Monday, February 21, 2011

The Help

I am not sure how this happened but I became an employer.

My beloved grandmother cleaned hotel rooms at an Atlantic City casino for a bit and my groovy grandfather picked up garbage for a little while. In some perverted form of evolution, I just hired a housekeeper.

I fought it so hard. For most of my time in Germany I worked, but much fewer hours a week than Asmus, so unofficially I became The Cleaner. I did this despite Asmus' repeated requests to hire a housekeeper. I maintained that I am an adult and adults take care of themselves. By last fall, my work schedule had grown from 15 hours a week to 30, including work I did at home. Couple that with weekly trips to Hamburg from Kiel to visit Asmus' ailing father, I became crazy busy and the apartment became a wreck. Then Christmas came and things slowed things down and Asmus and I got things under control. January 3 came around and the chaos returned and was worse than before.

I surrendered. Two weeks ago, we started a search for a housekeeper online. I was quickly depressed.

I was hoping for a nice thick-armed, 45-year-old person. Someone who knows HOW TO CLEAN and shows up. We got four replies. Three of them were in their 20s. One person had a very professional reply. The others were like Queen for a Day applicants. "I'm 29 years old (German companies routinely ask for age, not me. I just hoped to surmise that they had decades of experience, not ask their birth dates.) and just had a baby. I am looking for a job where I can bring my baby to work with me." "I'm a 48-year-old woman who has experience taking care of my big family."

I was tempted to hire everyone, so these families could eat. Instead, we went with the 23-year-old who had experience and offered references and did not mention any babies that she wanted to care for while scrubbing my toilet or a brood of children that she needed to feed. We made an appointment to meet at a cafe across from the apartment. Asmus and I obsessed about what to ask her and whether we should have a test run. Unfortunately, our apartment was so dirty that we had to clean it before our scheduled interview, so there was no chance for a test clean. We had a plan of attack and showed up at the cafe and waited and waited and waited. She never showed.

We contacted the 48-year-old who quickly replied that she had another position.

Then we contacted a 21-year-old woman. Her young age kept her from the top of our list of interviewees. We arranged to meet at cafe Saturday at 12:30. She asked what we looked like, Asmus told her to look for a white man and a Black woman sitting on the first level of the two-level restaurant. When we walked in, I saw a young woman sitting alone and wondered if that was our interviewee. We were supposed to talk at 12:30. 12:30 came and left and I wondered if she was not coming and if the young woman in the corner was our 21-year-old. When 12:34 came, I politely accosted the single lady and my suspicion was proven correct. Of course, I think, "Why am I searching for her? Why isn't she searching for us?" (I am part of the only inter-racial couple in Kiel. That is the reason for my description of Asmus and me.)

We asked one or two questions about her experience that were weakly met. She said she graduated with an abitur, a special type of high school degree that is required to attend college. However, she was working part-time and cleaning the homes of strangers. She said after high school, she had had cancer. Gulp. When we asked when she could start, she said she could try it later in the week because she would be having an operation on Monday. Gulp, gulp.

She cleaned our apartment last Sunday, while we were in Hamburg. I was so eager to see our sparkling, clean apartment. We left for Hamburg with a relatively-clean apartment waiting for Elena. Like most women on Earth, I cleaned a little before the housekeeper came. But not that much.

Upon entering our apartment, the apartment seemed nice but at second glance, it was not. Like Mr. Hyde, I felt my father taken over me. In our two-bedroom apartment, we asked her to clean the bathroom; sweep and mop the floors; vacuum the 6 x 10 rug in the living room; wipe the stove and cabinets; wash two pots; wipe the light switches and the door knobs; and dust the television, my computer and my treadmill. She had two and half hours for that. I gave her two hours and Asmus added the half.

After she cleaned, the living room floor was dirty in spots, the tub and sink were not SCRUBBED, the top of the television was dusty, and my computer and the rug were untouched.

The tub was the thing I noticed. I saw the dirt and felt the scum. Asmus saw nothing until I pointed it out. Then I wasn't sure if I was being insane or correct.

Then Asmus found an email that said she was sorry about the sorry state of the stove. She ran out of time and left. Then I was sure that I was correct -- she sucked and I must say something. She knew that she did not do something right and left it. I would have not mentioned it or I would have stayed 5 minutes and finished the job. People were offering to clean for 8 euros an hour. After we hired Elena, a 16-year-old offered to work for us for four euros an hour. We paid 12 euros an hour. When you pay 50% more than the going rate, you expect a job done correctly.

Asmus scrubbed the tub and sink clean in five minutes while we talked, so he saw that she should not need more time. I won him to my side.

Once I realized that I am perfectly right, then I had to decide how loud I should yell.

It was such an uncomfortable place to be. Do we give a long list of things that she did not do correctly or give her more time to clean? In my opinion, we gave her more than enough time to do the floors, the bathroom and the kitchen but I want to be fair. By "my opinion," I mean the opinion that was screwed into me by my father. I remember cleaning the bathroom and having him run his fingers over the sink and screwing his face up when he felt cleanser residue. I remember my stomach sink and fear rush into it when that happened. He had already asked me if the sink was clean three or four times before, If I go up there and find the sink is dirty, can I beat you? I gave a weak yes (what else can you say to that question?). Fortunately, residue is not dirty but it was not correct. No beating but I had to get back to scrubbing.

While I had the same type of harsh opinion as my father, I did not have the same approach to correction. There was no yelling. Asmus and I lowered the frequency of her visits and raised the time allotment. We also asked her to scrub harder. So Elena will be back in two weeks and have three hours to work, instead of two hours once a week. I will also tell her specifically what I think should be done [Please dust the front, sides and top of the television.] I think this is ridiculous but I am prepared for good things.