A white, spiral, Hot Wheels!-looking roadway led into the San Francisco bus station. I checked my wallet again, even though I knew it would contain the same $51, my last. I’d circled, in my dated copy of LET’S GO USA, the European Guest House (which was simply the name of the hostel where I’d hoped to crash). When I arrived, I found out that the price had risen modestly from $9 nightly to $11 in three years, so with my $40 left, I considered how I would eat and where I would live permanently.
The moment I spotted the ad in the classified section of the San Francisco Chronicle that read “…in exchange for room and board,” I hightailed it to the Nob Hill section of the city, and believe me, I was gonna do whatever it took to get that job!
* * *
“I’m here about the job.”
The bald-headed white man behind the desk, whom henceforth I will refer to as “Typical White Folks,” didn’t even glance at me as he shuffled his papers.
“Excuse me. The job…?”
Why had I been let into the office if Typical White Folks was going to flat-out ignore me? Making matters worse, I embarrassed myself by getting a little excited when he lifted his head. But he was only trying to locate his paper shredder.
The sputtering machine countered my raised voice, so I held up the newspaper ad for effect. The white motherfucker continued to diss me, and he even MADE a phone call! As he sat back and chuckled into the receiver, I weighed my curses. On the one hand, I didn’t want to call him a “bitch” and in effect demean women; on the other, I didn’t wanna call him a faggot and demean gays. Tough decision.
After he hung up, he went right back to his work.
The last time—really the only time—I’d ever encountered anything like that was in reading Ernest Gaines’s novel A Lesson Before Dying. That particular Typical White Folks made the school teacher wait for, like, three hours in the kitchen while he and other Typical White Folks ate dinner in the dining room. The school teacher had to wait until after Typical White Folks enjoyed cigars and brandy.
Fuck dat shit, man, I’m so outta here!
“I didn’t catch your name?” Typical White Folks caught me just as I turned to leave.
You didn’t what, punk? My name? Oh, that’s “Just Another Nigga” to you!
“I’m here about the job!” I shoved the newspaper in his direction.
Typical White Folks chuckled like he had on the phone. My sassiness humored him.
“C’mon!” He led me out, grinning ear to ear.
Typical White Folks further led me down the first floor hallway and into the toilet stall and showed me a bucket with cleaning materials inside. Then he showed me the shower and then the tub. For sake of clarification, it was an old residence hotel in one of the city’s most prestigious areas, Nob Hill, which not-so-surprisingly some referred to as “Snob Hill.” The hotel was so ancient, in fact, that the toilet, bathtub, and shower were separate.
After presenting the cleaning materials to me like a mute game show host, Typical White Folks nodded to indicate that the job was mine for the taking.
At that point I recognized that I was to pass the cleaning and, I suppose, patience tests, which I did, being the toilet-cleanin-mofo that I was! And so Typical White Folks gave me my daily instructions—clean up, literally, all the shit on each of five floors first thing every morning.
He grabbed my unraised hand to congratulate me.