With a Spotless Record, Tidy Texan Theresa Lang Turns Cleaning Rags into Riches
Stepping daintily around puddles of paint and chunks of Sheetrock at a newly finished Dallas office building, Theresa Lang surveys the rubble at her feet and loves it. Moments later she corners the building's construction foreman and clinches a deal to get the building sparkling clean for a mere $10,000. It's all in a day's work for Lang, known around Texas as the toughest dust buster in the business and the highest-paid cleaning lady anybody ever heard of.
Though she is usually seen at work in faded jeans, scuffed tennis shoes and a black T-shirt reading "Let's Talk Dirt," Lang, 30, dresses much more glamorously when she is out looking for jobs among the constantly rising new buildings in Dallas. Her efforts at scouring Learjets, office suites, health spas, mobile homes and mansions earn her about $60,000 in take-home pay a year. And if the money isn't enough, there is the added satisfaction of rubbing up against some real Hollywood-style Stardust at the Dallas digs of Larry Hagman and Connie Francis. "It's dirty work," says Lang with a smile, "but someone's got to do it."
A cleaning fanatic most of her life, Lang took on some household chores at age 5 to please her working parents. (Her mom, a cosmetics saleswoman, and her dad, a former Navy man, wanted everything shipshape.) Three years ago she gave up a $25,000-a-year nursing job because, she says, "I decided I'd rather clean objects than people." Lang had eight dollars to her name then, hardly enough to stock a day's worth of soap. So, summoning her personal grit, she held down four jobs, working as a cocktail waitress, grocery checker, typist and part-time cleaning whiz. During free moments she drove around Dallas until she found a new construction site, then submitted her bid to the foreman and cleaned her way to local fame and fortune.
Since then, Lang, her husband, Marke (an aspiring commercial artist), and her free-lance crew, including a chemist she keeps on retainer for consulting on stains, have attacked practically every type of dirt. They rallied at 3 a.m. to shovel debris from flood-damaged homes and once sandblasted outdoor carpeting at a swimming pool. Unable to use heavy equipment to haul away the sand, they removed two tons of grit a bucketful at a time.
Lang prefers common household items for cleaning: ammonia and vinegar for washing windows, and single-edge razor blades for scraping paint. Although she usually handles industrial-strength jobs like cleaning up after construction workers ("You can't believe how messy they are! They even crap in the bathtubs!"), she has also cleaned "fancy pigsties"—mansions owned by wealthy clients. "I've found dirty dishes under beds that were there for months," she says.
Lang's clients shell out big bucks for her services. In fact, Connie Francis was so impressed by the cleaning pro's efficiency, she tried to hire Lang as a business manager. Larry Hagman trusted Lang to spit-shine a 10,000 square foot, five-bedroom rented hideaway, including the boudoir where Hagman's mother, Mary Martin, sat atop satin pillows and nibbled breakfast while Lang dusted. She collected $2,600 for the three-day job and got a note of thanks. "You're wonderful," wrote J.R., who also extended an invitation to join the Hagman clan for cocktails after work. Later, when Lang scouted the L.A. area with plans to expand her business, Hagman's wife made numerous calls to friends trilling the cleaner's virtues. In the end, Lang decided against branching out. Says she: "I haven't finished with Dallas."
As always, a tough job comes with frustrations. "People tend to look down their noses at cleaning people," Lang says, "and it makes me mad. I wish they had to work as hard for their money as we do. Then they'd show a little human appreciation." Still, as Lang stuffs another one of those hefty paychecks into her Louis Vuitton purse, she realizes that cleaning up on the job is its own reward.
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