“All this has happened before, and all this will happen again,” I think, spraying the mirror before me with a liberal dose of Enzysan, wiping it down with the green—sorry, blue—cloth, already damp from the shower fixtures. “And again,” I remind myself as I move on to the sink, switching to the green—definitely supposed to be green—microfiber that gives a final sheen to the porcelain, scooping up any hair or toothpaste particles that might have evaded the sponge on the first pass. “And again,” I chant, the yellow cloth now in hand, going over each curve and crevice of the toilet. “And again.” I write my initials on the sticky note—J. P. F. a semi-legible scribble at best. “Questions? Compliments? Complaints?” I leave the note on the sink, where it will likely linger for the next two weeks until I or someone else replaces it with another. Two bathrooms behind me, two more to go.
I repeat this ritual week in and week out, as I have for the past three-and-a-half years since I started working for Dorm Crew as a freshman at Fall Clean-Up. Some things change—the number of bathrooms I choose to clean (usually four), the chemicals I use (farewell, noble Oxivir), my exact title (you may address me as House Captain)—but most things, the important things, stay the same. I can count on there being three things: a toilet, a sink, and a shower. I always clean them the same way, using the same techniques taught to me as a freshman that I now pass on to new freshmen. Start from the outside and work your way in, scrub with vigor, don’t be afraid to spray, and watch out when you’re turning on the bath (you can never tell when you’ll be showered from up above). While some differences may arise, the underlying core of cleaning a bathroom remains untouched, steadfast, a dogma I can always fall back upon when confronted by a particularly disheartening toilet.
In some ways, that dogma gives me comfort. It provides me direction where I might otherwise stand listlessly, broom pushing a pile of toilet paper scraps across the floor, back and forth forever. But like any ritual, it loses some of the meaning you once thought it held after you perform it a few hundred times. Dorm Crew’s unofficial slogan is “Fight Entropy!” but now only a faded and water stained piece of paper displays that phrase, threatening to fall off the door someone stuck it to so long ago. I go to the bathrooms week in and week out, but nothing ever changes. However beautiful the sink was when I last left it, it returns to crumbling decadence, the porcelain gleam covered by mounds of soap residue and dried saliva. And don’t get me started on the toilet.
Over time, I start to wonder: why bother to spray Enzysan on the shower curtain? Does it really do anything to fight mold? I’ve never seen it do anything, never verified the results. How can I really tell? But I do it, like I do so many other things, because people told me to and because I trusted them. And slowly but surely, the amount of chemicals in my spray bottle decreases, the sponges wear out, even the bristles on my grout brush blunt as gunk surrounds and stifles them. I order new ones and refill the bottles, but even this is only a temporary solution. Soon I will have to order even more, repeat the same steps, over and over, again and again, until I myself am replaced by the same freshmen that I trained to follow after me.
I know this, and I still work, week in and week out, bathroom after bathroom. I clean not because I expect to discover any profound revelations—after all, this job is literally full of shit—but because it pays well. I need to finance myself somehow, after all.
Of course, other jobs exist out there. Perhaps even better paying ones that I could seek out. Yet something draws me back to the bathrooms. Maybe it’s the opportunity to get a rare glimpse into the lives of other people, the vast majority of whom I will never have more than a fleeting conversation with in the dining hall. A bathroom reveals something about the people who live in it: the products they use, the party they had last night, how comfortable they are living in absolute filth. While I know that in a week all my hard work will be erased, leaving that sticky note on the sink reminds me of the importance of the small things, that even insignificant actions can make a difference in our daily routine, that I affect the people around me in so many tiny and hidden ways. So even if I don’t quite understand every aspect of the ritual, even if I’m not convinced that Enzysan fights mold, I spray the shower curtain.