Getting back to workPosted: May 28, 2020 Filed under: Janitorial work, Writing | Tags: corona virus, covid 19, janitors, job, jobs, manual labor, school, work, writing Leave a comment
This has been the longest stretch of not posting since I started this blog – something that would have freaked me out not too long ago, but so many things have changed lately, it feels like some of my priorities have shifted. Which isn’t to say I’m going to stop writing here! Just that I’m not going to force it. I have instead been writing frequently in a journal about daily life and what I’ve done to fill my time, since I stopped going to work on March 13th. Those entries are too boring for the public, haha.
I went back to work yesterday. That was 75 days out of work! So far, it’s been totally fine. We are only doing 4 hour shifts, and I am staggering it with my co-workers. So, in a job where I’m almost always alone, I am even more alone now. We’ll see if that changes when teachers have a chance to come in, which will start next week. So far I’ve just gone around and flushed all the toilets since it’s been so long since any water has been running. I went ahead and cleaned them while I was at it. (Some hard water buildup on the porcelain.) Then I flipped over area rugs, vacuumed them while upside down (gets a lot of sand out of them – I work at a school that is basically on sandy bluffs.) and moved them into the gym. And now I’m on to cleaning cafeteria tables. I wear gloves and a paper mask. Sometimes I take off the mask when there’s no chance of other people approaching me. It’s hot. Also, I wash my hands with the gloves on pretty frequently. I’ve never heard of that as a thing, but I don’t know why not!
It’s comforting that everything was right where I had it when I left. And that we are all in the same boat. There have been other occasions where I’ve been out of work long term (after top surgery, after psychiatric hospitalizations), and in those cases, I had no idea what I was coming back into, or sometimes even who would be there. This time, it feels like there is no pressure at all. We might not do everything we normally do during the summers. We will just wait and see.
I’m trying to feel out if I like working these short shifts better than not working at all (the added structure is nice, and the built in physical activity) for future reference. It’s hard to say at this point. I’m still transitioning. Other than this though, everything else is still the same, in my book. I’m still only going to the store every 2 weeks. I’m still only seeing people in outdoor spaces, at least 6 feet apart, with a mask on whenever possible (like obviously, not while eating or drinking). I’m recording my radio show from home, doing telehealth appointments, spending lots of time biking, hiking, and sitting in the nice weather staring off into space. It feels like others are suddenly less cautious, as the weather got nicer and as restrictions eased up. That doesn’t make much sense to me, so I’m gonna just keep doing what I’m doing, which now includes working M-F, 11:30am – 3:30pm (loving this shift!)
Janitors in pop culture #4Posted: April 23, 2018 Filed under: Janitorial work | Tags: career, depression, drunk, drunk driving, janitors, job, manual labor, media, movie, movie review, science fiction, stereotypes, work 5 Comments
I haven’t written one of these since 2014! That’s way too long! My spouse and I just watched Another Earth for the second time, and I had forgotten that the protagonist, Rhoda, is a high school janitor. Heads up – this post might contain spoilers! And also, although I’m being critical and having fun with it (the portrayal of a janitor), I actually really do love this movie (hence, the wanting to watch it for a 2nd time!)
She doesn’t start out as a janitor. She’s a promising student that just got accepted to MIT, but her path takes a sharp turn when she kills a wife and child in a drunk driving accident. She spends the next four years in prison, instead of college, and when she gets out, she struggles with even wanting to be alive. When talking to a social worker about a job placement, she says,
“I don’t wanna really be around too many people or do too much talking.”
And that is, in a nut-shell, what being a janitor is all about! She gets placed at West Haven High School. We see her in a bunch of scenes at work. I’ll try to break it down a bit:
Uniform: She’s wearing workboots in the style of Timberlands. She has a hoodie and a full-body jumpsuit on over that. Plus a beanie. It is winter, but this is what she’s wearing while working in the building, and she is WAY overdressed! I’d be sweating bullets in this get-up, plus the footwear is too heavy-duty. Even running sneakers would be better – you do a ton of walking as a janitor. I wear a t-shirt, pants, and sneakers, and I still get hot – school buildings are usually kept super warm.
The Work: We see her pushing her cart through the building, mopping halls, and scrubbing at bathroom grafitti. This is fairly realistic, although where I work, we have an auto-scrubber for halls, and I’d never use that much elbow-grease on anything the way she’s going at that grafitti – I’d blow out my ligaments! I already struggle with “tennis elbow” from regular repetitive motions. Not worth it!
Storyline: There’s a sub-plot where her co-worker, Purdeep, is noticeably blind, and you’re left wondering how he gets his job done without seeing. Then, one day, Purdeep isn’t there, and Rhoda asks about him. The reply? He’s not coming back because he poured bleach in his own ears. This was the 2nd incident – he had previously blinded his own self by pouring bleach in his eyes.
“He said he was tired of seeing himself everywhere.”
Later on, there’s a scene where Rhoda visits him in the hospital, and she writes letters on the palm of his hand in order to communicate with him. It’s a tender connection, but other than that, I’m not sure what’s being coveyed through this other than here was a janitor who incrimentally lost his mind and self-destructed. ???
There’s one other scene, early on, that I think is really relevant. She runs into an old classmate at a corner store, and from his demeanor, it’s apparent he’s super surprised to see her, and he knows all about what happened to her, going to prison and everything. Their dialogue reads, starting with him asking,
“So, are you working?”
“West Haven High.”
“Yeah? What do you teach?”
“I clean the school.”
“Oh, that’s cool. …That’s probably very … therapeutic.”
It might not be apparent from the words, but his tone is sooo condescending, his classism is really shining through. I often tell people that I’m a janitor, and I feel fortunate I don’t come up against this kind of bias, generally. But there was a long period of time where I did feel shame about my job, especially because I work for the same school district I went to school at, and I too was a “promising” student, and I actually did go to college (and not prison), and I would brace myself for those moments where I might run into someone I knew from school.
The custodial doorPosted: February 27, 2018 Filed under: coming out, Janitorial work, name change | Tags: coming out, genderqueer, legal name change, lgbtq, manual labor, name, queer, school, trans, transgender, work 8 Comments
Here it is, finally! Photographic proof that my name plate finally arrived the way I want it, after many delays and a mix-up. If you want to read about the backstory, here are two past posts:
From December: The “Mx.” got way delayed
From last January: I came out at work, cont’d
The short version is that I asked for the Mx. a year and 3 months ago, following my legal name change. A full year passed before anything happened, and it came through as Kameron [last name], which was not what I wanted. So I talked to the principal again, and luckily, she was pliable. A month ago, I saw a name plate in the admin. assistant’s trash (only because I empty her trash), that said, Ms. [last name]. Meaning, that Staples messed it up even though it got submitted the way I wanted it. Another week passed (during which time I was wondering if I’d have to check back in with the admin. assistant or not. Glad I just waited.) and, finally, there it was, on the custodial door.
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective (pt. 2)Posted: February 20, 2018 Filed under: coming out, Janitorial work, Passing | Tags: bathrooms, coming out, gender identity, genderqueer, janitors, lgbtq, manual labor, non-binary, queer, school, trans, transgender, work Leave a comment
Within a week of me coming out at work, a new protocol had been put in place for how we should go about cleaning bathrooms. And for the first time, it applied to all cleaners in all bathrooms, not just guy cleaners going in women’s /girl’s bathrooms, or gals going in the men’s / boy’s. The timing of it was not lost on me.
1. First, call out to see if anyone is in there. If they are, wait.
2. Next, take a sign that is now velcro-ed to the back of all bathroom doors, and velcro-adhere it to the front. This sign reads, “Do Not Enter. Cleaning in Progress.”
3. Close the door, and then do whatever you’re doing, whether it’s just loading more paper towels or full-on cleaning the bathroom.
Before this, we only had to be conscious if we were in bathrooms that were opposite to the ones of our gender/sex.
When I came out to the principal and assistant principal, one of the first and only questions they asked was about bathrooms. Which bathrooms did I plan on using? If she (the principal) could make a suggestion, it would be best if I only used the gender neutral bathrooms. I was polite in response, even though I had not thought this through, and at the time, I used both the women’s bathrooms and the gender neutral bathrooms. All I said was, “A lot of people are worried about bathrooms when it comes to trans-people.”
As it is, a year later, I really only do use the gender-neutral bathrooms because different people within the school have different perceptions about where I’m at, and I want to protect myself and also foster the idea that I am neither male nor female. I didn’t plan on this. I thought I’d be continuing to use both women’s and gender-neutral ones. But I’m not.
I clean one set of bathrooms in the “centrum,” an open plan area where the first graders are taught – there are 3 regular classrooms, 2 resource classrooms, a big open area, and two bathrooms. These bathrooms don’t have doors on them, and also therefore, there are no, “Do Not Enter, Cleaning in Progress” signs accompanying them. Since I do get a head start while the first graders are getting ready to go home, I always yell, “Anyone in here?” even before just dumping the trash / cleaning the sinks. (Due to placement, there’s no way I’d encounter someone using the restroom from the sink area.)
A few days ago, I was doing my routine and called out like always. No one answered. I was putting in a new roll of paper towel. Then I heard a toilet flush. Also a bunch of kids were to the immediate right of this bathroom, putting on their winter coats and boots. I finished loading the paper towel, deciding that it would have been a bigger deal if I had just left it half loaded in my paranoia to escape the bathroom. The girl washed her hands and then I ripped off a piece for her to dry her hands.
Kids who were right there had a very lively conversation!
“There are no boys allowed in the girl’s room.”
“And also no girls allowed in the boy’s room.”
“But why is he in there in the bathroom then?”
“He has to be in there because that’s his job.”
“He’s putting more paper towels in there.”
“But still are you sure he can be in there?”
I just cleared out without further fanfare, but I felt kinda flustered. Personally, I still feel like I half belong in the girl’s / women’s bathrooms. Indeed, those are the ones I use the vast majority of the time when I am out in public.
I was intrigued that these first graders gathered that I was male. I honestly have no clue whether kids at the school I work at think I’m male or female. Whenever I’m asked (this happens so rarely), I do make a point to say, “I’m neither. I’m a little bit of both.” But short of that, I don’t have a clue what conclusions they come to!
One other thing that is tangentially related, I feel, because it concerns personal space: Since I’ve come out, had top surgery, and been on testosterone for long enough that my physique and how I carry myself has changed, I get touched a lot more at work. Some teachers pat or gently tap my shoulders and back. A few days ago, I was thrown way off when a kid patted my midsection for no apparent reason! It’s definitely different, and I don’t respond likewise with anyone, but I gotta say that I do think it’s a positive change – I think people can tell that I am more comfortable in my skin, and some of them act accordingly.
I’ll take it!
If you’d like to see what I originally wrote about this topic, back in January of 2014, here it is:
Bathroom anxieties: a genderqueer janitor’s perspective
I decided to write a Part 2 because this one felt outdated. And I still haven’t covered everything, not by a lot shot! (probably part 3 will appear in the future…)
I’m doing something I dreaded, and it’s not so badPosted: September 12, 2017 Filed under: Janitorial work | Tags: anxiety, back to school, bipolar disorder, depression, emotions, janitors, manual labor, mental health, school, stress, testosterone, work Leave a comment
At the school I work at, there are two main sections to be cleaned – upstairs and downstairs. For the vast majority of my time there, I’ve always cleaned the downstairs. The water fountain was better. It was cooler in hot weather. There were more people to interact with. The rooms were cleaner (for the most part). I was closer to things that I needed to access: receiving room with supplies, dumpsters, the custodial office.
About 2 years ago, I cleaned the upstairs for roughly 6 months. It was not my choice – things were rough in a lot of different ways, and this was just one more thing. One more really big thing though, in my head. I was in and out of work a few times, due to a serious depression. When I was up there, it felt as if I could barely do the tasks, and the fact that they were recurring forever and ever was intolerable. I was rushing myself, always feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do everything. I was at a loss as to what to do about all the recycling, which for me is a “must do.” I just felt like I did not belong up there. I was trying to pop in and out of areas before kids were out of school, and then backtracking, which felt totally inefficient but seemed to be the only way to keep busy. Just being felt painful. And the fact that the being was on the second floor made the pain feel compounded so tightly within itself that I was struggling beyond belief.
By about mid-October of 2015, I was told I was switching back to the first floor. Apparently my co-worker wasn’t doing a great job, there were complaints, it was more important to be clean on the first floor than the second floor. ?? Anyway, at that time, I was sooooooo relieved. It was a visceral feeling. All the negativity was left up on the second floor, and although I was still struggling, I fit right back into the first floor. A few months later, I got on a medication that really started working for me, and the next two years went really well for the most part.
Sometimes a little too well: As I’ve mentioned before, I went through a manic episode in May, and I was out for two months, recovering from that. In a good way though – so far so good on the avoidance of a rebound depression. However, I lost my status at work. When I got back, it was clear that the new guy was now the new second-in-command.
In the past, this would have felt devastating, and I would have clung onto whatever control I did have, to the detriment of myself, only, really. I know because I’d already put myself through all that, big time. This time around, I decided to take it all in stride, as best I could. Instead of arguing about how I couldn’t do the second floor or anything like that, I spent time “staking it out,” I guess you could say? Just, spending time up there visualizing this or that and getting accustomed to the idea, before kids came back.
Now that school is back in session, I am IN IT. And it’s not actually bad. So far it has felt preferable, in fact. I’ve made some changes to my routine that really feel like they’re making a difference. Instead of bringing my cart plus mop bucket plus garbage barrel to each and every classroom, I am “sweeping through,” first with the garbage and rags to wipe everything down, then with the vacuum for all the area rugs, and then with the dust mop. I am taking WAY more steps going through multiple times instead of going room-by-room, but it’s feeling good. Feeling faster, even.
And the weather has not been too hot. And there’s a new drinking fountain up there as of a couple months ago – the kind where you can easily fill up a water bottle from, and it says how many plastic bottles you are saving by doing so. I love it! And I like the fact that the teachers clear out early up there, for the most part. And the rooms have been clean thus-far.
Best of all, I have my own “room” to store stuff, up there. That’s new. So while things are kinda turbulent with co-worker dynamics, I am so glad to have all my stuff and activities separate from theirs, more-so than ever before.
All the negative associations I’ve held about the second floor have pretty much melted away. A lot of that has to do with mental health and coming out at work. I don’t feel like I’m trying so hard to get in and out of places. I actually feel like I belong. When I talk with people, I like my voice. When I walk and do all this physical work, more muscle mass is making it feel much more effortless.
The only thing I’m dreading now is “gym use.” Coming soon will be screaming children using the gym for their cheer-leading practice, from 6-8:30pm. And once that’s over, it’ll be basketball all winter-long. We’ll see how well I can adjust…
Saying goodbye to my co-worker / allyPosted: March 25, 2017 Filed under: coming out, Janitorial work | Tags: co-worker, co-workers, coming out, emotions, gender identity, genderqueer, janitors, lgbtq, manual labor, relationships, school, trans, transgender, work 2 Comments
My co-worker’s last day was yesterday. He is moving on to work security at one of the middle schools. Some people have a lot of co-workers; I really only have just one. I have a supervisor, a co-worker, and then a 3rd person who works per-diem 4 hours per day (so, a co-worker, but it doesn’t feel the same.) We didn’t actually work “together,” but we worked at the same time, and for the majority of each day, it was just us in the building (along with after-school activity groups.)
He started roughly 3 years ago, and we got off to a rocky start. I can’t really explain it, but it wasn’t just rocky – it was jarring, and jagged. It was, in effect, a disastrous mix. Things slowly repaired themselves, with time and effort, and I learned a ton about human connection and priorities, during this process. Maybe someday I’ll really write about that, but it won’t be here.
In some ways, we are opposites he grew up in a rough part of the city and now lives in the suburb I grew up in, and he generally stays put out there. He seems to know everyone there. I moved to the city as soon as I was able to, and I never spend time in that suburb, unless I stop at the grocery store after work, or get gas, etc. I feel a comfortable level of anonymity within the city…
We had a complete turn around within the time we worked together – he was the person I confided in the most. He actively participated in being my ally in a bunch of different ways. I wrote about this a little, over a year ago, here:
I came out to my co-worker
As soon as I told him about my preferred name, he started using it when no one else was around. He called me “Kam-Ron” at first, and then just shortened it to “Kam.” This later became, “Killa Kam” and “Cuz.” He lightly pressured me to come out at work when he could feel it was imminent. I appreciate it more than he’ll know. Well, he does kinda know – I explicitly told him yesterday that I wanted to thank him for being my ally, most specifically.
Super early on, he organized a district-wide work happy hour at his dive bar. I was the only one who showed up. Later, he narrowed down the guest list, and our co-workers / kitchen staff hung out one time outside of work. That was a first! He later bonded with me through my enthusiasm with a local community radio station I volunteer with. He came on the air with me on two occasions, taking pics and putting them on facebook and just hyping it all up in general. One time, we met for lunch before work. That was a first.
Last night, I picked us up some tacos from that place we had lunch the one time, and we just chit-chatted one last time. He had gotten a bunch of cards from students, like whole classes-worth, and a couple of gifts from teachers. He was exuberant, like he often is, gesticulating a lot, not sitting down, etc. I was low-key, like usual, trying to offset that a bit. While still being interested / engaged.
I’ve never met anyone like this person. I observed the ways he navigates through situations with my eyes and ears perked. Out of everything I learned from him, I think the most all encompassing thing was what he summed up as “teamwork makes the dream work.” (He would say this a lot.) But not teamwork in the way I knew of teamwork – this is a different brand of teamwork. I thought of “teamwork” as doing the same thing at the same time with another person or group of people, until the job was done. But whenever I tried to enact that with him, we would usually clash. His teamwork involves a network of small favors with as many people as possible, like, “I do this, which motivates you to do that,” kind of thing. Which may or may not work depending on the other person, but he is an extremely motivational person. In addition to just going way above and beyond, in that rare situation which arises from time to time, just to help you out.
He made a personal connection with probably almost every single person, whether principal or teacher or part-time staff, in the entire school. And now he’s moving on to go do that in a school that’s twice or maybe three times as big.
I’ll miss him.
I also wrote about the co-worker I had before this co-worker, here:
Saying goodbye to my mentor / co-worker
That was when he retired, two and a half years ago.
I came out to my supervisorPosted: January 27, 2016 Filed under: coming out, Janitorial work | Tags: androgyny, coming out, gender, gender identity, genderqueer, janitors, lgbtq, manual labor, non-binary, queer, trans, transgender, work 14 Comments
I am on a roll! It feels like the end of “coming out at work” is in sight. This may have been the biggest hurdle, because it seemed the most unpredictable – I wasn’t sure how she’d react. Or rather, I could deduce how she might react at different times – I just had to make sure to pick a good time…
She had been out on medical leave for 6 weeks, and I expected there to be a transitional period when she came back. So I didn’t plan / put any pressure on myself to say anything in the foreseeable future. But once she was back, I realized it did seem to be good timing. I dreaded approaching her while she was in her office (if I could even catch her in there). It seemed so daunting to start such a conversation from scratch, but that’s exactly what I planned on doing, since we’d be in a semi-private location.
Last Wednesday, however, I was running the auto-scrubber in the cafeteria, when she came up to me to explain some extra work my co-worker and I would be doing that night. I then turned the auto-scrubber back on, but she came back to me with something else. She had some news about someone who used to teach at our school years ago. She was relating to me as another worker with history in the building, something she has never done before. Sort of, “I knew you’d remember her, so I thought I’d tell you.” It was a bonding moment, as much as seems possible between us. I realized, this is the time to tell her! We were already conversing (not a common thing) and all I have to do is segue, as opposed to start from nothing.
I said, “Oh, I’ve got two things to run by you.” I told her about surgery and needing time off first. She was totally fine with that and didn’t ask any questions. I was concerned she might. I dreaded telling her I was taking off more time, since I took so much time last year. It went so smoothly! Then I added that I have something else that is more of a long-term thing. I told her I’m changing my name and pronouns to he/him/his. That I already have, in fact, except for at work. She said that this must be a long term thing because this is the first she’s heard of it! I assured her she was one of the first people I’m telling. (I strongly suspect that she already knew something, because I came out to the head of the kitchen a couple of months ago, and they talk about everything. That may have been somewhat strategic on my part.)
The rest of the conversation centered around her advising me about what I would be able to do, when. She said I’d have to wait until I’ve legally made changes. Then I should go to the principal, and she will deal with it in her own way. I don’t believe I do need to wait until my name is legally changed (and I’m not planning to change my gender), and I think I have some say about how I come out and when, but I’m not about to jump ahead to the next steps anytime soon anyway. I told her I am going by Kameron, and she even said, “I like it.”
We wrapped up the conversation, which went so well, considering. I turned the auto-scrubber back on and could not stop smiling. I had been dreading this for so long, and it just organically occurred in the moment. I was on turbo charge for the rest of the day. In my mind, I kept jumping ahead to what I would have to do next, and then reminding myself to just be in this moment, and feel this elation that doing this thing had created.
I really can’t envision what I’ll be doing next. Which means I should just wait for a while until it seems clear. (It would be talking to the principal again – something I can tell I’m not ready for right now.)
For now – WHEEEEEEE!
Other related posts:
I came out to the head of the kitchen
The implications of “back to school”*Posted: August 31, 2015 Filed under: Janitorial work, mental health | Tags: anxiety, depression, emotions, janitors, manual labor, mental health, school, summer, work 15 Comments
*Back to school is in quotations because as a janitor, I didn’t actually leave school. We’re just gearing up for everyone else coming back.
I spent this summer waking up at 5:20AM every day, working to get the school ready for students and teachers. We are winding down from that (we’ve been wound down for a while – we started out really fast and got done early). I’m back to late nights (2-10:30PM) without much to do other than dump the trash of the few teachers who have been coming in to set up every day. It’s been nice that the cleanliness of the school is at a standstill. We can just look around and say, “we got all that done.” And we don’t yet have to work to maintain it. Kids start back on Wednesday, so that will all change in a couple days.
While we were busy though, we were rushing through things. We scrubbed every desk and chair. We cleaned surfaces in the rooms, shined the sinks, dusted. We scrubbed the old wax up off the floors. I single-handedly waxed every floor. 3 times over. I’d like to know how many square feet that was. Tens of thousands? Maybe even a hundred thousand? Or a lot more?
It has been a relief to drop back to the later shift and not feel like I’m stumbling, half-awake, in the mornings, just to come home and start dreading about waking up early again. I had been going to bed at 8:30PM! My mental health has been better overall, but not great. I’ve been mildly depressed all summer.
Going back to late nights has been lonely, and strangely, a lot of my worries have centered around what to eat before work. I need to fit in breakfast and lunch. I don’t know what to eat. I also don’t really know what to do, all by myself, other than oversleeping. I’m forcing myself to do some things I don’t really feel like doing, as of now. I guess the hope is I will grow into it; I will like it once I’m doing it. I’m going to be a radio DJ starting pretty soon. I’m also going to take a writing class.
I’ve been realizing that I’m living with a lot of dread lately. Whether that’s residual from mental health issues earlier in the year, or whether that’s just me being me, I can’t really figure out. It’s been helpful to notice it while it’s happening though, and just focus on the here-and-now. Remind myself that I’m actually fine in whatever I am doing presently, so just be more involved in that, rather than thinking about all the perceived horribleness ahead.
For example, I’m dreading going back to doing the exact same thing, at work, every day. But, it really is what I make it, from moment to moment. Unlike most jobs, I don’t have unpredictable things pop up daily, or new challenges to tackle, or people to deal with. It’s just me, in my head. I need to remember that it’s important to change what’s on my iPod frequently – new music, new podcasts… And to talk to people on the phone. And although I don’t believe her, my therapist keeps telling me that I’m actually in control of my own thoughts. So I can choose to keep obsessing about something negative, or I can move on to more interesting topics. In my mind, I am powerless to whatever my brain ends up dwelling on, and I get stuck feeling whatever feelings those thoughts conjure up. I should work on that…
Saying good-bye to my mentor / co-workerPosted: December 15, 2014 Filed under: Janitorial work | Tags: co-worker, emotions, gender identity, genderqueer, janitors, manual labor, non-binary, relationships, retirement, school, sentiments, work 3 Comments
My co-worker just retired on Friday. This is someone I’ve seen almost every day for the past 8 years – not many people in my life I can say that about! (My partner, and others at work, basically.) I will miss him a lot. Some people have a lot of co-workers. I really only have just one. I have one supervisor, one co-worker, and one other person on the cleaning staff who is only there for 4 hrs a day (more of a higher turnover. A co-worker, but it doesn’t feel the same).
We didn’t actually work “together,” but we worked the same hours and we were still a team. I clean the first floor, and he cleaned the second floor. We probably only saw each other for a total of a half-hour every day. Still, I felt very connected with him. We commiserated together. We listened to each other. If I needed anything, I knew I could go to him. I knew if I helped him out with something, I was being highly appreciated for it.
I’d have to say he taught me more than any other person, in my journey to becoming a janitor who is very good at his job. He always had an opinion about how things should be done. And he had a lot of tricks-of-the-trade up his sleeve. He always wanted to pass those on to me (and anyone else who had the patience to learn from him – most didn’t). He was really difficult to understand. He’s from the Caribbean and has a super thick accent. He also has a speech impediment (I believe) on top of that. Over time, I began to be able to understand every word out of his mouth. Most people – teachers and other people in the building – could really understand roughly half or less of the things he was saying. Even after interacting with him every day for years and years and years. Sometimes I felt the urge to be his interpreter, but I think he might have felt insulted, so I really only did this if it really seemed necessary.
One of my favorite word-disconnects he uttered, was anytime he was talking about someone with Alzheimer’s, it would come out sounding like “Old Timers.” How great is that? I’ve pretty much started using that in my own lexicon. There are plenty of other neologisms and intonations I’ve adopted from him. Just one way I will always remember him.
There was a party for him after school in the library (this is the first “library party” I’ve attended – usually I haven’t felt like I was welcome / I haven’t gone). We ate cheese squares and broccoli & cauliflower. We drank Pepsi and had sheet cake. He made a brief speech and he cried. I was touched. He was presented with a few gifts, including a scrap book the Social Committee made for him. I contributed two pieces for it. This is what I wrote:
I think that he saw me as male. Or at least as not female. He always referred to me as “Man,” or, more like, “Mon” (the Caribbean thing). He was old-school in a lot of ways, but he never once tried to do something for me (unless he was showing me a better way to do it) or told me I couldn’t do something / lift something. I always appreciated that. There’s no way I’ll ever forget him. He impacted my life in ways he may never know…
Back to school / Janitors in pop culture #1Posted: September 4, 2014 Filed under: Janitorial work | Tags: career, co-workers, Good Will Hunting, janitors, jobs, loneliness, manual labor, movie reviews, movies, retirement, Robin Williams, school, solitude, work 9 Comments
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
– 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!
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…