Stints as a Janitor

More old working stories. In the mid 1980s two of my first jobs were janitorial. You wouldn’t believe how exciting that job can be.

Janitor cleaning a movie theatre. What a grueling job! And one in which you could never perform satisfactorily. Getting behind the chairs was so difficult, I wished the seats could be raised and lowered mechanically! But that would involve quite a bit of moving parts, wouldn’t it? Never mind, then. This job took place around 4 am in the morning and ended at about 9 am. The subcontractors were a mormon couple. There was some country songs I listened to that winter. Some doo-wop reminiscent ditty about rockets and love. And a song that went “Stand Up! Testify!” My co-worker, the who wore a leather jacket dedicated to “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, who every Friday night played with a house band at a local bar, one night took his mop stick and nudged the security camera until it was aimed at a wall. Later the next day the place was robbed. The camera recorded him moving the camera. He was busted.

Janitor cleaning offices and banks. The song “U Got The Look” by Prince was on the radio. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” cassette was in my Walkman. I was cleaning office complexes working for a subcontractor in the Spring of maybe 1986. Might have found the job on the Fresno State Student Job Center wall. A good blue-collar guy named Jim who oversaw the cleaning of many buildings from banks to dentist offices all over town ran the operation. You wouldn’t believe what goes on at night in these quiet places! I had a couple of large offices to clean – nothing too bad. The most difficult task was changing the fluorescent lights. They were always going out.

One night I came out of the building dragging my rolling garbage cans and cleaning supplies. Go around the corner. All the windows were broken out of one of the offices and the alarm is ringing. I walked right by it, crossed the street, kept right on cleaning. Police came by, interviewed me, but I saw nobody. The next week, Jim won the contract for that office. The entire complex.

The subcontractor hired and partnered me up with another young Fresno State student, Ernesto, because of the extra workload. Ernesto was fascinating. Dark, petite, soft and sultry. Drove a little purple Karmann-Ghia. Into soul music and sex. Sex stories all night long. One smooth conquest after another – really hardcore. The soundtrack to his life was sung by Luther Vandross and Apollonia 6. He taught me to appreciate the two singers and their music of the night. Luther was always getting dumped. But then by the next song he was on the rebound. Apollonia 6 was all about style. I liked the stories and the music, but it was frustrating at the same time. One day he comes in and says he found God. This thing with God went on for days but it turned out it was to score on a chick who invited him to Bible study. It didn’t work out when he put the move on, and I had my old Ernesto back.

I started hanging out with him, fawning over him. Wanted to be like him. He wanted me to meet his roommate. Took me to an apartment complex full of lose kids and shady trees, met his roommate. Seemed like a normal guy. But this was the guy who Ernesto did things with. The grand tour, he proudly displayed the Ernesto sex pad – the place where all the magic happened. On the walls, framed prints dedicated to Carnaval. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Told me all about the Carnaval and how one day he would go, get sexy in the streets of Rio. Below, a waterbed covered in a burgundy satin spread. I know what that room sounded like on a Saturday. Boom. Boom. Boom. Moans of praise for the smooth Latin boy who one day found this girl. Made for each other. For one night. All night long. Aiyii, Chico! He and his roommate took me out to the Y-94 Chili Cookoff to see the Wet T-Shirt Contest. I got so drunk.

Back at work, one night Ernesto and I leave an office, almost got the door closed, as an executive barges right in. I look at this guy, I don’t know who he is, and he looks crazy. This is the office that gets broken into, remember? He shows me he has keys to the place to prove he works there. He goes in, and as Ernesto and I are leaving, two hookers go running into his office behind him. Ernesto was fantasizing in graphic detail what was going on in that office.

It wasn’t long until Ernesto the breeeze of the sunset became Ernesto the hangover. He had be so distracted I was forgetting to important things. Like leaving the doors unlocked after cleaning an office. Ernesto didn’t care. His concern was the next party, and it affected me because I was forgetting my responsibilities, all caught up in what he was saying. I messed up. I left an office unlocked. It happened twice, Jim said. It was the office of the private investigator who took photos of naked women on the side, and the office of the Chiropractor with the vitamins.

I was annoyed and trying to take the job seriously. The sauve king of the infamous Herpes Triangle of Fresno in the ’80s (Black Angus, Williker’s and Tequila Pete’s/The Scoreboard), I never saw again once I got out of that tiny purple Karmann-Ghia, so upset over this bizarre mean treatment he was giving me. He was saying this, that and the other thing to me. Upset, at a red light I jumped out of his car. The next day, Ernesto didn’t show up for work. Jim called, but he never showed. It was nothing, just a spat! But Ernesto doesn’t forget a spat, turns out. Jim would get me somebody else.

A few days later I was given a new trainee, Mario. He was a young guy, but looked like an old man. Dressed in all black and more shiny black shoes, looked like a pudgy Elvis nightmare. He wanted to impress me with his knowledge of Christ. It made him seem mature. He knew all about Jesus and God, and he wanted to save me. The Jesus thing did seem to give the mousy guy some bit of good impression. Heck, not everybody knows Jesus so well.

But Mario seemed uninterested in learning the job. I would catch up to him and he never hardly made it though half a room. I would start telling him he needs to speed up. I would send him ahead and catch up to him again. After a few days I’m being asked by Jim, the boss I respected, if I stole vitamins from the Chiropractor’s and called “dial-a-porn,” racking up a bill of hundreds of dollars to all the offices. The vitamins in the Chiropractors? I admired the vitamins but I’d never steal them. Those were some bitchin’ vitamins. DIAL-A-PORN!? I was aghast. I’d be so embarrassed if it was I who did that! And to have to answer for that to Jim? So humiliating. I was so appalled he even had to ask me about such things. What could I say? Well, you can forget about it being Mario. He’s religious. There’s just one complaint about Mario I have, though. He’s so slow! I leave him to clean a room and when I come back, he’s… Ohhhhhhhhhhh. Jim did an investigation and determined the pattern of calls followed Mario.

My next work partner was this young mexican kid, Alfie. He had an impressive route. He cleaned banks and some really large places. He was a good guy, but exhausting. Fast and efficient. Put me to shame. Non-stop with the jokes. He would get on the intercom at some offices and make noises to freak me out – he thought it was incredibly funny. He was just too hyper. Alfie liked to smoke weed when going from one office to the next while speeding around corners, the mop buckets banging all over the back of his beat up old Chevy Cheyenne, one of the yellow and brown ones you always saw back then.

80s janitorial.

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