Just an Anecdote about Garbage
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Truth.
Sheâ€™s with the contracted janitorial service for my officeâ€”a talkative and cheerful Asian womanâ€”and though I desperately try, I really have to strain to understand her, even after a year of seeing her every workday. I make an effort to communicate Â but her commandÂ of the English language is still weak. She likes my taste in clothes, particularly Â my fondness for purple, and we often connect about our mutual love of Asian clothing in a polite, small- talk sort of way. Unless Iâ€™m buried in work, which I often am.
Sheâ€™s the Â same Â way Â with Â all my Â colleagues, Â though some ignore her and refuse to acknowledge Â her. Sheâ€™s a very social person. Â Sometimes Â too social. And she says whateverâ€™s on her mind, no matter what it is.
She comes to my office every day. And every day, she interrupts. It Â doesnâ€™t matter if Iâ€™m on the phone in the middle of a $600M negotiation or if Iâ€™m telling Aislinn Iâ€™ll pick her up from Â the library Â or okaying Â Shannonâ€™s Â attempt to Â socialize Â with friendsÂ once a week. It doesnâ€™t matter if Iâ€™m furiously typing out an analysis of a particular Â statuteâ€™s Â effect Â on Â a Â procurement Â while Â fighting Â a headache and desperate for concentration or if Iâ€™m in the midst of lunch at my desk, alone. It doesnâ€™t matter if I have the door closed and Iâ€™m having a private and intense discussion with someone Â about Â an investigation Â or my boss is giving me a performance review.
Itâ€™s amusing sometimes.
Weâ€™ll hear her coming when weâ€™re in phone negotiations via Â loudspeaker, and weâ€™ll close our doors to indicate we donâ€™t need service today. This has been the practice for a while, probably in the contract, as in, if the door is closed, you donâ€™t get your trash taken away and you donâ€™t get any vacuuming Â done either. Lately, sheâ€™s taken to knocking loudly and opening the door, coming right in to ask if we donâ€™t want service.
My Asian janitor (the same small disadvantaged Â business, I think) in Bldg 1 was much quieter, very efficient, and so Â beloved Â by everyone Â in our building Â that there were fundraisers for her when she fell on hard times. She was always a friendly hello or a nod of acknowledgement if I was otherwise engaged in business. Never ever interrupted a negotiation or a meeting in all the time we spent in the same building. And definitely not the social butter- fly of my current taker-outer-of-the-trash.
That said, Ms. Talkative is a far nicer janitor than the one I had in Â Bldg 13 who used to vacuum under my feet while I was in phone negotiations and would not take no for an answer. My negotiation counterparts Â would be in- credulous-but understood-that Â we would have Â to put a multi-million Â dollar discussion Â on hold until sheâ€™dÂ vacuumed and collected my trash. I always wondered if she was a corporate Â spy Â becauseÂ she was so determined Â to vacuum around my chair even when the floor was pristine and had been vacâ€™d the day before, all the while ignoring the paper punch-holes my trainee had dropped in the doorway.
I did lose my temper with the Bldg 13 janitor once. I had the door closed with a do not interrupt circle with a line through it sign warning people that I was in an important meeting and donâ€™t interrupt me Â unless the buildingâ€™s on fire or the bomb threat is real this time. I was in a stressful negotiation via the speaker phone. She didnâ€™t knock or anything-just walked right in, vacuum blaring. I picked up the phone and asked my counterpart to hold on a second.
I held up my hand to the janitor for no service and pointed to the phone, then to the sign on my door. In a nice way, I swear. Okay, nice but desperate. I donâ€™t know what had already spoiled Â her Â day, but she glared at me and started vacuuming Â again. Not so Â much Â around the area of my office where people sat to consult with me but around my credenza and into my personal space where I was actually working. She shoved the vacuum at my chair legs, but I didnâ€™t move it. I Â told her no, not today, emphatically, at this point forgetting the phone in my hand, but hey, I was annoyed and already stressed.
She ignored Â meâ€”and Â yes, Â she Â spoke Â English Â and could definitely read my lips at this point, not to mention my frantically waving armsâ€”and instead bumped my feet (it mustâ€™ve been cold because I was wearing shoes) with the vacuum. When I told her no thanks, but I was on the phone in an important Â call and didnâ€™t need vacuuming today, she ran over my feet with the vacuum.
I totally forgot about the phone in my hand. I donâ€™t remember what I yelled at her but it was loud enough to be heard over the vacuum and throughout the entire contracting suite of about 18 offices. I kicked her out of my office and sat down with my throbbing feet, then realized I was still Â holding the phone and I hadnâ€™t put them on hold. Oops. The negotiation wrapped up soon after….
So far, my current janitor hasnâ€™t come after my feet with a deadly weapon but today, she surprises me.
â€œYou wearingÂ pretty dress,â€ she tells me. â€œYou wear pretty shoes. Like pretty shoes. Sparkles. Like purse. Like that purple. Like that necklace. What that necklace? Amber. Okay, like amber.â€
This is typical of our conversations. I dress differently from my Â colleagues. Â Velvet, Â jewel Â colors, Â bell Â sleeves, lace, sequins, Â dangly earrings. Â It stands Â out in a sea of sameness.
â€œYou no wear no make-up?â€
Her comment Â catches Â me Â by Â surprise. Â I donâ€™t wear much Â at all. Â A smidgen of purple mascara. Â Some concealer under my eyes Â if Iâ€™ve had a really late night. Thatâ€™s about it. I wear more for special Â occasions, Â but even for work, Iâ€™m a natural girl. I like eye-liner for socializing or Gothing Â it up, but not for work. My cheeks are naturally Â rosy. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve worn lipstick at all this year. Iâ€™m just not a pancake-make-up Â sort of girl, and my lips are naturally full and rosy, so I Â guess Iâ€™ve been blessed there.
â€œYou Â should Â wear Â make-up,â€ Â she Â tells Â me. Â â€œEye shadow. Eye shadow Â good. Â Purple Â eye shadow. Â Purple eye shadow Â look good. Lipstick good, too. You should wear lipstick. You be pretty if you wear make-up.â€
I never wear heavy make-up and I wear very, very little to work unless thereâ€™s someone I want to impress with a certain look. Â Right now, thereâ€™s no one I want to impress. Maybe, maybe if Iâ€™m briefing and want my face to be seen Â on theÂ back Â rows, Â but Â those Â folks Â are usually asleep anyway. So it surprises me that sheâ€™d comment on my lack of make-up when sheâ€™s never really seen me wear
much Â more Â than Â todayÂ and I refuse to look Â as if Iâ€™m wearing a porcelain mask.
I donâ€™t say anything. Iâ€™m not quite sure what to say. But I let that particular Â opinion go out with the garbage.