Making friends in unusual places

There is a reason for all things, and there turned out to be a very
good reason why I found myself asleep this morning. I had been
planning to wake up early and do some work at the lab, but I realized
that I left my phone charger somewhere, so I decided to leave my phone
off—so, no alarm clock.

Instead, I woke up this morning to the unmistakeable sound of
thickly-accented frustration. I stepped out of my room—sans glasses,
in my hurry—and found one of the maintenance staff wondering out loud
what on earth she was going to do with all the dishes in the sink, as
they needed to do their pre-move-in cleaning. I nodded and agreed that
they were under a lot of pressure, and added that maybe last night
wasn’t the best night to have a party. Then I rolled up my pajama
sleeves and worked along with them.

I was glad to help, especially as just a little effort on my part
could relieve the two maintenance people a great deal of stress. They
needed to be able to clean the surfaces, but maintenance had gotten so
much flak from residents about stuff being moved or moldy food being
thrown away that it was really good to have a resident around.

It was easy work: washing the dishes, moving food off the bottom shelf
and out of the crispers in the fridge so that they could clean them,
taking everything out of the bathroom and off the fridge. As we
cleaned, we chatted—and it was wonderful being able to connect with
Michael and Lily.

They told stories about fridges that were moldy and bathrooms that
were almost black, and shared speculations about certain racial
combinations and how that affected cleanliness. <laugh> For the
occasional guilt I feel about how I keep the suite, it turns out that
it’s still pretty decent. No, I don’t want to think about how messy
everything else must be.

Aside from the gossip, though, we also talked about so many other
things. Lily commutes from Richmond Hill, so I could sympathize with
her about the expense of YRT and TTC. She loves the place, though.
Michael lives in the middle of Chinatown, which is very convenient but
also very busy – he’s looking forward to escaping to his family’s
cottage this Labour Day weekend.

Lily mentioned her love of salsa. I remembered Alejandro, the
gentleman who struck up a conversation with me when I was studying in
the common room. He even demonstrated salsa moves; he loved salsa so
much! He also worked in the building, and I was sure they’d have run
into each other. “I know Alejandro! He’s my husband! He’s been telling
me so much about you!” That turned into a discussion of how
Alejandro’s such a charmer and how women line up to dance with him,
but Lily’s not jealous at all because she knows him. She told me of
her children from a previous marriage, too. Among them: a lawyer in
Chile, a psychologist, a forestry engineering student in France.

Lily’s vocation is working with seniors at a nursing home. That’s what
she loves doing. She occasionally helps out with Graduate House when
she could use the money, but her passion is taking care of seniors.
Oh, you should’ve seen her light up when she was talking about taking
care of them. She’s a very strong woman – “Half-German!” She reminded
me of my mom when she said, “I’m my children’s friend, but I’m their
mother first.” She’s tough, but it’s the kind of tough that everyone
needs, and I can totally see her in that kind of environment. She used
to be a physical therapist, too, which certainly helps.

Upon learning that I’m from the Philippines, Michael said a few
Tagalog phrases he knew. (Why is it that everyone here knows a few
Tagalog phrases? I’ve got to learn a little about other people’s
cultures…) He joked about wanting an Asian girlfriend because of our
culture. I laughed and said I’d keep an eye out. It turned out that
he’s just a bit younger than I am – he turned 23 on Aug 23. He’s
looking forward to winter because he loves playing hockey, although he
likes all the other seasons as well.

I shared with them the last bar of Godiva chocolate (thanks, Gabriel Mansour!), a bar of Cadbury (Michael’s favorite, apparently), and the mint chocolate that Shane D’Costa gave me. Everyone likes chocolate. =)

I’d like to think that I made their day unexpectedly better, and that
whenever someone gives them a hard time, they’ll remember that people
aren’t all like that. =) It was awesome connecting with them and
listening to their stories and treating them as *human*, y’know?

That was good. That was the best thing I could’ve done that morning.

And we got everything cleaned within their two-hour time limit! =)