It was with trepidation that I made my way through the narrow hallways in the bowels of our building as I looked for the office of the building manager. The hallways were poorly lit. It had an unfinished feel as the exposed pipes and wires raced along the hallways. Scuffs and scratches pointed the direction towards the door of the man I sought. The building manager could also be called the king of the porters. He’s the guy that orders around that threesome of mongrels that run amok through out the building. Maybe I was exaggerating. This man was in a position of responsibility. Surely, he could not be of the same ill-bred ilk that served him. Clearly, I was being bigoted against the custodial class.
I had volunteered for fire steward duty. Volunteer is not the word, but I don’t know the word to describe the process where some silly duty which includes wearing a bright yellow vest and following the office space cattle down the stairwell is given to someone who just happens to be at the coffee urn when the fire officer turns up. I think duped is close but I stuck with the verb he used, volunteer. The consequence was that I must retrieve my ‘fire steward’ vest from the building manager deep in the heart of darkness. Well, not really. It’s just the subbasement.
I reached the door, gave it a knock and walked in. Before me was a man not much over five foot, wearing nothing but Y-front tighty whiteys. He had one leg in his trousers. He looked at me in surprise, and I with equal surprise fumbled to shut the door trailing apologies. He gained his composure quicker than myself and as he put his other leg in the trousers shouted, “Don’t run away!” in such a way that made me think his tongue too wide for his mouth. I stuttered a few more mumbled apologies. “No worries pal. Just taking a nap.” Rather than pursue the questioning of why napping requires the removal of one’s trousers, I stated my purpose. “Hmm. Don’t think I have those. Want a biscuit?” He stuffed one whole in his mouth; the falling crumbs powdered those that remained in the bag. “No thanks.” He tossed the bag onto his desk, and proceeded to tear his claustrophobic office apart. The room was packed full of the detritus of papers, boxes, and mechanical parts. The stacks of boxes seemed to teeter inward threatening to crush the living occupants. In the flurry of papers that followed his search, I momentarily saw a couch, an enormous silver playground ball whose purpose could not even be guessed at, and a small bin full of dirty dishes. I must have been staring with mouth agape and eyes of disbelief, because he paused and looked at me. “You all right.”
“Huh. Yes. Sorry.” And I made a halfhearted explanation about being tired from lack of sleep.
“Hmm.” He responded and went back to shifting boxes, wiping grease onto himself and his surroundings from unknown mechanic objects. “Here we go.” He found the vest. He tugged at it but it was caught on something unseen. He gave it increasingly vigorous tugs until it snapped loose. “Here.” He tossed it overhand to me, and retrieved his bag of cookies. “Sure you don’t want one.” He said with his mouth full spraying the desk with moistened crumbs.
“No thanks. I should get back upstairs. Thanks for the vest.”
“No bother pal.” As I left one of the porters came through and before I shut the door heard his boss say, “All right you daft cunt. What now?”