The summer between my junior and senior year I repeated
the job I’d held the previous summer. Every school has to get ready for
the following school year, so my own, Holy Cross High, hired students. Our duties
were dictated daily by the janitor, Mr. Wagner, the school secretary, Mrs. O’Donnell, or the principal, Mr. Fred Bryer. The year before I’d worked with my sister but she’d found another job
working at the neighborhood dry cleaner. Fortunately for me, the school had enough
money to hire me and three other students. We were good friends or maybe we became
friends during that summer, I can’t recall.
Chores like cleaning out lockers, scrubbing walls, rearranging supply closets, and removing graffiti from bathroom
stalls that were usually handled by Mr. Wagner became ours. But one particular
day that summer stands out. We arrived one morning at the building we called
the New High School which housed a few classrooms, the gymnasium and the recreation area.
Mr. Wagner stood in the lobby surrounded by buckets, mops and rags, and unceremoniously declared that today we would
clean out the locker rooms.
“Yuck!” Debbie Mays said. She was a pretty girl who took care
of herself, hair always in style, makeup on no matter what the occasion, and soft manicured hands. But after three weeks of scrubbing with ammonia treated water, she hadn’t figured out how to keep
her nails from cracking or her cuticles from splitting.
“Colleen and Sue, you are in charge of the washing the walls. Diane
and Debbie, you clean out the lockers.” Mr. Wagner’s directions were greeted with a quick flash of joy in Deb’s
eyes but immediately disappeared when he followed with “and then scrub them too.”
After we hit the janitor supply room and gathered our rags, sponges, buckets, and magic cleaning potion that only Mr.
Wagner was allowed to concoct, we headed to the locker rooms. Instinct turned
us in the direction of the girls’ room but before we had the door open, Mr. Wagner gave us further orders.
“Do the boy’s room today. I have to repair one of the sinks in the girls’ room and it will be ready tomorrow.”
He headed into the girls room, his tool belt of wrenches, screwdrivers and hammers clanking against the jingle of his huge
ring of janitor keys hanging from his belt.
We moaned in unison, not caring what
Mr. Wagner thought.
“I’ve never been in a
boys locker room, have you?” I asked
Three heads shook sideways, a mild
fear in their eyes reflecting my own dread of going where no female had gone before.
“Can’t be any worse than
the girls’ room, I suppose.” Sue said.
“You don’t have three
older brothers. You won’t believe what guys do in bathrooms.” Colleen’s
experience was good enough for all of us.
“Well, I don’t care because if we don’t get this done before lunch, Wagner might not let us go till
we do.” I made my case for getting things under way figuring that tackling it head on had to be better than discussing
I pushed the swinging wooden door inward, then the inner door too. The
lights were on and at first glance it looked a lot like the girls’ locker room.
Surrounding us were an upper and lower level of tan metal capsules, little vents on the closed and lockless doors allowing
fresh air in and smelly air out. Benches of the same light wood as the doors
sat between the four rows of lockers, the tiled floor below them a pale worn gray.
Deb shrugged her shoulders and said, “This won’t be so bad. I’ll
open all the lockers on this side and you take the other.”
While I began releasing the doors by pushing up the silver metal latch on my rows, Sue and Colleen assessed their responsibility.
“Yep. Just as I thought. Guys are so lame they can’t even
make it into the toilet.”
Colleen was grossed out.
Sue held her freckled nose, her mouth curling up in distaste with the sour urine smell assaulting them. “Geez. This sucks! I want your job.” she complained
while we finished opening locker doors.
“No way! You had it easy yesterday washing walls in the cafeteria
while I spent the afternoon on my knees doing baseboards.” I continued
opening the doors, thinking briefly about asking Deb to wash the tops and I’d do the bottoms because at barely five
feet, I had to get up on my tippy toes to reach them.
Sue had given up trying to convince me to switch
and I could hear her and
Colleen running water in the buckets mixing in the cleaning
solution that stank so strongly of ammonia, I had to believe that Mr. Wagner had strengthened its power for this particular
job. That stuff would probably have our hands bleeding by the end of the day,
but at least its smell was beginning to take overpower the old urine left behind by hundreds of smelly jocks who inhabited
this place over the school year.
Deb came over to my side. “There’s a bunch of shit left in those lockers.
What about yours?”
I gestured to my wall of lockers, doors standing open like soldiers ready for inspection. “Me too. What do we do with it?”
“I’ll get the trash can and let Wagner decide what he wants to do with it.
Can’t imagine there’s anything worth saving.” Gone only a moment, she rolled in the industrial gray
bin we’d been using for trash.
Deb took the top lockers and I silently thanked her as I tackled the bottoms.
Divided in two by a shelf two thirds of the way from the bottom, a silver two-way hook was attached under the shelf
for hanging stuff. When we had gym class, I‘d use the bottom for clothes and shoes and the top held my books and purse.
I found that guys used them pretty
much the same. An American History book, a bunch of loose leaf paper, some blank,
some filled with notes lay scattered across most of the top shelves. I checked the names on papers I found, hoping to find
something of Tim Kelly’s who I absolutely adored. The only person’s
name I recognized was Mike Evans, a real nobody although I’d heard he was pretty smart.
One locker yielded an old red T-shirt
with the school’s logo and because it looked good enough to save I threw it on the bench for more careful inspection
later. There was food too. A half eaten Milky Way inside its rolled up wrapper,
a glazed donut that could substitute for a hockey puck, and chewing gum, lots of it, all chewed and stuck to the doors, walls
and floor, waiting for their owner to retrieve it.
Deb pulled stuff out and dumped it into the can and pretty soon we had them all cleaned out. I could hear Colleen and Sue in the next room their mumbled tones echoing around the shower stalls and
occasional laughter bouncing off the tiled walls.
The pleasant part of our job had just ended so Deb decided we should take
a break. I hadn’t had any breakfast so I protested.
“I’m hungry and the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can eat.
Grab a bucket and let’s get scrubbing, okay?” I hoped she didn’t think I was ordering her around
and get pissed but my stomach had been growling for quite a while.
“Yeah, all right.” I handed Deb a bucket and I took the other. Since
I’d been kind of a bitch, I took the plastic bottle of cleaning solution and left her to get the rinse water.
The wall spigot for filling the buckets was on the wall of one of the shower stalls, so we chatted with Colleen and
Sue for a moment commenting on their fine work cleaning the showers, secretly glad we had the lockers.
Deb and I hauled our buckets back
into the locker area and placed them both on the benches, heedless of water sloshing from their sides onto the floor. We’d have to clean the floor anyway, so it didn’t matter.
“I think we should wash them
all, then rinse them.” Deb suggested as we readied our sponges and rags for combat.
“Nah. I’ll wash and you rinse.” Aware of Deb’s desire to keep nice nails, I thought that giving
her the rinse role would make our friendship stronger.
“Great. But you’re short. How will you reach?”
“Oh.” I looked around still trying to make it work. “I’ve
got it. I’ll stand on the bench and do it. Look.” I stepped up and my new height made it easy to see inside.
Deb nodded and I went to work. But before I had one locker done, I found that I couldn’t reach the back, my
arms short too and useless to get all the way in.
“Sorry but this isn’t
working. You think we can get by with just doing the front part?” I didn’t really like doing something halfway but I really wanted to give Deb
the day off from the soapy water. She’d thank me for it later.
“I know! How about a ladder? Wagner keeps one in the storage room across
the hall,” I said.
“He’s using it. I saw him carry it into the girls’ room
when I got the trash can.”
Deb sighed, grabbed the soapy sponge, dipped it viscously
into the water and stepped carefully onto the slippery bench.
I felt bad that I hadn’t figured out any other way but if we didn’t get moving I’d die of starvation
by the time we were released for lunch.
“What’s this?” Deb asked, her voice hollow from being
nearly inside the locker.
“I guess you missed this all the way in the back
on the shelf.”
I stood on tippy toes behind her dodging from left to right to see into the locker but her head blocked my view. The rinse sponge floated in the clear water and since we’d switched jobs, I
seized my new weapon to fight dirt and grime.
“Aaaahhhhhhh!” Deb jumped down from the bench and a white thing flew through the air and landed at my feet.
“What the hell?” I jumped back from the unidentified object glad it wasn’t a bug or any other living
creature, which was my initial thought when she screamed.
Sue and Colleen ran into the locker area parroting each other, “What’s the matter?”
“That, is the matter,” I said pointing
to a grayish-white lump lying innocently on the floor where Deb had hurled it.
“What the hell is it?” Sue asked.
“Looks like a jock strap.” Colleen’s tone was matter of fact. “I have three brothers. I see
them all the time. Even laundered a few with the weekly loads. No big deal.”
My heart had slowed to a normal pace but my curiosity led me to examine it more closely. I bent over it wondering why it had this big cup with straps coming from the top and bottom.
“What’s that part for?” I asked toeing the cup part of the strap.
“Dummy, don’t you know anything?” Colleen picked it up without ceremony and held it out before all
three of us between her index finger and thumb. “You see, this part is
where the penis and balls go.” She pointed to the area in question.
My face scrunched in disgust as I tried to visualize the actual wearing of this contraption. “How does a guy get it all in there?”
Deb realized what this meant since she’d handled the offensive object inside the locker. “Oh my god, a
guy had his thing in there and I touched it. That is so gross!”
Colleen put a hand on the inside of the waist strap and pulled it apart. We
could see now how a guy would put it on and how he might stuff his private parts into it.
“Why do you guys need one of these? We don’t.” ever
so curious Sue asked.
Colleen sighed with exasperation at our ignorance but she clearly relished knowing more than we did about guys. “So if a guy gets kicked or punched in the balls, the plastic thing will protect
him. Ever see a guy get a knee in the groin.
They go down like they’ve been shot.”
I remembered my little brother stopping too late on his bike once and slamming into a tree. He fell forward off the seat, landing square on the middle bar, his yells heard for miles around and you’d
have thought he was dying. Why was it then that if boys could get hurt so easily down there, then why did boys’ bikes
have the bar when girls’ bikes didn’t. Seemed backwards to me.
Deb added, “So when a guy plays baseball or basketball or something like that it protects them from getting hurt?”
“Exactly!” Colleen smiled like we’d just spelled the hardest word in the school Spelling Bee.
“Well, what are we gonna do with it?” ever so practical Sue asked.
Colleen rolled it into a little ball with both hands and launched a ten-foot jump shot into the trashcan, nothing but
net. “She scores!”
“Well, I sure hope we don’t find any more of those.” Deb.
“I’m pretty sure the rest of the lockers are clean. Right?” I asked the girls.
“Yeah, they’re done.”
Colleen and Sue agreed.
We each silently took an aisle closing
the locker doors hoping that Mr. Wagner would assume they’d been washed. The school bell, still on the regular school
schedule, rang alerting us to the noon hour. Leaving our buckets, sponges, and rags behind, we headed out from the locker
room into the lobby.
“God, I hope the girls’
locker room doesn’t have any nasty surprises.” Deb observed as we grabbed our lunch bags and headed outside to
sit in the sun and talk about how stupid guys were.