Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Very Powerful Statement. Also, Wet.

I’m a gentle man by nature, but sometimes you just have to stick it to the man.

Let me explain.

As a 21-year-old college student desperate for summer employment, I took the first thing available to me: a wretched job working for the devil himself and his impish minions.

Our boss, a man-troll named Danny, oozed evil. His red, leathery skin and straw-like blonde hair appropriately complemented his deep, raspy voice and menacing claws. You think I’m exaggerating for the sake of hyperbole, but I assure you he was pure wickedness.

The job essentially entailed Danny sending my friend Cole and me out to various gas stations to complete crappy upkeep tasks like power-washing diesel fuel off of mucky pumps or shoveling the sludgement out of filthy car wash basins. The company we worked for owned several stations, and it was our job to do all the horrible stuff that minimum wage-earning teenagers already employed at these buildings wouldn’t even do.

Cole and I both are weak men we usually just listen to authority and do as we’re told. Better to be submissive than unnecessarily confrontational, I always say. And since we were pretty sure that Danny was under the employ of the Lord of the Underworld, we blindly followed whatever barked order he spewed in our directions.

Unfortunately, one of his assignments sent us to a truck stop in Gilman for an unreasonable amount of time. I am neither a fan of Gilman nor truck stops, so our long list of ridiculous tasks to complete—painting rails, power-washing pumps, wiping down the underside of the canopy, and picking up trash in the giant truck parking lot behind the building—did not exactly get my tail wagging.

However, after days and days of drudgery we finally got everything on the list completed. Sunburned, crabby, and muddied with a sandpapery combination of suntan lotion and dirt specks, we thought we’d head home an hour early our last day at this particular assignment. We’d had enough of that place, so we packed up our things and went to let the store manager know we were heading out.

But Gilman’s slumping, middle-aged female manager, a fellow troll-person probably spawned asexually from Danny’s armpit in an ancient ceremony of the hell circles, decided she’d like to keep us busy until the work day was over. This horn-toothed sprite had another job for us to do.

She wanted us to clean the bathrooms.

In a truck stop.

“No,” we said, trembling ever so slightly—something in between rage and fear. “That’s not our responsibility.”

But that didn’t stop her from calling Demon Danny and letting him know we were done early. “Can I keep them busy for this last hour?” she asked, giving us a puckish grin that deepened our ire. Danny, of course, said that her request was perfectly reasonable, and even though I couldn’t hear him on the other end of the phone, I’m pretty sure he belted out a raspy Vincent Price laugh like at the end of “Thriller.” Both of them were real bastards.

Acid burbled in the depths of my gut and for once in my life I knew how the Incredible Hulk felt right before he turned all green and strong. Except I’m pretty sure I remained relatively frail and may have exhibited only a slightly darker shade of pink in my flushed sunburned cheeks.

In any event, we were going to have to clean those damn bathrooms. There was no way around it.

For a minute Cole and I just stood in starting at the door to the men’s restroom, yellow rubber gloves and a bucket full of industrial strength sponges in tow. Any good director producing an idie film about this experience would’ve zoomed in really close onto one of our eyes in a black-and-white shot as a single tear rolled down our cheek. Then some artsy violin music would kick in and the emotional effect would be truly impressive.

But this was not an artistic moment at all. There were a few moments were we silently imagined the types of men who went number two in those toilets. Giant men with hairy stomachs and dirty socks. Lengthy stubble and smelly flatulence. And probably the sort of bowel movements that curved around the oval of the toilet’s mouth like a giant brown horseshoe. I’m sorry for the inappropriate imagery but there’s no other way to create a sense of empathy for our situation at the time. We did not, under any circumstances, want to do this.

When we finally walked into the room I actually threw up in my mouth a little bit. The walls were grimy, the ceiling tiles were an odd shade of brown, and splotches of ricocheted hand grease splayed three feet away from the faucet in every direction.

“Oh hell no,” Cole said. And we immediately marched to the manager and said, “We’re not cleaning those bathrooms. They’re disgusting. That’s what your gas station employees are for. Clean your own bathroom.”

We felt pretty proud of ourselves for standing up for what is good and just, but we should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy.

“You heard what Danny said. You’re going to do what I tell you to do. Do I need to call him again, or are you going to go clean those bathrooms?”

Okay, so we lost the verbal battle, but the war was far from over.

Cole and I aren’t usually spiteful, but we are extremely creative. For you math majors out there, spite + creativity = sticking it to the man, which brings us to our story’s climax.

On the back of our F150 we had a trailer to haul around our industrial strength power-washer for cleaning off the diesel pumps. This thing was powerful, friends. Strong enough to strip the chrome off a bumper. During training Danny told us not to put our hands in the line of fire if we valued our finger flesh.

In our heads we must have truly believed there was only one way to clean a bathroom that disgusting. For my own moral peace of mind, I have to believe that our intentions were entirely professional in dragging that heavy power-washer hose into the building and through the men’s bathroom door.

Cole cranked the ignition from outside and the giant machine roared to life. It was on the other side of the building, but you could feel the rumble and smell the exhaust throughout the store. We stood in that disgusting bathroom like Terminator 2 and smiled at each other, knowing full well that we could end up fired for this. If we had sunglasses to flip down coolly off of out foreheads, we totally would’ve done it.

Then, we power-washed the living bejezzus out of that festering, disease-riddled facility like the prize for doing so was entrance into heaven. Grime leaked down the walls and poo mist swirled all over the room. Steam filled up the entire area and the walls started to condense. After three or four good minutes of spraying the hell out of that restroom we stopped to let the smoke clear.

There were white streaks running across the once yellowy-brown walls—the work of our incredibly powerful hot water stream—and the sink area was pretty clean, too. The only problem was the three inches of water on the floor and the completely saturated ceiling tiles. Whoops.

The incredibly wet mess we left behind didn’t keep us from laughing heartily for the entire drive away from Gilman’s hell mouth. Better to skedaddle before the Queen of the Trolls discovered our handy work and got us fired.

For the record, we did keep our jobs and made it through the summer (though later trips to Gilman for other reasons got us the dirtiest of looks from our new arch-nemesis), but for at least a day Cole and I got the gumption to stick it to the man. Or woman. Or beast.

Whatever. Somebody got stuck, and it felt great.

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