1974: Making Beds at the Days Inn

Fifteen and one serious
corner-tucker, frame-duster,

every-inch-of-the-toilet scrubber,
I rose at 6:00 a.m. and hitched a ride

with my older neighbor, just sixteen
and steering her family wagon to the rear

parking lot of Days Inn, where we’d enter
the Employees Only back door and join

for coffee the other cart pushers
and apron wearers, all clocking in

for a back-bending, vacuum-vrooming
morning of We-the-Maids-of-Chain-Motel-USA.

Forty-eight beds to strip and change with only rumors
of those who stretched the used cotton into

pretend-compliance and skipped the deep-clean routine
for bathroom counters and corners (now, I check)

long before the Nineties and Go Green
postcards offered the naked

wrapped in clean towels
or rolling out of stained sheets

the “choice to make a difference.” Naïve,
my neighbor and I just scooped up and piled in

bags the dirty and discarded, obeying
at all costs Do Not Disturb signs (except

once walking in on what
no one should see

at fifteen). Learning to time
our bed-making to Family Feud

or The Price Is Right blaring entertainment
into our boredom, we’d leave for last

the hardest dirt-caked tubs, turn up
the volume of The Match Game.

Sometimes, we’d open doors to broken
bottles, overflowing toilets,

cigarette stubs lined up on dressers—
and, annoyed at the aftermath of parties,

stash our $2 tips in bras. We’d accept
half-nods in the hallway, outright

stares, under-the-breath comments,
or no recognition at all. As teens

in the seventies, we were only
motel maids. Ten years later,

I thought little of who I was
back then, shocked to hear

of Linda, my almost-forgotten neighbor—
out of college, married, diagnosed

with leukemia—suddenly quitting
the day-to-day of living,

stripping clean what she couldn’t take
anymore. A decade later, I remembered

again only when some lawyer wrote
how, each day, we were cheated

out of pennies: faulty clocks or
managers rounding down the time

we scrubbed and emptied,
bent and tucked. “Please

accept the motel’s apology and find
enclosed a check for sixty-two,

dollars and eighty-eight cents,”
the crisp stationary proclaiming

no sense of timing or justice
for all the laundered years.

These days, I never make my bed,
the tangled remaining as it is.