“Me puedes dar las llaves del siete hache, por favor?”
Translation: “May I please have the keys to apartment 7-H?”
Doormen hear these words, or something like them, coming from the hundreds of cleaning ladies who visit city buildings every day, ready to earn $60 and up, depending on the chores or the size of an apartment.
Just a few hours in each place, maybe two, even three apartments in one day. Off-the-books pay. I guess it makes for a decent living.
Of course, the job consists of inhaling all kinds of chemicals, dusting, mopping, sweeping and scrubbing someone else’s toilet. That’s stuff I have to do at home. So, I’ll pass.
In most doorman buildings, the cleaning lady routine starts with a woman walking in with flyers. She asks if she can leave a few at the desk or somewhere else where they will be found.
You’ve probably come across these flyers: “Looking for a housecleaner? References furnished on request.” At the bottom are 10 ripped paper strips with telephone numbers and names like Rosa, Maria or Juliana.
If they’ve been working for someone for many years, then you may see these ladies on a regular basis. They are familiar faces to the staff, stopping by the desk area or lobby to talk with the fellas.
A little gossip might ensue, or rather "chisme,” between the woman and her favorites at the door. That’s another way for doormen to know our residents’ personal business: We see and hear things, but personal is as personal as it gets when you personally wash someone else’s underwear.
Once the women go upstairs, it’s a quick change of sorts. Hair pulled up in a bun or ponytail, sweat pants pulled on with a tank top and flip-flops. It’s a far different look from the one when they entered the building and asked the doorman for the keys.
First off, they might whiz down into the basement with tons of dirty laundry, if it happens to be washday. They’ll try to load up as much as they can before anyone else comes down to do the same.
As I have said before, this is where we doormen get stuck in the middle of everyone complaining about the machines being hogged, or someone removing another apartment’s clothing from a dryer.
Now, maybe the cleaning lady sits on a bench or chair waiting, a piece of fruit in one hand while she reads an article from a magazine that’s part of a bundle waiting to be recycled by the porter or handyman. Porters are infuriated if this magazine is from a bundle that was already tied up. Doormen are put on the spot by a cleaning lady coming across something like a laundry basket, a lamp or a television that’s being thrown out and asking us to hold on to it until she returns later that day, which sometimes means the following week.
Supers and handymen? They may not complain as much. Hell, some cleaning ladies can be downright flirtatious. I’ve been told stories about staff guys trying to work in an apartment and being distracted by that tank top being worn with nothing else underneath. The apartment is cold, because the window is open during Winter; you get the picture.
This behavior has lead to other stories about a lot more happening in someone’s apartment than just cleaning. My attitude? “Buyer beware.” That $60 may pay for only an hour of work, with cleaning ladies going up to an apartment and then back down.
But doormen, we don’t know nuttin’. So, don’t ask, “Do you know what time my cleaning lady arrived and left?" That’s when we do a little cleaning of our own, by brushing certain things under the rug.