Confessions of a late-night scrub

photo/The Cleaner

Somebody’s Gotta Clean That Shit!
Confessions of a late-night scrub

An op-ed by The Cleaner*

Cock-and-balls confetti has become the bane of my existence.

It was last night, anyway. Last week it was the aluminum bottle filled with tobacco spit that spilled on the floor. The week before that it was the million tiny bits of broken glass all over the vestibule. Next week it might be a used syringe, a still-steaming turd, or a pile of vomit.

No, I’m not a coat checker at the Blaine House. I have the shoulda-stayed-in-college job of cleaning some of the most popular bars and restaurants in Portland.

The day crowd at these places consists of business lunchers, soccer moms on play-dates, matinee drunks and tourists. They’re all pretty harmless. The real damage takes place well after the sun goes down.

Let’s face it: Portland is a hard-drinking town. The amount of alcohol consumed here on a typical weekend night probably rivals that of many cities twice our size. And at the end of the night, somebody has to clean up the mess. Many of the smaller bars and restaurants do their cleaning in-house, as part of a server’s side-work. But other places are too big and too busy. Enter the Commercial Cleaner.

Most people have no idea that after the band has packed up, after you have cabbed it home with what remains of your dignity, after all the jacks are in their boxes and the clowns have all gone to bed (thanks, Jimi), there is a small army of folks just beginning their workday. It’s our job to make sure nobody sober ever sees the consequences of the decadence, debauchery and downright god-awful behavior that constitutes a good night out in Portland. We buff out the dings in the veneer that coats our much lauded hospitality industry — usually for about $9 or $10 an hour.

The shift typically starts something like this. You arrive at some insane hour between 2 and 6 a.m., depending on the size of the night’s workload. If it’s a weekend, you stand with keys in hand, biting your lip and taking deep breaths, anticipating the carnage you’ll soon encounter.

Luckily, you’ve planned. You looked at the music schedule for the week, so you know that Festering Pimple just played. Festering Pimple is an emo band from Poughkeepsie that has a decent local following comprised of artsy, Chuck Taylor–wearing hipsters. It’s not a very raucous crowd, though all it takes is one nauseous costume-design major amped on too many Red Bull-and-vodkas to ruin your night.

After disarming the alarm and raising the lights, you quickly scan the floor to check for major damage, like broken glass, vomit, or a big drink spill. Something is wrong already. There are promo stickers all over the place and limes — limes everywhere. It turns out Festering Pimple’s guitarist sliced his finger on a high E string in Portsmouth the night before, so the band had to cancel. They were replaced by Motor Box, an ’80s metal cover band from Boston with a much larger local fan base of divorced 40-year-olds trying to relive their youth. They’ve switched en masse to rum-and-Coke because beer was making them fat.

As you gaze at the wreckage, your mental time clock clicks upward in step with your blood pressure. With the limes come fruit flies — add 15 minutes. There’s puke on the men’s room floor — add 15 minutes. The women’s room hasn’t been bussed — add five minutes. The mops were left dirty — add seven minutes. This job pays $25 for two hours of work, but it will take you an additional 45 minutes to an hour to finish all the extra tasks, stuff the staff should have handled the night before. Now you’re making $8.33 an hour, and you still have two others places to clean that may be just as bad or worse.

When your shift is over, while the hucksters on Commercial Street are setting up shop, the prep cooks are shaking off their hangovers and the bar crowd is still snoring, you think to yourself, Eh, I’ve seen worse. You get home and take a quick shower, suck down some coffee and head out to your full-time gig.

One of the high points of this job is finding the things left over after a night of partying. Some of this stuff still boggles my mind. Here’s a short list of items I’ve discovered at some of Portland’s most popular night spots: money (hundreds of dollars over the years, mostly in change), drugs (weed, coke and pills), jewelry (I once found a three-karat diamond engagement ring with a platinum setting sitting on a sink after a — what else? — bachelorette party), underwear (soiled and unsoiled), condoms (used and unused), single shoes, wallets, purses, cameras, phones, car keys, hats, scarves, coats, pants (yes, I said pants), candy, airplane liquor bottles, coasters with phone numbers, and thousands of business cards.

You want the real dirt (pun intended) on this job?

Weekends are bad and holidays are worse. The toughest holiday is not New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day, as one might think, but Halloween. All the costumes and props fall apart by midnight and are just left on the floor. Try getting boa feathers and glitter out of the gelatinous goo of spilled Pumpkinhead.

Women are filthier than men, as a rule, because they are over-wipers; they tend to lack the ability to use a sensible amount of paper, which clogs the toilets. Plus, many women are squatters, which means sprayers, which is just friggin’ nasty. I’m still waiting for an ordinance to ban bachelorette parties. (Penis confetti and dick straws — c’mon, is that really necessary?)

The twenty-something crowd, in general, is the worst, for no other reason than they are young and stupid and entitled. They’re on their own for the first time and have no qualms about treating a bar like it’s their own personal amusement park. Don’t get me wrong: a group of 50-year-old business men with too many shots can wreck a place better than Motley Crue in their heyday, and mom’s “girls’ night out” can quickly devolve into a spinning-blind-drunk puke-fest. But the younger crowd makes the biggest mess.

Living in an age of zero-accountability is tough for any service-industry worker, but it’s especially hard on cleaners. We are the low-man down, the last people to pass the buck to. When something is dirty the next morning, it’s the cleaners’ fault. When the staff hasn’t done their jobs, it’s the cleaners’ fault. When something is missing, the cleaners must have stolen it. When you need to trim overhead, the cleaners get the ax. We can’t pass the buck to anyone. It’s not like I can go find the guy who shit in the urinal or the girl who left a loaded tampon on the bathroom floor.

(In all fairness, management and staff generally do their best with what they’ve  got, considering all this bat-shit-goofy behavior. They’re also stressed-out, over-worked and under-paid. At the end of their day, all they want is a stiff drink, a cigarette and a foot bath. The last thing they want to do is clean.)

So the next time you’re out yucking it up with your friends or co-workers at one of the many fine drinking and dining establishments in Portland, try to be a bit more mindful of the way you treat the place. And if you would be so kind as to not jam a pint glass into the toilet bowl, piss in the sink, spit on the mirror, or rip the soap dispenser off the wall, many hard-working people would be much obliged. After all, somebody’s gotta clean that shit!


*The Bollard has agreed to allow the author to remain anonymous in deference to the author’s concern that, if identified, this op-ed could result in a loss of business.