“Vernon you see all these scuff marks on the floor right here? Well ,it’s your job to get them all up. Here’s a putty knife you can use or you can use the butt of your mop, it’s up to you. I prefer to use the mop it’s easier to me,” explained my supervisor Ms. Margaret.
Ms. Margaret was no more than 5 foot tall.
A dirty dark-skinned complexion woman with a dried up Jeri curl who always smelled like bleach.
She had sneaky nut-brown eyes that turned white when she spoke and she habitually rolled them while speaking.
Her blue jean pants rested over her stomach causing her to lean in when she walked.
She had no ass.
She wore a mean facial expression complementing her grumpy personality that most of my male co-worker couldn’t tolerate.
But it didn’t bother me because I hadn’t plan on being a custodian for lone.
That evening would be my first night volunteering at Jewish Hospital. I wanted more than a job; I wanted a career.
“You got that?” she asked.
“Boy stop saying yes Ma’am to me,” she said walking away swinging her arms like George Jefferson.
I finished removing the scuff marks and gum off the cafeteria floor, let the tables down, then put my cleaning equipment up before clocking out.
The bike God blessed me with couldn’t had come at a better time because my 1976 Cutlass was down for repairs.
It was not only less expensive but more reliable.
I cruised down Gilbert to Blair Ave, crossed the bridge over I-71 up to Reading Rd. and Blair. Blair was slow that afternoon.
Everyone must had been sleep because of the night before. It was 3pm.
When you’re trying to do better there’s some things you must change: people, places and things. But it’s not that easy.
Blair was where the happening was.
The fast life.
My home boys.
The lifestyle was addictive to me before the drugs.
I coast around the block to my home on Cleveland Ave. After showering I ate a bowl of Chicken Ramen Noodles with cheese and onions in them then I took a power nap.
I woke and could hear my mother laughing on the phone down the hall.
I looked at the clock it was 5:05pm. My training starts at 6:00pm. Jewish Hospital was only 15 minutes away from our house so I had plenty of time to get there.
“Now where you’re going?” my mother asked with one hand covering the receiver.
“Remember I told you I start my boiler training at Jewish today?”
“That’s right. Well, come give your mother a kiss before you leave.”
I kissed Moms on her forehead then told her I love her.
I grabbed my bike and my 6th edition Boiler Operator’s book from my bedroom and left.
The noise was loud in the Boiler Room.
Yellow, red and blue pipes was all around me like a maze.
Three HRT boilers was to my right while three other big machines I wasn’t familiar with was to my left.
I found out later they where Chillers used for cooling the Hospital. I seen an operator taking reading on the Chillers.
“Excuse me I’m looking for Mike.”
“Vernon?” He asked putting out his right hand for me to shake.
“Mike is over there in the control room waiting for you. Welcome.”
I walked over nervously and enter the control room. There were three white men in there.
Two of them sitting in front of computers and Mike standing drinking a Coke he just got out of the refrigerator.
Mike introduced me to both men. They turned to look at me then turned back around facing their computers never saying a word.
I felt uncomfortable.
“Vernon I’m waiting on another trainee you’ll be partnering with. Here he comes now,” Mike said pointing to the door behind me.
His name was Jeff and we bonded from the start.
We did every thing together, ate lunch, traced piping systems down and questioned each other on what we were learning.
We were each other’s accountability partners. You could not find one without the other. Jeff was my first white friend.
This friendship would go on for months until one afternoon I walked into the control room and Jeff was sitting at the computers with those other two operators.
The ones who can’t speak.
I asked Jeff was he ready to go out in the boiler room and trace the feed water lines down. He smiled at the other two operators and pointed to the wall.
On the east wall in the control room hung all the operator’s licenses. There hung Jeff’s also.
He had taking his state test and passed. Now he felt there was no more need to train with me or no more need to speak.
I’m on my own.
I was always told no matter how much they smile in your face, or call you buddy you must never forget…that they are white.
I never wanted to believed that because I knew God didn’t look at color.