Basking in Conformity: The Slave

They paraded through the breakfast room one after the next, like automatons with their uniforms on, but with a slight swagger in their steps. Harrumphing through their eggs and freshly squeezed Florida orange juice, back-slapping and guzzling away at what appeared to be their last meal ever, they all looked, sounded, and acted like they were auditioning for the same role. They sped out to the golf course together in their speeding carts, the piss-bottles hanging from a nifty rack across the back. Men basking in conformity and oh-so-pleased with themselves for fitting in so perfectly well.
I see you every morning in this room and you are all the same. You make no eye contact. Our interaction is as personal as if you entered your breakfast order into a machine. I am not a machine.
You elevate your voice when you speak to me, as if my accented English indicates I am hard of hearing. That you do not even look at me to bark your orders doesn’t help clarify the communication. I can understand what you are saying even when you whisper to your buddies at the table. I can hear you when you quietly comment about my ass. And I can also hear you when you not-so-quietly comment about my tits.
That you don’t say thank-you when I fill your coffee cup doesn’t phase me. That you can’t look at me when I’m pouring it makes interacting with you enormously difficult. You only look at me when you or your friends make a joke out of pronouncing my name, when you finally decide collectively that it is ok to mark me as your target. It is not a hard name to pronounce in English, so it’s woefully insulting when you deliberately mispronounce it in a sorry attempt at denigration. You are actually proud that your names are all monosyllabic. Mike, Tom, Bill, Bob, Ted, Phil, Jon, Rich, Jim, and Steve. What a phenomenon, that you masters of the golf club feign ignorance in the name of group laughter. I am not hurt; you embarrass yourselves more than you know.
I sweep the golf cart path as you whiz by. I manicure the landscaping so it’s easy on your eyes. You don’t speak to me even when I stop the hose so you can walk by unencumbered by the sprinkle.
I watch you cheat all throughout your golf game. You cheat with each other, you cheat behind each other’s backs. You lie. You get frustrated and angry and behave like impetuous children. You laugh, you joke, you back-slap and clap. You compete fiercely. You look at one another for approval after making a joke, nasty comment or brutal attack. You are shameless in your treatment of one another. You complain about your wives, not uncommon or terribly mean. But then you use it as an excuse to gloat about your affairs, and the adulation you received at the strip club last night…as if you didn’t pay for it.
You return to the hotel from your steak dinners, after multiple mojitos or whiskeys, and you don’t even tip me for helping you out of the car and into your room. You don’t say thank you or come seek me out the next day to apologize for slobbering all over me. You throw up all over your room. I clean your puke while you are still passed out on the bed, naked, bloated, and stinking. You see me the next morning and give no nod of acknowledgement; you don’t even hang your head in shame. You are shamless, when you are with your pack. You are arrogant and frightened, like an animal cornered by shotguns, when you are alone. 
It’s another day of pouring coffee, cleaning half-eaten buffet plates into the trash. It’s another glorious, beautiful, palm-strewn day with you clamoring for attention from your client or boss, hoping you don’t stand out too much, safely suited in your uniforms. You are afraid of being different. You are terrified of thinking differently or saying something unexpected, so you don’t converse with me even when we make eye contact inadvertently.
You will not look at me. So I stare at you, steering my gaze to penetrate your false armor. I lean over you and reach to deliver your egg white omelet and touch your shoulder with my chest. My perfume lingers on you for hours. You want to fuck me. You excuse yourself to the men’s room to ejaculate. You imagine me, voluptuous, sensual, brown-skinned Latina with thick lips and dark eyes, on my hands and knees looking back at you. You have me positioned like you’ve never had your wife. You own me.
I am on my hands and knees to scrub your floor. 

~ by yearzerowriters on October 30, 2009.

18 Responses to “Basking in Conformity: The Slave”

  1. Jenn, this is great. It reminds me of the film The Secretary – it createss the same ambivalence in the reader because we can’t quite – even at the end, work out exactly how you want us to feel – or how the main character feels, which is skilfully done. It’s also important to recognise that this kind of scenario does have its ambivalence, and is more complicated than we think (as is most of life)


  2. I must agree with Dan. The detachment is masterful here, Jenn, and detachment brings with it suppressed energy.

  3. You bring out her powerful contempt for these privileged oafs, until the last two paragraphs, where she becomes seductive. Is she using sexuality as a weapon; or is seduction, alongside anger, her response to inequality? There are a number of other possibilities, and it is the ambiguity or complexity at this point that I found intriguing, and made me want to read on. It’s like finding an unexpected clue in a detective story.

    The possibly related post (automatically generated) asks: “What colour are YOUR balls?” I’m trying to read this in relation to your piece, like a horoscope.

  4. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

    Ambivalence is right! When I set out to write this I didn’t intend on it to turn out this way. It could have gone in so many directions. Really what I aimed to do was write numerous scenarios in which the narrator is different “service” people at the hotel and I can tell I didn’t accomplish that adequately here. I mean, the woman pouring coffee isn’t the same as the dude cutting the grass.

    I am quite unsatisfied with it though — I feel like it should be more fleshy and I am as of yet incapable of that kind of prose. This is a first for me. Though it’s unrelated to my essay of the same name on, it was inspired by the same few moments at the resort in Miami last week!


  5. Oftentimes leaner is cleaner. Limpid prose I think serves this well as it makes the power and status of the relationships clearer, without being cluttered by adjectives and flowery expressions.


  6. God, this reminds me why I am so uneager to go back to the workforce. If I had to go back to cleaning hotel rooms, I’d be really depressed.

  7. @marcella i’d like to think that she holds power here–maybe she gets off on these trips; maybe she enjoys the sex (if any) and role-play? maybe subservience (or dominance) is more than a paycheck for her? let’s take the stereotypical (at least in the US) latin american service-worker out of the picture and put in its place a complex woman.

    we should ask the author what her intentions were. oh wait…


    • I can’t take the “stereotypical” person out of the picture because there is just no way to romanticise cleaning up another person’s vomit when you’ve actually done it for a living. Also, if there was really supposed to be some sort of role reversal, then most of the piece undermines that, especially when the narrator seems annoyed with being treated like crap and tells the reader “you own me.”

      • Also, “You imagine me, voluptuous, sensual, brown-skinned Latina with thick lips and dark eyes.” This is the stereotypical latina woman, no? It’s Jennifer Lopez.

      • I love how we can read these things with all our baggage, or vicarious projections/hatred/desires. I’m not into SM, but I’ve had friends who work in the industry as dominatrix and subs. *After* I re-read this piece on the website here I realized the element of contradiction in SM and in our own identities. Romanticizing is not what SM is about–it is the gritty, nastiness of wrapping oneself in another’s physical and emotional mess.
        People are messed up and complex. She is annoyed, but as Larry said, there is a distinct power that she holds.

  8. Yes, I read it that she held the power, that she was about to reverse roles on him, “steering my gaze to penetrate your false armor” – except the final sentence of that para, “You own me”, implies submission, so it’s complex. Anyone remember Harold Pinter/Joseph Losey’s 1963 film The Servant, with Dirk Bogarde as the submissive servant who enslaves his employer? Worth seeing – Pinter at his best.

  9. Jen — I think you did accomplish emcompassing the many different workers at the hotel, because that was the impression I got when I read it. It horribly reminded me of every job I’ve ever had. Especially the ones where they tell you not to make eye contact with the customers. There was a real feeling of underclass at those jobs. I’m glad that I’m now too insane to work.
    As to who held the power in this piece, I hold my tongue. Mainly because sexual dynamics are way beyond me.

    • “Too insane to work”? It is a sign of utter sanity if you manage to organise the circumstances of your life so as not to have to work. I couldn’t cite you a figure, but I imagine most people don’t particularly like the jobs that they do.I know what I’d rather be doing than clambering on the Metropolitan Line every weekday morning…


  10. I wish I could say that I orchestrated it that way. Maybe I should just claim to have done it on purpose anyway. It sounds better than “went mad.”

  11. I felt a palpable fear as I read this. So well done.

  12. Whoa, what an interesting exploration of power. I need to digest this. Bravo!

  13. […] a militant indie author with attitude to spare and a rational head on her shoulders. She’s a provocative writer who sees the big picture, and is, coincidentally, a member of Dan’s Year Zero Writers […]

  14. You’ve taken my feelings and splashed them on the walls every where. Skillfully done.

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