Monday, July 20, 2015

Postcards and Pep, Chambermaids, and Penpals

I love old postcards--they're cool to look at, many of them feel good because their paper is linenlike, and some are quite witty. For example, the card above has quite a high degree of sass, even as it obsesses a little about "pep." What happened to "pep," do you know? Did it go away after people stopped putting cocaine in soft drinks? And, what happened to "gumption"? Did everyone lose their gumption in the Great Depression? Did "conniption fits" get cured even without a telethon for them? Did "being persnickety" turn into plain old garden variety bitchiness at some point? Mysteries of our time.

1) When you are a chambermaid, at 6:00 a.m. you amble along in a grumbling posse with your fellow chambermaids and you clean the lobby. You carefully wash every inch of the quadruple glass doors in the lobby. The alpha chambermaid checks your work as the early morning sun streams in, and she points out all of the streaks. You fix the streaks. At 3:00 when you leave, you swing the door open and as you do, the light illuminates a thousand greasy hand prints.
2) When you are a chambermaid, you have a whole floor of rooms to clean, a cleaning cart, a laundry bin on wheels, a smock, a cleaning closet, and a giant ring of keys--in the days before key cards. In the first week you are there, you cannot make any of the keys fit the locks. You panic and think about running away. The "houseboy" who has a much more fun job involving rolling full laundry carts down the stairs for sport, opens the doors for you.
3) When you are a chambermaid, you find out that people dye their hair in the showers of their rooms. It is not fun to clean.
4) When you are a chambermaid, you are very excited when you learn that a stewardess and a pilot checked in late the previous night and are staying in two rooms on your floor. Nine times out of 10, this means that the bed of one room will be messed up and the other room will be perfect and not need to be cleaned. It seems like such a cliche, yet it is true.
5) When you are a chambermaid, people leave you creepy notes in your hopeful little tip envelopes such as, "Sparkle: Where were you? We waited up all night for you, but you never came. We could have partied." Sure, whatever. But, could you leave $5, too?

I used to have real-life write-to-each-other penpals. My best friend who moved away in the first year of high school; Larry, Beverly, and Julie who I met in college classes--we'd send each other strange envelopes packed with clippings and action figures with pictures on the outside; and Mary, the older woman who trained me to be a chambermaid and who despaired at my ineffectual, slip-shod methods. In her late 50s, she had three sons and had become a widow at 19, "My hair turned gray overnight," she'd say, as she once again tried to show me how to make a bed so it didn't look like it had been searched for drugs. Mary was my penpal for a little while. She was a different kind of penpal. A typical note would read, "Sure is lonely here without you. Everything's the same. They're still 'doing it' [reference to an illicit affair between high-ranking staff members]. Love, An Old Body. Finally, our cards petered out. But, I still remember her, and if I breathe deeply I can hook on to the aroma of the three types of caustic chemicals I used to wash the hair dye out of the tub. I leave really big tips whenever I can afford to do so.