Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sum-sum-summer jobs

This summer, Caroline Sweeney gets to run around in the sun, downing sugar and generally having a blast while I'm forced to stay in the office and slave over a hot keyboard on meeting stories.

Visual depiction of this summer.

(Honestly, it's a fun series. Read it. I just enjoy martyrdom.)

While we're on the topic, though, I figured I could weigh in with my summer job.

When I returned from the University of Wisconsin for the summer after classes ended, every year I got a job in the school district I attended as summertime help for the custodial staff.

Real talk, I was a janitor.

To be honest, janitoring (custodializing?) was some of the most honest work I've done in my life.

You woke up, went to work just as the sun rose, then returned home, usually physically drained, in the middle of the afternoon.

For the most part, the work was tedious. That's what I remember most about it.

During the summer, janitorial crews clean the schools, from top to bottom.

As such, the other kids hired for the summer work and I generally did some of the most repetitious and menial work a person can do. We scrubbed hundreds of lockers with chemicals and water, used razor blades to peel the gum off the bottom of desks, or, for an almost welcome change of pace, swept and mopped floors ahead of the janitors who were waxing floors.

Since I was usually the tallest, I typically was put in charge of cleaning and/or changing out the thousands of fluorescent lightbulbs in the schools.That meant opening the light diffuser, swinging it down, cleaning the inside, using a rag to remove the old tube-style bulb because it was probably pretty hot, then fitting the new one in.

Then I'd climb down the ladder, reposition it just so, climb to the top and repeat.

During those hours of constantly doing the same thing, over and over and over again, you really begin to learn how to entertain yourself. You think about sports, your friends, you dreams, women, anything.

One day, I tried to remember every regular Phillie player from every team I'd followed since I was five. I did pretty well.

Another day, I mentally sang the entire debut album of Blues Traveler.

A task that wasn't boring but could very easily have killed any one of us was the time us summer workers were assigned to move every piece of furniture from the guidance offices of a middle school up or down a level.

The office on the first floor had to go up to the third. The office on the third had to go to the second. And the second floor office's furniture had to come down to the first.

Compounding that, it was 95 degrees outside. We were inside, but it was during construction on that wing, so it was about 105 inside. And the elevator was out of service, so we had to move everything up a narrow staircase....with masks on, because the air was heavy with particles from construction work.

It took two hours and once or twice I felt myself blacking out, but we got it done.

Outside of that cruel little incident, the regular, professional janitors we worked with were generally pretty nice. They usually fell into two camps: people who took pride in their work and crafted it to the point where they could do it almost without effort or guys collecting a paycheck and constantly hiding from their superiors.

It was from the latter group that I learned that some people do not advance their skills in hide-and-go-seek from the time they were seven. One guy literally hid in his own office, the same time, every day.

It's not hiding if your name is on the door.

I also learned that janitors know more about the goings-on of the school than many of the teachers or even administrators.

They know everyone, usually don't have to be in a set place at a set time, and, because some people don't take them very seriously, have no problem talking about some slightly sensitive material around them.

As a result, a lot of these guys know which teacher is sleeping with who, what person is on the chopping block, who has a vendetta against who and so on.

There were a host of characters in the staff. There was one guy who was a 9/11 truther and, without fail, began every single spoken thought or comment with "Um."

His name wasn't Jim, but for my purposes, let's call him Jim. So, as legend had it, "Um Jim," as he came to be known, did a lot of acid in the 80s, which left him a little off.

Then, adding to that, he was changing lightbulbs in the school when he was shocked pretty badly, almost to the point of electrocution.

And, so, "Um Jim" was born.

There was another guy who I constantly seemed to get paired off with. He smelled like vomit and rum and had about as bad a temper as anyone I knew.

Repeatedly, he'd call a vacuum that had its cord stuck around a corner or the lid to a cleaning product that was stuck on a "whore."

Light-bulbs that wouldn't come out of their slots were also whores.

"Whore" was his go-to word for things like that.

As I said, the work was mind-numbing. And many days, when I finished work as a janitor, I'd only have enough time to go home, take a 45-minute nap, then get up and go out to an adult or Legion baseball game I was covering because I was also an unpaid intern at the Daily Local at the time.

It could be grueling.

But I enjoyed pieces of it.

Whenever we could, the summer workers and I would play intense games of UNO in which cheating was actually encouraged. We knew every and any fridge that had ice cream sandwiches or ice pops in it. I ran through the tunnels beneath the high school I was working returning to my work after taking a break to grab a Powerade from a broken soda machine that distributed them without money.

One of the janitors taught us how to twerk well before twerking entered the national consciousness.

The coolest part of an empty high school is it's auditorium.

If tennis courts are located within about 100 feet from a school building, the roof is likely covered by hundreds of bleaching tennis balls.

A principal's office and the library are typically the only spots in a building during the summer where the air conditioning never stops running.

I can't say my college summer job was fun. But I think it taught me a lot of the patience I use in my career.

No matter what you're BS summer job is, I think you should at least try to take something like that out of it.

Once you figure out where all the ice pops are stashed, anyway.

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