Just an Anecdote about Garbage
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Truth.
She’s with the contracted janitorial service for my office—a talkative and cheerful Asian woman—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 but her command of the English language is still weak. She likes my taste in clothes, particularly my fondness for purple, and we often connect about our mutual love of Asian clothing in a polite, small- talk sort of way. Unless I’m buried in work, which I often am.
She’s the same way with all my colleagues, though some ignore her and refuse to acknowledge her. She’s a very social person. Sometimes too social. And she says whatever’s on her mind, no matter what it is.
She comes to my office every day. And every day, she interrupts. It doesn’t matter if I’m on the phone in the middle of a $600M negotiation or if I’m telling Aislinn I’ll pick her up from the library or okaying Shannon’s attempt to socialize with friends once a week. It doesn’t matter if I’m furiously typing out an analysis of a particular statute’s effect on a procurement while fighting a headache and desperate for concentration or if I’m in the midst of lunch at my desk, alone. It doesn’t matter if I have the door closed and I’m having a private and intense discussion with someone about an investigation or my boss is giving me a performance review.
It’s amusing sometimes.
We’ll hear her coming when we’re in phone negotiations via loudspeaker, and we’ll close our doors to indicate we don’t need service today. This has been the practice for a while, probably in the contract, as in, if the door is closed, you don’t get your trash taken away and you don’t get any vacuuming done either. Lately, she’s taken to knocking loudly and opening the door, coming right in to ask if we don’t want service.
My Asian janitor (the same small disadvantaged business, I think) in Bldg 1 was much quieter, very efficient, and so beloved by everyone in our building 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 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 would be in- credulous-but understood-that we would have to put a multi-million dollar discussion on hold until she’d vacuumed and collected my trash. I always wondered if she was a corporate spy because she was so determined to vacuum around my chair even when the floor was pristine and had been vac’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 don’t interrupt me unless the building’s on fire or the bomb threat is real this time. I was in a stressful negotiation via the speaker phone. She didn’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 don’t know what had already spoiled her day, but she glared at me and started vacuuming again. Not so much 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 didn’t move it. I 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 me—and yes, she spoke English and could definitely read my lips at this point, not to mention my frantically waving arms—and instead bumped my feet (it must’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 call and didn’t need vacuuming today, she ran over my feet with the vacuum.
I totally forgot about the phone in my hand. I don’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 holding the phone and I hadn’t put them on hold. Oops. The negotiation wrapped up soon after….
So far, my current janitor hasn’t come after my feet with a deadly weapon but today, she surprises me.
“You wearing pretty dress,” she tells me. “You wear pretty shoes. Like pretty shoes. Sparkles. Like purse. Like that purple. Like that necklace. What that necklace? Amber. Okay, like amber.”
This is typical of our conversations. I dress differently from my colleagues. Velvet, jewel colors, bell sleeves, lace, sequins, dangly earrings. It stands out in a sea of sameness.
“You no wear no make-up?”
Her comment catches me by surprise. I don’t wear much at all. A smidgen of purple mascara. Some concealer under my eyes if I’ve had a really late night. That’s about it. I wear more for special occasions, but even for work, I’m a natural girl. I like eye-liner for socializing or Gothing it up, but not for work. My cheeks are naturally rosy. I don’t think I’ve worn lipstick at all this year. I’m just not a pancake-make-up sort of girl, and my lips are naturally full and rosy, so I guess I’ve been blessed there.
“You should wear make-up,” she tells me. “Eye shadow. Eye shadow good. Purple eye shadow. Purple eye shadow look good. Lipstick good, too. You should wear lipstick. You be pretty if you wear make-up.”
I never wear heavy make-up and I wear very, very little to work unless there’s someone I want to impress with a certain look. Right now, there’s no one I want to impress. Maybe, maybe if I’m briefing and want my face to be seen on the back rows, but those folks are usually asleep anyway. So it surprises me that she’d comment on my lack of make-up when she’s never really seen me wear
much more than today and I refuse to look as if I’m wearing a porcelain mask.
I don’t say anything. I’m not quite sure what to say. But I let that particular opinion go out with the garbage.