By Joshua Ryan
Chapter 19: Headgear that Says It All
Twenty slaps can make a huge racket when they’re reluctantly waking up, and that’s what was happening next morning, when my shift was getting ready to start. They were rushing around in their undershorts, pissing and shitting, washing their faces and pits, and taking the hair off their faces with the little electric razors attached to the wall next to the john. A quick jump into uniform, and at 5 am sharp (!) one of the security slaps unlocked the door of the barracks. Everybody piled out. Oatmeal and sausage and coffee were hitting the table. The oatmeal was sticky and cold, and the sausage was mainly grease, but the coffee had such a kick that right away you were completely awake. Then a door opened, stools scrunched back, and we lined up for Boss Derek’s inspection. “Lace up those boots.” “Yes boss.” “Use the comb.” “Yes boss.” “Button that shirt, all the way up–where do you think you’re working?” “Yes boss, ver’ sorry boss.” “Lose that attitude.” “Yes boss, ver’ ver’ sorry boss.” Having readied us for the rest of our day, he sat down at his desk, and a security slap unlocked the big barred door at the end of the room.
“Follow me,” Dave said. “I’m you trainer.”
I followed him through the door and up the wide stairs that led to the hotel level. We hadn’t gone very far when he said, “Forgot somethin,” and we went back down again, pushing our way through the crowd going up. The something was a cardboard box sitting in a corner of the big room. Dave opened it and pulled something out. “Run you cap back to you rack,” he said, “an put this one on. An hurry up—we late.” He put something small and white in my hand, and when I got to my rack I unfolded it. Fuck! It was a tall paper hat, tall like a fez, and when I finished unfolding it I saw what it said in large black letters. What it said was: SERVANT IN TRAINING.
My hands were shaking with rage as I clamped the thing on my skull and rushed back to where Dave was waiting. “Do I have to wear this?” I demanded.
“Watch youself dude,” he said. “Ain’t in no position.”
“But what’s it for? How long do I have to wear it?”
“It’s to keep thee complains down when you fuckin up dude. Which you will. Which you are right now. That’s thee first answer. Thee second one is, until I’m tellin you to take it off. All right with YOU, boy?”
“All right.” I marched up the stairs, following Dave, with my dunce cap on.
“I’m goin to thee Slap Desk now,” he said. “You be waitin. Stand at attention. Back to thee wall. Hands behind you back. Doan move. That’s protocol. Same if a freeman talk to you, that’s what you be doin. Got it?”
We were now in the lobby, which was as beautiful as ever, but empty in the early morning hour—a good thing for a man whose last visit to the room had been greeted with deference from every freeman who could recognize $2000 worth of clothing, and with anxious concern about “How may I serve you?” from all slappies whatever. By the big doors to the street, one slappie stood at attention, watching for early travelers. One young freeman sat behind the desk, looking bored. He looked even more bored when Dave presented himself and the clerk had to walk to the end of the great slab of granite, to the obscure section known as the Slap Counter. They were still talking when an elevator released the first group of guests coming to breakfast—two men and two women whom I identified immediately as part of a tour group. I was hoping they would pass without noticing me, but that wasn’t my luck. One of the bitches zeroed in on me.
“Why, I haven’t seen THIS kind of slappie before! Fair warning, I guess.”
“Huh?” said her husband.
“The cap. Lets you know he doesn’t know anything!”
“As if any of them did,” said the other bitch. “I mean, really—that one yesterday was just useless with our bags.”
Now they were standing three feet away from me, gawking.
“This one’s just like those other ones,” said one of the non-female tourists. “Those whatchamacallems . . . . ”
“Red Coats,” said his wife. “In London. You remember—I took your picture with one.”
“Oh, that’s what I want to do!” said the other old witch. “Here, Warren, take a picture of me with the slappie!”
“Oooh, me too!” said the first one.
They stood on each side of me, mugging for the camera, while one of the husbands took their picture with the Servant in Training, who had to stand at attention and keep looking forward, because nobody was addressing him. And why should they? He was a useless piece of furniture. And they were a happy group of tourists as they turned down the corridor that led to the breakfast room.
Then Dave was at my shoulder. “I got thee list,” he said, scanning some kind of printout.
“List a thee rooms. Which ones empty. Which ones thee guests leavin early. Which ones thee guests leavin late. Which ones the guests stayin nother day. So, which rooms to clean, an when. You’ll learn this stuff.”
The hotel had six floors of guest rooms, and our floor was 5. If you’re a slappie, you get there by the freight elevator, which has none of the gilt and mirrors of the “lifts” that the freemen use. Every guest floor has a room where the housekeeping slaps hang out and fix up their carts—you know, those things with all kinds of soap and shampoo and brushes and mops and soap and shit that the maids push up to the door when they come to “do your room.” Only this time the maids were slappies like me.
I don’t need to tell you what happens. You’ve seen it a hundred times. Maybe you’ve passed somebody’s room and seen the maid wrestling with the bed until the old sheets are off and the new sheets are on, and she throws the old sheets on the floor in the hallway and another slappie—I mean another maid—comes by and trundles them down to the laundry. Maybe once you’ve even come back to your room early and seen someone’s butt bent over your toilet, cleaning your shit off of it. So you can picture the job I was learning.
There’s a way to do that crap without taking all day or ripping the sheets from yanking too hard on them, and Dave taught me how. He taught me how to prepare my cart and put all the stuff in the right places and muscle the bed into shape, and if you think that even a monkey can clean a toilet, you ain’t notice that he ain’t cleanin it ver’ good, mon. Eventually I learned how to do it better than a monkey.
I learned a lot of other things too. One was how to deal with any guests that were in their rooms when they weren’t supposed to be. I mean, from the slap’s point of view, guests are things that should check in at 6 p.m., go sightseeing at 8 a.m., stay out till 6 p.m., and catch their plane at 7 a.m. on the following day. But a lot of them don’t. They call down to the desk three or four times, announcing various ideas about when they plan to be out, then complaining when they return two hours early that “you’re right here in the hall but you still haven’t cleaned my room.” The response is: “Sir I am very sorry sir. It will not happen again sir. Sir I will do your room immediately sir. Is there anything else you require sir?”—while moving your cart as fast as you can and always trying to keep it between you and the freeman. When you encounter a guest, it’s 50-50 that he’s drunk, and if he’s drunk it’s 100 percent he’s belligerent about any slappie he can catch.
I know that lots of straight men have fetishes about maids, French maids, and so on, but did you ever meet anybody with a fetish about housekeeping maids? Some people feel sorry for them; some people resent their showing up at the wrong times; some people resent their not showing up at all. But nobody thinks they’re sexy or interesting. Usually it’s the same with slappies. Coming back to your room and finding a slappie in there gives a normal freeman the creeps. Even if the slap is just on his knees, scrubbing the shitter. By the end of my first day, I’d learned about jumping up, jumping back, standing at attention next to the nearest wall, and taking the stream of criticism full in the face. Women may think the pool boy is sexy, but they usually don’t think the same about the slap boy that’s picking their “feminine hygiene products” out of the john.
But sometimes they do. Then there are the gay guys that are with their BFs. They’ll sit in their chairs and watch you until you “finish up,” meanwhile commenting on your performance. “Wonder how much they paid for that piece a meat.” “Coulda got the bed done in half the time if he didn’t keep steppin on his dick.” “I didn’t know that maids had dicks!” “Sorry, I was wrong. They don’t!” Then when you’re leaving: “OK, slappie. Time to do your job. Get down and give us some head.” OK, maybe that counts as finding you interesting. But when you stand at attention and say how sorry you are, sir, that is against the rules for slappies, sir, they get mad and tell you that slappies don’t make the rules, and they’ll report you for your insolence. Of course they don’t, but you know the kind of stories, the other kind of stories, that they’re gonna tell when they get home. There are exceptions to everything–occasionally the stories are true. If you’re young and pumped, there are some guests who “just can’t resist you,” meaning that probably you can’t resist them. But that’s risky. You can’t trust a freeman.
To be continued …