IT'S EARLY MORNING. I sleepily answer a persistent ringing phone. The caller is frantic. I know nothing about serving. I repeatedly insist. Cleaning is my line, I remind her. I could never handle such a fancy luncheon.
There had been a problem with some of the scheduled help, and the luncheon only hours away, she is reduced to tears. I symphatize with her. Yes, yes, I agree, I'll comne and give it a try.
I happen to have a decent uniform at least. Black with crisp white lace cuffs and collar, and, of course, a matching apron. It was left over from an elegant household where it was required attire for just doing windows.
My old wagon that usually takes Sunday for its day of rest decides to start and I head for Chevy Chase.
After a quick lesson in serving etiquette, I join the other help and somehow manage to gracefully maneuver through a sea of freshly cut freesia, flowing silk and tons of gold without any serious mishaps.
When the last of the kiwi tarts are finally cleared away, I pack a small doggie bag and head for McDonald's to celebrate her giving me my Tuesday cleaning day off with pay. Monday
Month after month, a stop at Magruder's food store has been a prelude to my Monday cleaning day. After all, where else can you possibly find lettuce at three heads for a dollar. Besides, it's right on my way in, and, hopefully, not too much trouble.
It's only a little after 7 a.m. but already the store is jammed. I rush to the produce counters. Fresh raspberries catch my eye. I take it upon myself to buy four boxes. After all, they are only half pints. I grab several loaves of cheap white bread and make a beeline for a checkout. Wishing desperately for a shorter line, I leave my cart for a moment to search. When I return, the cart's gone. Now my frustration is joined by growing anger. I start talking out loud to myself. Today I am quitting this job. Flatly, positively quitting. I am a cleaning person, not a shopper.
I finally locate my abandoned cart. Now I must wait in an even longer line. Shoppers eye the raspberries, then me. One bold woman finally speaks up, "Are you aware of how much those berries are going to cost you?" Yes, I reply quietly.
She touches them lightly. Only a millionaire could afford so many at this price, she hints. They are for a millionaire, I deadpan. There is silence and disbelief, and then, "But such cheap bread." For the raccoons, I put in, better to let them eat bread than dig up the lawn.
Suddenly I am surrounded. Who do you work for? What are the rich really like? What do they eat? How do they live? Fierce employer loyalty starts to surface. I fix a frozen smile on a don't-ask face, and answer, "Like ordinary people." Then I wait and wait and wait.
I am ashamed and change my mind about quitting when my boss, overwhelmed with the raspberries, tells me to just give Mary a hand with some silver for a small dinner party that evening and take the rest of the day off.
I insist on staying, and her house gets the most thorough cleaning it's ever had by me. This day has indeed been an exercise in patience. Wednesday
I awake with a scratchy throat and stuffy nose. A cold, driving rain makes me long to take the day off and stay in bed. Instead, I dress and I head for Bethesda.
I breathe a sigh of relief when I see the doctor's car still in the driveway. Before I even say good morning, I descend upon him, listing all my symptoms, pausing only for his medical advice. There is only a slight nod and faint smile. He pours a cup of coffee and settles behind the morning paper.
A few minutes later, his wife enters, cheerful and radiant in spite of the gloomy day. She greets me warmly. Undaunted by my earlier rejection, I launch into a nasal, wheezing complaint with the expertise of a TV commercial. She is concerned: "I'll have the doctor take a look and give you something." s
The medication works; I'm soon my old self again. I plunge determinedly into my routine cleaning.
The sound of the buffer on the terrazzo floors in the spacious atrium blends harmoniously with the wind and rain on the skylights.
When I'm ready to leave, the sun, hidden all day, comes out to bid farewell. In the still cloudy northeastern sky, a spectacular rainbow makes a grand appearance. I gaze in awe as the firstborn is joined by its twin, perfectly arching the the entire northern sky. A wave of nostalgia sweeps over me. I stand spellbound by its beauty until every minute trace of it is gone.
The day has had a good ending. Thank heavens for doctors' wives. Thursday
The new desk clerk eyes me suspiciously as I enter the front door, right past the doorman, lugging the vacuum I picked up from the repair shop.
My bright morning smile fades when she tells me, in the future, to use the service elevator. Too early for a testy confrontation, I conclude, and avoid answering. However, I don't feel quite the same when curious stares at my vacuum and cleaning cloths (yes, I bring my own) greet me once more as I wait for the passenger elevator. When a laid-back, ultrasuede-clad woman says, "Excuse me, but . . ." I almost start my answer before she continues, "Do you work as a cleaning person in this building?" I nod yes. "Oh," she says, "you wouldn't happen to have a free day, would you? I'm new here." She giggles lightly and hands me her card, very VIP and very close to the seat of power. I'm impressed.
In the penthouse foyer, a prominently displayed note neatly written on several pieces of brown paper lets me know my boss is back town.
Later, I realize it was seemly to warn me to enter at my own risk. Apparently there had been a dinner party with a new cook in the kitchen. First I sit down. Then I have coffee and a croissant with guava jelly.
I devise a plan. I wll tackle the crisp burned over and broiler head-on. The smokestained walls will be cleaned the easy Spic N Span way. I will not even look at the other rooms, pretending that once this is done, the rest will be like taking candy from a baby.
By midafternoon, I settle into a comfy leather recliner, nestle my bare feet into a fur rug and survey the elegant rooms now restored to decorator perfection.
I try and try to think of a reason to call my boss. I never tire of the thrill of being put through to one of the most powerful men in the country. But there is no reason to call, so I relax and enjoy the afternoon soaps. Friday
Four days down, one to go. I make my usual harried search for a Georgetown parking space, mentally agonizing over the challenge of the mansion. There are lots of servants and a basically clean house. Yet despite that, my cleaning visit always leaves its trademark. Fringes brushed flat on the Persian rugs, used up soap bars washed free of lingering dried suds, plus countless other touches that make me necessary and keep my reputation -- "Others may clean, but Dori makes it show."
As the hours slowly push the week to its end, the tiredness of each day's work searches to find a place to settle in my body.
With a blatant disregard for the abuse of energy, I head for the elevator, returning the cold, stony stares of the full-time household servants with a daring day worker's glance.
Today I am a lady, I announce. I pick up my cleaning supply bucket and step elegantly inside the elevator as if I am carrying a Louis Vuitton bag. My moment of glory is short lived; I emerge with a scrubwoman's stance.
In bumper-to-bumper Friday evening traffice, the workdays filled with bathrooms, crusty ovens and fingerprint-smeared patio glass doors flash through my mind in quick review.
"You know something, Magruder's," I say aloud, "You're not so bad after all, so open up Monday -- 'cause here I come.