Loco Parentis: Sheets Happen

So do towels. And condoms. My daughter’s brief life as a maid

“Ahmet says we all have to work six days a week instead of five. He says the hotel’s going to be really busy for the rest of the summer, so we only get one day off.”

“Just say no. Tell him you won’t do it.”

“We talked about that, me and the girls. But if we won’t do it, he’ll just find someone else who will. It’s not like any of us would be hard to replace. “

“You need to organize a labor union.” I’m only half joking.

“The girls are all illegal, Mom. I don’t think they can join.” She sighs, starting up the stairs. “You know what I don’t get? They say they come here for the sake of their children, but they never even see their children. And now they’ll be working — and paying for daycare — six days a week!”

“I guess they figure it’s worth it, so their kids will have a better life.”

“But what about their lives? Don’t they count?”

I think of the smiling, chattering Latinos I see at my grocery store, with its football-field-length shelves of soda and potato chips, or filling carts at Walmart with cheap TVs, and DVDs to watch on them. “Aren’t they happier here than they were in … ” They come from everywhere: Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador. “Than they were before they got here?”

She shakes her head. “They all want to go back.” She brightens. “Except for Angel!”

Just my luck.


"THE GIRLS WANT to have a sit-down with management,” Marcy announces, coming home from work on a July evening and heading to the refrigerator for a cold water bottle. “They want me to translate.”

“What’s it all about?”

“Ahmet keeps telling us we have to do more rooms, and do them better. But we can’t do more rooms and do them better. We can do more rooms and take shortcuts, or we can do them right and not get as many done. The girls are really upset.” She holds the water bottle to her forehead. “The thing is, we don’t have any leverage. If we quit, there are a hundred — a thousand — more girls out there. He has all the power. The system really sucks. It makes you think — what’s so wrong about communism? Why not take away from people who have so much, and give more to people who haven’t got anything?”

Wow. What’s happened to my blithe, careless Charlotte Russe-clad daughter? She sounds like Norma Rae these days.

She sees a smudge of dirt along the sleeve of her shirt. “Ai-yai-yai!” she wails.

No. Like the Taco Bell chihuahua.



ANOTHER FAMILY DINNER, another round of Best Western tales of woe. Marcy has her cell phone on the table by her plate. It buzzes, and she glances at the number in disgust: “I wish he would just leave me alone!”

“Who? Angel?” I ask, perking up.

She shakes her head. “Towel Man.”

“You gave him your number?”

“I … ” She’s half proud, half embarrassed. “He keeps telling me he’s in love with me. He says he wants to marry me.”

Across the table, Doug bristles, in the manner of a man who has been led on by women in the past and hasn’t appreciated it. “Did you tell him you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes! He says , ‘I don’t see him here.’”

“You have to tell him you won’t go out with him,” Doug says crisply. “You have to explain it so he understands.”

Marcy won’t meet his eyes. “I would,” she says, “but I need the towels.”

What towels?”

“There are never enough clean towels to go around. So every day, he hides some for me under a blanket in the laundry room.”

Doug stares in horror. “You’re leading him on just for the sake of clean towels?”

“At the Best Western, Dad,” she says grimly, “you do what you have to do.”



THE HEAT BUILDS all through July, and so does labor-management tension. Some days, Marcy comes home from work furious; others, she returns beaten-down and sad. “They’re trapped,” she says of her co-workers. “They have to do whatever Ahmet tells them or else quit. And how can they quit? What other work can they do?”

For two months now, she’s eaten with these women, scoured toilets with them, laughed with them, ridden home from work with them, consoled them when their husbands beat them, babysat their kids. They all share whatever the opposite of Stockholm syndrome is, where oppression makes you hate your oppressors’ stinking guts.

And yet she knows she’s not of them. She knows because she’s given her notice, told Ahmet she’ll be gone at the end of July. “Can you just work August 1st?” he pleads. “It’s a Saturday, and we’re really full.”