Back to school / Janitors in pop culture #1

The day before yesterday was my first day back to cleaning up after students.  It was terribly hot and humid (more so in the school than outside) and I promptly got a gross warm-weather cold; all stuffy in the head!  I’m back to working late nights.  Overall, it will be good to get back to it; right now it feels awfully lonely.

As an ode (of sorts) to my co-workers, and working all together this summer, here’s a partial list of the most frequently talked about topics:
– basements / sheds / generators / dehumidifyers
– cell phones / provider plans
– donuts and other snack foods
– retirement
– grilling food / alcoholic beverages / being a host
– “got any weekend plans?” / “how was your weekend?”
– teacher quirks
And not a whole lot else…

The cool thing about having been writing here for over a year is I can go back and find out what I wrote, at this time last year.  Here’s what it was.

I’ve been thinking lately that I’m writing lots about trans and queer identities and experiences (awesome!), but that I’ve been ignoring the other half of my moniker.  So, I’m going to start a new series, from time to time, that highlights portrayals of janitors in movies, TV shows, books, whatever.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while!

First up:  Good Will Hunting.  1997.  Directed by Gus Van Sant.  Screenplay by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

In this movie, Matt Damon plays a bad-ass boy genius working as a janitor at MIT.  He solves an impossible math equation (in secret).  He then is “discovered” by a professor, is forced to see a therapist in order to avoid jail time (for assault – he likes to get into fights), and is trying to find a balance in his life between love, his natural talents, and what he actually wants to do.  (Writing out this summary from memory, the movie sounds so outlandish and absurd.  It’s actually pretty gripping; look out for Robin Williams in one of his more serious roles, as Will’s therapist.  Also look out for an awesome soundtrack by Elliott Smith.)

The first time we see Will, he is mopping a hallway floor.  The movie people might have wanted to get a janitor-consultant for this movie (haha), because he is doing it all wrong.  Will is pulling the mop straight out of the bucket and slopping it all over the floor (without wringing out the excess water ahead of time.)  Completely unrealistic.  Also, the hallway is full of students, which is not an ideal time to pull out the mop.  Talk about slipping all over huge puddles of water en masse!

Hardly working.  Doing math.

Hardly working. Doing math.

Later on in the movie, Will is talking with his therapist, Sean, about careers.  (I’m condensing the dialogue a little, for efficiency.)

Sean: I mean there are guys who work their entire lives laying brick so that their kids 
have a chance at the opportunities you have here.
Will: What's wrong with layin' brick? That's an honorable profession. What's wrong with... 
with fixing somebody's car? Someone can get to work the next day because of me. There's 
honor in that.
Sean: Yeah, there is, Will. There is honor in that.  And there's honor in, you know, 
taking that forty minute train ride so those college kids come in the morning and the 
floors are clean and the wastebaskets are empty. That's real work.

I could be reading too much into it, but  the tone of the therapist’s voice, while delivering that last part, is complete, total snark (his character plays up the snark quite a bit though – to match Will’s tone.)  Basically saying, “just keep sticking to what’s ‘honorable,’ and see how far you get.”

Sometimes, I too talk with my therapist about being a janitor.  She has said, “you are probably the smartest janitor.”  She must not have caught Good Will Hunting, haha.  I’ve conveyed that sometimes I find it totally absurd that this is my job.  (I may not be a bad-ass boy genius, but still, in a lot of ways, “janitor” is a strange fit for me.)

In spite of this, I can easily see myself retiring from this job.  (Retirement at age 55, here I come!)  There is absolutely no “career” I can envision pursuing (I’ve always felt this way.  Maybe that will change with time; I won’t hold my breath.)  I mean, I envision pursuing lots of other endeavors – writing, radio DJ-ing, volunteering in myriad ways, but “janitor” seems as good a way as any to actually make money…


9 Comments on “Back to school / Janitors in pop culture #1”

  1. Lesboi says:

    I think society in general has a lot of hang ups about professions and put them into classes. I don’t think, in general, that janitors, along with trash collectors, get a lot of respect, yet they are necessary and honorable jobs as much as anything else. Why is it more admirable to be a butcher than a janitor? I had a housekeeping job at a small college one summer (basically a janitor’s job) and I totally felt invisible unless I got in someone’s way and then I was no longer a human being. I was pretty young and I admit I did not like the job at all, except for the rare opportunity to run the waxing machine on the floors. That was fun.


  2. I actually just watched this movie last week! After hearing that Robin Williams passed away, I wanted to see a movie or two where he appears that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s a good movie, by the way. I don’t usually cry easily, but this one made me teary.
    I’ll be starting University on the fifteenth, and I usually end up being friends with the janitors and librarians, since I stay after school in the library. The idea that janitors aren’t clever is a misconception. Also another clever one appears in The Big Bang Theory, solving a problem that Sheldon couldn’t answer.


  3. Jamie Ray says:

    Better than working at a high powered “important” job that you hate. I couldn’t deal with either a corporate or academic career, and lucked into a government job in planning. As long as you can support yourself and will get a pension(?) go for it. There is so little security for queer people – pensions are beautiful.

    I spent 33 years at NYCT and met a lot of interesting people who never went to college. They were self educated and read books, listened to interesting music, and could spin a story. Yes there was a lot of inane chatter, but that goes on at Goldman Sachs too – just about more expensive stuff.


  4. krisalex333 says:

    I have nominated you for the “Very Inspiring Blogger” Award. Thank you for inspiring me!


  5. micah says:

    I have given this type of question a lot of thought…

    I think it depends on personality (not smarts). Some people prefer sitting-at-your-desk jobs, others yearn to be outdoors or making stuff with their hands. Some people like big and vague tasks that may take weeks or months or years, others would like to have a detailed list of everything they need to do beforehand.

    Unfortunately society places these qualitatively different skill preferences in a hierarchy – monetary and status. Certain professions glamorized, so everybody seeks to overwork themselves day in day out, for gains that are unrelated to true happiness or life satisfaction. Also, many (most?) jobs look “easy” and are scoffed as unskilled labor, but are actually quite difficult to master.

    I’m glad you’re writing more about this, you are always full of insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kate says:

    Hmm, I’m sure it was a compliment, and of course you are smart, but your therapist’s remark leaves me sensing an implicit blasé dismissiveness and disrespect toward people who are in that line of work — an all too common attitude that people must find acceptable or they wouldn’t feel so comfortable expressing. Am I missing some context here? What is she saying about janitors — that they are not smart? That one’s line of work defines a person and one’s abilities? Ouchies!

    But I am totally psyched about your future musings on Janitors in Pop Culture! Someone’s got to mop up the mess perpetuating stereotypes and wax on some understanding!


    • janitorqueer says:

      Really good point! A little more context: we’ve talked about different ways to be “smart,” – there are so many ways! And that a lot of my co-workers have common sense – smarts and practical problem solving skills – smarts, etc. Super valuable (something other people within the school lack sometimes, haha). And I’m the janitor who’s always reading, often listening to podcasts, and obsessing about social relations (which, I then bring those thoughts into therapy). Thinking about things I wanna write about… A much less common way to be “smart” in this field. “Book smart,” perhaps, but that’s not quite it either…

      Early in my “career,” I was definitely lacking in the common sense and practical skills departments, and I think this job has helped me develop that!


      • janitorqueer says:

        So when she says, “smartest janitor,” I imagine she is meaning “smart” in the ways she is most familiar with, even though we also talk about other types of smarts. Such as Smarties, smart-asses, etc.


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