Me, Sher, and Ad

Me, Sher, and Ad
Bro Adam and sis Sher, my rocks!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My First Job at Wenonah Elementary School

I started my first job at age 15 at Wenonah Elementary School as a custodial assistant. Yes, I worked as a janitor for one summer and one summer only! I can't believe I would even admit to it now after such disastrous results, but I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I worked with one of my close friends that summer, Mike. He had actually gotten me the job. We were to help clean the school during summer recess:  painting fences and walls, scraping desks, fixing ceilings, mowing the lawn, polishing floors, well, you get the idea. We worked for a crusty old curmudgeon of a custodian named Mr. Brown. He was miserable, smelled like sweat, turpentine, and cigars, but was kind of nice when he let his "grumbly" guard down. He was constantly on us because the school council and administration were constantly on him about his "schedule" to get things done before the fall.

Mike and I worked hard that summer, sweating everyday doing manual labor. We had to do some very difficult jobs, like tarring the roof and climbing into the school boiler to clean it. I am sure that child services would have had a field day with this! It was 1985 and no one was really concerned about the work-related health problems of two gangly 15 year old boys. The pay was alright, I think. I really didn't know as I had nothing to compare it to. Luckily, the school was big enough where we could hide and take frequent naps after mornings of hard work. It was a fun job and Mike taught me a lot about fixing things. The most I had fixed before then was the tire on my bike. Mom and Dad were so proud I was working at such a physical summer job.

One day, while Mike and I were scraping the semi-hard red and brown gum from the bottom of the desks, Mr. Brown sent me to the other side of the school to polish the hallway floor with the floor buffer. This floor buffer was a behemoth of a monstrosity! One has to understand that I was only an adorable little 15 year old, 5'7'', and 125 lbs, if that! The floor buffer easily outweighed me by 50 pounds! I looked at Mr. Brown, and said "Huh?" I think he saw fear in my red, puffy eyes (my allergies were so bad during the summer.)

Mr. Brown, in his gravely voice while puffing cigar smoke in my face, responded, "I'll be back in 30 minutes to see if you have figured out how to turn it on!" He gave me a disconcerting look up and down, which seemed to say "Why on earth did you take this job, kid?"  I was beginning to wonder that myself. With one last puff of his cigar, he turned around and lumbered off like a grizzly bear with arthritis. I stood there coughing up what was left of my fragile teenage lungs. No wonder I developed asthma down the road.

Being equal parts machine and monster, if this floor buffer were in the movies, it would fight against Godzilla. Buffing the floor was one of those tasks that I just did not know where to begin. I couldn't even find the start switch much less "buff" with the thing. I eventually found the huge toggle-like switch and with a couple of grimaces and muffled squeals, I managed to flip it on. The floor buffer shook like we had a 7.5 earthquake happening right under the elementary school. . Now the idea, or so I gathered, was to hold it back on two tiny wheels, get a grip of this machine, and then put it down, gently sweeping it back and forth on the floor, all while buffing to your heart's content. Well ... obviously that's not the way it happened.

The floor buffer had a mind of its own. It was going to control me and not the other way around! I learned that buffing may be, to some, a subjective term, one that actually requires a knowledge of "how to buff." The floor buffer, once gently put down on the linoleum floor, took off and immediately crashed into the left side of the hallway, taking my limp jellyfish arms and spineless body with it! The jarring of this impact felt like someone had pulled my skinny arms out of each socket. While I was reeling in shock from the first crash, the buffer seemed to "grab" the floor once again and this time crashed into the right side of the hallway. Now numb and dazed, something inside of me told myself it would be a good idea to let go while standing, ehr, quivering and shaking, next to it. Bad idea! The floor buffer "grabbed" the floor again and instead of the bottom part spinning, the top part decided to give it a whirl! The 4 foot-plus handle swung a large arc counter clockwise and clocked me in the left side of the head! I, in turn, made contact with the closest concrete wall. That was the last I remembered, besides the stars ... lots and lots of stars.

When I came to, a crumpled former shell of my already weak little frame, I had a splitting headache resonating from both sides of my head. There was the floor buffer, victorious, spinning slowly above my crushed body.  This was when I decided that custodial maintenance would not be the glamorous summer career that I had hoped for. Somewhere in my head, a bell clanged. Maybe it was from the impact? But no ... lo and behold, it was the bell from the other side of the border! The Taco Bell! My next summer job would mark an auspicious beginning into the sophisticated world of restaurants, food service, and hotels! Or so I thought ...


  1. I love this story. You have to ultimately become a writer.

  2. The reason for this "buffer" experience is perfectly clear! It is a story for you to WRITE. I loved it!!!

  3. Hahahaha! Marc, I vaguely remember Mr. Brown, though my memory could be an amalgamation of every custodian at every school I've ever attended. This took place during the summer I lived in Buffalo, so I don't think I ever knew about this. Very funny. I always kind of wanted to try buffing a floor, but now, not so much. Was it McFeeley that you were working with? Ahhh, the memories. Thanks Marc. :-)

  4. That was great Marc! Reminds me of my own summer jobs -- more specifically, after my freshman year in college. Helena H. and I lived in OCMD and in a panic that we might not find a job, took the first job we got -- cleaning rooms at a low-end motel, lots of bikers and such. I don't think we lasted 2 days. But it was good to know that we definitely didn't want a job like that for the rest of our lives. She ended up life-guarding and I worked in a property management office. We took a second job in a clothing store in the mall. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. And I give you credit for sticking it out all summer.