'The empty apartment looked as if wild animals had squatted in the house'

Worst Jobs 2015

'The empty apartment looked as if wild animals had squatted in the house'
Jim Campbell illustration

They mailed me a key to a storage locker, where the overhead light flickered like something out of a terrorist interrogation room. I picked up a bucket of cleaning supplies and a solitary razor to clean newly vacated apartments on Washington State University's campus. It was my first and only day on the job, but I can still remember the way the cleaner stung my hands.

Through college, I had professionally cleaned for a family. Paired with a purple boom box on Wednesday nights, I ruddied my knees scrubbing the kitchen floor and scraping remnants of what could only be spaghetti off a child's high chair.

This was different.

The empty apartment looked as if wild animals had squatted and vanished in the night. I started cleaning in the kitchen. The once stark-white cabinets were caked in ash-gray thumbprints and ooze that created tributary-like pathways down to the linoleum. Armed with a cleaning checklist, I was to use a razor to remove film from the glass cabinets and mold from the windowsills.

The task seemed possible until I smelled something vile lingering in the bathroom. I imagined a hairball the size of Texas clogging the shower drain. I pictured bloodied Band-Aids and a toilet seat camouflaged by pubic hair and whatever unspeakable horrors awaited me and my bucket.

But I never made it past the kitchen. I barely finished the cabinets before abandoning my bucket in the middle of the checkered floor. I couldn't return to that depressing storage closet, and yet overwhelming guilt passed over me as I deemed myself too good to clean this place. Too proud to carry on the profession my grandmother did graciously for 25 years as head maid at Benny's Panorama Hotel — a hotel, under a different moniker, that still stands in Colville, Washington.

As those stark cabinets closed in around me, I discovered that dirty work is not itself dehumanizing. It's only when I devalue my worth and my work that I should feel ashamed. That night, I left sweaty and terrified of lurking student loans and the prospects of finding a job as a journalist. Seven years later I'm still terrified, but I'm proud that I left that night. ♦

Hands-On Poetry @ Spark Central

Fridays, 4-5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 30
  • or

About The Author

Jordy Byrd

Jordy Byrd is The Inlander's listings editor. Since 2009, she has covered the local music and arts scenes, cruising with taxis and canoodling with hippies. She is also a lazy cyclist, a die-hard rugby player and the Inlander's managing cat editor....