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…