Now that CBC TV's Marketplace has aired its expose of hotel room filth, found from Hitchcockian crap motels to high-end five-star suites, I find myself asking what people expect, given the working conditions and wages of cleaners and housekeeping staff. In hidden camera footage we see a woman clean the toilet bowl and then the sink and faucets with the same toilet brush, but it's not the toilet brush that breaks my heart, it's the lifeless, forlorn, defeated feeling evident in and around the woman who is doing the cleaning. How much is she making an hour? What chance is there that her children will have a better life than she has? When will she ever get to stay in a hotel, any hotel, anywhere, given that you can't get a fleabag roach nest of a room for less per night than she probably makes in two twelve-hour shifts, once the government has siphoned off enough taxes to pay for Bev Oda's orange juice. What motivation does she have to perform her cleaning tasks with any sort of energized verve or concern for the people who will loll around in that hotel room ordering her coworkers to bring room service croissants wrapped in warm napkins under glittering stainless steel domes?
In this weekend's column in The Globe and Mail, Sarah Hampson waxes about the new status of hotel lobbies as meeting places for visitors made to feel like trendy guests of whip-smart hosts. She describes one lobby denizen thus: "An older gentleman sits on his own, affluent and cufflinked, perusing the scene with serene detachment, drink in one hand, global ease emanating from him like the scent of a delicate, expensive cologne." But wait, across the room she spies these people: "an overweight woman in a big, bad sweater; a man in a baseball cap and neglected beard, his friend in a T-shirt and scruffy jeans. They could have been disgorged from the mouth of a touring aluminium bus."
Is it my imagination, or have we no kindness, no understanding, no concept that privilege might not equal intrinsic worth? Are our national media so entrenched in their viewpoint that it doesn't occur to them once during the Marketplace episode to ask about working conditions of hotel staff? Nor do Hampson's editors appear to have an inkling that it is not okay to insult a woman for her weight or her choice of sweater, or that people who take buses might deserve to disembark rather than be disgorged like some kind of vomit.
Given our federal government's stance on free trade with China and its implications for working conditions, human rights, environmental degradation and quality of life, I do not think any of us can afford to view our evolving society from a standpoint of "perusing the scene with serene detachment." I think we'd better wake up and ask questions not only on behalf of the well-heeled segment of our society, but on behalf of the toilet brush woman, the overweight woman in the big bad sweater, and any children these women might have. The more out-of-touch mainstream media and its consumers remain, the harder the fall is going to feel when that toilet brush falls into our own hands and members of the new upper crust expect us not only to know how to use it properly on behalf of their filthy rich bottoms, but to care while we scrub.
Good work Kathleen! I don't even get paid and I'm somewhat a casual cleaner at times. I'm sorry Kathleen I have an ulterior motive for coming aboard here. Have to tell you how much I enjoyed reading Annabel- FABULOUS!! What a great job you did on this novel- Love Treadway and his rescue of Wayne.
A heartfelt thanks