not a cutter. I’m a cutter.”
is a scene from the amazingly brilliant and classic movie, Breaking
Away. If you’ve never seen it… close this now, and go do
whatever you have to do to see it. Buy it… rent it… download it…
whatever. Invest a couple of hours (and not even that). You won’t
regret it. And I’ll wait right here for you.
years ago, I got my first job. I worked for a housekeeping department
in a hospital.
like you to close your eyes for a second. Before you do… this
is what you need to prepare for: (1) Clear your mind of all other
thoughts. (2) Reflect on the types of messes someone working in
housekeeping at a hospital might be called in to clean up. (3)
Clear your mind again, and then seriously, think about the types
of messes someone working in housekeeping at a hospital might
be called in to clean up. (4) After about thirty seconds, shudder,
open your eyes, and come on back.
go ahead… close your eyes, and then run through one to four.)
a funny thing about some jobs and people. As Mike Rowe so eloquently
puts it at the beginning of each episode of Dirty Jobs:
“These are the people doing the work that makes civilized life
possible for the rest of us.”
one wants to think about who is cleaning the floor of an operating
room after the surgery… or getting called in to the bathroom or
hallway when someone is sick… and yet the hospital is full of
these moments. Every day. Every floor.
worked at a hospital, in housekeeping, while I was in high school.
I was a part-time employee working regular hours… every weekend,
no real benefit time building up… with extra shifts in the summer.
(I also worked part-time in a pizza place… different stories…
I was there, I worked with a lot of people in the department that
were working there full-time. I can’t remember a single one of
them that would consider it career employment. But for most of
them, it was a job. A way to pay the bills. A way to provide for
often… yeah, to do so without the respect they so deserved.
years, a friend of mine used to have the “Billy test” for potential
boyfriends. She had a younger brother. (Yes… Billy.) When she
left for college, Billy was 2-years-old. During her senior year
of high school, she developed an interesting way of gauging how
good a boyfriend was. She would introduce him to Billy.
it wasn’t a casual introduction. This was a test with deeper significance.
She was looking to size-up a potential long-term situation. So
an afternoon might be cleared out for a trip to the zoo. Or a
mysterious set of events could take place at the last minute,
resulting in her needing to cancel plans in order to babysit (with
an offer then extended to join her). And… then she watched.
he patient with Billy? Dealing with Billy running around with
a plastic bat could be trying for anyone. Was he able to relate
with Billy? …in a way that suggested he would be good with kids?
it was a brilliant test. In one way or another though, Billy had
a way of bringing out the true character of potential suitors.
at the hospital, there used to be sleeping quarters for the doctors.
A room with a bed. A desk with a chair. Usually a television.
A place to catch a nap, or maybe sleep when working an overnight
who cleaned the room and made up the bed after the doctor left?
would be amazed at some of the things left behind. It wasn’t even
so much whether or not they were disgusting things left behind.
(Yes… there are stories worthy the current adult magazine of record.)
Instead, what offended us in housekeeping the most was the incredible
lack of respect it showed for the people that had to clean up
just paper cups and take out food. We’re talking about cafeteria
trays with real dishes and silverware on them. (Often featuring
the remains of a meal or a snack several hours old.) All left
behind because… you know… sure… doctor… important… don’t have
time to go back down to the cafeteria… housekeeping will clean
it up and even return the tray.
character on display. In fact, I remember one time…
hospital provided scrubs in the operating room. You know the surgical
scrubs of which I speak. On our rounds of cleaning, we walked
into the room, started stripping the bed and getting a vacuum
ready, and we found dirty scrubs on the floor. The most basic
idea was enough: this doctor figured we should pick up the dirty
clothes, and didn’t even bother to bring them to the hamper… a
hamper located by opening just one door and walking all of twenty
feet. Just dumped them on the ground.
the movie The Breakfast Club, the kids try to make fun
of the janitor, Carl. Trouble for them is, he quickly shuts them
up by letting them in on a little secret. He knows everything
about them. All of their most private thoughts and actions are
to be found in the moments he occupies nearby and the trash that
that to housekeeping. We knew the jerks of the staff and the standout
fabulous people. We knew who to go above and beyond for… and who
to give a half-assed effort with. We knew who had a quick hand
to report us, whether justified or not, and who was willing to
let us get our work done… properly… and perhaps cut us some slack
I have been a cutter. I have done the work, seen the sights, and
understand where people show their true character.
for you… I offer a simple thought. The next time you wonder how
people see you… the opinions about you… all you really need to
do is consider the messes you’ve made or opportunities you’ve
passed on. Because the people cleaning up your messes know how
you treat them. They remember. And such things do matter.