John L. Prince ’13 knocks twice, loudly. No response. He knocks again and this time a girl cracks open the door and peers into the hallway. She notices the broom and Swiffer-imitation mop in Prince’s hand and lets him in. He greets the three girls lounging in the common room, and enters the bathroom to start cleaning.
“It’s the beginning of the term, so the bathrooms aren’t too bad,” he says, as he dons a pair of blue nitrile gloves and starts sweeping the floor.
“I know a lot of people think girls are going to be cleaner, but that’s not always true. Girls just have more stuff—makeup in the sink or boxes lying on the floor. Girls have a lot of stuff, where guys will have, like, a toothbrush. Girls shed a lot of hair, and sometimes you can just pull it out of the sink.” He makes a movement like he’s lifting a small mammal by the scruff of the neck. “We call that a squirrel, because you know—it’s big and hairy.”
It’s surprising how much debris the broom’s bristles tease out from the corners and edges of the room.
“When I was a freshman doing Fall Clean-Up, one of the captains told me about someone who had a pet rabbit or something, and then just kept all of its waste in a drawer and just left it in there. I haven’t found anything that bad. It helps to remind people to clean their rooms at the end of the year. We’re not your trash removal service.”
Prince brushes the dirt into a dustpan and flushes it down the toilet. He pulls out a 7-Eleven Big Gulp cup from the caddy that holds the cleaning supplies and fills it with water from the shower.
“These are all disappearing now, since 7-Eleven stopped selling them. They’re getting old and cracked. I don’t know what we’re going to do when they’re all gone.”
He starts scrubbing the shower walls with the rough side of a sponge.
“During my freshman Spring Clean-Up, there was this girl who was in, like, fruit club.” He stresses the name like a foreign language. “And she had giant boxes of fruit delivered to her room. And she never threw them away. I don’t think they used their common room as a common space. It was kind of like their storage room. So they left all their stuff when they left—lots of cardboard, the rotting fruit. We were bummed out because a lot of it was Ramen noodles, and we were like ‘oh that’s good!’ but then we looked and the expiration date was two years ago. They’ve probably had it in storage for like three years now. Other than that, I haven’t really seen too much abnormal. Nothing too rough.”
He turns the shower on for a while to rinse off the walls and then scoops up a small clump of light brown hair from the corner, which he throws out without comment.
“I like to do the shower and the toilet first, because they require all the up-and-down movement. I like to get that stuff out of the way. I save the sink for the end, because you’re standing up and it’s easier.”
He sprays cleaner on the toilet seat and starts wiping it down.
“Some people are kind of turned off by the idea of cleaning bathrooms. But I just treat it like a job. There are bathrooms that need to be cleaned, and someone’s got to do it.”
Prince is wearing a baseball cap backwards and little beads of perspiration become visible in the gap above the adjustable strap. He’s now wiping down the sink.
“There’s the issue of where people feel odd if they know you. Some people think it’s awkward, but I haven’t really felt that. Maybe it’s ’cause I live here, but I actually enjoy cleaning people’s rooms that I know. It’s less stressful because they’re probably not going to complain—not that I mess up.”
Prince finishes wiping down the sink and puts his supplies back into the caddy.
“I’m not gonna put a Post-It; they know I was here.”
The girls are still sitting in the same places when we leave. They murmur a thank you and a goodbye.
When asked about Dorm Crew lingo, he replies with a straight face, “We have some [words] that are captains-only, so I can’t show you those.”
He muses for a while and then adds, “I guess one is all the stuff we find and can’t put it in the trash, like lighter fluid or wet paint. All the things you shouldn’t have here, but people do. So that’s called zazz. I don’t know why that’s called zazz.”
Prince uses a key to open the supply closet in the basement of Eliot.
“I was once doing fire door inspections in Lowell, and the guy just gave me a key that opens everything. I was like—oh, that’s scary. Yeah, don’t lose that.”
Inside the supply closet, there are shelves that hold various cleaning supplies, towels, mop heads, sponges. The sponges are stacked like the bottom row of a house of cards. Prince explains, “That’s what we call TP-ing. It helps them dry a little faster.”
Prince starts putting away his supplies. “There was this one time I came in here, wanting to tidy it up real quick. And everything is moved away and stuff is missing. And I’m like, what happened? I’m freaking out, I thought someone came in with a key and stole stuff. And I talked to this custodian who was like ‘Oh, we thought we could help you out and rearrange it for you.’ I was like ‘Thank you.’” It is the first time a note of sarcasm creeps into Prince’s voice.
The top shelf holds mysterious bottles of chemicals—cleaning fluids, I soon find out—with names like “Oxivir.”
“We’ve changed the cleaners. New brands of glass cleaner, shower cleaner, toilet cleaner. We have a different kind for swine flu. What we used before was good for the environment, and then we switched to a thing for swine flu, which is really intense but not good for the environment.”
Prince finishes replacing his supplies, and gestures at a nearby container.
“What we use now is completely different from what I used freshman year, which is kind of funny. I feel like I’ve been here forever.”