Lambeth Renovation: The building is wrapped tight in rippling sheets of heavy plastic that cover its windows like a surgical mask; piped contraptions protrude from some places, thrumming and pumping the hot air in and out. A few workers mill about the balconies and entrances, shoving hats low against the noon glare and pulling powdery dust up with their heavy boots. They are renovating. Already, the spotted and spinach colored couches, the chipped coffee tables, the greasy little stoves--have been taken away and sold. A few weeks earlier everything had been heaped in piles outside against the walls and soaked by the rain. I can’t tell what the men are doing now. Maybe they are tearing up the frayed carpets and laminate floors textured over the years with layers of waxed in hair. In few weeks, when everything inside is fresh, cool, and replaced, the plastic layers will be unwrapped and apartment 354 will be complete. Then, the tools, the pipes, the plastic, will all be packed up and moved here.
A Typical Day?
July 10, 2008
We worked until 2 o’clock break today. Duglison and Tuttle needed to be turned over for the students during the year, so my team finished what we didn’t yesterday in Dunglison and completed two floors of Tuttle. The lacrosse players had been staying there. I’m pretty glad that they’re gone, it was a little awkward cleaning for them. The first few times we gave service, we waited until they had gone out to practice and weren’t in the building.
One day we were in a rush to finish though, and we had to start on their rooms just as they were all getting back from breakfast. They were a bit like clones: most are tall with blond hair that they keep pulled back in a high pony tail, and they wear their uniform shirts accessorized with other lavender or neon pink articles of clothing. Still...I fit in with them much better than Roxy, Sue, and Wanda, who are all about twice my age and size.
So I’d be carefully dragging the vacuum cleaner into their living room while they milled about, and then Roxy would yell something like, “Hey Valerie, Valerie! Grab me some toilet paper. Ah need toilet paper. And pledge. Get some from that bucket out theh” So much for delicacy.
After break we all “hid out” in one of the apartments because, according to Wanda, “We DONE our 8 hou’s ah work” I was really tired and I nearly fell asleep on one of the couches, but before long nearly the entire team had discovered our spot and come to hide with us. Yet another heated and vehement discussion on Anna began, this time focusing on her mistreatment of Safia. Anna despises Safia for some reason…and calls her stupid for not understanding her commands perfectly, even though Safia is Russian, fluent in 3 languages, and coming along quickly on English, although she isn’t all the way there yet. She doubly despises Safia because in the middle of yesterday morning’s drama filled 2 hour lecture, Charles announced that either Safia or I would receive a housekeeping award. Luckily Safia wasn’t there for the debate, because Anna blasted her for a “disrespectful attitude” etc. Today after lunch Safia discovered that the jacket she left in the break room had been sprayed with bleach and ruined. COUGHannaCOUGH.
Lunch was over so I stuffed the trash and remnants of lunch into my cloth bag and hid that behind the sofa. First Safia’s bus tickets had been stolen, then the Snickers bar she’d bought for her son, all right out of her bag. It seemed odd that only she had been targeted so far, but maybe that was because she didn’t hide her bag. Or maybe she was the only one who had noticed. We were going to detail rooms and somehow groups were formed. I would be working with Wanda, Sue, and Roxy. We gathered our supplies together: I grabbed the vacuum, Wanda and Sue assembled a bucket full of chem-wipes and various chemical products while Roxy tossed 15-20 rolls of toilet paper into a large plastic bag. The supply room was chilly with the AC on full blast, so the air seemed especially thick and hot when I pulled the heavy door open and stepped outside.
Swirling puffs of smoke from Wee-wee’s last minute cigarette hit my face and I wondered vaguely how much second hand exposure was enough to give a person cancer. “471, 473, and 474, but they ain’t got people on the top floor there. We’ll knock this out before 2 o’clock break and then what” “Ah done my 8 hours. Charles said the other rooms don’t got to be turned ‘til Monday. Tell me what we gonna do tomorrow when that done” “Mmm…Charles ‘ll find some’n” My coworkers chatted while I walked ahead and scanned the building numbers. The addresses zig-zagged diagonally from one side of the side walk to other so it wasn’t always clear which direction to go. I pulled the vacuum behind me and it clattered loudly across the concrete.
“Valerie—this way!” I simultaneously looked back to see who had spoken and pull the cord clear of the vacuum’s wheels. Wanda waved her arms to motion me another way. I waved back—but suddenly stumbled a little over the lip of the walk and felt my foot sinking into something cool and wet. I gasped and jumped back, only to splash the back of my leg that wasn’t already covered in mud up to the ankle. “aaaauughh…” I held my foot up and motioned back in an exaggerated manner what had happened. “Ew..” When I put my foot down I could feel the mud squish between my toes. Wanda, Sue, and Roxy laughed loudly and I joined them in good humor. Later, the toilet paper crumbled when I wet it to scrape the drying mud from my calf. I pulled my shoe off to reveal a brown, soaked sock. There wasn’t much to do except run water over the caked sole and wait until the mud and clay colored rivers running off it turned mostly clear. I looked at my watch. Onlyyyyyy 12:47.