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9/13/11

House Cleaning



This morning, my mobile rang. I checked the area code. It was coming from Sacramento, California. Since I was writing, I ignored his call. 

Noon came around and I returned my attention to that morning caller. The caller had left a voice mail message:

Hi my name is Martha and I'm calling about, Onofra? House cleaning? We just found her card outside our doorstep here on Oxford Avenue in Cardiff and we'd like to see if she'd like to come over and look at the house and give us a quote for a house cleaning....My number is 760-555-7448. I'm right here between Dublin and Oxford in Cardiff by the Sea. Thank you so much, bye bye.
 My mother, Onofra, who cleans homes for a living, spent an entire day two weeks ago distributing 1000 business cards. A couple of days afterward, she talked to me dispirited because no one had called. 
Competition is stiff. For every card that I dropped off there were already three there, in addition to the landscapers and gardeners.
Before the recession began, there was plenty of business. Nowadays, you distribute 1000 cards, and you get one call back (the one we got today).

I called Onofra to ask if she was available to go to Cardiff-by-the-Sea in the afternoon. Yes. Then I called Martha to set up an appointment at 3:30 pm. 

Martha and her husband are loaded. Their home is a three-floor posh condominium with an ocean view. All of the floors are wooden, their appliances are state of the art and housed in stainless steel. Their microwave opens and shuts with a button. The walls and the part of the roof on the second floor that faces the ocean is all glasd. Ponds of sunlight sit in their living room. One stands there, and gets the impression one is an open air cage, or even on a hot air balloon. Many of the counter tops in the kitchen are thick, steamy glass. I had not seen something like that. The stair case rails are attached by wire, giving it a very modern, nearly-industrial look. 

The home has two bedrooms and three bathrooms. The bathrooms are something to talk about too. The master shower has three sources of water, and they are all jet streams. One is atop, for a simpler shower. Two are on the wall and they spray across the shower, to get your body. The shower is surfaced with tile in the upper half and stone, real stone, in the lower. It's encased in thick, see-through glass. Outside of the shower is a large tub, which coincidentally, Martha says, they "never use." 

I began to get tired just going through the house, there is so much to clean! 

Downstairs was another full bathroom (Martha's), the door to the garage, and the office. They either work at home, or bring a lot of work home. It's an office for two, with two full-size desks facing each other with sleek desktop PC's. In a corner, there is exercise equipment I suppose they use when they get stiff. Outside, visible through a window, a small fountain. It's on their property, and obviously custom-made for them. 


On our way to Martha's, Onofra and I discussed how to negotiate the verbal contract. Due to the dearth in business, Onofra is gunshy about negotiating as usual. That is: the first cleaning is done at $20 per hour. The rest of the cleanings are set at a flat rate depending on the frequency: weekly, every two weeks, monthly, what have you. And if more than one month passes, we go back to $20 per hour. 

While in the car, Onofra asked, 

Did Martha say anything about whether she wanted to hire me on a regular basis? 
No. Why don't we just tell her how we work, give her quotes for weekly, biweekly, and so forth, and then let her decide?
 OK
Martha's a white thirty-something who looks like she works out each day and eats a low-fat diet. She was in sweatpants, running sneakers, and a tank-top under an Adidas sweater when we arrived. She was cordial, friendly, and welcoming. Her hair was down to her shoulders, straight, and blond. Crow's feet are becoming pronounced behind her eyes. 

Onofra estimated that the first cleaning would take her eight hours. At $20 per hour, that's $160 for the first time. Subsequently, it would be $110 per week. Martha cringed and said:
My husband and I were thinking about putting her on a trial basis and move up the wage from there. Say, $100 a week for the first month, and then based on her performance, end the relationship, or keep her and pay her up to $110. 
Onofra had no objection to that. I surmised that Martha was only used to paying $100 per week and her counteroffer was just a way to postpone the pain for one more month, to see Onofra's work, and then make a final decision. Or, as it goes in this life of self-employment, verbal contracts, and white to Latino racial relationships, it was only her way of saying, "no deal." I will not be surprised if within the next week, she calls with a lame excuse to cancel; in which case, I will make sure she gets a cold dosage of a piece of my mind. 

I'm happy with what Onofra asked for. Not too much, not too little. I'm happy that she wasn't so scared by the economic recession (which people like Martha are clearly unaffected by) that she grossly under-priced herself. It's not like $110 is NOT underpaid anyway. I mean, this IS self-employment. No health insurance. 

The last thing we did before leaving was look at a calendar and set the first cleaning. Onofra's first day with Martha (if she keeps her word) is Monday the 19th.

After the tentative deal, mom treated me to a veggie burrito at Chipotle's