Sunday, March 12, 2006

Texas and the Kotex Machine

Today, our family was coming back from Pomeroy’s Sugar house and a delicious breakfast of pancakes, sausages and all of the fresh, pure maple syrup that you could want and the question came up about the differences in the language of Spaniards, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. I told them, “Naurally I have a story to illustrate some of the differences”.

22 years ago I was working a Maintenance Supervisor in a Tandy computer drive facility in Odessa Texas. Great company and the best job I ever had. My biggest problem was that I did not speak Mexican or Mex-tex so I always needed one of my Mechanics to interpret for me. All of my mechanics spoke English as well as most of the line supervisors. There were 400 Mexican women that worked in the facility but the language barrier was not as big a problem as one might imagine. Any type of event where women’s menstrual problem were spoken about was a source of major embarrassment for me. If my wife and I went to the store and she bought Kotex I would walk a different directions because that item was in the cart. Little did I know that all was going to change.

I had three women’s bathrooms and two men’s bathrooms under my charge and I had two really good Mexican girls that took care of the women’s bathrooms. We had just fished remodeling all of the bathrooms and the large women’s bathroom came out especially nice. It was a 20 staller. My first problem came just after I came to work in Maintenance when one of the Mexican girls came to me in a panic telling me, in broken English, that the Kotex machine was empty! What to do, what to do, and I didn’t even know that I was in charge of the Kotex machine. She said to me “You take money, put packages in”. I finally figured out that I was in charge of the machine. She took me out to the shop and pointed to a rather large cabinet and then pointed to the lock and said “Open”. I pulled out my very large key chain and kept trying keys until one of them worked. When I opened the cabinet doors there were more packages of Kotex than I had ever seen or thought even existed in Texas. She went over and got a basket and filled it up and then handed me a money bag to carry. We proceeded into the women’s bathroom and she went in first shouting in Spanish a phrase that I figured meant that a man was coming in. I waited but no one left and my cleaning gal came and opened the door and took my arm and pulled me into the bathroom. My body was now sweating profusely and I was about to have some type of panic attack or something. Inside there were about 30 women standing around the kotex dispensing machine and speaking all at once and I detected a air of anger among them and I was the recipient of their misplaced anger. Finally my cleaning girl took my keys out of my hand and opened up the box. Yup it was empty. She then took the bag out of my hand and filled it up with quarters and gave it back to me and then filled the machine with the packages of Kotex, shut the door and stood back. The women rushed the machine and after they had their Kotex packages in their hands some of them came over to me and shook their packages at me, pointed at them and acted like they wanted money from me because they kept pointing at the bag of quarters. I was mortified. My helper came to my rescue, at about the time I was fearing for my life as things were starting to turn ugly She would argue with the women and then reach in the bag and give them 2 quarters. The machine had cheated them, when it was empty, and they wanted their money back. They were going to get it from me regardless. Some of them were even bigger than me. We left the bathroom and I quickly grabbed one of my bi-lingual mechanics to tell me what had happened. He, then interpreted with my Mexican cleaning lady explaining everything as she went on. She finished up by telling him that when it was time to do the machines again, she should come and get me because “the stupid gringo would never be able to figure it out on his own.”

You would think this story would be over by now but its not. The next problem we had was some of the toilet seats were breaking and we just kept replacing them, finally going to an industrial, heavy duty, seat. My girls came and explained that some of the women were climbing up and squatting on the toilet seat. They were straight from Mexico and probably had never used a regular toiled seat before. The problem was solved with the heavy-duty toilet seats. I
was getting better at this problem solving stuff and these Mexican women.

The next problem was a lot tougher to handle. My girls that cleaned the women’s bathrooms came to me and were quitting because they wouldn’t work under the conditions of what was happening. With an interpreter in hand they told me that the women were now putting soiled toilet paper into the Kotex receptacles on the back of each stall door and they were not cleaning the mess. With a lot of begging and pleading and a raise, I convinced the girls that we would figure out the problem and then solve it. They agreed to stay a little bit longer. The last thing I needed was for those two girls to leave me. I had come to the conclusion that it was because of poor hygiene education that the problem was happening. The only thing that was going to save the day was to start giving mandatory hygiene lectures to the ladies. I went to the General Manager and he agreed with my assessment and that was the problem but there was no way he would talk about it to those women. It was my problem to solve. I was so mad about the problem that I agreed to do the talking and our personnel director agreed to be my interpreter as she was Spanish and would set the program up.

After work my head mechanic and I went into the women’s restroom to reconnoiter the territory and try to solve the problem. My Mechanic was Mex-tex, having lived here all his life, and we went to work on the problem by 1st inspecting the stalls and to try and start at the beginning. First we read the instructions on the back of the door which were on a plaque I had made up. He said, “do you realize these instructions tell them not to put kotex and tissue into toilet but to use the kotex disposal container instead.” I almost fell over and said “Jose are you sure that’s what it says?” “Where did you get these signs” he questioned and I informed him that “our Personnel Director had translated the Spanish part for me”. Jose told me “She is not from Mexico but is Spanish and that is exactly what she did, translated in Spanish.” The sign was suppose to say do not put paper towels and kotex in toilet but put them in kotex disposal container instead. He went on to explain that the pure Spanish words are tissue for paper towel. They were doing what we told them to do and I was the dummy. Changing the sign solve the problem and helped us to get to the bottom of things.

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