There was filth all over the carpet, and this was only the waiting area. The kids room was worse, a crayon covered mess. Jake pictured their little hands rubbing and twisting the crayons. He saw the streaks of orange and yellow and red and he wondered if those tiny fuckers thought those stains just disappeared at the end of the day, as if there was some kind of carpet fairy and not just some guy who had an aching back and a bold spot that got bigger every time he checked. Well whatever the kids thought, Jake was there, on his knees, scrubbing the crayons out, cause the machine that normally did it was broken and because the doctor who owned the place wouldn’t take that as an excuse.
“I’m paying you to clean this place, am I not?” he would say to Jake, or “I know of a guy that would do what you do for half the price, and I know for a fact that they would clean the crayons!” Dr. Schwartz, that was his name, a real fucking Jew if Jake ever met one
So there Jake was, giving his back another bad bend. Next he got out the vacuum and began cleaning the rest of the outside carpet, going under the chairs especially well to make sure nothing was left behind. Then he vacuumed the back area, getting the fine spots he knew the receptionist always threw things. He finished with Schwartz’s office. The desk was this beautiful mahogany piece that still had that fresh smell to it. On it were some pictures of the doctor and his family, and a bowl of mints. Jake took a good number of mints and threw them in his mouth, crushing and grinding them. On the wall were the doctor’s license and all his degrees and awards and certificates that made him a better person than Jake. Jake vacuumed the room and swallowed the mints too early so that they scraped their way down his throat. Jake again looked at the many awards hung up. He spit at them once, after Schwartz gave him and Albert a pay cut, but then he had to clean it up, polishing the glass extra fine to make sure the Jew wouldn’t notice.
The cut came after Albert forgot to clean the underside of the toilet seats one night.
“I pay you my hard earned money to do something I could have done myself, no, this is not right, not when you give me such poor work. I pay you to clean, not to sit here and do nothing. If you want to be paid a lot, you need to do a lot.”
Albert had apologized and begged Schwartz not to cut the pay, he even offered Jake to take the entire cut himself, but Jake knew that would have killed the young guy who was having a tough enough time as it was with the baby coming that fall.
Jake finished the office and met Albert back in the front. Jake nodded and checked the bathrooms. The mirrors were clear as the day the office got them and each toilet had its seat up for view. Each was clean. The floors smelled of fresh bleach. Albert did a great job on the bathrooms, really threw himself into them. He hoped that someday Schwartz would notice and leave a note telling them they were getting their money back, but that note didn’t ever come.
“Let’s pick up the butt and get out.” Jake said and Albert nodded and followed him outside. They picked up their brooms and pans and began to scour the lot for any and all cigarettes they could find. This was another spot where they knew Schwartz tested them. Each day he leaves the office before them and takes a drag from one of his imported cigarettes, these thick black things especially from India. He’d find a special place outside of the normal spots and he’d throw the butt there. The next day he would check to see if Jake and Albert found it. If they didn’t, they would find him waiting for them in his office and he’d yell and bitch at them about how important it is to work, to actually work.
“You’re not even doing a real job, you idiots!” he would yell, “You can’t even pick up a cigarette right!”
Albert whistled to Jake and held up a thick black cigarette butt.
“Finally.” Jake said.
“It was hidden in the middle of a bush, clever, huh?”
“Yeah, really clever.”
They slammed the doors of their van as they got in and drove off.
“Here’s a story my dad told me once,” Jake began as he turned a corner, “See, way back in the day, there was this island that was sinking, so all the people there decided to start building boats so they could go somewhere else. They built three boats. One boat was for the politicians and business men, the second was for all the bureaucrats and the office monkeys, and the third was for all the janitors and the farm laborers.”
They stopped at the bar down the road, the Rail House, named after the rail line that ran along side it. Jake parked the van and the two got out for an after-work drink. Happy hour was over, and that crowd was gone and Jake preferred it that way. Schwartz went to happy hour. Jake’s brother who worked crunching numbers in New York went to happy hour. Those bratty receptionists who stuck papers between seat cushions and in corners went to happy hour. Jake and Albert did not go to happy hour. Jake and Albert show up when the place is nearly empty and take their drinks before the crowd of barely twenty-one kids show up.
So they sat at the bar and took their drinks. Jake took a good number, Albert took one. Jake continued his story.
“The first two boats decided that they didn’t need the third boat, so they put this hole in it, the boat for the janitors and the pickers. Halfway across the third boat starts sinking cause so much water came in and so all the poor bastards like us end up jumping off and getting on rowboats while the other two ships just watched and laughed.”
A train rushed by, screaming down the rail, shaking the bar. Albert watched his beer shake.
“The people from the third boat all manage to make it to this uncharted island that wasn’t supposed to be there. They all get on shore without nothing but the clothes on their backs and let me tell you, they build themselves their own private Eden. These farmers and the janitors build another Eden and its spotless and the food is perfect.”
Jake was ripping through his beers, Albert sipped his. He sipped it a little and then he sipped it a little more. He was thinking about those toilets back at the office. Albert would have sworn that they were spotless, but the more he thought about them the less sure he got about them. He could see the image in his head, he could see those specks of shit and those urine stains on the underside. He could see Schwartz seeing them too.
“The other ships, they make it their island, their perfectly picked out island and they land and set up their own private town and within a year they’re all dead.”
Schwartz was going to cut their pay again, Albert knew it and he knew it was all his fault.
“They didn’t die from anything on the island, see, they killed each other. It started when they realized all their garbage was just pilling up and there was nobody to clean it up. Then the fruits and the vegetables ripened but there was nobody to pick them.”
Albert saw Schwartz yelling at them. He saw him adjusting his glasses and letting them have it. He was shorter than both of them, but he could yell enough to make them shake. But it wasn’t the yelling that ever scared them, it was the money.
“They had enough people to pick the food and clean the shit, but here’s the thing, nobody would do it, they were too proud to do it, they all said “I make too much to clean this garbage,” or “My degree makes me overqualified to pick fruit,” so the fruits rotted and the garbage piled up until the people from the first ship, the rich and the powerful, tried to force the people from the second ship to do the dishes, then the fuckers all killed each other over it, over their own pride.”
Jake finished the story off with a hoarse laugh. Albert just kind of stared at Jake, then blurted out “I didn’t clean the toilets enough, Jake, Schwartz is gonna fire us, Jake, he’s gonna fucking fire us.”
“Fuck Schwartz and fuck those toilets, have you been listening to the story?”
“Look, you can just fire me, that’s all, ok? Don’t worry about it, just tell him it’s my fault, tell him the truth.”
“Those toilets are clean enough and if Schwartz wants them cleaner he can get down there in his hundred dollar pants and do it himself. People like him, they need us more than they think so, that’s what my dad told me that story meant, they need us more than we need them.”
“Schwartz is a doctor, people need doctors.”
“Schwartz is a God damn plastic surgeon, the only people that need him are those bitch trophy wives who want bigger tits and smaller noses.”
Albert drank his beer down.
“You’re letting that Jew get to you, Albert, nobody is getting fucking fired.”
Albert nodded and tried to picture the toilets being clean. They paid their bill and walked to the parking lot. Albert helped Jake along.
“We’re the heroes damn it,” Jake said, “and this is our reward, having to worry about toilets. We’re the pillars here, without us,” Jake motioned to the buildings around them, “without us this would all be gone.”
Albert took the keys from Jake and got in the driver’s seat. Jake sat in the passenger seat.
“You can take off the tops of society, those rich pricks, those Schwartzs and people like my brother and those bitches who work at the desk too, you can take all them away and we’d all be fine, but you can’t take us, you can’t take the janitors.”
Albert drove up to Jake’s house. It was late now, but the light was on where he knew Jake’s wife was waiting for him.
“You know what I’m saying? You hear what I’m telling you?”
Albert didn’t hear what Jake was telling him, he thinking of something else, and it wasn’t his wife or their new baby at home either, it was those toilets back at the job, those rich, white, beautiful porcelain toilets and the specks of shit that covered them.