For years, I had been told that I was a natural fit for the hospitality industry. My winning smile, my warm charisma — I could win over the most difficult guests and be a wonderful co-worker. Eve, as it turned out, was dazzled by neither my smiling face nor my can-do attitude. If anything, she seemed to resent me for both.
I had heard all about the hotel’s tough union environment, but nothing could quite have prepared me for the actual experience. Eve didn’t want to make small talk. And I quickly learned that any information I offered up as a conversation starter (“Becky looks tan after her weekend in the Bahamas”) would be used against me (“Those front desk girls get too much time off”).
The fact that I was from New Jersey earned me the nickname “rich girl” amongst the inner posse of housekeepers, a cabal of a dozen women in their 50s. It took me all of a day to learn never to wear jewelry or makeup or do anything to draw attention to myself.
No bad thing. It turns out my new Tory Burch flats were not suitable for shower scrubbing. Eve took it as a personal affront that I had selected such inappropriate footwear. As though I had any idea that I would be slipping around the bathroom floor, trying to get soap scum off shower doors. She demoted me from bathroom duty (from bathroom duty!) and laughed at my attempt to make a bed. The only tasks that she thought suited my abilities were collecting garbage and folding the dirty underwear and socks that were strewn across the floor. She took great joy in telling anyone who would listen that “this rich girl is worthless. What is management hiring these days?”
I later learned that she earned an extra $2/hour for her training efforts, nearly a 20 percent increase in her salary. Oh yes. Eve had every intention of dragging my stay out as long as she could.
Exhausted and defeated, I managed to plaster a convincing smile on my face when I caught up with the rest of the housekeeping managers at the end of the day. I nodded and smiled through conversations, trying not to look as pitiful as I felt. As I changed and got ready to leave, I glanced down at my phone to see several voicemails and text messages from grad school friends eager to hear how my big first day had gone. I wouldn’t be calling anyone back today. I couldn't fake any more enthusiasm. All I wanted to do was sleep.
I gave up my subway seat to a pregnant woman, although I was certain that my back pain rivaled hers. I was jostled on the ride home, sure that my fellow passengers were going out of their way to stomp on my blistered feet. And then the self-pity set in. How foolish I was to think that my overpriced higher education would put me on the fast track to success. For the past two years I had rationalized giving up my social life to be over-caffeinated and irritable with my head buried in text books because I was sure that my hard work would pay off in dividends. So much for that fantasy.
Nice masters degree, girlie. Why don’t you go give that toilet another scrub.