Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Peculiar Thing the Loser Does

One of the many jobs The Complete and Total Loser has had in his long list of failed attempts at earning enough money to keep him in well-mended clothes was as a janitor.

He was seventeen, off for the summer. His older brother worked office buildings not far from the family stead. The Loser lied about his age and was put to work at once.

Working hours were evenings, 6 to 9:30. The work was simple enough: empty wastepaper baskets, vacuum carpets, dusts shelves and desktops, clean toilets and sinks, look through drawers for Playboy magazines.

On his first night the Loser found the job intellectually beyond him, of course, and was only halfway through when the others had finished. His brother, dismayed but used to his sibling's idiocy, came to his aid. When they got to the bathrooms, the Loser prepared to get his sponge and abrasive cleanser and go to work on the chrome faucets.

"Nah," said his brother. "All you need to do that is a dry paper towel." Getting one, he demonstrated, wiping away watermarks without scratching the delicate surface, bringing back a perfect shine with nothing more than a sheet of softened wood pulp and elbow grease.

The three things the Loser learned that summer are that when you vacuum a carpet you don't get everything and bending down to pick up flecks of debris makes the imperfect perfect, that if you clean the tools you use to perform even the dirtiest job it makes you feel better about the work and that you can keep chrome looking good forever by not ruining it with Comet.

He still does all three of those things and now, well over three decades later, polishes the chrome on bathroom sinks wherever he goes, be it a restaurant bathroom in Chinatown, work or on a visit to one of his few friend's abodes. It is his miniature version of leaving the world a better place than it was when he found it, and is most likely the only way he will ever do that.

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