work, work

Non-fiction, 4/28/09

People tell me all the time that they dislike their jobs. The hours are long, the pay is low, the bossman nags, any human-to-human interaction leaves much to be desired—the litany of complaints is interminable. Notwithstanding a few exceptions, work sucks, I hear. And more often than not, I’m inclined to agree. But before engaging me in charming banter about the shortcomings of your workday, bear in mind that I’m a janitor part-time. I know that feeling of despair, perhaps better than most. Menial, mundane work is my milieu, dontcha know.

Five days a week I’m up at 6 a.m. to clean, clean, clean. I scour tiles and sweep refuse. I Sani-Wipe steel until it’s spotless. I scrape congealed dough off the ground with a spatula, often on all fours, using my knee as a chin-rest. I scrub toilets, mop floors and vacuum carpets with deft precision, alternating hands like Miyagi’s Karate Kid. Wax on, wax off. Wash, rinse, repeat. If you patronize either of the Fiamma restaurants in town, chances are you’ve already seen my handiwork—though probably without even realizing it. I certainly can’t blame you: few tasks are as thankless as the ones of a janitor. Surfaces are cleansed only to be sullied anew; garbage cans fill up as quickly as they’re emptied. But I’m not complaining. Without messy people making their messes, I’d soon be out of a job, you see.

Sometimes I feel like a superhero—I know, bear with me here—whose clandestine life of grime-fighting must be kept secret from society. The crucial difference, though, is that while real superheroes conceal their identity out of self-preservation, I obfuscate mine because I’m embarrassed. Friends ask me where I work, and I tell them; I just hope they don’t ask what I do. No matter how I phrase my response, the fact that I mop to make ends meet carries with it (for me, at least) an abiding sense of shame. Janitors just get a bad rap, it seems. Take my folks, for instance: Upon hearing about my new job, my dad simply said, “Oh, well that’s…hmm—really?” My mom, ever the optimist, told me, “That’s very good; it shows you’re willing to do anything to make some money.” More encouraging words are seldom spoken between parents and offspring. At least they didn’t laugh, I guess.

Now don’t get me wrong—I like my job. I often work alone, which I like, and I can come in really early or really late, depending on my mood. The shifts are also short and ultra-productive, which is nice. And there are definitely aspects of the work that I enjoy. Mopping whilst singing is a personal favorite, as is sweeping copious amounts of debris into tidy piles on the floor. I’m also inordinately fond of window-wiping, for whatever reason. Such are the prosaic pleasures of the part-time janitor.

So the next time you’re sitting in a restaurant, reveling in the cleanliness of the premises—something I fully expect you to be doing, by the way—remember this janitor’s jeremiad and pay your respects. And remember that I’m almost always kidding.

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