Or is it merely a simulacrum of emotion, an ersatz crack at inspiration and sentiment? Or am I just dropping 50-cent words from a graduate course in post-post-modern pop culture?
However you slice it, this little piece is inspired by Steve Martin in two ways which I'll explain briefly to anyone who asks ... but is more fun to guess at.
Some say it was the brush she used – strangely beautiful with its nickel plated handle and horse hair bristles. Others credit the strength of her cleanser, oddly sweet-smelling from the unmarked bottle she carried strapped at her side like a pistol. Whatever the reason, man could that woman clean toilets.
I think it was her enthusiasm. I remember waking at 6am to the sound of her cart clunking noisily down the dormitory hall like some chromium beast in ill-fitting shoes. I ate a lot of fiber in those days – being a student – and so of course nature called. I’d scramble from bed and throw on my suit, not even concerned that my tie was askew in the mirror at the door. The pressure was that incredible. I’d arrive to find the cleaning lady’s cart in the open lavatory, every stall door ajar as she prepared for a good cleaning. I was too late. Chugging for breath, I’d resign to wait against one of the perpetually dripping sinks until her duty was complete. Her thoroughness was a pleasure to behold despite the measured force building in my bowels.
First came the yellow rubber gloves. She’d remove them from her cart and stretch them meticulously over the mood rings on her fingers – the clunky bracelets on her wrists – and nearly up to the loose and scabbed flesh at her speckled elbows. She wielded the cleanser, shooting blue gel into each and every commode in perfect, delicate rings. Our eyes did not meet after she’d finished. Her purpose was clear, and she went straight for that nickel plated, horsehair cleansing brush. Brandishing it in both hands, she attacked the toilet bowls one by one, sweat glistening from the back of her neck as her orthopedic stockings drooped to form ever-deepening, silky beige folds about her ankles. Lost in time and the scent of her cleanser, I forgot all about the gurgling in my gut. I saw only her hair, dancing like moon silver as she worked the brush up and down, around and around the submissive porcelain bowl.
Task completed, she’d loosen the gloves from her fingers one by one before unsheathing her delicate hands with the snap of rubber. I half expected to feel the cruel slap of her glove across my delicate cheek. But no – I felt her naked finger instead, soft and gentle beneath my chin. A smile fluttered delicately like a butterfly’s wings over her lips, and she raised her eyes to mine.
“They’re ready for you, Princess,” she’d coo. “May your dump be a pleasurable one.”
“It will!” I promised, slipping across the tile floor for the nearest stall. Before I closed and locked the door behind me, I’d catch one last glimpse of the cleaning lady as she finished loading her cart to wheel away, clunking back down the hall.
And man, could that woman clean toilets.