On Monday my intern partner and I were propositioned by our boss to run an errand that would earn us an extra undisclosed amount of money. We agreed to it before she even completed the question. Our task: to go to a gala event that the company was participating in after it was over and gather up the materials used since they were actually samples from the spring collection. In addition to our extra cash they also sprung for a car service to take us to and from the location and get us home safely. For a couple of girls that take the subway everyday and suffer through the smells and sights of public transportation, a free cab and car service home is a sweet deal in and of itself.
We show up to the famed Cipriani 42nd Street (you may remember this is the venue whrer LaLa and Carmelo Anthony tied the knot) around 11:15 pm as we were instructed to and use the back entrance of the restaurant (this was my first clue that I am in fact the help). As we passed through the side corridor we could hear the unexpectedly current hip hop music blaring and even caught a few glances of the black tie clad guests. As we waited alongside the other people that were sent there to clean up after the festivities I thought about my grandmother, and how she has spent her whole life doing exactly what I am about to do. My grandmother has cleaned office buildings, and the houses of wealthy white people for decades. At one point she worked at a very prominent country club in South Carolina where she orchestrated banquets and the like, but all in all she’s spent her career cleaning up after people that have substantially more than she does. I thought to myself, how could someone in my family still have to do this kind of work after so many years? My grandparents were blue collar workers so that the subsequent generations of my family wouldn’t have to be, but I’m here following in their footsteps in a way that I’m not so sure would make them proud.
The 11:30 mark hit, and we went in through the front door to find our table and packing supplies. We looked around the room at the extravagant floral arrangements wondering who had attended and what they wore, and what they got to eat. In my mind I wondered how did she do this for all these years without feeling some sense of inferiority? How do you make a career out of servitude and maintain this strong sense of self? I felt a little bit sad and embarrassed as I cleaned food residue off plates that cost more than what some people make in a week. We packed everything up with the help of a very nice Trinidadian man who works at Cirpirani, and took it to its final destination for the night.
On the free cab ride home I remembered my mom telling me how my grandmother and great-great aunt would leave their houses in the morning in dresses, pearls, gloves, stockings, and heels, and they would change into their work clothes at the offices they were there to clean. At the end of their shift, they would freshen up and change back into their nice clothing and head home. They never allowed the outside world to see them as servants. They were very proud women, who knew that because of what they did their families could eat and live well. Because of the work my grandmother did and continues to do, I have had opportunities and things that I may not have otherwise had if she hadn’t.
These past couple of months have been the most humbling of my life. I do my best to keep in mind that regardless of what I have to do right now, this isn’t what I will be doing forever. I try to remain optimistic that life doesn’t end here for me and that all things will lead to a great career where I can take pride in what I do, and be the woman I want to be. Last night though, I wondered am I being humble or am I just the help?