Friday, July 22, 2011

In which my cleaning lady breaks bad on my white sofa but it's sort of my fault

I hired Esperanza, she who did laundry and cleaned windows, and things went well for a while.

I recommended her to my friends.

My friends liked her at first.

Then there were problems. Big problems.

Esperanza let my friend Holly's dog out, despite being told repeatedly that she had to latch the gate when she came in and keep the door closed. The dog got out, the dog got out, the dog got out - and finally, the dog was hit by a car. And died.

Which was bad enough, but Holly didn't fire Esperanza (it is very hard to find someone good help), who then left the door open and the cat got out. The cat was not killed, but that was when Holly decided ya basta. Esperanza had to go.

I should have fired Esperanza in solidarity. I would have gotten major friend credits (I fired my maid because she was a bad maid for you!) and my sofa would not have been destroyed.

My sofa. One of my first adult furniture purchases. I bought it at an estate sale in Houston. It needed re-upholstering but a person who is buying used furniture is probably not in a position to be paying for such fancy stuff. An old white sofa with great solid 1920's bones - I could throw a blanket over it and it would be fine.

For many years, it served me well. When I went to the Peace Corps, my friends Eric and Nancy stored it in their house after warning me that they had three cats who loved to claw on furniture.

"It needs re-upholstering anyhow," I shrugged.

True to the promise, the cats made short work of the sofa. When I moved to Miami, I discovered the wonder of little old Cuban men who worked in their garage and did great work for low prices. I found fabric remnants and a Little Old Cuban Guy (I also found a LOCG for my washer and dryer and for shoe repair - oh, how I miss Miami, home of the LOCG) who picked up the sofa from my house and then returned it a week later, looking almost new.

Then, when my employer told me my services were needed in another city, or, put another way, that my paycheck would now be delivered to Another City and that was where I could pick it up. The movers put a two-inch tear in the upholstery.

Hardly a big deal, but their insurance paid for the sofa to be re-upholstered yet again. This time, I got fancier and got much nicer fabric because well - because someone else was paying for it and that's just human nature. The sky's the limit when it's someone else's checkbook is my motto.

When my mother found out that I had picked white fabric (with a subtle jacquard weave of red and gold), she sighed and said, "I'm never going to be a grandmother, am I?"

Nope. Never really cared about having kids.

The new upholsterer had some tricks that even the LOCG didn't have and did things with the springs and the cushions that made the sofa comfortable for the first time. With the leftover fabric, he made four matching pillows. My sofa was complete.

So when I came home from work one day to find that someone had scribbled on one of the pillows with a black pen, I was not happy.

At first, I thought maybe my then-boyfriend or I had sat on the sofa with a pen in our pocket, but then I realized that the pattern was not that of an accidental, one-time pen leakage. Then I saw that another pillow was defaced in the same way. And the sofa itself – several lines about eight inches long right in the middle of the seat back and little circles in each of the buttons.

Three pillows. With ink stains. With the ink-stained side turned toward the back of the sofa.

The odds of that happening randomly are

1/2 * 1/2 * 1/2 = 1/8 = 12.5%

That is, the odds of each pillow being turned with the ink side down are one in two. These are independent odds: the position of one pillow does not determine the position of another. To get the overall odds, multiply the independent odds by each other.

Oh man I hope I'm doing this right. It has been 20 years since I had probability and statistics. I did well (in grad school, when I actually attended the class, as opposed to college P&S, where I went four times and got only a C can you imagine?), but 20 years is a long time.

Whatever. What this number - 12.5% - tells you is that it is highly unlikely that all three pillows ended up ink side down by accident.


I called Esperanza. “Esperanza, I just found that someone drew on the sofa pillows with a pen. And on the sofa. I think it was Isabel.” Isabel was Esperanza’s two-year-old daughter.

“Oh, yes,” Esperanza said. “Don’t worry. I’ll clean it next time I come.”

“No!” I said sharply. “Don’t touch it. I’m going to take the pillows to the cleaners and see what they say.”

“OK,” she said cheerfully.

“You could have ruined it. It cost $1,000 to have that couch covered. I need to know the best way to do this,” I snapped.

“OK,” she said.

“I expect you to pay for everything,” I continued.


“It was your daughter who did this,” I told her.

“OK,” she said again, not so cheerfully this time.

“Do not bring Isabel with you here any more if you are not going to watch her,” I said.

Here's a word problem: Your cleaning lady has caused $1,000 worth of damage. You pay her $60 once every three weeks. How do you recover your money, especially considering you probably don't want her to be your cleaning lady any more?

The dry cleaner shook his head sorrowfully when he saw the pillows. "No ma'am," he said. "Ah cain't get those stains out."

This was the last straw. Esperanza's cleaning had already slipped - she had gone from deep cleaning to maintenance cleaning mode. Yes, I wanted my windows washed every three weeks. I was paying what amounted to $20 an hour, which she may or may not have been declaring on her taxes. For 20 tax-free dollars, I want washed windows every time. Yes, I am a bitch that way.

Some of the things she had done that I don’t think someone should do if she is being paid $60 to clean a house included

• Leaving the pictures knocked askew after dusting them
• Leaving bookcases, cedar chests and beds five inches from their normal positions
• Leaving dirty rags on top of the radiator
• Leaving dirty rags in the kitchen sink
• Not cleaning the lint trap in the dryer
• Not bothering to put the trash in the trash can outside and leaving it against the side wall instead (my cleaning ladies just couldn't get that trash where it belonged)
• Dusting pictures so vigorously that the plaster crumbled around the nails, requiring me to re-plaster, re-paint and then re-hang the pictures
• Hiding the dishes (well, OK, maybe not hiding, but not bothering to put like with like, so I can’t find anything – if all the Tupperware is in one place, don’t you think that’s where you would put any other Tupperware?)
• Leaving a dryer full of clothes because she is in a hurry
• Not cleaning the cobwebs from the ceiling

Esperanza wasn't answering her phone and then she wasn't returning her messages. When I got a message from her that she was having problems with her husband, I thought, That's it. That's enough. I don't want any more drama. I hadn't wanted to tell her she was fired by answering machine, but when I couldn't ever speak to her, I finally left a message with her fifth grade son not to return and to drop the key in my mail slot. I was done. Any bad housekeeping in the future would be done by me, for free.