Tales of a summer custodian: waxing floors with Cpt. Kirk

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This post is the first in a series that explores my summer working as a temporary school custodian. Enjoy.

“Oh you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” When alarm sounded at 5:00 AM last Tuesday, I was not happy. “Maybe unemployment isn’t that bad.”

The bank disagrees, so I hauled myself out of bed, ate a yogurt, got into the car and started the commute to my new gig.

beakerThis week was my first working as a temporary school custodian. After performing more manual labor than this doughy writer has seen in a very long time, I can now strip a floor, wax a floor and paint stairs (work DOWN, now up). I’ve discovered that enamel-based paint simply does not come out, and that every science teacher in America eventually makes the Beaker joke.

I also know that you can play Black Sabbath through a SMART Board.

Additionally, there’s real satisfaction at the end of a day of hard work:

  1. Unpainted stairs become painted stairs.
  2. Unpainted railings become painted railings.
  3. Unwaxed floors are smooth, shiny and beautiful.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

I arrived on Tuesday at 6:30 AM and made my way to “the shop” at the edge of campus. The boss man was actually on vacation last week, so Number One (let’s call him “Riker”) was issuing assignments. On this day I’d be stripping and waxing floors.

After doing my time card wrong (I put my arrival time on Monday, not Tuesday, and in the PM slot), Riker and I made our way to the first building for “stripping and waxing.”

It’s not as sexy as it sounds.

The halls were full of the furniture that used to occupy the classrooms, so we could get right to it. Stripping is pretty easy:

  1. Connect iPhone to SMART Board, play Black Sabbath.
  2. Mix chemicals that will likely be responsible for the third arm my body will grow in a few years.
  3. Spread the water/chemical mix across the floor with the “stripper.”
  4. Feel disappointed that the stripper is not a coed working her way through nursing school.
  5. Follow the stripper with the shop-vac, which is a massive thing with a cylindrical body and a long squeege attachment to suck up the water and chemicals.
  6. Quietly name the shop-vac “R2.”
  7. Say “Come along, R2” in your head as you suck up the water.

kirkOnce the floor is dry, things get meditative. First, pour a line of wax on the floor. Then, slowly spread a thin layer, walking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

The last step is this: get all Zen with the wax.

First, you worry about doing it wrong. Then you try to line up your efforts perfectly with the edges of the tile. Last, get really, really into spreading the wax.

Like, really into it.

You begin to recognize just how far a puddle of wax can be stretched. You make beautiful, identical arches. You learn — and work to maximize — exactly how perfectly even, thin, perfect a single swi—

“Huh?”

You realize someone has been talking to you while you were zoning out with the wax.

The wax takes about an hour to dry, and four coats are applied in total. A couple of tips:

  1. Don’t do the edges of the room until coats three and four, otherwise it will pool.
  2. Cut a box around the door, as stripper used in the hall will splash under the door and can un-do your hard work. Come back and do that spot later.

The last room I waxed featured the above cut-out of Captain Kirk, which I took as a good sign.

Aside from a coffee break at 9:30 and lunch at 11:30, that was my day. Slow, quiet waxing in an empty building. It was easy, meditative and well…fun. It sounds ridiculous: here’s a guy with a M.Ed. who’s really enjoying the process of waxing floors, but there it was. I really enjoyed the process of waxing floors.

It was low stress, easy and offered instant gratification. I also began to feel a kind of kinship with my blue-collar brothers and sisters. We’re behind the scenes — which I prefer — doing a job that helps everyone else excel at theirs. Faculty, staff, administration and students can do their thing in a building that’s clean, safe and fully functional. It’s a good feeling.

Plus kudos to whoever put that Kirk cut-out in their classroom. You, sir or madam, are doing it right.

Tales of a summer custodian: prologue

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Join me as I blog my gig as a custodian.

In February 2016 I lost my job and man alive, I have not been able to find work. Thanks to  some writing gigs and the podcast I managed to just keep my head above water. I also sent out more resumes and cover letters than I recall right now. All of that ends on July 5 when I go to work as a temporary custodian in my local school district.

And I’m going to write all about it.

On Tuesday I’ll wake up at 5:00 AM and head out to the school. It’s a big campus with four or five buildings and a whole lot of summer cleaning that needs to be done. Watch as this out-of-shape writer does more manual labor that he’s seen in a very long time. Read along as I unpack my brown bag lunch. Gaze in amazement as, well, I perform some honest, blue collar work that will get the campus in top shape so that the faculty and staff can do their jobs in September.

I’m looking forward to it, actually. Earning a paycheck and doing some work. Check back every day for a new tale. I’ll see you then.