RHKOA: Blaxspectations

As a housekeeper, you never know what manner of mess is going to befall you when you enter a stranger’s house. However as time has gone on, I’ve come to anticipate what might greet me at a client’s home based on their name. If they’re Indian there will be human hair everywhere. If they’re White, 8/10 times there will be dog hair everywhere. If they’re Asian the pungent scent of fish or soy sauce will hang in the air, no matter how much Febreeze I dispense. Every race has its attributes that are a cemented standard.

Ah, you’ve noticed that I’ve left out a certain group – a particular culture. I’m going to get to them right now.

It is a rare occasion that I have the opportunity to clean a Black person’s house, and there is a reason for that. As a culture, our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers spent centuries cleaning up after other families because that was the only work they were permitted or encouraged to get. Oprah tells the story of her grandmother showing her how to scrub clothes for her White employer in a stream near her home in Mississippi.

“Watch how I do this, Oprah. You’re going to need to know how to do this one day,” her grandmother said.

Oprah vowed internally that she never would be someone else’s wash woman, and well, the rest is history.

Ingrained in every Black woman is that she must keep a clean home. It’s a stereotype that we have within our community. Diversion from this stereotype, therefore, elicits the ultimate of all insults:

“Ugh. That heifer is just NASTY.”

There are few things worse than being called a nasty Black woman. It could mean anything from you left your laundry in plain view of guests to implications that one is a carrier and spreader of venereal disease. There are expectations of one another within our community: something I term “Blaxspecations.” If I am called in to clean up a Black woman’s house, the most I expect to do is mop and pick up some clutter.

So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into Beverly Johnson’s house and was assaulted by the smell of wildlife as soon as she opened the door.

“Good morning,” I said with as much cheer as my soul could muster. “I’m Malaka with Spic n Span Cleaning Hands.”

She looked as surprised to see me as I was to see her. Like I said, I rarely clean for Black women.

“Good morning,” she said hesitantly.

“May we come in?” I asked, motioning to my co-worker.


She held the door open and let us in to her moderate home.

She explained that she had never had her house cleaned before and wasn’t familiar with the process. Instinctively I knew that this meant we were not going to get a tip. I saw a Biden/Obama sticker on the fridge. That only served to confirm my suspicions. Oh well, it didn’t matter. After all, I was only going to have to pick up clutter. I quickly ran over the process, asking us to show us her home and what special instructions she might have.

“ I’ve put my pets up. I have two dogs and a cat,” she informed us. “And my husband is asleep, so you don’t need to clean the room he’s in.”

I nodded and kept my thoughts to myself. What manner of working man is still asleep at 11 o’clock in the morning?

“So your name is Beverly Johnson? Like the model?” I said, trying to break the ice.

She smiled.

“Yes! My mother was a big fan of hers back in the day.”

She didn’t look anything like the real Beverly Johnson. She was tall – about 5′ 9″- but at a whopping 300 lbs was hardly catwalk material. I smiled and continued on the tour of her house, which was all of 3 bedrooms and common living space. It wouldn’t be that bad at all. I asked her how she wanted us to treat her wood floors. She wasn’t picky about that, she said. No matter how hard she’d tried, she hadn’t been able to get the shine back into the floors.

“They haven’t been shiny since I bought the house two years ago,” she lamented.

I noticed that my co-worker Samira had not said a word during the entire consultation. She had been frowning.

“We’re going to get our supplies and get started,” I informed Beverly.

“If you need me, I’ll be in the room with my husband,” she said softly.

She seemed like a sweet lady, which was why I was willing to overlook the piles of dog hair that blanketed the carpet on the top floor. We got our supplies and quickly got to work, choosing a bathroom each to clean.

Sweet, dear Jesus. WHY?

“Oh my GOD!” I whispered harshly.

Samira came into my bathroom and brought me a bottle of bleach.

“You gon’ need this,” she said in her thick Tennessee accent. “If your bathroom look anything like mines, you gon’ need this!”

The entire bathroom floor was covered in wet pet hair. The base of the toilet was brown with human waste, and the bathtub was blackened with soap scum and pubic hair.  I suppose the bathroom I had chosen was Beverly’s husband’s domain, because the expanse of the counter space was lined with grooming products and cologne. What was odd was that there were multiples of them.

“Why in the hell  does he need 3 of the same Old Spice, 4 of the same deodorant and 6 bottles of Black Opal?” I wondered to myself. I concluded that he had to be gay. No regular Black man needs that many grooming supplies.

I didn’t have time to further contemplate this odd behavior. I had a time frame to work within. I wiped the counter with a paper towel and nearly gagged.

 Black people. Listen to me. No…ALL people, listen to me. At no point in time is it acceptable to have this much hair on any surface of your home. Period. Okay?

“Sweet, heavenly Jesus in the sky,” I whimpered.

I scrubbed and scrubbed until the porcelain gleamed. It took an entire hour to clean a 5 X 7 bathroom. It should never take that long under any circumstances.

Samira was scowling as she came out of her bathroom. Her eyes were red and watering.

“Girl, you been crying?”

“Naw! It’s all that bleach I had to use on the tub, but you cain’t even damniit smell it ‘cause it stank so bad up in herr!”

She was right. I couldn’t detect the scent of bleach. A heavy canine scent still hung in the air. And she was angry. Samira is a good Christian girl who doesn’t curse. I knew she was about to come undone.

“We gon’ have to stick together in this house,” she stated. “Ain’t gon’ be no splitting up in here!”

I nodded in agreement, wishing she would lower her voice. I wanted to maintain an air of professionalism, but I understood her frustration. There was just no need to be this nasty.

Next we tackled the master bedroom, which was covered in dust and dog hair. The massive oak headboard had been dulled with years of lint, shed skin and filth settled into the grooves. I wiped it twice. It instantly looked better. I was still trying to maintain a positive attitude, but Samira was making it hard.

“Oh my GOD! I just want to walk in that room and punch both of them in the face!” she raged quietly.

I chuckled under my breath. She was such an itty-bitty thing that the thought of her taking on two huge people brought me instant amusement. It would be like a spider monkey assaulting a pair of wildebeest.

There’s no point in continuing to describe the horror we subjected to at every turn. Fecal matter cemented to the seat and lids of the toilet downstairs. Oily finger prints on every wall. The piles, and piles of dust and dirt that billowed and swirled with every broom stroke. The dead COCKROACH lying haplessly on its back in the dining room – why would you want to hear about any of that?

We concluded the clean up with 10 minutes to spare. I knocked on the door to let her know that we were finished. She didn’t answer, not even verbally to say she was coming out.

Probably in there trying to convince her gay husband to have sex with her, I thought to myself. After all, this IS Atlanta.

When we were exiting the door with our supplies, she finally walked out.

“How does everything look?” I asked hopefully. You never can tell how another Black woman is going to judge your cleaning job, even as nasty a one as she.

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “Look at the floor!”

Yeah, it’s amazing what can happen when you actually mop it.

Samira walked out and waited for me by the car. She was still boiling with indignation and rage.

Beverly pulled out a pen and began to write on a piece of paper. Perhaps I had judged her too quickly. Was she about to destroy another assumption I had made about her as a Black woman, this time in the positive? Was she about to give us a tip?

“So what are your names again? Can I request you guys when I want to get my house cleaned?”

I thought Samira was going to grow fangs and suck the life out of her. I smiled and provided her with our names and wished her a great weekend.

“You took ladies! Y’all have a great weekend too!”

She shut the door and that was it.


RHKOA: Holy Rachetness, Batman! I Just Want to Get My Supplies!

I’ve spent that last few days deep in thought, pondering over what point I should introduce you all to the Housekeeping saga. I finally made a decision this evening. To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, the most adventurous of all Hobbits, it is best to begin the telling of all tales at the beginning.

I work for a company called Spic ‘n Span Cleaning Hands, which employs 5 -10 people at any given time. Turnover at Spic n Span is very high. It would appear that most people do not have an affinity for work as a mobile domestic servant. Although, given the state of the economy, you would think they would give it more of a chance. With unemployment in the double digits for African Americans in this country, you might imagine that my people would welcome a real check for real work. But we’re a proud folk, so I do not begrudge anyone for not wanting this job. It is difficult and looked lowly upon.

Harriet Bookman started the company for her mother early this year. I told you about her before. At 26 she has a Master’s degree and has accomplished more in her few years than many women decades older have or possibly ever will. She employs her sister Hillary as a cleaner as well. Louisa Bookman – whom we refer to as ‘Big Lou’ on account that she stands at 5’ 11’’ and weighs well over 200 lbs – is a sweet but no nonsense character. She named her two daughters after strong Black women in hopes that they would emulate them. Harriet was named after Ms. Tubman, as you might have guessed, and Hillary was named after Mrs. Clinton. Technically, Hillary Clinton is not a “black woman”, but her husband WAS the first Black president of the United States. It’s more of an honorary title than anything else. The women of the family are light skinned, and not particularly attractive. However because of their statuesque builds, it’s difficult not to notice them. Perhaps that is what Yolanda’s problem was.

Some people just have “yellow girl hate”, as Big Lou put it to me one day.

Yolanda Jones is Harriet’s next door neighbor. With her petit build and toned body, she might actually be pretty if it weren’t for the perpetual scowl she wore on her face. She snarled every time she rode past in her silver Toyota or peeked out of her curtains to ‘spy’ on the neighbors, and looked away when anyone tried to wave in greeting. The ‘I love Jesus’ bumper sticker affixed to the back of her car is bewildering to all who know her. She truly is a miserable person. Perhaps the state of her blackened heart had something to do with her two teenaged sons robbing and raping a number of our neighbors in recent years. I don’t know; that’s just my suspicion. It became the subject of conversation one early morning when I went to go pick up my cleaning supplies from Harriet’s garage.

The summer air was thick and stifling, and a light mist hovered all around us. Now that I think about it, the atmosphere was quite apropos. Very Braveheart-ish, if I could describe it that way.

Harriet pointed to her neighbor’s garage door. There was dirt and leaves flung all over it, clinging to the wood in a most unbecoming manner.

“I threw that sh*t on her garage door last night,” Harriet whispered loudly.

She proceeded to tell me how she had parked her car outside of her garage, only to discover a few hours later that a heap of potting soil had been dumped by her tire. A note was affixed to her windshield as well. Park in front of your OWN garage it read. Yolanda was the assumed culprit. I stood listening to the details with wide eyes. I have never met this woman, and didn’t know there was a history of bad blood between them. I just showed up that morning to get a vacuum bad and a new broom.

“Excuse me,” said a voice from the balcony above. When it went ignored, it became more insistent. “Excuse me!”

I motioned towards Harriet and pointed at Yolanda’s slippers. That’s all I could see of the woman.

“Your neighbor wants you,” I informed her.

Harriet sighed.

“Yes?” she said with irritation.

“Uhh, look,” the feet said with attitude, “I don’t know what it is that is y’alls problem, but you keep disrespecting me!”

Harriet bristled.

“Who’s disrespecting YOU, when you the one out here causing trouble?”

The feet weren’t listening.

“You know, you come out here and let your children draw in my driveway with their chalk, and it’s just rude!”

“You better read the Home Owner’s guidelines again, chick,” retorted Harriet. “You don’t have a driveway. This stretch of road is public property!”

Clearly there was some history here that I didn’t know about. I gathered my supplies and sat in my vehicle, preparing to leave. There was a house to clean at 8 am, and I had 30 minutes to get there. Upstairs the feet were still talking trash, hurling a torrent of insults to no one in particular. We had both stopped listening.

“I’ll see you later, Harriett,” I said.

“Wait a minute. I have a new shirt for you to wear.”

She went inside to gather it. When she came out, Yolanda was still talking.

“…and it ain’t even you I got a problem with. It’s your momma.”

“What about my momma?” said Harriet stonily. Her eyes flashed and the tips of her ears got red. This was a side to her I’d never seen. When she spoke next, her accent had completely changed. She had gone Memphis on her neighbor. It was as though the Sword of Omens had summoned the rest of the ThunderCats. Big Lou and Hillary came filing outside of the garage next.

It’s hard to accurately describe the melee from that point on, but I can share with you that the words “raggedy a**” , “b*tch”, “your unemployed a**”, “ratchetness in 3D” and “why did you raise a rapist?” where thrown out there. There was an invitation for Yolanda to come down from her porch, which of course she declined by rolling her neck and declaring she “won’t scared”. That’s when I laughed.

“What you laughin’ fuh?” she snarled. “You better hope your kids don’t rob nobody either!”

I said some things to her that made her pause and take a quick breath. They weren’t nice things. They weren’t nice things at all.

“You might have Jesus on your car, but you got the devil in here,” I said in conclusion. “Come down here so I can slap the Hell outta you!”

Of course, she didn’t.

By this time it was 7:30 am and I had to leave. There was a house that needed cleaning and I was determined to make my friend’s company a success! As fate would have it, the adrenaline rush I got from partaking in that dawn ghetto showdown prepared me for what I was about to encounter in my very first client’s home that day.

What was it? I’ll tell you tomorrow.


The Real Housekeepers of Atlanta

I remember how quickly I fell in love with the city of Atlanta. As a first time visitor in 1999, it was like no other place I’d ever seen or lived in before. There was so much glitz and glamor at every turn. When I stepped outside of the doors of my friend’s apartment, opulence confronted me at every corner. To my right a sleek BMW would whiz by and toned blonds were perpetually jogging on the sides of busy roads. No one jogs in Ohio. The apartments nestled in the environs of Sandy Springs and Buckhead were enormous and sat on well-manicured landscapes.  The very expanse of the homes on New Northside Dr. took my very breath away. I’m giddy even as I recollect the emotions accompanied with those memories  now.

It was quickly decided that the moment I graduated from university I would be moving to this bustling southern metropolis. Armed with a bachelor’s degree and a positive attitude, I was ready to take on Atlanta. After weeks of searching and failing to land a job in my chosen field (the one I’d paid $60,000+ for),  I finally got a gig as an office admin earning $25K per annum… but I was CERTAIN that within a year, I too would join Atlanta’s growing elite society and cement my place as one of the city’s nouveau riche.

That was 12 years ago.

And while I haven’t gotten the keys to one of those luxury vehicles that dot any given Peachtree Road, I have at least traded my MARTA pass for a car with some air-conditioning and decent tires. (That took some doing, trust me.)

A myriad of unforeseen circumstances have led me to the state in which I find myself today, including the loss of that $25K job, which evaporated after the dotcom bubble burst. I was informed that by all who loved me that this was a blessing in disguise, and that I was too “smart” for that job anyway. I took solace in the utterances of my sympathizers, bouncing from one failed company to the next…all the while comforting myself with the ‘truth’ that I was too smart for those enterprises anyway! The irony today is that now I find myself employed in an occupation that requires little intellect at all. It requires little more than a steady pulse and a sturdy back, really. How smart do you have to be to mop a floor? You see, I am now one of Atlanta’s Housekeepers: A silent, mobile force that keeps this metropolis from falling into utter ruin, one toilet brush stroke at a time.

No one thinks about a housekeeper until it’s too late. When there’s tomato sauce embedded into the very fibers of a carpet, or the shower floor is so encrusted with filth that one is never sure what the original color of said floor was in the first place; that’s when we get called in. For some odd and amusing reason, most customers think that a housekeeper can wave her scrubbing wand and make 3 years’ worth of dirt disappear in 30 minutes. It just doesn’t happen that way. To make it analogous to the times, it’s very much akin to asking Barack Obama to fix 10 years’ worth of economic damage in 3. You’re just being set up for failure!

However unlike the president, I don’t blame the homeowner/predecessor for letting their home fall into such disrepair… but I do talk about them. And badly if they give me cause to. No, no! I would never say anything disparaging about their revolting ways to their face…that’s what this new series is for. It’s my personal reward for all the hard work I do in this unrewarding job that I’ve willingly taken on.

The common thread that binds all Atlantans is that behind the glitz, glamour and bling, most of these people are NASTY. And the nastiness traverses all income brackets – from the millionaire next door to the impoverished hoarder two streets over. This series is not meant to discuss the filthy conditions in which I often find myself (although there will be plenty of that to regale you with), but rather to imagine the life of these people based on their actions in those brief moments I share with them in the most intimate of settings: their home. How and what a person keeps in their house is more telling of their personality and lifestyle than any word they will ever speak. The condition of a person’s house will always provide constancy or betray the words and deeds of that individual. Cleaning houses is like a daily endeavor in crime scene analysis and psychology. Maybe I AM smart enough to do this after all!

And so here it is MOM Squad. As David S so aptly put it a few weeks ago, I’ve gone from “writing about The Hue Violet to living it.” I never knew how true his words would ring. I’ve gone from pursuing living my life in an expansive house to cleaning them for a living. Oh dear God, what a sense of humor you have.

 These are the tales of a merry band of maids, just trying to scratch out a living in the Hollywood of the South. I bring you the tales of the Real Housekeepers of Atlanta.