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  • summer 1969

    Before taking off to art school I got work on the maintenance crew of the local all girls college. It was a finishing school where girls with horses studied. The girls had a reputation for being rowdy. Exampled by the broken nose of the statue of General Paine in the local park. The story goes the girls were dancing on him, one of them slipped and broke her jaw on his nose - breaking his nose in the same moment.

    So, I joined the small crew. Smiley was the boss who really didn't smile but raised his cheeks to keep his eyeglasses from slipping down his nose. There was Booney who ate a whole onion (like an apple) for lunch every day. Jack ... and a black skinned man everybody called Willie. He was old and small with one eye clouded over. We all used the same bathroom.

    I was given to Willie. The first job was to do the floors of a dormitory. It had three floors and housed about a hundred girls. All the furniture had to be taken out of the rooms. The floors scrubbed and waxed. The furniture put back into the rooms. Willie complained he only had a week to do it... we needed more time if it was to be done right.

    The dorm was across campus and Willie and I started walking side by side. My dad walked fast. I walked fast and I was making a bee line to the dorm.

    Willie stopped, put his hands on his hips, gave me a most disappointing look and said, "What do you think you're doing?"
    "Walking to the dorms..." I answered. (it seemed obvious)
    "... and when we get to the dorms?"
    "Get to work ... we only have a week to finish the job." (it was my only thought)
    Then Willie says, "That's right we are going work when we get to the dorms. This is travel time ... we can take as long as we want."

    When we got to the dorm he opened the Coke machine and took out three cold Cokes. Sat down in the lobby and carefully tore the paper foil off a pack of unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes. Jack came in popped the caps on the Cokes and offered me a smoke. We sat there till mid afternoon then took a walk around the dorm.

    Day two - Willie walked me through the process of emptying the rooms. He was very specific. Where to pick up the bed frames, how to tilt the dresser so the drawers didn't fall out, how to stack the furniture in the hallway so he could get the buffer round the tight corners. The work went so fast we had a couple of hours before quitting time.

    The rest of the week was the same. Willie planned every step, Where to hold the mop, what foot to start on, how many backward steps to the door, the exact amount of Gym Finish required... He was the most efficient man I ever met.

    Friday we spent with Jack in the lobby smoking cigarettes, drinking Cokes, and waiting for the paychecks.

    When Smiley handed them to us Willie asked him to schedule more time for the dorms next year if they were to be done right.
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