I needed a housekeeper. My housekeeper of eight years was in rehab, or jail, or both. Don’t get me wrong, he is a very nice guy and I still count him as a friend. But nevertheless, he wasn’t in a position to clean my house. Not to mention do the laundry, tidy up after me and help cook if I was in a tight spot.
Cleaning services are not for me. I tried services, like the one that makes you think of Happy Hookers? Happy Hookers milking cows? They have so many rules. They won’t even discuss doing laundry. And they won’t wash dishes, any dishes. If you leave a pot in the sink, you come home to a clean (relatively) house with a dirty pot still sitting in the clean sink. They would take the pot out of the sink, clean the sink, and put the dirty pot back in. Drove me crazy. So I hire independently and tell them what the job is. Take it or leave it.
I posted an ad on Craig’s List (which has brought me many good things) and Fen Alankus was one of the responders. What is your name? Fen, she said. Ben? I asked Fen, she said. Zen? No its’ an “F.” An “S”?, I say. Sen? Fen, she said. I don’t think I got it right until she actually showed up for an interview with a resume- which really threw me off because her real name is Erin, but more on that later.
Fen told me that in the fall she was going to be going to Spain and India. Why did she tell me that? I wasn’t hiring just for the summer. I didn’t want to go through this process again. I like employees who stay a long time, like 12 or 15 years. A few months is not what I had in mind. However, Fen (or Ben, or Sen, or whoever) promised faithfully that if she got the job she would replace herself. Funny thing is, I believed her. We now know that replacing Fen is impossible, but she did produce a friend who did a great job while she was away. (Thank you Holly. And thank you Wood for the next time she went). And Fen came back, didn’t do the Spain thing after all, and I got the real thing back (after reentry from Nepal).
So anyhow, Fen shows up for the interview. She is perky, young, petite (I know she hates that word.) She leads with her right hand for a firm handshake. She is poised, at ease, comfortable. (Why does she want to clean my house?) I liked her immediately. They say hiring decisions are made in the first 5 minutes of the interview – the rest of the time is just justifying it to yourself and the others.
Not that there weren’t some negative signs. I had her phone number; I wanted her address. She really wasn’t keen on giving it to me. Turns out she was living with her parents, don’t know why she didn’t want me to know that but she was definitely hinky about it.
I asked about the origins of the name “Alankus” and she shared with me that she had never seen her father, he had made a baby and left, she really didn’t understand why. She guessed he just wasn’t interested in her. At the time I thought it was a tad too much information.
But she professed herself willing, able and happy to do everything and anything I wanted. I expressed dismay that someone with her education, skills, and personality was looking for this kind of work. She convinced me it was the economy, stupid. And also made me believe that there was no shame in honest work. Whew.
So I’m ready to make the deal. “Is there a way you want me to dress,” she asks? I must have looked stunned. “What do you mean?” I’m thinking that there usually aren’t dress codes for house cleaners, I’m sort of dumbfounded but I say, “I guess I wouldn’t want you running around in Daisy Dukes and a halter top.” She laughed, sort of, and said something like that was not a look she would aspire to. She said, “are jeans and a T-shirt OK? “ Sure.
“I want you to know that I have tattoos.” ”Oh?,” I say, wondering to myself why she is telling me this. I already know she has a pierced nose and eyebrow for crying out loud. Not to mention a few in her ears. “That’s why I have on long sleeves.” Indeed she did have a long-sleeved white blouse on. I said it was fine with me, of course wondering what the tattoos were. “OK, I just wanted you to know because some people are not fine with it.”
The piercings and the tattoos didn’t bother me. She doesn’t shave her legs – now that bothers me. She still has only come to work in pants, no shorts. She doesn’t want to scare me. It wouldn’t be so bad, but she has really hairy legs.
The thing about her job is she has to do it sort of in and around my job. I’m a lawyer and I work out of my house. I have an office on the first floor across form the dining room where I put writing pads and a pen carousel on the dining table and pretend it is a conference room. Most of my clients seem to like it.
The practice has grown, which is good, but the number of people involved has grown too so on a day when everyone is here plus a couple of clients, its like Grand Central. If you open a closet you expect to find someone in there working at a computer. We’re planning on moving very soon, but in the meantime, it’s a bit hectic. Plus my husband Donald has started his own business and he is working out of the house also most of the time, although he can meet clients at a real office.
Fen has to work around all of us, me, Donald,.my clients, paralegals, assistants, and the occasional workman here to repair something or other. Oh, and my kids when they are home, sometimes my Mom or Dad or both, houseguests and friends. It’s a busy house. I love it that way.
Adding Fen to the mix, plus a friend of hers here and there if extra help is needed, worked out fine. She’s funny. She didn’t like opening the door for clients – saying things like “I’m not dressed professionally,” or “I don’t look very good.” I kind of like it – let the clients see a young woman with tattoos and piercings in real life who is a real person not a caricature.
After adding the gym, and the diet, Fen moved on to helping with the law practice. Goodness knows I need help. My organizational skills are a bit lacking shall we say.