I talk about three janitors that have influenced my life.
There are three janitors that stick out in my memory as being influential in some of my life choices. I’m sure there are more, but I’m only going to talk about three.
The first one in my memory was Robert, a broad, Hispanic man with a bushy mustache. My siblings and I had an advantage of going to the same school where Mom was a teacher for a long time. Sometimes if Aunt Pat (or occasionally Grandma) couldn’t come pick all three of us up from school, we would just hang out with Mom. Since we were teacher’s kids, we knew where all the stuff was, we knew all the teachers by name, and of course, we knew Robert.
All of the kids at Edgar Park thought Robert was cool. We all would go out of our way just to go say hi to him. When we and Mom would come in early, he would always say “Hi, Mrs. Brillante, how are you?” Mom would say “Hi, Robert, how are you?” At one point, she even had his daughter as one of her students; that was something I recall him being extremely proud of.
Something that I guilty admit is that I would take long bathroom breaks (something that I still did in high school) where I wouldn’t go to the bathroom, but instead, I’d run around and see what I could see. Robert would be nearby, and I found I could talk to him about some things that I couldn’t talk to about with Mom.
When I told him that I hated math and thought it was stupid, he told me that as a janitor he had to use math.
I asked him what he meant, and he told me that every day he had to count and make sure how many brooms he had, how much of cleaning solution he needed to buy, and how many more classrooms he would need to clean that day.
“Math is very important,” he said, “and one day you’ll be glad you know how to use it.”
Turns out he was right, even though I believe algebra is the most useless math you have to learn.
The second man is Manny, another Hispanic man built like a linebacker. He was the head janitor at Alma d’arte when the high school started. I’d seen him a few times when I took little classes at the Court Youth Center. But Manny was an interesting dude. I admire him for all the crap he went through cleaning up after a bunch of artistically minded high school students.
For some reason, a lot of students liked to vandalize the bathrooms. There’s one incident that sticks out in my mind where Manny kept his cool and yet was disappointed involving the bathrooms.
Someone had decided to go into the second-floor boy’s room, poop all over the floor, and smear it everywhere. Then to add more of a mess, they stuffed the toilets full of toilet paper and clogged them up, thereby flooding the facilities.
During the whole shit storm (pardon the pun), Manny kept his head. He was able to clean everything up and did it well.
But at one point, he was disgusted with whoever had done this. I happened to be in the office on an errand for one of my teacher’s, and Manny was chatting with the secretary. I overheard his comments, which were as follows.
“These kids are learning to be adults,” he said, “they shouldn’t be doing crap like this. If I could, I’d tell them to channel their energy into doing things that don’t involve vandalism.“
Those words stuck. I realized that I needed to direct my energy toward positive things and not negative.
After the winter break of my senior year, we all came back to find Manny was retiring to take care of his wife and daughter, and he was training his replacement. This is where the third janitor came in.
Manny’s replacement was a tall skinny Caucasian guy named Stonewall. He had brown hair buzzed close to his head and had quite possibly one of the coolest scars I’d ever seen. It went from where his jaw met his neck, past his collarbone, to the top of his chest. I feel that was one reason why no one approached him at first; that scar was ferocious looking, and one couldn’t help but wonder if he’d got it from being a convict or from a terrible fight or from his work in the field of espionage. One rumor even had him getting the scar as a result of his girlfriend tearing his throat out during a bad argument. As is the case with rumors, nobody really talked to him at first and gave him a wide berth.
Finally, someone plucked up enough nerve to ask him where he got it.
He told them that when he was a kid, a dog had attacked him and nearly killed him, but he managed to get the animal off him and escape. The scar was a result of the surgery they did to save his life. Now it was even cooler due to the fact he had survived a dog attack and was still walking around. That broke the proverbial ice, and everyone now thought he was awesome.
Stonewall was indeed awesome. Everyone found him to be really cool and really Zen. He was also interested in philosophy. In fact, it was due to him that I became interested in it.
Both of us were chatting one day (during one of my "bathroom breaks”), and he told me that one regret he had was not finishing his philosophy degree. When I told him that I’d read Greek history during homeschooling, he asked me if I’d read any of the philosophers.
I told him that I didn’t get a chance, and he said “Read The Republic. It’s by Plato, and I think you’re smart enough to understand what he’s talking about.”
The Republic has since become one of my favorite books, and I credit him for starting my career as a philosopher.
Another event concerned the filming of Raven’s screenwriting class senior project Not Another Teen Zombie Movie. I happened to be a production assistant on the project.
The majority of the film took place at night, so naturally we had to shoot at the school. At night.
The only person besides us was Stonewall; on the nights he was there he would finish his chores, and then come watch the filming. Also, when we would come into a room he was working in, he’d stay out of our way, and we’d stay out of his.
He was definitely a big help in the final zombie fight, which took place in the cafeteria/auditorium (I wasn’t there because I had my own senior project to complete). It was one of the biggest shoots, requiring over 50 students all zombified up, a lot of equipment, and a ton of fake blood.
Stonewall was a big help: corralling the zombie extras, moving equipment and such, and cleaning up. If he hadn’t been there, I feel the movie wouldn’t have been finished.
When the final cut was screened, he was thanked in the credits, and in a post-credits scene that was last minute, Stonewall was shown mopping up the fake blood.
“Can’t believe these kids. All this blood and guts and gore?” He looked up at the camera and groaned “Man!” Then he continued mopping. To this day, it’s one of my favorite parts of the movie.
On the last day before graduation, before I met Grandma waiting for me outside, I found him coming out of his office–well, whatever counted as a janitor’s office. I walked right up to him and gave him a big hug.
“Thanks, Stonewall,” I said, trying not to cry. “Just…thanks.”
He smiled and hugged me back. “Keep being awesome, Gaby.”
I later found out from friends that he was fired for a reason not specified. Nobody ever really heard from him again, but he still has a nook in the recesses of my mind, as do Manny and Robert. I hope that one day I can find one of them and tell them that they helped me with a lot.
Oh, and thanks for cleaning up my vomit that one time.