2:20 a.m. is waking up a breath before my alarm goes off, catching my phone before it wakes my partner. It’s ripping myself from his heat and rest in the blackness of our bedroom. It is slow steps on a tired floor, moving toward the bathroom, where I’ve laid all my clothes out hours before; where I find myself blinking heavily, painfully in a shock of fluorescent light. 2:20 a.m. is slipping, begrudgingly, into a uniform: black slacks, button-up shirt, square blazer, and non-slip, anti-fatigue work shoes. It’s my hair pulling itself back tight, braiding itself into rope, wrapped and pinned. It is a time for shapeshifting—from loose fabric and soft circles to straight lines. Bolder. Older. 2:20 a.m. feels so much older. My gaze rests on a looking-glass, where just beyond lies another world of work in which Some of Us live. It’s a realm I enter by steering soft through an unlit house, past sleeping rooms and halls, down sleeping stairs and into sleeping streets. It’s a different tide in the day, staring at the stillness wrapped around Everyone Else in their beds, duvets heavy on warm bodies.

At this time of night, only the streetlights lock eyes with me; they’re guards, looking to see who is there traversing their quiet hours. And they permit me. I sail down a quiet Highway 1, where there might be one other car. Or two. Or three. Or four. But never more than that. Each car holding its reasons because 3 a.m. always has reasons. Mine are in Half Moon Bay. Some of Us are already there.

My phone dings. A text message from Jose reads: We had an incident, call me. And suddenly, a dread is cut loose and sinking, sternum to stomach. Jose Jimenez is the supervisor for the overnight cleaning crew I manage at a hotel on the coast. He’s been working since 9:45 p.m. the night before, with a crew of twelve who began their shifts at 10 p.m. Jose is a grump of a man, pushing fifty. He is only three inches taller than I am, but he is the technical expert, the muscle, the magician. He’s the person I call on, all the time, for everything.

“What’s up, Jose?” I ask when he picks up his phone.

“Ahh, we had a little misunderstanding in the kitchens. Omar says something, then Pancho chokes him. I’m talking to everyone, so they can explain me what happened. But security said they’re both outta here and now I’m trying to cover their areas.” Jose says it nervous, says it annoyed.

“Is anyone hurt?” I ask, knowing Some of Us are very, very strong. And when Some of Us are too tired to control our tempers, things go bad.

“Nah, they’re fine. It was stupid. Stupid-stupid,” Jose spits out the words.

“I’m almost there.”

The road to the hotel is one I’ve memorized. I know each of its curves, all its drops; the places to steal glances at a black and white Pacific when it’s lit by the moon. It used to be too long, too dark a road. But after two years, I arrive within minutes. I wake from a trance and simply step out of my car. My phone dings again. An email from security.

Outside, it’s a black cold, wet and wrapping around the bone. The hour’s chill sits on skin and consciousness. At this hour, you can’t really see the small cursive hills of the golf course, floating around this property. You can only see the hotel itself, aglow in stately, amber light. From the vendor parking lot behind the hotel, I can hear the ocean spill and push onto the rocks. I smell wet asphalt, fog mixed with earth. It’s the time at which I pass the raccoons, the size of small dogs, foraging through the trash bins. We eye each other quietly before turning back to our tasks. I walk quickly to the Employee Entrance, at the very back of the hotel, swinging the heavy door and entering into a different existence; fraternal to that which exists in the day. Here, the hour’s expected quiet is cut through by the humming of machines polishing floors. There is distant yelling. Puffs of conversation through the clang of metal somewhere. It is the time which begins my many, many greetings: Good morning! Buenos días! ¿Cómo está? It’s seeing EJ’s raw rimmed eyes, yellow meeting pink, at the security desk.

“Morning, EJ. Long night?”

“Hey, sorry about your guys…” EJ shakes his head at me while swapping my driver’s license for a numbered, colored, plastic badge. He watches me sign in. Name. Department. Time in.

“Didn’t call the Sheriff or anything, but had to escort them off the premises,” he says. “They can’t come back to this property. Ever.”

“I know,” I say. “I’m really sorry.” I think of Pancho. A massive man, the biggest guy in the crew. He is mustached and barrel-chested with full, black hair and hands bigger than my head. Pancho, who asks to work every night of every week, who I have to tell to take it easy, take a night off once in awhile. Pancho asks to do mats, the most back-breaking job of all the work that gets done. It’s the job no one else wants. Each mat weighs anywhere from thirty to fifty-five pounds alone. And there seem to be hundreds of them. By the time our team gets to them, they are covered in grease, caps of meat and dropped vegetables and all the stinking confetti of a busy kitchen. Because of their size, the mats are difficult to lift, roll up, and carry down long hallways. It’s difficult to get them outside onto the loading dock. And it’s difficult to clean them, removing syrupy oil from heavy rubber. It takes all night to get the mats washed before they’re lifted, carried, and returned to their exact and far-off places. Jose sometimes punishes guys by putting them on mats for weeks at a time. But Pancho would rather do mats each night alone than deal with everyone else. He is a silent man, who walks straight through conversations and personal space, shrugging when he offends people, nodding at jokes rather than laughing at them. Pancho often gets annoyed with me and makes sure I know it. Somehow, he is one of my favorites. I think of Pancho’s incredibly large, sad-eyed wife. I wonder if she will call me. Most wives call me, pleading after a husband is let go.

“Oh, and thanks for handling the elevator incident a couple nights ago,” EJ says.

“It was all Jose.” I only write up the invoices. This time for an unscheduled deep cleaning of a guest elevator. But it was Jose who had to clean up the space after two drunk boys decided to urinate in it. Wasted kids from a family paying over $700 a night to spread their smells and vomit and do whatever they want. “Does Mike want the invoice?” I ask EJ.

“Go ahead and send it to me and I’ll forward the charge to the juvenile’s parents,” EJ says. I nod and walk away down the brightly lit back hallways, my eyes already searching, sliding onto everything, staring at the scuff marks on the VCT floor. My black, faux-leather notebook opens and my pen scribbles down all the things that were missed. The long list of not-good-enough:

—Back Hallways: Floors due for strip and wax; schedule asap.

I walk past a new delivery of outdoor patio chairs, a pallet full of wine orders, and a metal rolling shelf crowding the hall. I bend down and rub my fingers on the baseboards.

—Lots of dust on baseboards.

I use my index finger to swipe at the moldings.

—Moldings and ledges are better.

I go into the men’s employee locker room, stand on top of a bench and wipe the top of the lockers. Not bad. I nod at the consistency. I go into the restrooms and peer everywhere. I look up.

—Vents need attention.

Outside and down the hall, I see Pedro’s short, stocky form steadily polishing, moving one of our machines and its spinning disc over the floor. Pedro’s hair is always shiny with gel. His navy polo shirt is tucked into his black slacks. The shirt’s logo, embroidered in white, sits cleanly on his chest. He is wearing black sneakers. Not exactly work boots, but still up to code.

“Buenos días, Pedro. Todo va bien?” I call and watch his smile dip when he sees me. He gets nervous when I’m there, but he nods. Sí, sí.

“Que bueno,” I say as my eye catches the copper pipes in the first kitchen, spotty and dull. “Pedro, can we get these polished this morning? I need them shiny for our walk-through with James.”

“Sí, sí,” he nods, fingers pinching and turning the rag he’s pulled from his pocket.

 

By 4 a.m., the morning stretches; it warps. It’s the weight of what’s necessary and the weight of what feels wrong. Like telling someone, whose sweat I see seeping through his shirt, how to do his job. To do it better. To do it again. It’s asking how Pedro’s soccer game went on Sunday; how Jose’s kids are doing at their new school; if Jesus is getting enough sleep; if Vianey’s shoulder is feeling better. And at the same time, denying all their requests for Christmas Eve or New Year’s off. It’s questioning someone, who is the same age as my mother, why scores are down in her area.

“Yes, I clean those areas every day,” Rosa says.

“What time do you usually clean those areas?” I ask.

“4:30 a.m. Maybe 5 a.m.?” she says.

I take out my phone and pull up the photos that the hotel staff sends me. The hotel has its eyes everywhere and even more fingers, ready to wag and point at Some of Us contracted to work overnight.

“See this photo? This was taken at 5:30 a.m.” I show her the images on my phone. She scrolls, eyes squinting, mouth open.

“Okay, but sometimes the guests, they come and…” she begins to protest.

“And that’s fine. I understand that and I have already told the hotel that guests come have coffee here early in the morning,” I say, nodding. “But Rosa, I am here at 5:30 a.m., at 6 a.m., at 7 a.m. There are not always guests here at 5:30 a.m. They don’t always put their hands on all the glass on every table.”

“Okay, Aimee, but it’s the people who coming and mess it up,” she says arms crossed. I take a deep, silent breath through my nose.

“Rosa, I’m going to check this area exactly at 5:30 a.m. today. I’m going to look at the glass and underneath this table and that table and that one. I will take pictures of any guests sitting here this morning and send it to the hotel. But please, please, please keep an eye on this area, okay?”

Some of Us get upset with the critiques and complaints that come in. Some of Us take each complaint and fix it right away. They shake their heads but the legs of chairs are left shiny. Carpets combed through, coffee stains removed by hand. The air made fresher, exhaling a careful cleanliness. Throughout the enormous scope of work, the enormous hotel, its public areas, its underbelly, requests are met. Miracles performed. Some of Us rise to the challenge, cutting the throats of every complaint. And Some of Us will quit.

 

By 5 a.m., most things are settled. I’ve gone through the spas and their treatments rooms and saunas, which still have meditative music playing in the background. I’ve checked underneath the treadmills in the fitness center and noted that there are dead bugs in some of the overhead lights. On the fifth floor, there is a VIP lounge, which has some of the best views of the property—as well as an infestation of fruit flies, that I am emailed about every couple days. Ana cleans suspect areas with bleach, sets up traps, and wipes down the floor so there’s no chance of moisture left behind. Jose has deep-cleaned drains in the back kitchen. We’ve special-ordered pipe cleaners to get inside the pipes in the back. When we leave, I see fewer fruit flies, but when we return the next night, the fruit flies have multiplied. I get calls and emails about the cleanliness of the lounge. I write back words that are apologetic; that promise more aggressive action, alternative steps we’ll take. All the while, I ask the crew to take pictures with their cell phones of how hotel staff leave the trash. If bins are overflowing, it means they weren’t emptied in a timely fashion. Not following protocol. I want evidence of all the dishes left behind, food smeared on surfaces and sitting in the back not taken down to be washed. I collect photos of wine glasses swimming with flies. In this field, you learn to always build your case. It’s not always the hotel staff’s fault. There aren’t enough people scheduled to work the lounge at the same time. I know they can’t get everything done by the time they have to clock out. But really, all I care about is that it’s not my crew’s fault. And the photos will be sent and cc’d to everyone. At 5 a.m., Some of Us are done arguing with the bakers over the time they come in. They shake their heads at the line cooks who want them to empty out the fryers. Not in the contract, we shrug. Insurance won’t cover injuries from oil. We’ve had one injury too many. Some of Us are blasting music there now, mopping the floors. One of the last big tasks before their shifts are over. Jose looks like his head is throbbing, the stress of filling two spots taking its toll.

“I’m an old man, Aimee. I’m too old for this,” he says, wiping the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. 5 a.m. is offering him Advil, which he will never take. It’s when I’m done checking the back hallways, stairwells, the business center, the executive offices on the third floor. I’ve dusted and arranged what little I can, fluffing cushions in the lobby, wiping down sconces, knowing things are not perfect. Nothing is ever perfect for Everyone Else. 5 a.m. is when I start naming exactly what each executive looks for, looking for their individual pet peeves. Paola looks for grime in the hinges of toilet seats, the dust on top of door frames. Alison looks for unpolished shower heads, she looks for hairs on the sauna floors. James checks for bits of trash and gunk trapped in kitchen corners, behind giant doors, the enormous shelves and tables, stocked with dishes and utensils. And those are just the little things. They each want to schedule big things, too. And always as soon as possible.

When can we get the marble cut and polished?

The restaurant and lounge need another carpet shampoo.

Can we steam clean the upholstery on all the restaurant chairs?

5 a.m. is when I look at Jose, hear the rumble in his stomach and say, “Everything’s beautiful.”

 

The rinsing of mops, emptying of buckets. It’s the dull rattle of our heavy carts, rolling back over the swept asphalt to our storage container, kept outside. Each member pushes a bright yellow or blue cart, filled with trash bags (both large and small sizes), metal polish, stainless steel cleaner, bleach, grill bricks, Fabuloso, steel wool, rags, Magic Erasers, brooms, mops, wood cleaner and polish, dusters, latex gloves, and more. 5:30 a.m. is when we cover inventory and I get the order of what we’ll need in two weeks. Some of Us look tired. But most won’t go to sleep until 8 a.m., some at 10 a.m. And almost everyone in the crew works a second job.

“Aimee, I’ve been here one year now, I want a raise,” Hiram says. “You know I have a family. You know this living here is expensive.”

“I already put in your request. Our team makes the most money out of all the other hotels. I can ask again, but it’s not likely,” I say. Hiram is the complainer. Our squeakiest wheel. He is tall and skinny. Early twenties. His hair is black and long but kept in a bun similar to mine. He is not the best worker. Bare minimum effort. Not detailed. I always think that he’ll quit, he complains about the job so much. But he never does. He told me once that this was a good job. Cutting trees is also a good job. You don’t have to work at night. But it’s not steady. Here, I’m inside, so it’s good. It’s not hard. Not like construction, never do construction, he said, tsking his tongue and shaking his head. Hiram’s English is better than my Spanish, but when he’s frustrated he starts speaking to me rapid-fire.

“No entiendo,” I shake my head.

“No sé, Aimee,” he bites his lower lip and looks up into the sky. “I don’t know about this pay,” Hiram says. I try to smile sympathetically, but my pulse always picks up when I hear about money.

At 5:30 a.m. which quickly ticks to 5:45 a.m., Hiram is easiest to say no to. But not some of the others. I want Some of Us to make all the money in the world.

Pretty soon, evidence of each department arrives. A chorus of Good mornings! come from the ladies of housekeeping, all dressed in brown. It’s when Jose and I get to sit down, warm our bones with horrible coffee. He tells me what happened between Omar and Pancho.

“Omar had his music, you know? Pancho was putting mats back down and tells him to turn the music down, but Omar didn’t hear him,” Jose says, stirring Equal into his mug. “Omar started saying some bad words. I think he was singing to his rap music or something. But when Pancho hears it, he thinks Omar’s speaking to him. So, then they’re yelling and boom! Omar pushes Pancho. Then, Pancho grabs Omar’s throat and lifts him up.”

“What?”

“That’s what people told me, but I was outside at the time.” He shrugs and shakes his head. I know Jose could care less for Omar. But Pancho, he will miss.

I wonder what Omar could have been singing. Something offensive. Maybe something about an incredibly large, sad-eyed wife. And Pancho would have yelled stuff back, maybe about thin, awkward boys, not quite men. I shake my head about Omar, who always seemed a little off. And then I think of Pancho and his family. It’s almost 6 a.m. and I’m thinking about the sad and wild pride of men. It’s when I question if Some of Us are just too tired. I think of just how many people have come in and out of this overnight job. The turnaround is unbelievable. 6 a.m. is when I watch Jose rub his temples, eyes closed. He’s required to attend all the same morning meetings I do. I work half as many hours. I think of a long night and long morning. A hunger rattling in his stomach, thinning his bones. I watch his shoulders frown, the gravity of work still resting on them. Crows on wire.

“Go home, Jose,” I say.

“No, one of these days your dad will fire me.”

“You let me handle my dad, okay? I’ll call you later,” I say and usher him away.

7 a.m. is when I’m supposed to start my first meeting, but Everyone Else seems to be running late. It’s the time I write all my emails to the office, detailing what happened the night before; when I send in my orders. It’s the time I question what the hell it is I’m doing here. Staring at my dark, anti-slip shoes. It’s when I pause to think about what Pancho’s wife might say, when I think I can get raises approved, when I think of Jose almost home. Just a little further. Just a little more traffic. Just a couple more exits. Just a couple more turns. Some of Us are too good for this.

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