Ten years ago I sought to make extra cash by cleaning the small Baptist church we then attended. I should have suspected something when the woman then doing the job fell prostrate at my feet.
“It does pay, doesn’t it?” I reiterated.
“Yes. Oh, thank you thank you thank you!”
For one person, it was a six-hour weekly event; for five people — moi plus four kids — it was a great way to earn money for the annual trip to the coast, as well as a means of learning patience, perseverance, humility, and the fine art of ignoring in-your-face but but not to-your-face critique.
In nine years, what have I learned from cleaning the cavernous sanctuary, the equally large basement, three kitchens, four bathrooms, and assorted little rooms spread across three buildings?
1) There is job security in performing work that no one else wants to do.
People may complain, but not enough to snatch the work from your latex-gloved hands and take over.
2) Keep an eye on the details.
It’s easy to miss one plastic communion cup out of 100. Don’t.
Spiders build webs up high. Look up.
When the city spends weeks ripping the street down to dirt in front of the building, it’s dust to dust to dust all over the place.
When the water main breaks in the middle of the ripped up street in front of the building, dust is no longer an issue.
3) Do not, however, obsess about details, or worry about people who do.
When I inherited the job, it was impressed upon me the importance of placing three rolls of toilet paper on the back of each commode in the ladies’ bathroom — two on the bottom, one on the top, forming a pyramid.
After awhile, I reduced this to two, thinking that three was excessive, especially as one roll languished, week after week, unused, until its paper wrapping got ratty (at this point, the paper was removed and the roll placed in the cabinet of the men’s restroom — no pyramids there, just a spaceful of unwrapped rejects).
Lo and behold, next week the trinity was back — two on the bottom, one on the top, the one on the left tattered and poised for the boys in a month or so. As a matter of principle, I removed the top roll and waited, like the shoemaker with the elves, to see what would happen.
This went on for several weeks, until finally my silent adversary gave up. Score one for the Cleaner.
Which brings me to number four,
4) Be persistent.
Five years ago, the administrative head brought forth charts and figures and graphs and PowerPoint presentations to prove the superiority of individual chairs over pews. “People leave a minimum of 32 inches between themselves and a non-family member in pews,” he intoned. “Chairs will eliminate this waste of space.”
Apparently none of his extensive research mentioned that people leave an entire chair, if not two, between themselves and a non-family member.
Ah well. As the cleaner, I brought up a thought out of my head, totally unsupported by the latest research: pews can be vacuumed under; chairs can’t. Who will remove and put back all those chairs?
No problem, I was assured. A Ministry of Chair Removal and Replacement was instigated.
Nobody signed up.
There is an increasing population of dust bunnies, literally unreached.
5) People do odd things in odd places.
Every week, I found a pile of fingernail clippings in one section of the sanctuary. Personally, if I were the speaker, I would be alarmed to spot someone so focused on grooming, although the positive side is that this person is at least awake.
For several years, some snacking virtuoso left nacho chip crumbs (bright orange against a teal carpet) at the base of the piano, but never on the keys themselves. Perhaps it was the page turner.
After communion Sundays, a swathe of broken cracker crumbs covered the teal carpet — how do people manage to spill so much out of their mouths?
There are more lessons, but like a tolerable sermon, lists should be limited. Otherwise people pull out the nail clippers and Dorito bags, sharing resources with the person two chairs away from them.