The Carpet Cleaners / by Susie Lubell

Today I had the carpets cleaned. We have carpet in the two bedrooms and in the studio/office/garage/guest room. It needs to be done more often but I just never get around to it because it's a pain in the butt to schedule, get all the crap off the floor, keep everyone off of it til it dries and anyway I'm always a little nervous about letting strangers in the house. And for good reason. The first time I had the carpets cleaned, like an idiot I went to the corner store to buy some stuff while the men where doing their work and two days later I realized our camera and charger were missing (if it had just been the camera than it's possible I could have lost it, but also the charger?) Oops. And then there's my friend Dianna who the last time I was trying to schedule a clean happened to mention that she knew someone who knew someone who was assaulted (or worse, I don't remember) by a couple of carpet cleaners she let in her house. Great.

So instead of more often I do this once a year on average and by then the carpet is gnarly having just been through a recent potty training season and such. Then last week I get one of these robo-calls and it's a cleaning service and they're having a special in my area - four rooms for $99 etc. so I beep myself through to an operator and get set up to clean our three rooms for $69. A steal. Except I know well that after all is said and done this will be more like $200 because they come with their hoses and their steamers and their special fluids and they tell you that $69 only covers steaming and odor removal. But stains are more and deep cleaning is more and scotch guard is more and you can't really get anything clean unless you deep clean and is that a pet stain over there? No, a daughter stain. Hmmm....

But we set up a time and today at 10:30 I hear a knock at the door. It's the carpet cleaners. Two guys. A tall skinny white guy and tall skinny black guy. The black guy introduces himself and his partner. His name is Daniel and I detect a slight accent. Maybe Jamaican? Hard to say. The white guy doesn't say anything but his name is Joe and he shakes my hand. I'm already on my guard and let them enter the house while I stand behind them close to the door (for my speedy getaway). They ask where the rooms are and instead of leading them there I point around the corner. They go look and come back and then they go look at the garage room. And then Daniel asks if I want to have the deep clean which is an extra $1 per square foot blah blah blah. Exactly what I expected. So I ask him how much it will be and he starts measuring the rooms with his actual feet. 6x8 is....(long pause)...I chime in with 48. He does this a few times and more than once takes out his phone to do the calculation. Yikes. Finally I decide, you know what? Clean the whole place; it's a cesspool. Have at it.

So they go get their equipment and I stay in the office as long as I can before Joe comes in to clean it. I leave through the back door and come back in the house through the front door to make myself a cup of coffee. I'm feeling more relaxed around these young men now. They appear to be doing a nice job and they ask me for towels to wipe up where some water has spilled so I stop planning my getaway strategies and enjoy my coffee.

When all is done, Daniel and I figure out the the total is $278 and I'm feeling like that is actually FOUR TIMES the price I was quoted. So I say how about if I give you $250? Then Daniel says, well....OK. But first I have to tell you one thing and he motions me to come over to the front door.

Your mezuzah* is on the wrong side of the door.

This is what he tells me. The skinny black kid. Huh?

Your mezuzah should be on the right side of the door, the visitor's right, because your right hand is connected to your heart and God.

And I think, son of a bitch, he's right. We've lived here six years and hundreds of Israelis and Jews have walked in and out of our house, rabbis even, and the first I hear of this mezuzah misplacement is from the carpet cleaner? So of course, I ask him how he knows this. Turns out he's Israeli, of Ethiopian decent. And so is his buddy Joe whose real name is Yossie. Well Yossie's not of Ethiopian decent obviously - he's the white guy. Though that reminds me of a funny story when I was in college. I worked as a waitress at the Blue Nile Ethiopian restaurant in Berkeley and we had to wear these traditional dresses which would have been beautiful if they did not smell like turmeric. And one day as I was taking an order my customer asks me if I'm from Ethiopia. And thankfully I had on my polite waitress filter so I just said no and smiled. But I'm thinking, really? Because I am as pale as a ghost. And not albino African pale. I look Irish. With freckles and fine, wavy reddish hair. Just call me Shannon. And there were travel posters all over the walls with gorgeous Ethiopian men and women and I resemble none of them except maybe the dress. But I digress...

So we chatted in Hebrew about how hard it is to find work in Israel now and how Joe just got here a week ago because a friend of his used to work for the company (which is owned and operated entirely by Israelis). Apparently carpet cleaning is a quick study...and Daniel has been doing this for eleven months and he's not sure if he'll stay longer or go traveling or take his money back to Israel to start his own business...and now I love these two boys. And I'm happy for the reminder that most people are good and are just trying to get by.

And tomorrow the mezuzah gets switched.

* A mezuzah fulfills the commandment in Judaism to put the words of the Shema (central prayer declaring there is only one God) on the doorposts of your house.