Chips reporter gets her hands dirty as a temporary janitor in Blair's disgusting hallways
For two years, five months and 26 days, I have been a trasher. I've sat on my lazy, privileged butt, scrambling to finish homework, munching and crunching through 539 lunches and leaving my plastic bags, bottles and banana peels anywhere but the garbage can.
Then, on Feb 13, an announcement comes over the PA system during my seventh-period class: Principal Phillip Gainous is singling out a certain group of students who locate themselves around the elevator for the excessive amounts of waste left after 5B lunch. I shrink in my chair, hoping no one will identify me as one of the culprits.
In the following weeks, I notice Blair's janitorial staff slaving away over the soiled halls, peeling scores of smooshed donuts and Zebra-cakes off the floor. So to repay my debt as a student slob, I decide to spend the day as one of Blair's most valuable players: a building service worker.
The staff room
Walking into the staff dining lounge at the start of 5A, I spy my coworkers for the next two periods. With a gentle smile, Building Services Manager James Brown introduces me to some of the other staffers: Marisol Cortez, Anna Meres, John Colandreo, Marianne Christopher and Mac Macduffy.
Each janitor finishes his or her lunch, dons a pair of rubber gloves and marches out to defeat the masses of chocolate milk cartons as I trail behind.
After snapping on my own rubber gloves, I find myself in the cafeteria with Macduffy. Used napkins and paper bags are already stacking up on tables. I survey the eating areas after 5B lunch and find that 61 percent of the benches and tables have trash on them, a 5-percent increase since Silver Chips' Sept 11 survey.
Gainous says the "ridiculous" rise in hallway trash over the last few months prompted his announcement and his threat to restrict eating to the SAC. "If they are going to be pigs, they should be confined to the cafeteria," he says.
Never in his 19 years at Blair has Gainous found the trash to be as bad as it is this year. In the two weeks before his announcement, he says, "it literally looked like two dump trucks off-loaded their garbage in the middle of the hall," he says. "I just said, ‘This is it.'"
The remarkable thing about student trashers is not only the amount of mess but also the grotesque games they play, smearing ketchup and mayonnaise on tables and trays.
Macduffy and I continue our rounds, collecting trays full of the empty packets and spilled sodas from the top-level tables, weaving between chairs and bodies. "The kids have no respect at all," Macduffy says. "They don't have any home training."
I perceive rudeness from students who believe the janitors' only occupation is to clean up after them. "If it weren't for us, janitors wouldn't have jobs," says senior Noah Pierce, who usually sits in the area near the elevator that Gainous addressed in his announcement. His friend, senior Matt Poness, chimes in: "Janitors should janitize. That's what they do."
Gainous says, however, that janitors aren't paid to serve as "maids." Their primary occupation should be "fine cleaning," which includes mopping and shining floors, cleaning bathrooms and classrooms, sweeping stairs and shoveling snow off the walkways around the school. Building service staff cannot accomplish these tasks because they must pick up the trash flooding Blair halls.
"That's not their job," says Gainous. "You guys have made it their job out of necessity."
The "trouble area"
As I near the elevator, I prepare for my friends, who are more likely to throw food at me than into my trashcan. I am surprised at their willingness to admit the reasons behind their incredible mess. "We're spoiled," junior Ben Martinez says.
In his efforts to clean the halls, Magnet teacher Ralph Bunday also noticed that the "populars" who sit near the elevator leave piles of apple cores and crushed Oreos without batting an eye. "They are entitled," he says sarcastically. "They can do anything with impunity."
Spoiled or not, Martinez courteously thanks me when I collect his dirty napkins. This is only the eighth time I have heard these two short words during my hour and 15 minutes of trash toting.
Bunday has also experienced the thanklessness of being a janitor but, unlike me, never became frustrated or resentful. "It's dangerous to get self-righteous," he says. "You've got to just tell yourself, ‘God sent me to pick up trash.'"
Sent from God
With my garbage can full and the bell ringing, I make my way back to the building service hall. I watch as countless talking teenagers rise from their half-eaten pizzas and walk off, leaving me to shove the remains into my overflowing bin. To my surprise, two students stray from the crowds and gather trash from the nearby tables. In a matter of minutes, we have cleaned up what would have taken me twice the time to tidy. The boys smile and turn to go to their classes.
That afternoon in my seventh period, I hear Gainous over the loudspeaker. "We would like to commend the students in 5B lunch for doing a good job cleaning up their garbage today," he says. "Keep up the good work."
Beaming, I leave class and spot Brown sharing my smile. "They did well today," he says. "I'm happy."
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