Archive for March, 2019

The Bare Minimumn.

March 23, 2019

I have been a maid. I wasn’t very good at it. I was too slow.

I was thinking of all my minimum wage jobs after reading a review of the memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. I haven’t read the book. I wanted to, but the review irritated me and now I’m not so sure I do.

Minimum wage jobs I’ve had:


Cashier at a clothing store

House painter – interiors.

Nude model (pardon me; now called life studies model).

Picture framer.

Book store clerk.

Library clerk.

The worst, hardest of those was nude model. I don’t like being naked in front of a room full of young strangers. I was really good at it, having spent 5 years at an art college. I knew how to to hold 15 second, 60 second, five minute poses. The killer were poses that lasted not just a day but weeks. It’s impossible to find any position that doesn’t hurt after a little while. So you hold it and are in pain. Sometimes you lose feeling in a limb. Still, you hold that pose.

The floors were always filthy and the rooms often cold. Sometimes a teacher would find me a space heater so I would have a circle of heat focused on one spot of my leg which would leave a round area that looked like I had an odd sunburn.

I was paid $7.00 an hour to start and each year we got a .25 cent raise. No work to be had on holidays, or school breaks. So we would scramble to find private jobs for teachers who held their own drawing circles, or art clubs.

But that isn’t the point.

I made minimum wage at the indie bookstore. I loved that job. But could I survive on it? No. The store was open 364 days a year, from 8 to midnight. The owner made damn sure that no one ever exceeded what would constitute part time. The only full time employees were the accountants. We had to find our own substitutes when we took vacations.

I loved the job even though the owner never read, and probably didn’t own a book.

I loved it even though he and the chosen few would watch us through a big glass window from their high perch.

Being an artist with a husband who had a full time job with benefits meant I had some choice. The theory is that I would work for low pay but still have time to be an artist and a decent parent. Neither of which was actually true, but never mind.

Eventually I found myself as a clerk in a library. A job that had a lovely ring to it. To this day, any time I tell people I work in a library most everyone responds “ohhhh, my dream job”. I began that job in 2005. It was my dream too. I worked for around $7.00 and hour. Same as at the book store, the frame shop, the nude modeling. The going rate for part time work in RI had not budged. I worked part time until October of 2016 when I applied for, and got a full time position or, as my husband and I joke, a “cushy union job”.

But before it was cushy I joined a growing group of part timers in my city of Cranston and growled at the city council to increase minimum wage. At last they did. To $8.00 an hour. Now it is $10.50.

When I was a maid I was paid by the job. I earned more than minimum wage in spite of my slowness. I had a certain amount of autonomy.

That isn’t the point.

The point is that minimum wage is minimum wage. Doesn’t matter how pretty the surroundings. You are hired help. You can be fired without cause. And, should anything happen to keep you from getting to your job such as a sick child, sick husband, broken car, traffic and in my case, a broken shoulder, you will not get one dime until you return, if you are allowed to return.

I was allowed to return. I had eleven years under my belt. But no income while I was out.

The point is, that whether you are a maid or work in a library or stand around naked for people to draw you, the value you hold to them is the same. You are worth the absolute minimum wage.

The point is, that is a shitty way to treat people.

The point is, I don’t think I need to read a book about it. I could write my own.


Now I remember why the interview with Stephanie Land irritated me so much.

She has made some money from this book (which is good. I revere all who write and make to the point of publication and earnings from their words). But she said that should she ever hire someone to clean her home she would leave thoughtful gifts.

How about instead, as my parents did, contributing to their social security? Paid time off? A decent wage? Those are thoughtful. A tchotchke is something more to clean.