Tonight you're in Vegas.
Tonight, in a back room of the Starbucks-cafe part of a Barnes & Noble, I put my hand on the handle of a mop.
had spilled a drink. The cafe was packed with Georgetown
people, expensively dressed and graduate-degreed. I paused for just a
beat. I had to push something inside me down, squelch it, before I could
go back into automatic motion and heave the mop and wheeled plastic
yellow bucket out there. I struggled with the heavy objects, props that
felt as if they belonged to someone else's life and not mine, objects
that therefore have not yet acquired the gravity they'll have when
they finally belong to mine.
The wheels of the bucket wanted to curl and run sideways, not
back-and-forth. So I dragged the bucket instead, groaning, reluctant
object that it was. In the vestibule between the private back room and
the public cafe, I arranged myself. I would perform this task with
grace. I would have good posture. With my hair pulled back into a
that reveals my swan neck, wearing a skirt and ballet flats that were
really too dressy for cafe duty, I tried to seem aristocratic, academic.
Out there in the cafe, the light glaring, I maintained a serene
hoping the cafe patrons were thinking that I must be a graduate student,
the way poor bohemians magnetize to bookstores and cafes. I thought of
castes in India; I thought of the rigid and impermeable class barriers
in England. I held my head high. Studious people at tables moved their
chairs for me when I asked them to in as polite and assured a voice as I
When I reached the spill, a clear topaz puddle, I pulled the mop up
out of the cloudy water in which its yarn-head had been submerged.
The woman at the nearest table smiled in something like an apology for
spilled the drink, in something like embarrassment at having a stranger
clean up her mess, the embarrassment of the person with the luckier
It's possible that I allowed them to see me struggling a bit with
the mop and bucket, as if to say: "I am not accustomed to doing this.
What a funny twist of fate." It's possible that I found it morbidly
amusing, thinking of what the cafe patrons might have imagined my life to be like -- the
stories they create to explain why a nice, young, smart-seeming and
well-dressed girl like me is playing janitor.
I changed the spill into a shiny-wet slick on the cafe floor. I warned the woman to be careful walking on it when she left.
I went on, doing my job for the next six hours, routine and recipe and
procedure. And then the night ended, and that was that. A seamless blur of
moments, except for one:
That moment, in the back room, when I put my hand on a mop for the
first time as someone whose job duties include mopping -- I stopped,
and thought of how you're in Vegas, and of how far you are, and for that
moment I could not move.