Saturday, February 21, 2009

Le domicile du Pressing: diary

So I come home from work. So I've had an annoying day. My schedule was changed, not once but twice, to accomodate two teenaged girls who had to serve detentions at school today, and who could not therefore work the evening shift they usually do.

So I work from noon to six, with responsibility for closing up, at which task I am still a tad new and unpracticed. Fine.

So I arrive for work at noon. Having already had this schedule changed, too. I was due to come in at 11:00 am. So I've lost an hour's pay. Fine.

So I arrive, and yes, I am wearing my loud necklace of colored beads and my new gray sweater and my lipstick, while my coworker Joann wears a ponytail and apricot-colored fleece jackets with the "Columbia" logo on them, every day. She looks as though she's on the crew of a space shuttle. So, fine.

So I am ready to work. I punch in, go up front to make myself useful, and Joann says, Oh why don't you just go back and bag those few things, real quick, and then come up here and help us.

Fine. Mom raised me to be agreeable. The fact that I was hired for this job as the incoming manager is not something that veteran Joann or anyone else, including the teen girls who will leave at the end of the summer anyway, need to know. Just yet.

So I go back to the back room, and "bag." It seems to me that it frequently works out this way: I end up doing some kind of necessary work alone, while the other two or three staff happen to end up doing some other kind of necessary work, together. Fine.

Life at a dry cleaner's is hugely complex, more so than one could ever appreciate without working at one. Bagging clean clothes for pickup is one of the tasks that I do least. Therefore I am slow. When I delint those clothes, by golly, I delint them. I was trained at the main plant by "Bictoria," who spoke Spanish, wore two colors of lipstick at once, had a blond perm, and could spot a millimeter of lint at ten paces. She obviously took pride in her job, and made it look like the ballet. Who knows what the customer might see and be offended at, in a hand-finished garment? Victoria knew.

You sign your name to every single invoice after you have finished. Men's suits are treated differently than women's suits. Four pairs of trousers are acceptable under one paper cape, but only two shirts. Tissue paper in the sleeves. Every other button buttoned. Wool coats are delinted with a rake, charcoal, rough brush, soft brush, and then sticky tape. Ties, sweaters, trousers (crease or no crease?) all have their own protocols. Add drapes, leathers, formal gowns, scarves, down coats, comforters. Bag it, take it off the bagging stand, hang it on its own order hook. Sign off. Tie the items of one order together. One item? Wrap a glaring orange "1 item" sticker around the hanger. If anything is wrong, you'll hear about it.

So I bag. There is a clock directly in front of me. I know perfectly well that the young girls who bag are as quick as lightning about it, almost. To Joann -- who is my age -- and to them, five or six orders, such as I have been directed to take care of, would be done "real quick."

Alas, I am not quick. I concentrate on being quick and develop butterfingers. I forget basic things. Papers and tissues slip from my dry winter-stressed fingertips, big clothes hooks swing and catch each other on the "line" and fall to the floor. Twenty minutes pass. Then another twenty. I could vow that every time I look at this pair of black pants, I see three more dog hairs. Yes, Joann would be done by now. But she's also the one who has comments "in her file" in the boss's office, such that she cannot be manager of this store. Ever.

I have worked long enough with these women to know that their hugest entertainment is talking eagerly about people -- each other, customers, the boss, in fact anyone not present in the room. If you are out of earshot, you are fair game. All right, fair enough. There is human nature, in all its glory, and I do the same myself. But I know without fail that under the circumstances, my three coworkers are now discussing me. What is taking her so long. Half the stuff is sweaters and they're already bagged!

After forty-five minutes, the young girl who is routinely in the most trouble -- everyone thinks she's so cute, although that staple through the customer's silk blouse almost got her fired last week -- wanders back and asks me, "how ya doin', Nance?"

"I'm good, how are you?"

"Good. I get to leave at 2:00."


After an hour and ten minutes, I am done. I must telephone one customer, as per instructions on the invoice, and am compelled therefore to venture into the front of the store to get a phone number from the computer. It is quite awkward. I am perfectly aware of stifled laughter, and it's not paranoia, it's stifled laughter. Especially from Joann, with the blue circles under her eyes and that unfortunate overbite.

I rejoin the group, and they chatter on as usual. Women brood, which is what gives them such fuel for gossip, which I don't like. Nevertheless I brood. There is something annoying about having been distinctly treated as a twelve-year-old by people who -- well, who should be gracious enough to know that one isn't twelve.

The day passes. The manager later attempts to give me quickie instructions in the closing and money-counting procedures that she has done practically in her sleep for fourteen years. "It would have been such an easy transition," she said to me not long after I was hired, if only Joann or Marge could have taken on the manager's job she is leaving. I fantasize about firing Joann.

I close up properly, and go home.

At home, I have a half-box of angel hair pasta on hand, plus some leftover broccoli cooked with garlic and fresh basil leaves in the fridge. I cook the pasta, drain it, dump in the cold smushy broccoli, and add a pat of butter and some milk. I heat it all up, put it in a bowl, and add salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. It looks like such a lot. Good grief, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

I inhale three bowls of it. And I wash it down with my ultimate comfort wine, Frontera Rose from Chile ($4.99, and the jewel-like color and juicy taste of red grapefruit). As I vent, now, I am at the bottom of my second glass of that, but it is a very small, antique sort of glass, so don't worry.

Next, some chocolate, and maybe a glass of warm milk. Then maybe a movie, or a book? Then bed. And a firm vow never, never to wear apricot colored fleece jackets. Yes, yes, she's very nice and helps me a great deal with my newbie's questions. I appreciate that. Don't we all.

And how was your day?

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