Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It's my job

For the last three years, my morning commute has taken me up Carrollton Avenue to the river. Those of you with a hobby of collecting hangovers will know that's where the bar and grill called Cooter Brown's is located.

For the last three years, almost every morning, I have seen a lone worker, cleaning up the mess that the all-night partiers invariably left behind.

And last week, after an absense of about two months brought no doubt by the intrusion of Katrina in our lives, he was back.

Wearing a black apron and white shrimping boots, the tall thin man uses a hose, a broom and a shovel to wash and sweep and scrape Cooter's back into shape. Regardless of the weather or holidays, he's been there every morning that I've been by there.

Can I tell you how excited I was to see him there? It sounds crazy, but it was like seeing the first flowers after a long hard winter. It was like seeing a ship emerge safely from the fog. I wanted him to know how happy it made me just to see him sweeping and hosing. I wanted to share this feeling with him.

So I pulled over and hopped out to meet this man.

Perhaps frightened, and certainly surprised, he shyly told me his name was Robert. I told him how glad I was to see him, a person I'd never met, a man I only knew as a touchstone of normalcy in these crazy times.

He smiled, showing a gold tooth. He said he'd been cleaning up Cooter Brown's for 16 years. I told him he was doing a great job, and thanked him for coming back to our wrecked town.

"It's my job," he said.

I wanted to ask him a dozen more questions, but he didn't seem comfortable talking to me. Perhaps Robert is naturally shy, a person who would prefer not being noticed and talked to. That might be why he took the late-night cleaning job in the first place, and why he did it so well.

Or, perhaps he just thought I was insane, stopping to shake the hand of a janitor in the early morning light.

So I didn't keep him. I wished him well, got back in my car and continued on my way.

And Robert went back to cleaning, just like he's always done.

Welcome back, Robert. Thanks again.

No comments: