A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
Written 27 October
The job on the table was one of the strangest I’ve ever been offered.
Once, in high school, when I was working at the Fairfax Fair, I was given a giant inflatable astronaut costume and asked to put it on and walk around slowly shaking hands and posing for pictures with kids. It was heavy, hot, claustrophobic, and strange, and I loved it.
This was to be every bit as ridiculous, more unnecessary, and a bit more awkward. Would I be a washroom attendant?
The gig was a strange one. I didn’t need to clean the toilets. I didn’t need to hand people towels or soap. I didn’t need to really do anything. Just stand in the washroom, wipe down the sink counter, and make sure everything was stocked and tidy. There was a convention going on in the ritzy hotel and there would be a steady stream of people throughout the day. All I needed to do was to keep it pretty.
It wasn’t really a question. I took the gig. I need the money. I have the time. I love the strange stories. And I can happily get paid to stand around.
There is something I have found about nearly every temp shift I have shown up to. The directions I’m given are spotty or inaccurate (the path I was to take to the staff elevators was blocked by a sea of buffet carts). Something doesn’t work (the elevators do not respond without a staff key card which I did not have). The place I’m told to go or the people I’m told to report to are clueless (I was given the wrong uniform and no one could tell me where to go). And the person I’m reporting to doesn’t generally actually tell me what I need to do.
I took my instructions from my female counterpart who had done it before, another temp. During the second shift, I would be the one training the new temp. All I needed to do was stand around, smile, wipe the counters, and when no one was around, fold the toilet paper ends into the neat points that make it seem that much classier.
The shift went by quick enough, though it was awkward quite frequently. There was no convenient place to stand. It I stood by the door, those entering got a shock. Standing watching the toilets and urinals is clearly not right. And the only other places were near the sinks, where I would be serving as a pair of judging eyes, shaming people into washing their hands with soap regardless of their activities.
Standing around got boring pretty fast. My phone battery didn’t hold up very long. The flow of people would dry up for an hour at a time when a talk was on, leaving me solitude interrupted only by the occasional visitor. My legs were sore and tight from weeks of hiking and walking. My back was stiff from sleeping on floors and couches and in my car. I stretched it all out and felt my body relaxing. I got out my journal and started jotting down things to write about. While I didn’t have the ability to write free-form thanks to interruptions, I could at least be making lists of things to write in the future. And after hours trapped in one room with no one to talk to, my brain was ready for some kind of engagement.
Standing around wasn’t cutting it for very long. It is boring. The social questions are ones that I didn’t know how to navigate since I’m generally made ill-at-ease by guys standing in toilets. Do I welcome people? Do I say hello? Do I make eye contact as they enter? Do I as they leave? What level of interaction should there be?
These are questions I didn’t find the correct answer to. But I did find my answers.
Out of boredom I started to open the door for people as they left. It also kept me away from the sinks. People generally seemed appreciative that they didn’t have to touch the door or really interact with me other than a quick thanks.
I cleaned toilet seats when no one was around. Thinking from the perspective of the guest, I don’t care how nice a hotel it is, if I walk in to find urine sprinkled on the seat, I’m disappointed. Yes, I’m disappointed in the jerk who couldn’t be troubled to lift up the seat or use a urinal, but I’m also going to let that reflect back on the hotel. Not on my watch. (As an aside, when there is one person who comes in and leaves, and urine magically appears on the seat, the attendant knows who did it. Maybe they are doing it to prove a point or to annoy me. I think there are just some generally disgusting people. Lift the seat up, Neanderthal.)
I moved to handing people paper towels for a bit. Half of them instinctually turned away from me when they turned off the sink and had towels in hand before I could get to them. Those that I did manage to hand towels to were appreciative and made a comment about over the top service, though many of them did seem to be a little put off by it.
And so I returned to the door. There was the odd conversation of more than a sentence. But for the most part I stood around and did nothing. Almost 8 hours of it.
The most frequent comment made was about what I had done to get punished and sent to bathroom duty. It was a sweltering hot day outside with no clouds. I was in air-con. People were making fake conversations and pressing the flesh all day. I didn’t really have to interact or think or expend energy. It wasn’t a terrible gig in those regards.
And what did I do to get sent here? I spent days applying to jobs. I handed out resumes, I replied to job ads, I made calls. I did interviews. I made three separate visits to the staffing agency office in as many days making sure they knew who I was and got me a job lined up. I appealed to reason, I appealed to kindness. I smiled, I was polite, I was friendly, I was well-dressed. I hustled. And I worked my ass off to get this gig.
One man’s trash…