I’ve said before that us kids worked evenings and weekends. There were many full-time adults that worked every morning and overnight. Lisa was the opening manager. She was pleasant but we used to heckle her mercilessly. I won’t be mean and get into it here. I’ve mentioned Dolly who had been there longer than the building itself. Pat was a sort of den mother. She was a wonderful lady, one of those workers who could and did do everything and basically ran the store while Lisa counted the money and answered the phone. Thing about Pat, though, was that she was cool. She liked me and the rest of us kids and got a kick out of our antics. When I said something real stupid, though – inappropriate – she would let me know it. Her daughter – another Lisa – was our age and worked there, too. Lisa and I dated a few times and I would joke with Pat about joining her family. This, no doubt, frightened her.
There were two positions back in that day for full-time, overnight workers. One was ‘close/open’ and one was ‘maintenance’. Our ‘close/opener’ was the living legend, Chris Coffey – more about him later. The maintenance position was held by a variety of people during my time there. The close/opener dealt with the machines. He had to empty all of the fryers, the ice cream machine and the milkshake machine, clean them thoroughly and then put them back together, filling them with fresh oil or milk product. The maintenance job was sweeping and mopping the lobby, cleaning windows, etc. You were cool if you were a part-time teenager who would work one of these two shifts on the weekends. When I first started working there it was this interesting and mysterious thing. You’d start at 11:00 pm on a Friday and/or Saturday night. Often you’d come in a bit early to shoot the breeze and flirt with the closers and then, after the store closed, everyone would leave, the closing manager would say “good night” and he or she would lock the door and go home. So, the two guys working overnight would be locked in all night alone until the opening manager arrived around 5:00 am.
I started working the maintenance shift on the weekends and it seemed like you were doing different, more serious work then just making burgers or serving customers – plus you got paid more for it, a shift premium. Once the store closed, one of the overnight workers would get some tunes out and blast them while the closers worked, cleaning up and putting away before they went home. It was a fun, loose time. I’ll never forget one night when I was closing and Saltarr was working overnight. He was into different music than I was and one song he played that night was “Political” by Spirit of the West. I was so taken with it and it’s energy that I asked him to play it over and over and he did.
There was always stories about what went on at night when everyone went home – did any work get done? The full-timers were good workers; it was their job and their lives so, yeah, they did good work. The kids on the weekends, though? The opening manager always had to check their work before they got to go home so it had to look half decent, at least. There was one crazy, mysterious guy named Burt. He was a rough white guy that hung out with a gang of Chinese guys. Burt would come in on the weekends to do close/open and all he would do all night was crank “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses and dance up on the counter. Before the opening manager would show up, he would wipe down all the machines – so they were shining, yes, but otherwise they hadn’t been touched. Me, I would wear the different puke-brown McD’s maintenance shirt with my ‘Eddie’ name tag on and get down and do some good work.
One summer, the full-time maintenance guy went on holidays. His last name was Zondervan and we called him ‘Zondie’. He was an older guy and I remember once he yelled at us “my name is not ‘Zondie’!!”. Anyways, Zondie went on holidays and they asked me to work his shift for three days. It was good money and school was out so I said sure. Chris and I always got along so that part was great. Chris always put his head down and worked so I would, too. The first night I went in to the men’s bathroom in the lobby. Now, cleaning the lobby bathrooms, as you can probably imagine, was one of the less attractive parts of the job. I was surprised to learn over time that the women’s bathroom was often more disgusting than the men’s. Of course, one time in the men’s bathroom I found a pair of children’s underwear loaded with excrement. It was gross but we had a good laugh trying to imagine some poor slob going in there with his kid who had crapped himself! Much to my chagrin on this first night of working maintenance, I found the men’s toilet plugged up. No water in the bowl just paper and other mess. Now, here’s a key part of this story, the part that is perhaps hardest to believe. At this point, I was in my late teens and living at home and, in my life, I had never used a plunger before. On this night, grabbing a plunger and letting it do its magic work never occurred to me. If it had, though, I wouldn’t have this story.
I had been anticipating a fun week and now I was frustrated over this blemish. I pondered what to do. The answer at once became obvious to me as it has just become obvious to you: I grabbed a pair of tongs from the kitchen. These tongs were normally used to take the McChicken patties out of the warming drawer and put them onto the buns. I took the tongs into the bathroom and used them to remove the contents of the toilet bowl. This left nothing in the bowl; no water, nothing. I poured a bucket of water into the bowl. Fixed! I threw out my garbage bag of ‘mess’ and then I considered the tongs. My brain was really working this night and soon I had it; I would sterilize them and put them back in use. I filled a tin with warm – warm – water and let the tongs soak the rest of the night. My thinking was that there were two or three pairs of tongs in the kitchen and, chances were, these tongs may not even get used. Talk about a gamble. In the morning, I put the ‘sterile’ tongs back in the back area.
Come the third night of my three-night week, I dreaded the time I’d have to go into the bathroom and check on the toilet. This night, sure enough, it was still clogged up and filled with all manner of grossness. The first two nights I kept thinking that somebody, surely, would complain during the day and it would get fixed. But, no, it was up to me again. I may have been feeling a bit, well, off about using the tongs so I racked my brain for another way. Then, I had it. I went downstairs to the storeroom and grabbed our ShopVac. I knew it was a ‘wet/dry’ ShopVac so I knew it would work; I’d suck out all the junk and clean up the bowl nice and run for the hills. Let the next guy that tried to flush it worry about it. Why’d this have to happen on my watch, anyways? By the middle of the night, I had a clean, empty toilet bowl and a ShopVac full of excrement, which I threw in the back room to deal with in the morning.
Morning came and I was ready to go home. This working ‘full time’ (this was, after all, the first time I had worked 8-hour shifts on consecutive days) was for the birds. Then I remembered the PoopVac. I was so fed up with this ‘crap’ by now that I decided to just hide it. I had made a lot of mistakes this week but this was my fatal one. Looking back, I find it hard to believe that I was actually going to hide a ShopVac full of feces downstairs somewhere. Follow me, now: I have the ShopVac at the top of the stairs. I lift it by the handle on the top of the motor, not the two handles on either side of the canister. I lift it up to carry it downstairs and – no word of a lie – I’m on the first step when the canister lets go. I’m left holding this ShopVac motor in my two hands as I watch this thing bounce down fifteen steps, spilling it’s contents all over the stairwell. The canister lands on the floor below where a pool of feces, urine and used toilet paper starts to form.
Panic? Yeah. You could say that. I start grabbing mops and rags and start wiping and mopping, throwing out rags and mop heads as soon as they become disgusting – which is awfully fast. This mess covers not only the floor at the foot of the stairs but each and every step and the walls of the stairwell. It doesn’t take long for Opening Manager Lisa to walk slowly to the top of steps with her hand over her mouth and nose. “Gary, what is that smell?” “Well, I had a bit of a spill”. She tells me the smell is starting to drift out into the lobby and the old guys that drink coffee there every morning are starting to make faces. I continue to frantically wipe and mop, gagging as I go. Now my jeans have become covered in crap. I figure I need to get some more new rags, a bucket of boiling water and some soap but this takes time. To mask the smell, I grab some cans of bug spray and start spraying the staircase and basement. Now, this smell proves to be no better and even toxic, to boot. Now Lisa is in a panic, saying the customers are choking on this bug spray. Well, I open a door, I turn on a fan – I mean, I have no idea what to do except keep cleaning like a madman!
In the end, the smells dissipate. I’ve had to throw out countless rags, mop heads and one floor mat. I get out of there two hours late. I get home and throw my poop-stained jeans in the wash – by themselves – with some bleach. They come out with a few new holes and that cool, white-and-blue bleached look and they become my ‘maintenance pants’. What an ordeal and what a story I have to tell – I am very popular at work the next week or so. Looking back, I can’t believe the number of stupid things I did that week. Well, at least ‘nobody died’. Not that I know of, anyways.
Next Up: Chris and I……..