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Among menial jobs, being a janitor is perhaps the most contemplative. Other jobs might provide more soUtude: parking lot attendants can dream through their long sentry duty after the rush hour; and fire spotters, high on a lookout tower, have both isolation and a wild vista as a backdrop for thought. But janitors, especiaUy night janitors, have a more varied and stimulating setting in which to work. They enter offices and find everything in an arrested state; not a stasis exactly, but an exhaustion. The people have fled, their work finaUy ending, and thejanitor is privy to their last moments. No time to finish the report, to close that file—the day is over. Then the janitor comes, a wraith bearing cleaning fluids and mops. Only the janitor's work remains: undoing the evidence of the busy day. The day has left its traces, and the janitor is the hidden hand that wfll whisk away the scuff marks under the desk and the grime in the sink. The janitor is the magician who spirits away the trash, makes the coffee rings vanish, replenishes the paper towels—aU the work those who use the building seldom if ever notice, unless it does not get done; then the janitor is doused with blame. Thejanitor notices the effects ofthe most casual actions and attends to them. You have no idea what your work day has wrought, what you have left behind, unless you look at a room as a janitor might, assaying the condition of the carpets, the sheen on the tabletop. Even a dayjanitor is presumed invisible.When I was hired at aJ.C. Penney store, I thought I was to work in the stockroom, but being the newest stock worker, then caUed a "stock-boy" (it would be years before I would get ajob that did not use the suffix "boy"), I was also the storejanitor. I had two hours in the morning to clean the store and its upstairs offices, a warren ofcubicles in a windowless space fiUed with department managers, accountants, and secretaries. I emptied the office wastebaskets into a wheeled cloth hamper. I hustled, anticipating the ten-minute break at the end when I'd drink vending machine 40 Naton Leslie41 coffee and eat a snack, usuaUy cheese crackers with peanut butter. I had no other cleaning duties upstairs; I suppose they didn't care ifthe floor was swept, as customers never visited this airless place. Because it was early morning, my natural incUnation was to greet the office workers, a brisk heUo as I dumped their trash—however, I soon learned to work süently. Some returned my greetings, but most did not wish to be interrupted. I was expected to be simply an event, a force moving through the cubicles, sucking up office waste, no more noticeable than the fluorescent Ughting, which created no shadows, no glare, nothing to caU attention to the Ught itself. I went about the business grimly, thankful when someone would nod as I arrived, or perform some small kindness, such as handing me the wastebasket whüe talking on the telephone or staring at an inventory Ust. After tending to the offices, I emptied the lunchroom trash-can, arriving there in time for my coffee break. Timing it correctly meant I did not have to waste precious seconds of my free ten minutes walking there. Now it amuses me how much I looked forward to that break, such a brief time when I was not working, was not expected to look busy. Never did a cup ofbitter coffee taste so good, because drinking it was a petty luxury. Those whose wastebaskets I had emptied minutes before would arrive for a break too, and there, sitting at the Formica lunch table, they would speak to me. Then I mightjoin them in complaints about the assistant manager, the direct supervisor of aU the workers, who had upbraided them for overstocking bathing suits or chfldren's shoes, or had denied them a day off. In the lunchroom we were aU workers equaUy, on-the-clock. I secretly marveled that they had complaints, as they made much more money than I, the newest and lowliest...


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pp. 40-49
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