Seth brown janitor image

The columnist writes that janitors and cleaners are wrongly looked down on by some sections of society. He even argues that “I wouldn’t blame a janitor for not wanting to associate with us! He could be at home telling his family, ‘Be sure you study hard, or you’ll end up in customer service.’”

The question I often ask myself is “Quis custodiet ipsos custardes?” This is Latin for “Who is guarding my flan?” I really like flan, and I’d hate for anyone to steal mine. Some people may consider this juvenile, but they don’t consider it Juvenal, who wrote the better-known question “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” — oft translated as “Who watches the watchmen?”

I certainly watched the Watchmen, because I am a sucker for comics-based TV and movies. But as an amateur etymologist, it’s interesting to note that the Latin custodes has come to English as custodian, a word that occasionally means “caretaker” but is often used as a synonym for “janitor.” I suppose it makes very little sense to ask: “Who Janets the Janitors?” although perhaps the question: “Who takes care of the caretakers?” is more worth asking.

Janitors are in that strange classification of jobs which are essential for a functioning society and yet are accorded very little respect. Over the course of the pandemic, we learned that grocery store clerks and restaurant workers also fall into this category, but even they are generally given more respect than the humble janitor. Cleaning is one of those tasks that society has apparently decided cannot be accorded both money and appreciation at the same time. And thus janitors do their jobs for money and no appreciation, while mothers do their job for appreciationand no money. (Appreciation not available at all locations; see your local listing for details.)

But while many young children are encouraged to become mothers, very few are encouraged to become janitors. Indeed, janitors and fast food workers are oft used as cautionary tales by parents who tell their children that they had better work hard in school so they can grow up to have a “good job” that is given some respect in our society, a category in which janitors and custodians generally do not fall. But someone having a job you don’t want is no reason to snub them. I’m friendlyto lots of people whose jobs I don’t want, from postal workers to doctors. (Friendly on the introvert scale, which consists of making eye contact and possibly nodding or smiling, not necessarily actually talking.)

I recall being friendly with the custodians while I was in school, as well as the janitor at the dotcom I worked at for a few years after college. I had the late shift and would be working at the end of the day when he came in to clean, and we would chat. Even shared a few books with each other. One evening he mentioned to me that some of the other people at the office refused to acknowledge him, which he found irksome. And why shouldn’t he? Here he was, doing a necessary service for which he had been hired, and he was receiving little respect for it. And it’s not even as if the rest of the office were elite master-level programmers; we were primarily a customer service operation, which is yet another job that seems to be always required and never appreciated.

But perhaps that’s just it. Perhaps President Obama could fist-bump a White House janitor because he has nothing to lose by being friendly, while it’s the people who are insecure in their own position who avoid associating with others who might be seen as lower status. Although I’m not sure that janitors are any lower on the status ladder than customer service representatives. Frankly, given that janitors merely have to clean up, while customer service staffers are often angrily yelled at on a daily basis, I wouldn’t blame a janitor for not wanting to associate with us! He could be at home telling his family, “Be sure you study hard, or you’ll end up in customer service.”

Or maybe status becomes less relevant because all humans seem pretty much the same when you have to clean up their dust. Heck, we’re all dust that’s just temporarily in human form, so viewing other people as somehow lesser just means you’re fooling yourself. Which I guess answers the question, “Who cons the condescenders?”

Seth Brown is an award-winning humor writer, the author of “From God To Verse”, and is melting, what a world, what a world. His website is RisingPun.com.