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 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:
*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…
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…
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…
Monday was the last day of school over here. Such an exciting time for students and teachers!!! A time of adjustment for parents, I imagine. For janitors, it doesn’t mean much. We’re still working, we’ll just be doing different (but just as physical, if not more so) tasks. And, it means we’ll be switching from working nights, to working early.
A lot of times, people (outside of work) ask me if I work during the summer. They assume that I don’t. For the record: school janitors work all summer long. How else would the school look all shiny and new on the first day of school???? Little tiny elves?!!
This has historically been the hardest time of year for me. Everyone is so excited about the nice weather and their upcoming freedom. Teachers are clearing out their rooms in anticipation of new stuff they ordered for next year. I start getting really emotional about everyone leaving. I start trying to save as much of the stuff they are throwing out. I start fretting about being ripped away from my routine, and having to work closely with my co-workers all day, every day. I start isolating as much as I can get away with. I know this is some strong language for what seems like no big deal, but it really has felt this extreme for me.
It’s been getting better the past two years. Like everything else in my life, I’m starting to be able to handle it easier. I feel more at ease with my co-workers, and the idea that I will actually be working with them. I chat with teachers about their summer plans. I don’t try to save everything they throw away; I’m becoming more selective. As a side note, anything I do get out of the trash, I immediately create a strong bond with it, for some reason. Stuff from trash is much more valuable, often, than stuff I choose to buy. Not sure why.
But I still can’t let myself get swept up in the energy of the last day of school. I don’t make an effort to say good-bye to all the kids or anything. What they do at our school is, Kindergarten through 4th grade students all go out early and position themselves out on the bus loop, so that when 5th graders head out to get on their buses, they get a big send-off. Then everyone boards their bus, and all the buses take two laps around the bus loop as all the staff cheer and wish them farewell. And kids are allowed to hang out the windows, just this one time, and everyone is yelling and cheering and crying. I cannot be there for that. Maybe one day. I just stay in the building and dump garbages, because it is too intense to be a part of that.
So far this year, I have found in the garbage:
- dozens of envelopes, in different bright colors
- two coffee mugs, one which says, “I ❤ Tea, I ❤ Teaching”
- a plastic travel cup with straw
- a bunch of tracing paper
- some books, one which is called, “Subway Art”
- a bunch of Teddy Grahams and string cheeses
- A North Face jacket, which will actually fit me
- silly bandz!!!!!
And really that’s it so far, which is a very good thing! The past few years, there have been times of huge upheaval. Asbestos removal about 6 years ago, massive room changes about 3 years ago, new carpet installation 2 years ago. Anything like this, and teachers toss out soooooo much. And I respond in a frenzied fashion. I cannot see useful things go into the dumpster. This year feels so smooth and relaxed, in comparison. I am glad.
A partial list of some stuff I’ve found in the past:
- an iPod shuffle
- another iPod shuffle
- Nintendo DS games
- lunch boxes, so many lunch boxes. I’m always in the market to upgrade, haha.
- a long-arm stapler
- a long long list of art supplies and books, calculators, cameras, just… stuff.
- silly bandz!!!!!
This time around, I am ready to try and enjoy the summer.
Dear (anonymous) Sir,
A few days ago, you asked the internet through a google search, “does my janitor who is a male like me and im a male (gay)?” And the internet took you to my blog, in the hopes it would help you find your answer. (Yes, the internet does have its own hopes and dreams!) I highly doubt you found what you were looking for, so I decided to fill in the blanks, in case you try again in the future. I will be taking some liberties and making some assumptions, in order to create a concise response. If I am off base, please, call me out!
I’m sorry to let you know, the internet cannot answer questions that are this specific to your personal experience. You can glean a whole lot of information that might help you put words to your feelings, which is super helpful. But the internet does not know your situation, does not know your janitor, and does not know anything beyond whatever it is that people write on it. Is there a chance that your janitor wrote about you on the internet? Yes, maybe. But you will not be coming upon that writing by asking in that way.
In order to learn more about this, you would have to interact in real life. Also, you may want to ask yourself instead, “Do I like my janitor, like, do I like like him? And if so, do I want to do something about it, despite potential consequences?” You might want to weigh the pros and cons. You might want to feel out the situation in more nuanced ways before jumping to conclusions or potentially propositioning him directly. You could ask for advice from people you trust and are close to. Hell, you could even anonymously ask for advice in myriads of places online (again, I’d suggest focusing on your own feelings and not your janitor’s)! But you will not come upon much success by googling it.
Equally important though, please disregard everywhere in the above paragraphs where I indulged the idea of “your” janitor. He is not your janitor. You do not own him. You may not know this, but he doesn’t actually even work for you! I am going to assume you are not his direct supervisor, and are instead someone who works in a building (as a lawyer, businessman, teacher, or some other profession where you work in a space.) And he cleans your space. You, in a way, do own that space. It is sort of “your” desk, “your” trash can, “your” chalk board, etc. That is fine. But, again, he is not “your” janitor.
Let’s go out on a limb and imagine you are his supervisor. In this case, and only this case, it could maybe be appropriate to call him your janitor. My supervisor does this – she will refer to us (the people who do work for her) as “my guys.” This has the potential of fostering a sense of camaraderie, like we are a team, and she is our leader. This could be OK. But to singularly be someone’s something, even in this context, would be strange. If you are his supervisor, I’d suggest cutting out the “my janitor.”
I’m just going to say this directly, as a janitor who cleans classrooms. I am no one’s janitor. I am employed by a school district. My salary is worked out through the annual budget, which comes from taxpayers. I am in a union; I pay a union due, and they do work on my behalf. I clean classrooms that are, spaces owned (in a way) by teachers and utilized by students. I do not work for teachers. If teachers have a problem with my work, they could go to the principal and/or my direct supervisor. The reason she is “my” supervisor is because, ideally, she has our collective best interests in mind. And because she is above me, on the power scale, and it is therefore obviously not actually owned by me. It is more appropriate. “My boss.” “My professor.” “My doctor.” “My therapist.” These are common and straightforward. “My busboy.” “My waitress.” “My maid.” “My landscaper.” This is a different story; this is slippery. Watch your step.
Not Your Janitor
We’re getting a new roof on the house this week. So loud! They’re starting every morning at 7:30, and I’ve just gotten home from work around midnight the night before and am trying to get enough sleep in.
Yesterday, the roofers had a big pile of debris in the driveway, and I had to get through – I was leaving for work. About 4 of them were there, shovelling stuff, and the foreman yelled out, “Clear a path!” They started moving stuff out of my way, and as I walked past a garbage bin, one of the guys dumped a shovelful into it (which I had no problem with). The foreman yelled, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Grandpa!” And I got really confused. Who is Grandpa? Is he calling me Grandpa? It wouldn’t be the first time – it’s kind of a thing that I’m called Grandpa, or “Baby Grandpa.” But how would this guy know that?!!
The one they were actually calling Grandpa seemed flustered too. Apparently he got yelled at for dumping stuff too close to where I was walking. In his defense, he said, “I thought he was with the crew.”
“Grandpa” was later confirmed when I talked to the owner of the company on the phone, and he said if I have a question, I can ask Paul, the foreman, or Steve, “the one they call Grandpa.”
I like being mistaken for someone on the crew!!! (better than thinking I was mistaken for “grandpa.”)
Later that day at work, I found an advertisement for a book in one of the teacher’s trash. It was this book, “How to Babysit a Grandpa,” and it claims the way to babysit a grandpa is to eat olives served on fingertips; look for lizards, cool rocks, and dandelion puffs; and somersault across the room. Not sure about your grandpa, but mine loves olives and he helped me out with a roofing repair about a year ago.
Today was back to school day. What does “back to school” mean for a janitor? Well, for this janitor, It means not getting home from work until close to midnight. Blah! It means never seeing my partner (other than seeing her sleeping) during the work week. This will be new. Previously, she had mornings free too and worked later shifts. It’s going to be a big relationship-pattern change. So far we’ve been talking on the phone in the evenings, but, not the same! It also means doing the exact same thing, every single day, 180 times, until next summer. I’d be hard pressed to think of another job that is as isolating and routine-oriented as this one. Mail carrier, trash collector, …what else?
I’m grateful at least we have 2 months every summer where things get changed up. We get to work normal hours. (Well, close. It’s 6:30am till 3:00pm.) We get to work all together, as a team. And there’s all sorts of different, exciting things to get done. Scrubbing desks and chairs, getting the old wax up off floors and re-waxing, shampooing carpeting, lifting heavy things, moving and organizing stuff. At least it’s something different every day. And sometimes there are donuts!
During the school year though, we’re all on our own. I tend to be kind of rigid naturally, so I go through my work exactly the same way every day. I really think I need to challenge myself on this before it feels too mentally heavy. Things can get really heavy… Bleak, repetitive, draining, scary, lonely… Usually I listen to my iPod, and I read during break time, try to keep my mind active. I talk to my co-worker a little bit, but basically, I am alone. I’m kind of used to it by now, but also I want to preemptively plan ahead before things get really bad, in my head.