As I opened the dryer door, I noticed a pile of what appeared to be large cocoa puffs. I swept it out with a broom and threw it in the trash. As I lifted the clothes out with my gloved hands I realized there was more of this dried and crumbling stuff falling from the newly cleaned clothes of a client who had signed on for wash today. As I folded each item I eventually noticed that the pants were filled with it. It was then that I realized that I was not looking at cocoa puffs.
The owner is a man in a wheelchair in his late sixties. He is pleasant as jam and had warned me when he dropped his bag off to be careful because they were really dirty.
I rewashed his clothing and refolded them and placed them neatly in a clean bag. When he returned for them later in the morning I handed them to him, looked him in the eyes and smiled with gratitude.
That was about an hour before I filled out a job application to keep my community service position permanently. I may not stay here, I do have one other job in the wings, but I feel like I need something secure beneath me. You know your life is unusual when skid row is your secure something or other.
I picked up cigarette butts and took a break to check the bathrooms in the couryard. I deep cleaned one because someone had chosen to smear oreas all over the walls and floor. Fortunately for me, this time it was indeed oreos.
It seems as though we have been visited by the newspaper fairy. The last couple days I’ve worked, each bathroom is repeatedly wallpapered in areas by wet newspaper. I assume this is to give the perpetrator something colorful to look at. Our bathrooms are pretty boring, afterall.
At 12:30 in the afternoon it is my duty to report to the bed area for the cleaning of the men’s and women’s main bathrooms and showers. And this is where I felt the inspiration for my writing, believe it or not.
It must be told that the men’s bathroom is something else. When I arrive on the scene my feet splash in the mud as I walk across the tile. Everywhere across the floor is a mixture of mud, shampoo, hair shavings, toothpaste, wet wads of toilet paper and as of late: more soggy newspaper.
Entire sets of clothing are thrown hap-hazardly in corners here and there. Sometimes blatantly on the counter for all to see. What at first appears to be frivolity (“How could they just THROW away this sweater when they have no money?”), eventually crystalizes when the difficulty of carrying your life on your own back day in and day out is taken into consideration. Soggy wet socks are found in the showers every time I visit. Please take note: I now believe that THIS is where those extra socks go when they disappear from your dryer. There appears to be some sort of vortex connecting the middle class dryer and the homeless shelter shower room.
I pick up everything off the floor and counters before beginning my cleaning task. Sometimes I think I high powered spray hose would be more effective than what I do, but regardless, I soldier on.
Try as I might, my cleaning attempts become more of a “pushing mud around” event than anything else. Even for a single mom who is used to attempting thoroughness in the face of chaotic odds.
On the way back to the car this afternoon, Eric was very quiet. “Are you ok?” I asked.
“Yeah. Well… it’s been a hard day.”
What I just described was a normal day. A hard one is even more in your face. My jaw drops to the filthy, trash-strewn pavement and I have nothing but respect left in it’s place.