Good help is hard to find
Outside the church was LaBrea Street in Hollywood and the Fall of '78. Inside was a forty-five year old janitor, Lorne Nichols, in a dark corridor and noontime Sunday when suddenly Suzy Q., the sixty-two year old treasurer, popped out from a little combination side room housing a mimeograph
machine and a clothes closet.
[quoteright]She glared at Lorne and he held up both hands. "If it's sex you want, I gave at the office."
Suzie Q. ignored his remark. "What about the light, Lorne?"
I'm not Light Lorne. I weigh one-eighty-five."
"You know what I mean! What about it? The light in the Sunday School; it should be off by now!"
"I can't be in two places at once," said Lorne.
"Try harder or I'll turn the congregation against you!"
"That won't be hard to do. They're halfway there already."
"You'll be fired!"
"I was looking for a job when I got this clunker," said Lorne.
"Clunker, clunker, clunker. That's not a very good choice of words," said the chunky little therapist peering up from behind his huge oak desk in El Segundo a few hours later.
"Onliest thing I could think of, Doc," said Lorne.
"Well," said the spunky little therapist, "she's at the top of that particular hierarchy and as such is in a position for a top-notch power play."
"Slow down, Doc," said Lorne. "I only went to the third grade. Remember? Those are big words you're using. Sure I've picked up a lot from television, but I'm not up with you yet."
"Let's hope not," said Dr. Bowers. "I hope the quality of my education is harder to obtain than that."
"Now, get to the good part, Doc."
"Well, I'll give you the translation, Lorne. She can zap your ass good. So watch your step from now on. I've done wonders with you - getting you to stop messin' 'round with the livestock and getting you established on a steady job and rerouted to women. I don't want you to blow our progress now."
"Okay, Doc, I'll try to get along."
And he did even on Thursday afternoon when the head administrator, Rebecca Lane, nicknamed Twinkletoes McGuire, Dusty, for short, cornered Lorne in the small mimeograph room and backed him up against the clothes closet until he agreed to run across the street to a nearby restaurant and get the coffee, so the "office gang" could sit down in the big Board Room and pretend that they were board members and discuss such things as abutments while Lorne did the honors with the silver carafe - pouring a little, limping a lot, and saying, "Shonuff there, Missy," until he got his fifteen-cent--an-hour raise, so he could report back to Dr. Bob Bowers proudly, toss over his letter of rate increase and wait for the praise to be lavishly heaped on.
But Dr. Bob was on the phone and hollered into it, "Sure, I can help you. We can't take off the whole hundred pounds right away, but for twentyone hundred down, more if I shock you, I can drop-ship you fast, right smack-dab into my own little private insane asylum along a treelined street. You'll love it! What's that? Speak up!" He hung up the receiver and turned to Lorne. "She hung up. Must have been something I said."
"I got the raise," said Lorne.
"That's good. How's Suzy Q.? How's Dusty? How's the Baroness Ackerby? Is she still the secretary?"
"Yes she is. They're all doing okay, but they won't help me put up the convention signs anymore."
"Try for a doughnut when they drink their coffee. Get a foot in the door an inch at a time. Is the Baroness still talking to you in German?"
"Yeah, except for last Thursday. She gave me an hour lecture in English on how to field-strip a seventy-five thousand dollar air conditioner, the big one down in the basement. Seems that was a study of hers in a European college. That and chasing janitors and also specializing on how to see in the dark so she could save on electric bills."
"She sounds industrious and very active for a sixty-eight year old, Lorne Boy. I'll bet her house is as neat as a pin and every light is turned off except for the one she really needs."
"Say, Doc, not changing the subject, but something is coming up, brewing in the wind. What is your policy, your stance on an employee's intercourse with his employers? Those three down at work are starting to move in on me a little."
"I don't have a stance, Lorne." It's too hard on the back doing it standing up."
"Come on, Doc."
"Well ...the boss is always right, Lorne. If necessary you not only have to get the coffee, but also have to go to bed with him or her or whatever the case may be. I had a man patient who worked as a maid for a Howard Johnson's motel. Not only did he have to go to bed with his supervisor, but he also had to make up the bed afterward. Kind of rough on him - a devout married man with humble beginnings, a kind mind, a benevolent outlook on life and ten children to boot, but that's the way it is, Lorne."
"But, do I have to go to bed with all three?"
"You've got to protect your job, Lorne, and look at it this way. Shortly, before you know it, you'll be in your sixties, yourself. So it'll be good practice and a little warm-up for the 'Golden Years.' Besides, you're really all they've got. And even though you're only the janitor and of average size and of average looks and maybe a little less than average there..."
"Thanks a lot, Doc."
"...and you may be severely unskilled and penniless and even nondescript as to any classification and have absolutely no status, none, and be at the very bottom of the barrel, but from what you've told me, Lorne, you're it for them. Kind of terrible, isn't it?"
"Not really, I'm not that bad."
"I mean, Lorne, to have such limited horizons."
"I may have to limit your horizons, Doc."
"To continue, Lorne, they have an itch and you have to scratch it. They've all failed miserably in their quests for wealth, status, and power. And from what you've told me, they have been ambitious. And you, the hired help, have to fill that certain void in their lives through submission, harassment, and sex at work, or they will come apart at the seams, break down and cry hysterically on street corners, talk to themselves incessantly while doing the dishes, or more simply, go mad with envy and kill, kill, kill indiscriminately, or worse yet, cease to work and be employers. Not even they know their underlying drives, their necessities to be satiated, but instinctively they are driven to obtain a solution to their ills and disappointments and you, Sir Lorne, are the fox, their target, their area of atonement. Why ...why! You've got the whole damn economic system in your hands, boy!"
"You do make me feel important, Doc. Almost like I've got a sacred mission to perform. I won't let you down."
"You fool! You've missed the point. But...I like your style."
Back at the job Friday evening along about sundown, Lorne glanced out the small six by six inch wire-mesh glass window in the door facing the parking lot. November was in California. A slight chill was in the air, and an old huge decrepit tumbleweed tumbled down from the Hollywood hills and came to an abrupt halt on a jutting waterpipe which impaled it precisely in the heart of the fibrous mass. The autumn winds blew and the rod quivered a little and tried to detach itself but the weed held fast.
Two more big weeds, their youth spent, whistled and ripped through and hesitated momentarily until it looked as though they would miss the staff, but they didn't and soon it had three ringers. Lorne heard a rustling sound in the dark shadowy corridor in the decibel range high enough to have been emitted by the weight of people in six shoes and got ready. He wondered quickly, "Will I get a fifteen-cent an hour raise? Will we have doughnuts afterward? Should I demand a blindfold?"
Writer Norrin Lynn Foster lives and works in Newhall, California.
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