Well, not really.
But I do remember the dean of faculty at my high school telling me (after learning that I’d sweated through the previous summer at McDonald’s for minimum wage) that whenever he saw restaurant experience on a teaching candidate’s resume, he was always favorably impressed. He told me, this is someone who is used to being overworked and under-appreciated.
I was reminded of this not because I’m working in a restaurant right now, but because I actually think the cleaning profession rivals that of slinging chow for bone-crushing misery and thanklessness. I gave the Crunch house the first good clean in a long time this morning, and as I had ample time for thinking (hands are occupied, but mind is free), I found myself recalling some of the more disgusting jobs I’ve done.
The one that takes the cake is the one I did two summers after McDonald’s. For both summers I worked at Camp San Luis Obispo–not at all a summer camp, but a National Guard training facility. Groups of Guardsmen would come through, check in, and go play war games in the hills each day. Even the lowest grade of soldier was given the option of paying a little extra per day to have his bed made, floor swept, bathrooms cleaned, and ashtray dumped. Ordinarily, this was a simple enough procedure. Once my back muscles had gotten in gear from all the hovering over unmade beds and unscrubbed toilets, the work became fairly straightforward. I had some great supervisors, especially the second summer (when there were fewer smokers on staff), including one who used to talk about “warshing the floor,” then “rinching out the rag,” and another who would guzzle down a case of Tab a day. (Remember Tab?) I learned one or two valuable skills, too, like when one of my coworkers, a burnt-out hippie named Tom, showed me for the first time in my life how to fold a fitted sheet. (The Cap’n still can’t figure out how I do it.)
There were a few bad days, though. Like the week each summer when one group would come through and invariably accuse us of stealing their stuff. (That meant we were observed by a supervisor the whole time we did our chores, which slowed us down significantly.) Or the day some wise guy decided to defecate in the shower. When one of my co-workers found it, she was actually worried we’d be expected to clean it out. Fortunately, our supervisor was as disgusted as we, and simply reported the incident. Despite the fact that the toilets and sinks hadn’t been finished, she said, “Leave the rest of the bathroom undone. See how the bastards like it.” Or the time I picked up an ashtray, expecting to wipe it out, and saw someone’s Biblical “seed” swimming in it. (Grossed out yet? I sure was.) My supervisor told me to throw if away and not give him another.
I don’t care for untidiness. I like a good clean if it makes life more comfortable. And it always amazes me when people don’t appreciate that from others who clean up after them. The old Ethiopian man who swept the sidewalks in my neighborhood in Beit Shemesh (a thankless job if ever there was one) didn’t speak much Hebrew, but I think he understood enough to know I was thanking him when I would pass him on the street walking Peach to gan in the morning.
My favorite story, though, is about Rav Moshe Feinstein. When he was in the hospital near the end of his life, he would chat with the Black woman who would come in every day to tidy his room and empty the trash. He asked her about her family, her health, and was genuinely interested in her answers. At his funeral, this woman stood outside the innermost circle, silently paying her respects. The Yidn at the funeral were puzzled about what a Black woman would be doing at Rav Moshe’s funeral. When some of them asked her what she was doing there, she told them about Rav Moshe and his kindness. I hope they learned that one final lesson from Rav Moshe that day. It may be the most important one they ever learn.
There have been a number of divrei Torah in the last year given by the rabbis in our neighborhood about the importance of hakarat hatov (showing gratitude). Having been on the soapy side of the cleaning/cleaned-up-after relationship myself, I always try to thank those charged with the task of cleaning for my benefit, and to tip them when appropriate.
Because as we all know, cleanliness is next to godliness.