We fired our third maid yesterday. Maid #1 wasn’t a great cleaner, although I believe she was honest. And, in truth, looking back, she may have needed to come for a full day to get the job done, not just a half day.

Just as I was becoming more and more suspicious of Maid #2, she left to go back to school. She’d probably "raised" enough money to pay for the next semester…

Hal did the firing of Maid #3. I couldn’t stomach it. When she was done for the day, he said: "We won’t be needing you anymore." She didn’t say anything in reply, she just left. She knew why she was fired. She was stealing. It is very disheartening, very discouraging. And makes us mad as hell.

We are good employers. We invite you into our home, we are appreciative for the work you do. We don’t hover or complain. You are paid what you ask ($2/hour plus $2/day for travel). You get lunch, the same thing we eat which is always good because Hal or Mom fixes it. You are invited to sit at the table with us, although no one ever does. You are welcome to whatever we have to eat in the kitchen, invited to make yourself at home.

If you aren’t exactly on time, no problem. If you want to change days, no problem. If you want a day off, no problem. If you need to bring your kids, no problem. I don’t tell you how to clean, I don’t inspect the corners. I like the house to smell clean and not have crap laying around. And my laundry folded. (I’d rather clean a bathroom than fold laundry.) Otherwise, whatever.

Just don’t steal from us.

How did we know? Yesterday, we tested her to know for sure, but we were already pretty certain. Up till Sunday, I overlooked so many clues because I didn’t want it to be so. My gut said she was not trustworthy. It was just a feeling, but it was pretty strong. I dismissed it and hired her anyway. So I didn’t feel right firing her when I hadn’t noticed anything missing…

I realize that’s part of the In-House Ladrona system. There is never any noticeable stuff missing: cameras, ipods, phones, flashlights… stuff you see and use – that’s all right where you left it. If there’s a pile of change on the dresser, it’s there later in the day. Maybe not all of it… who counts their loose change?

It’s the stuff you don’t see that walks away: food, towels, sheets, clothes you hardly wear, a hand mixer (I KNOW we had one when we moved here), a cel phone in a box tucked away for future use (ditto)… Don’t have them anymore. They’ve disappeared. My friend Isabela  told me ladrones [la-DRONE-ace, thieves] bring little containers and take a bit of shampoo, lotions, cleansers each time they come. A bar of soap. Toilet paper. Lightbulbs. Batteries. Tools. Stuff you and I would find totally boring to steal. IF we stole.

The biggest clue for me (until last Sunday night) was the fact that Maids #2 and #3, sisters I was told, brought biggish purses to work. I wondered why they would bring an over-sized handbag to work. The few times I really took notice, the bags did not seem bulging when they arrived. But were packed tight when they left. Call me totally naive and head in the sand, but I so badly wanted to believe they were honest, I tried not to notice that stupid bag! Dummy.

You know, when they would come downstairs to collect their pay at the end of the day, they never brought the bag downstairs with them. It stayed tucked away in the laundry room. I’d pay them, they’d go up, get the bag and leave. I know this seems so innocuous. Alone, it’s not enough to convict. But with everything else… a picture starts to form.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the 80,000 colones ($160) I had tucked away in my desk drawer. It is donation money I collect each month for the Hogar Salvando Alcohólico – a short term rehab for alcoholics – in Escazú. I was not able to deposit that money before I left to go save my mother’s life, so I tucked it in the back of the drawer under some stuff. You’d have to really look to find it. IF you even needed to open the drawer. Someone did. I went to prepare the deposit last Sunday and it was gone. I hated discovering that. And there was simply no one else who could have taken it. No one. When I told Hal, he said he was certain he was missing money from the back of a drawer in our bedroom as well. A substantial sum… From when Maid #2 was here. I don’t want to think about it.

These women are well-groomed. Not poor, not starving, far from it. You would say they look "prosperous" which is what Hal says to me when he thinks I’ve gained weight but doesn’t want to say the "F" word. Because he knows he would die slowly and painfully.

So we tested her yesterday: we put 4000 colones in Hal’s pants pocket in the laundry. At the end of the day, we did not have that 4000 colones back. And her bag, which I did notice that morning was slack, was now BULGING. I wanted to look in it, but I did not. I didn’t want to get caught looking in it. And I just didn’t want to know what she was taking. She obviously felt she had a right to my stuff. I know I should have confronted her, that she will go on to steal from someone else with impunity. But I couldn’t do it.

Sally_chris_renataI miss Renata, my housekeeper of almost eight years in Key West. [This picture is from my last trip to Key West.] Mo and Ryan were the ring-bearers at her wedding to Greg, a Monroe County detective and a National Guardsman who’s done a tour in Iraq. We’ve known their little boy Christopher since he was in utero. I love her mom, Teresa, who lives in Slovakia. I’ve met her whole family. She comes to all my parties (cleans house in the day, comes to party at night!) Every Thursday for eight years she came to my house and made it right again. Hal routinely left money in his pants pockets and Renata would leave it on the dryer. I used to introduce her as my wife. Is she now my ex-wife? I miss her as much
as I miss anyone else in Key West – she’s part of our family.

Different culture, different expectations, different rules. From now on, we will be more protective of our home. I didn’t want to believe it. Now I do. I will trust my gut. If it happens again, I will confront, I will not be shy about it. Stealing is wrong, whether it’s 100 colones or 180,000. I have a little whoop-ass left over from the overpriced hellhole. I’m keeping it handy. Fool me once…

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