The custodian chronicles, 4 weeks in

September 18, 2019

1. Every school day includes a race (a half marathon may be an appropriate analogy, considering my previous reference to the daily scrubber routine). The last thing I do each day is clean up after the final round of student lunchtimes. Dependent on them remaining on schedule, this means that my cleanup is some days more rushed than others. Picture day, for instance…the final group of students in for lunch that day also happened to have their photo time scheduled not-quite-right-after-lunch. The logical solution for their teachers was to simply extend their lunchtime. My clock was ticking … and the daily pain in my foot was increasing its intensity with each moment. I was anxious for my own clock out hour, & had to repeat my daily comment to my coworker that, “I can’t finish on time today!” I have begun to say it every day, so that he can roll his eyes and remind me that I said the same thing yesterday, and somehow managed … But this time I was serious! The kids finally filed out and I gritted my teeth and clenched my jaw for a super-speed scrubbing. I somehow managed. Rolling the scrubber towards the closet where we would empty out the dirty water and refill it with the next day’s cleaning solution, I saw that my coworker had already opened the door. Instead of leaving it parked outside as I often do, at which point he takes over, I backed it in and brought it right up to the sink. My coworker was now nearby, so I stepped out and, to make sure he knew that I hadn’t already finished with the machine, I said, “I haven’t unfilled it.” He looked at me quizzically for a moment, then asked “You mean you didn’t empty it?” “Uh …yeah. I guess that would be the actual word for it.” I shook my head at my inadvertent creativity and sighed. “I have lost the ability to speak English, & my foot is about to fall off. I think I’m done now.” Perhaps expecting some sort of sympathy, I waited a moment for a response. He simply shrugged. “Welcome to our world,” he commented, putting his head down and returning to the task at hand.
2. In the world of school custodians and food service workers, one’s ideas of appropriate times of day to be done can shift according to one’s, er, shift. Today I went into the food prep area to get the cleaning solution I use for final table and bench scrubbing. Seeing me, the food service worker apologized that she had gotten distracted and had forgotten, “this evening,” to mix it the solution ahead of time. “No problem,” I assured her. Then I added, “And I love the fact that you also think of this final stretch of the day as ‘evening’ … by 8 I’m pretty much in bed already: 5 o’clock comes early!” She shook her head in a silent, smiling agreement.
3. Ever tried hunting for a diamond in a mop head stack? A teacher list hers yesterday and, as her room houses the washer and dryer we use for mop heads, the newly washed ones are one of the possible searching spots. Describing its shape to me, she admitted that “it would be a miracle” to find it but, well, you never know. She told me the story of a “fairy cross” she lost for 8 years and then found again, laying on the ground by the fence she had walked in and out of, countless times, over the course of those years. “If I find it, I find it. If I don’t, I don’t,” she shrugged, and smiled, thanking me for helping.
4. In between table cleanup, I was standing by the cafeteria wall, watching the activity while waiting for the next group to finish. One 1st grader caught my eye as he pounded on the top of his milk carton. His face reddening with frustration, I began to wonder why the carton was so hard to crush. He increased his focus, putting it next to him in the bench, and using his knee for more force. Still, the carton held strong. I began to silently root for him, Wilkins the stubborn carton to crack. At this point I was distracted by something else happening and turned away from the show. A few minutes later, he struts past me and tosses the carton into the garbage. On his way back to his seat he paused next to me, looked up, and, hands raised with exasperation, announced that, “my milk carton just exploded!” Up until now, I had assumed the carton was empty all along. This new bit of information had me stunned for a moment, as I wondered why, if he had been unsuccessful in his goal (the carton was still intact), he was so intent on making a mess that he had to go out of his way to claim that he had. I decided to call his bluff. “No, it didn’t,” I matter if factly responded. “You tried to smash it.” Clearly not expecting this turn of events, he started to speak, changed his mind, and instead scurried back to his seat. For the rest of his lunchtime, I tried to maintain a stern face as I saw him periodically look over to see where I was and then quickly revert his gaze with a sobered and studious expression.
5. Told ya I’d get up there

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