b Papa Dog's Blog: More Prose About Buildings and Food

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Friday, May 13, 2005

More Prose About Buildings and Food

Things I thought about on the way home from work.

On the way out the building:

Janitors and cab drivers, they all have hands-free cell phones these days. I can see the appeal for cabbies – they’re using cells instead of radios for dispatching now. It bugs me, though, that they never seem to be not on the phone. You get in the cab, you wait for a break in the conversation being carried rapidly on in some mysterious language. The cabbie glances back expectantly, but never stops talking. You say where you’re going and he nods but you can never be really sure he heard you. I don’t take cabs much now but I used to now and then when we lived in Temescal. It was a longer haul home from MacArthur, sometimes I’d be running late, just really hungry, too pooped to walk, whatever. Weird thing: I used to notice how many different accents want to turn “Webster” into “Vibsta.” At least eight ethnically unique cabbies said to me, “You want me take Vibsta?”

With janitors – custodial staff – I guess the appeal lies in the loneliness and boredom of the job, moving through the building like a ghost, barely acknowledged. I’m probably as bad or worse about that than anyone. It’s not even middle class guilt about menial service positions; rote social acknowledgements embarrass me and I try to avoid them. When I hear the garbage cart squeaking over from the adjacent cubes, I straighten up and focus intently on my screen as though I’m really busy doing something really important. Maybe I’ll even get up and go around the long way to the bathroom just to be out of the way when my garbage can is emptied. If I’m stuck, I’ll say “Hi” or “Thanks,” but always absently, looking back to the screen as quickly as possible. The hands-free cell helps smooth that over. That or the radio, he’s always got one or the other going.

Walking down Spear Street:

I wonder whatever happened to the old janitor? I guess he retired. He was there when I first came to the building in 1988 or whenever it was. I think his name was José; a squat, big-eared man, with a blunt ogre-ish face and a quiet, raspy voice. Grandfatherly. No cell phone for him. He didn’t seem to speak much English. Whenever he was gone for a long period of time I’d think maybe he’d retired or died. He’d always turn up later and I’d hear he’d been in Chihuahua, visiting the family. I wonder if he was a big deal in the old town with his American money. I bet he put kids through college emptying out take-out cartons from wastebaskets and hitting the computer screens with his feather duster. Weird that I remember so much about him. Or about what I imagined about him. It’s weird I even knew his name and where he came from. How did I know that? I don’t remember ever having a conversation with him any more than I have with the current guy. No idea what the current guy’s name is. I probably wouldn’t recognise him if I saw him out of context, say in the lobby. Somehow I learned about José through osmosis. He looked interesting, I guess that’s it; stolid, old-school. I guess he retired. I hope he’s living large on some sort of pension.

There’s a lot of stuff about an office building that you don’t notice when you work there every day. Stuff you never see or think about. People tend to think of their building as just the floor or maybe even the room where they work, but in truth the whole thing is one big complicated system. It’s like an aircraft carrier – a stationary one set vertically instead of horizontally. I did a million different things when I was temping – well, okay, maybe several dozen, but it felt like a million – and saw little glimpses of all sorts of work environments I’d have had no reason to see otherwise. One job was doing data entry for the maintenance department of a little cluster of office buildings. The assignment called for me to go down to the maintenance areas themselves, in the subbasement bowels of the different buildings. I’d been working in office buildings for years but it had never occurred to me what lay under them: big noisy machines, heaters and chillers, and stuff I have no names for although I probably typed them many times during the course of my assignment. It looked to me kind of like the engine room in the original Star Trek. Flashing lights, ducts, endless humming noises, guys with clipboards. All this stuff apparently is necessary to make my work space suddenly too cold every day at 11 a.m.

On the BART train:

Reading my book, not really thinking much about anything.

Walking across the BART parking lot:

Hey, all that stuff about the janitors and the cab drivers and the building maintenance crap might make a decent blog post. I could call it “More Prose About Buildings and Food.” What, didn’t I already do a riff on that? Yeah, I guess I did. This usage would be more appropriate, thought, because it really is all about buildings. Well, but not food. Have to work food in there somehow. What could I do about food? Mm, food. Guess I am kind of hungry at that. Wonder what’s for dinner? Mama Dog always asks me what I want to eat, and I always say, “Whatever you’re making.” She was specifically asking me what I want for dinner tonight – when was that? This morning? Last night? – and I didn’t have a clue. “Whatever you’re going to make.” I guess she wants me to pick something specific. I really don’t know how to favour one meal over another. Except – hey, I haven’t had mashed potatoes since – when? – last Thanksgiving? That sounds good. Sure could use me some a them mashed-up potaters, mm-hmm. Kind of late to suggest that now. Do we even have potatoes? Maybe we’ll go out. Or we’ll have whatever she’s making.*
* Falafels, as it turned out.


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