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Custodial Services

Thomas Ladson has variously been (among other things) a student, a farmer, a roustabout, a street busker, a professional storyteller, and an instructor of moderately advanced physics and mathematics. He has been way too broke way too often and has a couple degrees he really ought to be using. He once rode a bicycle from Seattle to Ohio; it's not as hard as you might think. He currently makes a living working graveyard shift at a very fine small-time brewery. It'll do him for a spell.

I clean up broken dreams. It pays decent. Hygiene is important, so I always use gloves.
I've heard it said that people should clean up their own messes. I'm biased, I suppose, but that sounds too much like handing suiciders a gun and a mop. Nasty business, that.
We are CDC approved.
Street sweeping isn't bad. The bits people drop on streets and sidewalks are small and powdery; just the sort of thing that slips out from clenched eyes and tight jaws as the newly broken hurry somewhere more private. There are always exceptions, I guess. New York, maybe, and I guess Chicago.
A friend got me the job. Her name was Sylvia. She was in the business for years. She used to hide the more interesting bits she found in the big front pocket of her gray tool belt. She would take them home and make mosaics out of them. Can you just picture it! Crazy. Like it was all bits of crayon and pottery. I have one of her works still, but I have to keep it under glass.
She picked up a nasty dream once and didn't realize it in time. It metastasized, so she left for warmer climates. I understand why she left. Quality of life, and all that. Sometimes you can manage it for years, but when you catch someone else's dream it's always a crapshoot regardless of which way it goes.
Cleaning houses is probably the worst. There was this one old, dingy apartment where the busted dreams were so thick that you couldn't even tell the pattern on the wallpaper anymore. Big, slimed, stale ones overflowing the sink, rancid and stinking; and small, dry, mummified ones caught in all the cobwebs. Everything thick as a ten-year dust and all of them the same faded, sickly yellow. The corners of the shards weren't even sharp, anymore. Every single one of them had been wrung and worried and rubbed until they were either light as feather motes or smooth as sea stones. And Damn if the tenant wasn't still alive when we got there. Yeah. Let that sink it a moment and tell me I don't deserve a drink. I'd say that one was definitely the worst. Turned into a hospice case, but I say it's easier when they're just plain dead. It's cleaner that way.
I'm too old for all that now. Too much heavy lifting. I think I'm going to apply for a school custodial gig. Kids are real messy, but the hours are regular and it doesn't usually stain as badly. I don't know, though. When it does stain, it stains hard. Hope makes for a wonderful solvent, but some messes linger no matter what you spray them with.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Author Comments

Like so many people a few years ago, I found that there weren't all that many jobs on offer after college. Things are quite a bit better now, but for a long while I took whatever there was to take. So I worked on and off again at a lot of different places, and I watched a lot of people. Turns out people are emotional and also very messy. Hence, this story.

- Thomas D. Ladson
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