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The note from my boss was written in all caps:
“THESE CARPETS ARE DISGUSTING. THEY NEED TO BE CLEANED – NOT JUST VACUUMED. TONIGHT.”
Yikes. It was a couple months after my high school graduation, and I was getting my start in the working world. It didn’t seem to be going so well. Thank goodness I had the graveyard shift, and my boss was in during the day. I wouldn’t want to get her message in person.
My twin sister worked there with me at the time, and we both looked at each other nervously. We weren’t really cleaning “professionals”; our boss had hired us as kind of a favor to our dad. Now she might tell him we were too incompetent to even manage the floors.
Poor Dad; he’d been so excited to get us a job so we could start paying for our car.
But we could fix this. So far we’d been diligent about taking care of the major messes a telemarketing office could get covered in. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to clean the plastic cigarette-disposal thing out back. And apparently, only vacuuming the carpets wasn’t going to cut it. We headed to Wal-Mart.
The store was still bustling at 1AM. We stood in the isle of cleaning products for a while, trying to figure out what would work best. We weren’t professionals, like I said. We finally chose some kind of bleaching powder that came in a little bucket. It looked simple enough; you just mixed it with water, or something like that. Easy.
Back in the office, we quickly came up with an efficient system to get the job done: I scooped the powder from the bucket onto each dark stain on the blue carpet. My sister came along behind me, pouring water from a plastic cup onto the little white mounds.
We scoured the whole office, making sure to hit every spot. We were especially thorough in our boss’s office. I even remembered to move her potted plants so we could take care of the stains underneath.
Once every spot was steeping, we went on to the usual cleaning. We debated before leaving about whether to vacuum up the powder-and-water mixture covering the carpets, but in the end, we decided it probably needed the rest of the night to do its job. The carpet was pretty dirty, after all. We clocked out.
My cell phone started ringing at 7AM. Gosh, who would call this early? I turned it off and went back to sleep. At around noon when I woke up, I turned the phone back on and saw six missed calls from my boss. Uh-oh.
Her message was so shrill, I couldn’t make out one word, but it went on for a while. Something had to be wrong.
My sister and I went through the rest of our day. We actually had a pretty fun one, so admittedly, we sort of forgot about the whole thing. But it all came back to us at work that night.
Our chattering stopped as we flipped on the lights. Oh crap - the carpets.
Where each dark stain had been, now there were white stains… and they were so much more noticeable. Even the ones under the cubicles practically jumped out of the floors. There was no rhyme or reason to the pattern, either, so it’s not like the carpet could pass for being made that way.
They were shaped like splotches and smears. Some had bleached to a pure white, and some were a faded whitish-blue. Some were dime-sized, some the size of my head. There was one giant splat in the middle of the floor, where I’d decided to cover more ground.
We stood in silence for a few minutes, taking it all in. It was hard to come up with the right words.
“I kind of think it looked better before.”
“Do – do you think we’ll get paid for last night?”
I sure hoped so. I mean – we had to make a living. It wasn’t our fault that the stupid bucket of cleaner hadn’t warned us about a scenario like this.
We reassured each other as we clocked in. And we decided it’d probably be best if we just stuck to vacuuming the floors from now on. “Fool me once”, right?
We also decided we’d better let things blow over before asking for that week-and-a-half off to go to Vegas next month.
…And before asking for our raises. Minimum wage wasn’t really cutting it, and we’d already been there about four weeks now. But we’d give it a couple more, to let our boss’s eyes adjust to the carpet.
I never actually apologized to her. It’s just now occurring to me, that she usually got to the office first. On top of the near-stroke she must have had when she was assaulted by the floors, she was also probably the one who scrubbed and vacuumed up the powdery, clumpy mess my sister and I walked out on.
But I’d never had a job before; it was all new to me, you know?
I didn’t bring it up to my dad, and he didn’t say anything to me, but I’m pretty sure he got the same screeching call I did. And if he could interpret it, I’m sure he called my boss back to express his remorse over the whole thing, and to apologize for making his recommendation.
Employment just took me a little time to figure out.