a short story by Kevin Delaney
We must keep our conscience clean, scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub scrub. Loosen the deposits of dirt, and wash the filth from our minds.
our minds are machines
built with pipes and things,
with little rubber tubes,
and plastic gaskets.
Our minds are machines
built with pipes and things
which all must be cleaned
on a scheduled routine.
As time passes: thoughts, actions, words and deeds accumulate in our memories. There is so much data thrown at us from so many directions that–if we tried to retain it all–our minds would fill to capacity in a matter of seconds.
The only way to create a sense of order is to purge the mess in a single massive cleaning. To survive we must take a plunger in hand, and flush our minds of the data for which we can find no value.
We all become janitors of the cerebrum–scouring the hidden chambers of our souls: condensing, scrubbing.
At the moment of birth we are perfection. We have the ability to perceive the entire universe in a single glance. We are a small mass of absolute potential. But, with the first blink of our tear filled eyes, the potential wipes away. We are left to salvage the scattered remains of our divinity. Potential turns to energy, then flashes into the ether as a blast of heat.
If we don't clean our minds,
the metal parts will rust.
The rest becomes cluttered
and covered with dust.
Hello, my name is ____________. I am a janitor by trade. Well, I am not yet a full janitor. I am a janitor to be: An apprentice janitor–if I might. But custodial work is my destiny. It is the wants, ends, means and goals of ...
I have not always been a janitor. Once upon a time, I was the same as everyone else. Those who knew me would be surprised at my chosen profession, for I was anything but clean.
My mother always told me: "If you wish to be successful you must pick up your toys and scrub, scrub scrub."
I ignored the advice. I lived as a pack rat locked within my room. Whenever I found a trinket, shiny and new, I would drag it back into my lair and heap it among the hoard.
My parents were ashamed. I was an embarrassment to the community. If anyone saw my room, they would shake their head and say: "How could he find his ball when it is time to play? Should we let him play with our children? He is so unclean."
Then came the fateful day: The economy turned and we were forced to move to a new town. We could not afford a moving van. My father looked at my hoard of toys on the carpet issued the command: "you can only bring seven toys."
Only seven of seven hundred toys! How could I choose?
I stared at my collection of treasures. I tried to categorize the toys by economic value, then by sentimental value. I thought of my long range goals: Should I select the balls and become an athlete? Should I choose the tin whistles and become a musician? Most of all, I thought of my friends. Would I be with the in crowd or the nerds? What toys would attract the right people? What would they think of the selection? But I did not know who they would be. Their faces were not in my mind. The decision was too hard.
I stood at the moment of transition. My selection would be the great cause that affected the rest of my life. The toys would determine my friends, my loves and future opportunities. There should be a clean rational formula to give me the optimal selection, but my imagination buzzed as it tried to find a path in a random future.
The question was too hard. I did not have enough information. I closed my eyes. I dove into the pile, and grabbed seven toys at random.
I did not cry as my father carried the black plastic bag of discarded treasures to the curb. I stood by the window, in a stoic stance realizing both a sense of loss and relief. The purging was more a catharsis than a tragedy.
I watched as the garbage man heaved my play things into his truck's compactor. I imagined the toys being crushed into a single solid mass of immutable history.
When I thought of each toy in isolation, I saw a treasure, but when I saw them as a group, I saw the discordant clutter of the past. The decision was made and the future set.
No, I did not view the sanitation worker with disgust or loathing. I saw a man I admired. I saw a man who works hard to clean our streets, and carry away the effluence of our daily lives.
In the early hours of the morning, the garbage trucks crawl through our suburbs. In a timeless ritual, garbage men swing from the back of their mighty rigs, grab silver metal cans from our driveways and dump our lost dreams into the belly of the machine to be crushed and hauled away to the landfills on the edge of town.
I would like to be a garbage man. I would get to ride on the back of a truck. I would get to travel between the alleys, clean the streets and making the world a better place.
As we traveled to my new home, I played with my seven toys. I dreamed of my new life and bright future. I imagined each toy bringing a new friend. Providence had guided me in my selection of toys and I lived in the best possible of all worlds. I held my toys and would be surrounded forever by love and affection.
Our car stopped. I jumped out with my treasures in hand. This was our new apartment! But where were my friends hiding?
I paraded around the block, holding my best toy on my head, but no-one came out to play.
I kept the wrong toys. I should have spent more time choosing. How could I have been such a fool as to think the cosmic powers would guide me. I had cleaned poorly. If I had chosen well, things would have turned out different.
I felt my potential flashing before my eyes. The trauma shot to the very core of my being. The carefree decisions I was making were affecting my life.
Perhaps, it is that I cleaned wrong as a child that I clean today.
I still look back on the trauma with a sense of remorse and longing. For years I denied the truth, but is was in this moment of transition that I saw one of the first great truthes of my profession:
The secret of cleaning isn't knowing what to throw away. It is knowing what to keep.
Several years pass...
As a teenager I needed a job. I found the best paying position available to unskilled labor. I discovered a local bakery needing a warm body to come in at night and clean shop.
It was a simple job. I would ride my bike through the downtown alleys, sneak into a back door, turn on the lights and mop like a madman.
I did all sorts of things:
- I scraped the grease machine,
- I wiped the dust blowers,
- I aired out the stink box,
- and threw pans in the noise maker.
I did not know the purpose of the machines. I knew them by the characteristics. I knew where the dirt would hide, and how to clean them. In my mind the machines were simple devices that existed solely for the creation of dirt.
I excelled at the work, and cut the time needed to clean the bakery from three to one hour a night. But, no matter how hard I worked, I could never clean them to the point of perfection. Thing would always be dirty the next day. The most I could hope was to attain stasis.
If I did not clean, the bakery would become a unsanitary mess. But I could never clean to the point where the room would achieve perpetual bliss.
I tried to find ways to make my job easier. If the grease machine didn't splash as much grease there would be less slime on the walls. If we could put a seal on the dust blower, there would be fewer fluff balls on the floor.
With a little ingenuity, we could easily cut back on the mess made each day. So I resolved to visit the bakery during working hours to make my observations known.
I had never been in the bakery during working hours. All I knew of the operation was my late night perspective of dirt, dust and grime.
When I entered the shop, I was surprised to see a store bustling with customers and smelling of raising bread. Seven bakers hustled in the kitchen to construct pastries and other confectionary delights.
The bakers mixed flour in the dust blower, raised dough in the stink box. They baked pies in the noise maker and fried doughnuts in the grease machine.
I introduced myself to my coworkers. They were under whelmed to meet their nightly cleaner. Some acted with outright contempt toward this janitor who stepped out of his social class into their close knit world. I heard a stream of complaints. My suggestions of how the bakers could make my job easier never passed my lips.
I was a fool to hope for more. At night my mind filled with fantasies of the value of my work. I saw my broom strokes as a valuable contribution to the success of the bakery. Yet my fellow workers looked at me as if I were derelict—breaking an ageless taboo by crawling from my midnight haunts to visit their culinary paradise during the light of day.
Bakers are artisans, continuing a fine and honorable tradition from the beginning of time. Custodians are ....
I lowered my head and began to slink from the store. Seeing my plight, the senior baker stopped his work, thrust out his hand and boomed forth:
"Are you the boy who does the night cleaning? It is an absolute pleasure to meet you! You've been doing a fine, fine job."
Without a break in his stride he began to deride his fellow bakers for the lack of care they took with their equipment. Keeping the equipment well honed and tuned is the most important chore of their day.
The old man took me on a tour of the bakery. He showed me each piece of equipment. He told me how they worked, and the special care needed to clean each item correctly.
Our society heaps glory, honor, and the highest rewards to developers, and disparages those who maintain the things that already exist.
Yet we owe greater portion of our long life, health and happiness to the men and women who toil away in the sanitation department than to all the doctors who haunt the halls of our community hospitals. We are glad to enrich a doctor to prolong the agony of our death by a month, but are unwilling to reward the sewer cleaner who saved us from dying in our youth.
The moment of creation is a small blink in time. Creation is but the surface of existence. The surface is thin. It is only when we dig deeper into the substance of our lives that we find true meaning, happiness and wealth.
Those who set forth to create an enduring legacy must understand both the art of creation, and the art maintenance. Without care, all creations turn to dust and vanish in the flow of history.
Maintenance preserves the value of our investments. It is only through the careful practice of the custodial arts that we preserve the past progresses of our society.
The master bakery won my admiration by knowing the value of my work. Once again, I was proud to be part of the team that provided high quality, nutritious food to the community.
Years passed. I went to college. I found tuition, books, and living expenses to be higher than the combined force of my scholarships and student loans.
At the beginning of my second quarter, I made my way to the development office to look through the sparse selection of on campus jobs. I found the most promising position: a night time job cleaning the library.
I was willing to work hard, and was rewarded with many interesting tasks: I worked on the HVAC crew–cleaning out air conditioners. I worked with the grounds keeper–cleaning out the gutters. I turned into an all around maintenance helper, and went from job to job–helping with whatever chores required the application of cheap labor.
As a student janitor, I had an extremely interesting perspective of the campus. During the day, I lived in the world of ideas, taking notes in a spacious classroom. At night, I would ring a mop in the small janitor's closet, crammed beneath the stairs.
The combination of the abstract and concrete gave me a truly interesting perspective of the school. The students and faculty lived in an anxiety filled world, jockeying for grades and recognition. The janitors lived in a world ground in friendships, work and reality.
During my four years of college, I worked my way through all the hidden nooks and crannies of the campus. Schools are filled with all sorts of interesting hiding places. There are mysterious cement stairs leading down to locked steal doors.
I carried my broom down those stairs, unlocked the steal doors, and cleaned the mysterious machines that breathed life into the hallowed halls.
I went through doors that were barred to other students and faculty. I was a janitor, and my domain encompassed every room of the campus.
It is odd, but the humble custodian is one of the most trusted members of our society. We give him keys to our dorms, our classrooms, and libraries. Janitors practice their trade in the latest hours of the night, with the least amount of supervision.
It is a trust that janitors accept with humility and pride. Although poorly paid, and garnering little respect, janitors hold in the deepest recesses of their hearts the weight of this trust bestowed upon them.
Of course, the school did not simply hand each janitor the keys to the girls' dorm. The school had an elaborate mechanism to process work orders, and assign only the keys needed for a given job.
Every morning the maintenance department would line up for their work orders, and the ritual granting of the keys. It was the most important part of the day. All the janitors, carpenters and mechanics would attend.
Everyone paid great attention to who received what. Being granted a new key was considered an honor. Having a key revoked was the worst possible rebuke.
The most senior member of each department had the largest key chain, which they prominently displayed on their utility belts. Whenever a group approached an unknown door. The journeymen would jangle force with great bravado, and methodically try each key until the door revealed its secrets.
There was a code of honor in the key system. The mechanics had more keys than the janitors. The apprentice had fewer than the master. Senior workers bore their keys higher on their belts, and whenever a group approached a building, the most senior member of a work group would unlock the door. Keys were an important status symbol and were central to the social and political structure of the department. The custodians wore their key chains as a badge of honor.
I was a student, and did not wish to broadcast my custodial duties to my classmates. My fashion was to stuff my keys deeply in the torn pockets of my worn pants. I preferred people to think that I spent my nights in the library engaged in deep meaningful research–not kneeling before a toilet with rubber gloves and a sponge.
The workers on campus earned different keys in their careers. Each key chain had its own history and powers, but there was one key chain that trumped them all. It was small and unpretentious, but contained the master keys to the entire campus.
As it happens, I was an engineering student, and the locksmiths were happy to employ my skills to help them in the annual changing of the locks. So during my campus job, I learned the secrets of the keys not only as a bearer of a chain, but from the creators of the locks.
The locksmiths had an elaborate system to keep the students secure. They divided the campus into different sectors, and created a master key for each sector. There were only three sets of master keys. One was held by the fire department, the other by campus security and the final set by the locksmiths themselves.
While we were rekeying the dorms, a group of custodians needed access to a building. Since the locksmiths had yet to release the new maintenance keys, they sent me across campus with the set of master keys to open the doors.
I found the head of the crew trying each key on his chain against the impenetrable fortress. "This key no worky!" he babbled in broken English. "It opened yesterday, but no worky today."
I pulled the chain from my pocket, and inserted the master key in the lock. With a simple twist of the wrist, the lock's cylinders aligned with the secret combination of the master key. The door gave way, and we entered the forbidden sanctuary of the girls' dorm.
I must confess, the fact that we were entering the girls' dorm did not escape me. I was madly in love with one of the residents of this hall, and my mind was filled with single hope–that we could finish our cleaning before she set off to class.
Luck was not on my side, as we mopped the stairway, she and her friends entered the hallway, and began walking in our direction.
I pushed my mop aside, stuffed the keys in my pocket and acted as though there was nothing more natural than to be hanging out in the stairways of a dorm with the custodians.
"These janitors? I don't know who they are."
I distanced myself from my coworkers. But the holes in my pocket gave way, and I could feel the key chain moving against my thigh, down to my knees. I pushed my legs against the walls, hoping to hold back the truth, but with a loud clank, the keys fell through the cuff of my trousers onto the cement stairs.
The whole world stared at me as I melted in shame. The janitors saw me standing with the most powerful set of keys in the University at my feet. They were puzzled to see my hands shake, and to hear my voice break.
The young women saw a different scene. They saw a pathetic loser, working as a janitor, with his little set of apprentice keys. I was too far below their station to be considered as a potential friend. They poked fun at my worn clothes, my bucket and my mop.
That night, I crawled into my bunk, thought of keys and locks and penned the following verse for my English assignment:
On my chain is a lock
fastened to a cement block.
On your chain is a key
which can set me free.
Your black hair droops over your eyes.
On firm legs, you silently stand.
You sift through my truths and lies.
The key dangles in your hand.
You question my stipulation.
What is my motivation?
Simple want of liberation,
or a form of manipulation?
What is going on here?
What is right is not clear.
I drift about without justification
You stand stout, and doubt my situation.
But we can't avoid the simple fact
that must be realized.
You must eventually act,
or this spark of love will die.
You trace my etiology
with logic and psychology.
I lie back and cry,
as we intellectualize.
Could you put that in human terms?
Could you tell me what you really mean.
Put away the Socratic form,
and tell me if it's red or green.
A thousand emotions shot through my soul. But when I opened my eyes, I saw the caring eyes of my coworkers, and realized that, although they were humble and small, the friendship they gave was steadfast and true.
I had done all in my power to distance myself from the cleaning crew: I hid from my mop and stuffed keys in my pocket 'til they burst. Every action I took centered around my own ego. I burned my true friendships in pursuit of fantasies.
I bent down. Picked up my keys. Mounted them proudly on my belt, and proceeded to clean dorms, mop stairways, and swore that never again would I hide from the vacuum nor dismiss the friendships given to me in pursuit of illusions.
The economy handed the class of '86 a recession. Engineers sharpened their resumes for positions as mechanics. MBAs practiced hamburger flipping skills, and lawyers studied ways to manipulate unemployment insurance and how to collect food stamps.
I turned to the area where I had greatest strengths, and found a company that had just fired a member of its custodial crew.
The story was typical. An executive had left a ream of print outs on top of a trash can. Since the print outs were on the garbage can, the unknowing janitor thought they were to be cleaned away.
The executive ranted and railed. Telephone calls were made. Heads would role. The janitor had forgotten the fundamental law of cleaning: Success is not knowing how to throw away, but knowing what to keep. When the janitor arrived at work, his keys were removed, and he walked away into the night.
Two days later, I walked into the abandoned position.
It was not blind luck that I landed the job. Every year, tens of thousands of janitors find their jobs crashing down around them.
If a disgruntle office worker complains about a mess in the toilets, the janitor loses a job. If pennies mysteriously disappear from a desk, another custodian joins the ranks of the unemployed.
I laugh when I hear a CEO justify a paycheck that is a thousand times greater than the custodian with the lame excuse that he must answer to a board of directors, and might lose his job. In any given year, the typical custodian has twice the risk of losing a job as a CEO. The custodian does not have a golden parachute. Their only security is the vague hope that the day labor market can absorb one more lost soul.
I walked into my new job. Received my new keys. Strapped a vacuum to my back, and began to clean offices in the late hours of the night.
I circled want ads during the day. For awhile, I concentrated on jobs titled "clerical." I thought that a person pushing a pencil was a thousand leagues above a person pushing a broom.
But my ad circling resulted in rejections. I began to search my soul to determine where I could contribute the most to society. I started paying closer attention to the strokes of my mop, and the patterns of the dirt that I could never clean away. I began to understand the impact of my actions upon the world, and realized that maintenance workers are among few people who actually contribute to the society.
Administrative workers, executives, HR clerks and accountants are all dancing bears in a large circus. It is the rare maintenance worker, who actually touches things and makes them go. It is in this concrete reality that we create the true wealth in our society. The rest is illusion.
I began circling the ads for maintenance workers, and landed a position at a local steel foundry. Here I would learn the art of industrial cleaning. My tools included a shovel and a fire hose. The dirt collected could be measured in tons, and we had to fill out environmental impact statements before discarding waste.
Until this job, I had always distanced myself from the custodial crew. But with this new position, I was open to camaraderie, and it was here that I met the master janitor, ______ .
The master janitor was an immigrant. He escaped poverty from the war ravaged land of ______. He was proud of his accomplishments in the mill, and sought ways to improve the quality of life in the shop.
He did what ever was required, regardless of status. He cleaned toilets one day, and organized maintenance crews the next. He never harbored the secrets of his trade, for he saw the goal of keeping the steel mill clean as higher than his own ambitions.
It was only through his tutelage that I realized I was still an apprentice. I had always seen my work as beneath my station. As I learned from the master, I found that the true nature of my work was so far above me that it vanished at infinity.
With the master janitor in lead, we began the most thorough cleaning the foundry had ever undergone. We battled the dirt, the management and the unions.
With each victory, the dark and oppressive foundry lightened in spirit. I felt my own spirit brightening. I had discovered the friendship that I had sought in each phase of my life. My friend did not see himself as an outcast working the least desirable of jobs. He saw himself as a success, doing an outstanding job in an honorable profession.
As the quality of life in the foundry improved, we earned respect from the blue collar workers, and the few members of management who pay attention to more than their golf games and power plays.
We saw value in our work. We fought our battles unwaveringly. With each victory, other workers began to take pride in their environs as well.
A slump in steel prices forced the closure of many mills. An army of corporate re-engineers marched through the plant. They planned to close seven of twelve operations. Despite the age of the plant, the re-engineers noted our foundry was well kept and in good repair. We were graciously spared.
We fought the war and won. The custodians saved the mill. With victory at our backs, our thoughts turned toward love. I felt again like the student, with the master keys at my feet.
I no longer felt shame in my heart. I saw myself reaching down towards the keys, and opening the greatest mysteries of love.
The master cleaner shared similar thoughts. I learned that he had placed an ad in the local personals, and that, for the last two weeks, he had been in correspondence with a young lady. He was to meet her in three days.
My friend asked for my help. He wanted to make a great first impression. His house was humble, but his savings account was large.
Like many custodians, there was a gathered quality to his life. On the floor was a perfectly good mattress that some fool had tossed away. By the television, was recliner he found on a curb side. Some solvents got rid of the smell, and it was as good as new.
The carpet was a patchwork of perfectly good remains from construction projects. The wall hangings came from an office remodeling project. Each dish in the cupboard was a treasure from a flea market.
While the janitor was the quintessential professional at work, showing no hesitancy in cleaning away rubbish, his personal abode became a sanctuary for all the lost dreams filled with valueless knickknacks that find refuge in the soul.
"I simply do not have the heart to throw this away," the janitor mumbled as we looked at the overflowing cabinets, the crowded countertops and piles of garbage on the floor.
Like the floor of my childhood room, nothing passed hearth of the house without becoming an inseparable part of the whole.
"See that?" the janitor pointed at the rotting hulk of a moose head mounted on the wall in the den. "The builder of this house was a hunter. He left me a trophy. When I look in those glass eyes, I see my own greatest fears. How I've loathed that rotting carcass through the years."
Yet, even the souvenirs of sorrow cannot casually be tossed aside.
It is a common mistake. Although we may be the pinnacle of productivity in our professional lives, we fill our private lives with discarded heaps that we simply cannot bear to lose.
We looked at the the janitor's hovel, and decided the correct step was to clean. For seven days and seven nights we cleaned. We tore out carpets, painted walls, ceilings and floors. We hauled debris from the house in truckloads.
The furniture was all second hand discards that we sent to a final resting place at the dump. We felt like children, cleaning 'til we found our seven perfecty toys. I attempted to remove the moose head. It was old and rotting, but bolted firmly in the cement. The marble eyes stared at me. I would get it in the next run. The first item in the house would be the last item removed.
We managed to rid the house of the broken desk, and the china cabinet with only three legs. We hauled away the worn easy chair. We removed the piles of clothes that no longer fit. We cleaned the expired medicines from the cabinet. We removed the biological experiments from the refrigerator.
With each cleaning the rooms lightened. We replaced the broken doors, and cleaned away the rest. When all was done, we saw the cleaner's paradise: Each room was a sparkling white empty space from wall to wall. There was not a single speck of dirt to be found.
We collapsed in exhaustion, sleeping on the cold white cement floors. Our next step was to go shopping. My friend wished to purchase some flowers, matching chairs and new clothes. He wanted just enough to welcome his new love.
My friend would no longer live off the scraps of others in a new land. Beginning today, he would start a new life, a new love and a promising new future.
The doorbell rang. His date had arrived early. I snuck into a closet and listened as he gave her a tour of his house.
He showed her the kitchen. The stove was clean and the cupboards bare. If she enjoyed cooking, he would build it into a culinary paradise.
He brought her through the living and dining rooms. The walls, floor and ceilings were white, yet he saw a grand hall filled with guests, friendships and all the happiness his new love could desired.
My friend did not see emptiness of the rooms, he saw the potential. He saw the world that he had yet to build. He would listen to his new wife, and they would venture forth and create a new world that was the culmination of a burgeoning love.
But his young date saw something different. She saw a dingy little man living in a completely vacant house. In his ad, he claimed to be some sort of manager, but she gleaned from the conversation that he was nothing more than a janitor.
The whole house seemed off. She did not see the potential—only the emptiness of the space. They entered the din. Once again, the room was empty. The walls ceilings and floors were white, but in this room, she saw the hideous misshapened head of a dead moose staring across the room.
"No, no, the moose head, it came with the house, I will clean it away!" My friend rushed to pull down the trophy, but it was it was firmly bolted to the wall, and would not budge. He began to sweat and turned toward his love to beseech her forgiveness.
My friend stood beneath his nemesis. He had cleaned away all the entrapments of his life, and he stood with every cell of his heart exposed, waiting for judgment of the woman he courted.
She looked at the worn emigrant, the empty rooms, and the ridiculous game trophy towering above his head.
"You're a nice guy..." she began as she backed toward the door...
I heard the front door softly close. I climbed down from my closet. My friend sat broken in the den beneath the moose head.
The master janitor had applied the highest skills of his art to win his love's heart, but his best efforts did not suffice. He scoured until he bared the essence of his soul, and found the stabbing pains of rejection.
He cleaned until he could clean no more. Yet, despite his best efforts, the master janitor could never again realize the moment of complete potential. The artifices of his past hung above him, directing his future.
We laughed about future loves and the fish in the sea. We were successful at our jobs. The future was bright. We would fill the house with new trappings, and new loves would come our way.
That night, my friend staggered through his white house. Halogen lights glistened off the floor, the white walls and ceilings. All the distractions in the room were gone.
His soul became totally entrapped by the emptiness around him. He tried clearing his thoughts with some mindless chores. He tried desperately to find something out of place, But when he looked in the reflection in the mirror, he saw his withered body, surrounded by brightness. He was dirtiest thing left in the house.
He stared at his reflection. He had dedicate his life to cleaning. He scoured counters, vacuumed carpets, and scrubbed floors. He made a great effort to clean the world around him, but had never looked inward to clean himself.
The master cleaner closed his eyes, turned inward and began to scour. He worked through each chamber of his soul. He cleaned away the second hand memories that dominated his life. He cast out illusions, and washed away impure thoughts.
In the systematic purging of his mind, he left nothing to chance. There was no ideal above question. He flushed away all discordant beliefs, fears and false hopes. He scraped away the rubble of lost dreams.
As he purged his mind of unwanted refuse, his soul lightened. The night crept toward dawn, and when the light of the morning cast its golden rays upon the his abode, the master cleaner entered the inner most sanctuary of his being.
The room was clean and white. It reminded him of the infinite potential of his birth. He could feel in the room all the hopes and promises of life, but bolted to mantle was the misshapen head of a dead moose.
"No," my friend thought, "This is not what I choose." He reached up, grabbed the trophy by the antlers, and yanked.
The moose head was bolted firmly to the wall, but the master janitor was skilled and strong in his resolve. He tugged with all his might, until the bolts separated from the cement.
He tumbled to the ground, and the last strands of illusion that anchored his spirit to this world gave way.
The final cleaning was complete. The master had cleaned to the state of perfection. He cleaned until he recaptured the oneness with the universe.
Twelve hours later the paramedics entered the white house. They felt a strange sense of peace in the emptiness as they moved through the still vacant halls.
All the rooms were spotless—except for the den where they found the empty shell my friend had left behind. Upon his face was the look of pure rapture.
The man who had dedicated his life to cleaning left but a small mess for the undertaker to carry away, and bury on the edge of town.
I remained after the funeral and watched as the grave diggers scraped dirt on the closed casket containing the janitor's remains. They worked alone and in silence like a cat secretly burying a feces in the sand.
I thought of the things that would continue beyond me, and of those that would be buried in my passing. Most important, I chose to carve a spot in my own soul to hold the remembrance of my friend.
I turned my back to the tomb and the ultimate cleaners of the human condition and moved on.
The economy let go another notch. A clean foundry with old machines could not compete with imports, and new technologies.
The steel workers drank heavily the night they lost their jobs. My modest salary did not leave me the luxury to grieve my misfortunes.
I circled ads and found an office building that had just fired its custodial staff.
I filled out the application, then adorned my belt with a new set of keys. It is time, I thought, for me to finish my apprenticeship, and find my own destiny.
Hello, my name is _______. You do not know me. I work in your office. I am the night janitor. I clean your toilets, empty your trash bins, and vacuum around your desk.
My name, my face, my hopes and fears are of the least concern.
I am the wind. Like a cool mountain breeze, I sweep through your cubicles, washing away your coffee stains, bringing each morning a breath of fresh scented air to the bathroom stalls.
If I succeed, you will never even think of me. It is only in my failures that I am known.
We must keep our conscious clean. Scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub.