Q: What was your job title?
A: The title was house cleaner. I was living in San Francisco in the ’90s.
The job before this, I was working at a gym, driving the member shuttle, and I thought I was a good driver but they didn’t.
Q: Why didn’t they?
A: I broke a couple mirrors on the van. And I tend to speed.
Q: Gee, I wonder why they thought maybe you weren’t the best driver.
A: I don’t know.
Anyway, I lost that job and I saw an ad in the weekly for a house cleaner. It was in the back of a flower shop in the Castro. This company was 90-95% gay. There were probably five of us that were straight.
There were a few people who had been male hustlers.
Q: Were they hot?
A: I don’t think so. If they were, they’d still be hustling, right?
Q: Oh my god. OK, what other kinds of people worked there?
A: A lot of artists and musicians. I was a starving wanna-be photographer. At the time I lived in an apartment at the confluence of three freeway ramps. The place was noisy and covered in soot. It was really just a squat where you paid rent.
The alley that the house was on — that’s where they would load and unload jail prisoners. It was right near the Hall of Justice.
Q: This sounds like it’s something out of Superman. The “Hall of Justice.”
A: I don’t know what to tell you. That was the name.
And if you needed bail bonds it was great, because there were two bail bonds places right next to my front door.
It was a really safe area though because there were always cops everywhere.
There was also a karaoke bar under my window.
Q: This can’t be true.
A: The police would go there after their shifts and get drunk and sing “American Pie” over and over, like twelve times in a row, getting progressively drunker.
Q: This is amazing. But tell me about the cleaning job.
A: Right. It was great. It was the kind of atmosphere where you immediately felt accepted. And it paid twice as much as the gym.
In the morning, you’d get there and load up the vans with supplies. The company sold their own cleaning products, called red juice and blue juice, but they were really both just Windex with food coloring. Then you’d banter with the managers and they’d sexually harass you a bit before giving you the keys to the customers’ homes.
Then you’d drive about three blocks and park at a coffee shop. You couldn’t get to people’s houses too early, so you had to kill time. Those were the most fun times. We’d smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, talk about our lives, make fun of customers and people on the street…
We’d give customers nicknames, like “Baby in a headlock,” “The fister,” and “naked guy.”
Q: Expand on each of those please.
A: Well “baby in a headlock” was an older lady who had scoliosis. She had very fine baby hair, and the way she walked, stooped over, made her look like someone had her in a headlock.
Q: Oh dear god. You people were mean. And the other two?
A: The fister was a guy who had a bondage room in his apartment. He had a Catherine wheel.
Q: What is that?
A: You tie somebody on it. It was leaning against the wall…
Q: I don’t understand.
A: You have to google it.
Q: And “the naked guy”?
A: We had a customer who would answer the door naked every time. As if we surprised him getting out of the shower, even though the company had been cleaning his apartment for years. Actually, there were more than one of these. It was much worse when you didn’t know it was coming.
Q: So overall, what was the cleaning job like?
A: It was very voyeuristic — a constant surprise.
There was one customer who had a tiny studio apartment — maybe 500 feet — and the entire surface of the walls was covered with Barbies. You’d be cleaning and wondering, if there was an earthquake right now, how would they find me?
Q: And what was your job, exactly?
A: I was the bathroom boy. The hierarchy was bathroom boy, kitchen guy, and then team leader. I didn’t want to work my way up, really, because the team leader had to take the truck home and parking in San Francisco was hard.
I worked there for two years as the bathroom boy. We were independent contractors though, so you could refuse to do something and the management would back you up.
One time I was cleaning for a woman who ran a charity to feed the hungry. I came to her place and she was on the phone fundraising. Her daughter lived with her, and I went to clean her bathroom, and the first thing I noticed was the smell of alcohol. There were a dozen roses the toilet, and then there was puke all over the place. It had been there for maybe a week! There was also dried hair and ants everywhere. I almost threw up.
So I went to talk to the woman and she put the phone down for a minute and said, “Oh, let me guess, did someone throw up in there?”
Q: So she knew?
A: Yeah. She said, “Don’t worry about it.” So I didn’t have to clean it. But that was the worst.
Q: That’s heart-breaking.
Q: Any other memorable experiences?
A: One time we had to do a move-out for a lady who had lived there for decades and she smoked in every room in the house, and had never had a cleaner. When you went to clean it, the walls were just covered with so much nicotine, and it was so small that you couldn’t turn around without getting some on you. The only thing worse than a move-out clean is a regular customer with OCD…
Q: Should people trust a cleaning crew?
A: I’d say yes, generally. Well, anything you throw away is eligible to be pinched. My coworker used to collect photographs that people threw away and then make up stories about them.
And you should always tip the cleaning crew, especially at Christmas. One time somebody tipped me food and I got food poisoning. Don’t tip food. Always cash.
Q: Any reason you ended up leaving this job?
A: None, other than that I was tired of being poor. I still have friends I made from when I worked there though. It was a great job.