with items guests may request during their stay. A single window looks out over the alley. Red neon spills in through the glass, and the occasional hoot from drunks outside works its way in like whinnies from a field.

I pull one roll-away to take with me to the guests, and make space to set another down. “Here ya go,” I tell her, dropping one bundle onto the bed. “This has gott abe better than sleeping in your car.”

“Oh, no!” she says, almost alarmed. “I can’t put you to this much trouble!”

In the neon light, with her brow creased, I’m reminded she’s 41. She looks younger than she is, but here I faintly notice indicators of her age. Small creases by her eye. The sheen of her skin. Not old. Not even weathered. Tempered.

Under fluorescent light her bouncing, kinky hair is light brown, but in the glow of neon it is a deep rose red.

I wave a hand. “It’s no trouble. You’ll be up and out before anyone else clocks in. No one’s gonna know. It’s just me on hall duty tonight.”

“But the extra laundry!” Her eyes bulge from worry or guilt or maybe just the general shame of the working poor. “I don’t wanna make extra work for anyone!” And she bites her nails and mutters something Greek.

“They’ll never notice. It’ll literally just be an extra armload. They’ll clock out the same time they always do.” I slap the thin mattress. “Sleep here. I’ll wake ya in five hours”

She hesitates, then gives a shy grin, hugs me, and kisses my cheek. She says something I don’t understand, then follows it with: “You’re sweet, little baby.”

I’m twenty-six, but in that moment I feel like an eight-year-old being reminded of my childishness by a pretty high schooler.

“I try.” I grab the other bundle and roll the other bed behind me. “G’night.”

Something in Greek, just as the door closes behind me.

***

“Krista’s sleeping in storage,” I tell Clint at the front desk. “Can you believe Dan scheduled her for dinner shift? Knowing her morning schedule?”

Clint rolls his eyes. “Assholes.” Then: “You sure she’s comfortable? I could look for a spare room.”

“Nah, she’s good. Just wanted ya to know in case it was too cold for you to take your smoke break downstairs.”

“Word.” He’s typing a mile a minute, closing guest accounts and settling invoices. In half an hour he’ll print three-hundred receipts, some stapled together for longer stays, and I’ll spend a busy hour sliding them under doors. It’s a little after one in the morning.

“You and Krista talk a lot.” He gives me a coy, stubbly smile. “Always smoking together when I come in.” He looks over and winks. “And then she’s always making you coffee before you clock out.”

“Oh, dude, Jesus Christ. She’s, like, my mom’s age.” Which is nearly true. My mother married very young. But Krista…Krista does not look like my mother. Not even a little bit.

Clint shrugs. “Hey man, I’m just sayin’. My man’s older than she is.” Clint’s my age. “Besides, after a certain point, do age differences even exist anymore? This ain’t fuckin’ high school.”

“Funny ya say that. She woulda been in high school when I was born.”

“It’s like that Wanda Sykes bit,” he says, typing through his duties. “If you can’t find a good man, raise one.”

***

Two guests come back from bar hopping around three. Two women, one blond and sort of heavyset, but no less pretty for it. The other, deep brunette, slim and having a little trouble balancing on her high heels. Halfway across the marble lobby she stops, leans on her friend for support, and slips them off. The two of them make for a side hallway, where the overnight coffee station is.

Ten minutes later, I’m bringing a fresh carafe out when I see them go into the room they share. I swap out a few condiments, and in my haste to get the chore done I stumble over something hidden by the table skirt. When I crouch down to see what it is, I find a pair of black heels. The same the guest kicked off in the lobby.

I grab them, feeling awkward as I carry them to the guests’ door, and knock rapidly. You’d be amazed how fast someone can pass out. I steel myself for an irritable string of swears when the guest, the slim one, opens the door. She’s still in her dress, her eyes a little red, her makeup wiped off of her cheeks.

“…yeah?” she asks. She seems nervous, and I guess if I was alone and pretty, I’d be uncomfortable if a strange guy knocked on my hotel door too. Actually I’d be nervous if that happened regardless of who I was, come to think of it.

“Uh…I think these are yours?” I motion to the table. “I found ’em near the coffee?”

Her eyes light up with understanding. “OH! Oh, thank you so much!” Her voice is quickly layered with emotion. “Aw! That was so sweet of you!”

I’m tempted to tell her I’m just paid to do this, but lately it’s been occuring to me how much of an asshole that makes me sound when I say that. “Well, they looked nice on ya. It’d be a shame for you to lose ’em.”

The night’s libations seem to make her melt when she hears that. “Aw! You’re so sweet!” And she leans into me then, steadying herself with one hand against my crossed arms. When she touches me I quickly wonder how she’s able to keep herself from blowing away in the wind. She pecks my cheek, and I pretend to run a hand over my beard to hide what I suspect is a blush.

“Thank you!” she says again, with more sincerity than I would’ve expected.

“Y-yeah,” I say, then smooth the stammer down. “Yeah, no problem.”

She smiles and holds eye contact as she closes the door, and fifteen minutes later my heart is still pounding in my ears. I take a quick smoke break with Clint in the garage.

“Jesus Christ,” he says, shaking his head. “You gotta stop working so hard, man. You’re beet red.”

***

By three I’m hurriedly stuffing guest receipts under doors. On the seventh floor a middle aged man with expensive clothes but an alcoholic’s physique grins and holds out his hand before opening his door. I give him his receipt and ask him: “So how much ya owe us?”

He looks over the printout and says: “Probably not as much as y’all deserve.” Then he looks up at me: “How much they pay ya anyway, kid?”

“Ten and change an hour.”

“Yeah. Not nearly enough.”

“True,” I agree, since it seems safe to. “But better than a lot of others get.”

He holds eye contact for a second. “But you’re not looking to keep this job forever, are ya?”

I cross my fingers. “Well, ya know. God willing, an’ all.”

“You from around here?” Here being Louisville.

“Nah, nah. I grew up around Atlanta. A little to the south. Poor part, ya know,” and he laughs with me, and I wonder how much of being poor he can actually identify with.

He opens his door but he doesn’t go inside, just leans against the cheap aluminum frame. For as much as we charge you’d think we’d be built less like a Days Inn, but our location is primo so we get away with it. “Ya lived here long?” he asks, in a nasally accent I place somewhere in Ohio. He undoes a top button. His chest hair is as salt-and-pepper as the hair on his head.

“Couple years.” And I’m not stupid, I know what’s happening. I straighten the receipts in my hand, evidence I need to get back to work.

“Moved here for school?” he asks. In my head I translate: Could ya use some extra cash?

And like always, when a man gets aggressively flirtatious, I feel guilty for every woman I’ve ever gotten handsy with. “Sure did. Wrapping the degree next semester.”

“You can’t possibly afford that with what they pay!” He scratches at his chest. His stare is like the scope of a sniper’s rifle.

“Well, if I can keep my poverty a secret long enough, it won’t matter.” I move away, long, strong strides. “You have a good night, sir!”

He stays in the door frame a moment, unsure of what to do, then quietly says, “Yeah, you too,” goes inside, and closes the door.

When I’m done, I head down to storage to wake Krista.

***

Krista’s already up when I get there, sitting on the edge of her bed, smoking a morning ciggie and rubbing at her eyes. Her hair is still relentlessly buoyant, but even it seems to be taking time to awaken. It seems to hang with less spring than it does when she’s fully loaded on caffeine and nicotine.

“You’re up a little early,” I tell her, stealing a smoke and lighting up. Outside the tinkling of empty bottles becomes an outraged ringing, as garbage trucks empty Dumpsters behind alleyway bars.

Krista shrugs. “Slept like the dead, though,” she tells me. Her blouse hangs loose on her, a few top buttons undone. I notice her server’s smock is bunched up beside her boots, resting on her folded slacks.

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” I say then, stubbing out the smoke.

“Sorry for what, baby?” she asks, honestly confused.

“I…I didn’t know you still needed to get dressed. My bad.” And I’m backing away before she waves me back.

“No, no! I don’t care!” And she gives this bursting laugh that rings like hollow glass. “Ohhh,” she purrs, comforting but not condescending. “I embarrassed you! I’m sorry!”

“No! No!” I laugh then and relight my smoke. “You wouldn’t be the first naked woman I’ve seen, believe it or not.”

“Oh, really?” And she gives a tired grin. “And how many naked women have you seen?”

“Uhhh,” I take a deep drag. Can she see me go red in the wash of neon? “I don’t know. Never really counted.”

“Oh ho! So that many, huh?”

“You make it sound like I’m bragging.”

“Well,” she tosses her hair over her shoulder, “no harm in that. It’s something to brag about, after all.” She looks down, rubs at her eyes again, mutters something in Greek, then asks: “Anyone down in the staff showers right now?”

“Oh, hell no. No one from first shift is gonna roll in for another hour.”

“An hour.” She just says it, like a confirmation, staring at her burning smoke.

“I can get a kit ready,” I tell her, and start to turn again. She grabs my arm.

“Hey,” she says, and when I turn she pulls me a step closer. Another tug, and I’m nearly sitting on the cot with her.

“It’s chilly,” she tells me, and pulls me closer, throwing the blanket aside. I wasn’t aware of how cold it was until I feel the heat billowing from her bare legs.

“Damn, it’s chilly!” she giggles, throwing the blanket back over us. Soon her mouth is clamped against my ear. Her hands, strong from a lifetime of working to survive, anchor me to her like vices. Every few seconds she murmurs “Oh, my baby,” and then something, the same thing, over and over, in Greek. I never ask her what it means.

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Uniformity

The downside of working a breakfast shift in a hotel restaurant is that I have to wake up at an hour when the rest of the city only rises to pee with dubious aim.

The upside is that I leave work while everyone else is trudging back from their lunch break. I smile sincerely then, walking in the platinum sunlight, knowing I’m no longer beholden to hotel policy.

“Apologize. Accommodate. Take ownership.”

That basic mantra is drilled into us at every opportunity. Showing any level of disapproval is the kiss of death in hospitality. Guests will complain, receive a mountain of complimentary shit, and you will be reprimanded at least, fired at most. You’re confined to either yielding to virtually every demand made of you, barring anything injurious, or disapproving so strongly you melt down, cursing every one of the sons of bitches who don’t seem to understand that gray hair should forbid you from childish behavior.

We opened two hours early the other day, to accommodate guests participating in a marathon. Most were vocally appreciative, and their appreciation was, in turn, appreciated by me. Being a psychology grad helps me to keep in mind that, generally, people are basically good. Being a hotel employee, though, also reminds me that some people are complete fucking shitty assholes.

There was the guy who barked his room number at one of our managers, an elderly lady with a very motherly disposition, then refused to sign or give his name. He was furious, you see, because it didn’t make sense to him that a latte requires steaming milk. “It’s only coffee!” he informed us, shoving another guest out of the way.

There followed then a guest who derided me for not putting the guy in his place. Clearly, it seems, nametags and polyester server’s clothes translate to an air of authority.

And there was the woman who refused to take a table number, because she would be “sitting right in front of you.” In hindsight, her running shorts and tennis shoes made her remarkably distinct amongst the other eighteen-quadrillion marathon runners crowding the counter. Explaining that I wouldn’t be bringing her food only confused her. “But you’re the one who rang me up.”

I mean, I get it. The pseudo-sexual thrill of imposing your will on another is harder to resist for some than it is for others. In a uniform, behind a register, I may as well be a somewhat glitchy automaton.

Later I made my way to a local Starbucks, and while tapping away at my laptop I was recognized by a guest, the one who thought I should have dispensed a moral lesson to the hothead.

“Why do you guys just take that?” he eventually asked.

“It’s a personal decision,” I told him. “The hotel requires a three day walkabout of its employees. When we come back we report to management how we intend to approach the matter of unruly guests.”

Not surprisingly, he figured out I was bullshitting him. He seemed put-off by it. “Hey, I’m only asking.”

“But why would you need to?”

“Don’t you have any self-respect?” I immediately decided I didn’t like him then. “I could never let someone behave like that around me!”

“You’re so full of fresh ideas! Would you like my job? I’m more than happy to set up an interview for you. We’re starved for servers.”

He chuckled, unsure. “Do I look like I need a waiting job?”
“I dunno. You’re awfully inquisitive about mine.”

“I’m just saying you should expect to be treated like a human being. Why are you giving me shit about that?”

“You’re right. I didn’t buy the entire Marriott Corporation to continue the mistakes of those who came before me. I should step up my game.”

He got up in a huff. “I’m sorry, jeez.”

“Feel better, big guy?”

My hero shook his head and walked out, his message to wage slaves magically not beholden to those who sign their checks ignored. I wondered how long it would take him to realize his audience didn’t actually exist.

Truthfully I felt bad about growling at him, but I was cranky and the guy had pushed me, even if he’d done so without realizing it. Did he think the sixty-year-old woman in the business suit behind me was my subordinate? We get verbal reprimands if we call them “customers” instead of “guests,” for Christ’s sake.

Some in management like to push the idea that we’re always representing our workplace, even off the clock, but seeing as I neglect to put on a dog leash when I leave for the day, I can’t really see how this philosophy can be enforced. Not that I haven’t been threatened for being less-than-courteous to another guest who recognized me outside of work.

“Hey!” the guest had said, all smiles. He held out a hand to shake mine. “You made my coffee this morning!”
“Poured it, actually,” I reminded him, “but surprisingly that’s the more intensive process.”

He laughed like we were buddies. Not three hours ago he’d rolled his eyes and asked me how long it took me to count to ten. He was “only ordering a coffee,” you see, a process he helpfully explained took less than ten seconds. I told him the cappuccino he’d ordered would take at least thirty to sixty seconds to prepare, since that’s the time it takes to steam the milk. He rolled his eyes again and said: “Well Christ, what for? How complicated is it for you to pour a coffee?”

“It needs to build foam,” I told him. “Would you just like an espresso shot?”

“I want what I ordered!” He was awfully unconcerned with the pitcher of boiling milk I was holding in my hand.

“Yes, sir!” I said. “Coming right up!”

In his eagerness to add to the insult, he’d snatched the drink from me, sighed heavily, and muttered “Jesus” as he waddled outside.

“Must be great to work there!” he beamed behind his blue sunglasses. “I would kill to be around that much coffee!”

“I can believe that.”

I waited for the “WALK” signal.

“So how long have you worked there?”

I regarded this man, who only regarded me as being worth respect once I was in clothes like his own. I looked back across the street.

“Long enough.”

“You like it?” He had laughter in his voice. Good-natured, like you would be with a friend.

“Fuck no,” I told him. There was a pause, and then bawdy, but unsure, laughter.

“I guess you guys are relaxed around there, huh?”

“Why do you say that?”

He shrugged. “Not many hotel workers curse in front of guests.”

“We’re not at the hotel though, are we?”

He paused. “What?”

“I’m not on the clock. I’m not even on property. Who do you think you are?”

He leaned in, and calmly asked me if I liked my job.

I started to fume. “I just answered that question, you fucking idiot!”

He threatened to contact my manager. You know, to tell him that a random man off hotel property who resembled an employee he off-handedly remembered wasn’t nice to him. I shrugged.

“You’re pretty shitty at your job, you know,” he added, needing the control a molded coffee counter had afforded him.

“Oh, I’m great at my job. But I’m off the job now, you see. So go fuck yourself.”

I outpaced him as we crossed, his curses gradually lost to traffic noise.

I remember a guest’s condescending tone as he explained Starbucks concepts to one of our baristas. I assume he figured we only maintained a We Proudly Brew kiosk because we hadn’t yet acquired the mastery necessary to maintain a full-service Starbucks stand. While he added cream, I made a point of referring to Starbucks as “the new McDonalds,” and voiced my hope that we could close early enough to grab a coffee at Dunn Bros.

Once, at a bar, I had a lady who recognized me from work ask me to make sure we brought extra towels to her room in the morning. I told her all my towels were back at my apartment, but she could probably get some in the hotel she was staying at. She didn’t seem to get it.

I don’t mind being reminded of where I work. But out of that uniform, off that property, it should be clear that your ability to exert your will over me has concluded for the day.

We’re neither separated in our roles nor complete in them. We work, we move on, we live. We will break our backs to service you, but your pedestal descends when we swipe our time card through the clock. Outside, all footfalls on the sidewalk sound the same.

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Filed under Non-Fiction