I meant to pay the ticket on time, but when both extensions I’d requested were granted, so much time had passed I marginalized its importance. When I finally faced the music, the Traffic Commissioner was happy to suspend my hefty fine in exchange for 50 hours of community service at a local Goodwill Donation Center. Welcome to #4 in a series…(Here’s parts 1, 2, and 3)
March/April 2014 – Goodwill Donation Center, Friday.
It’s one thing to work alongside Goodwill’s physically challenged employees and see the nonprofit’s bighearted claims of helping the disabled play out before you. It’s quite another thing to use a toilet after them.
Disabled persons selected to work at this particular Goodwill are essentially removed from the non-disabled. To use the employee break room, for example, they have to pass through the “regular” employees’ work areas, but not the other way around –because they’re stuck in a corner. They’re not banished in any way, but they do work in a rather lonesome neighborhood of the building.
I’d rather not exaggerate things by adding that their primary function –sorting donated clothes– is the most repellent of Goodwill tasks, but it’s true. It doesn’t help that the neighborhood in question is surrounded by a wall of six-foot roller-bins, clothing racks, and giant piles of donated garments. Benjamin Netanyahu would be jealous.
Donated Clothing Fun Fact: even by the time garments reach the floor, soiled handkerchiefs and, er, other items, can often be found in pockets. It’s dicey, sure, but my guess is everyone goes through a checking-pockets phase regardless. You can’t watch how nonchalantly bags of expensive clothing are thrown from luxury cars by people who decline receipts without letting your curiosity get the best of you.
Moving on. The bank of employee lockers isn’t in the disabled neighborhood; the time clock’s on “our side” too. BTW, the terms “they,” “neighborhood” and “our side” are not reflective of a personal position, nor should they imply any official boundary: just what is depressingly conveyed. But hey, this is work. It’s a bore. Nobody’s standing over anyone with a megaphone and a whip, right?
“Wrangler,” however, does rather accurately describe the disabled employees’ supervisor. She keeps them contained. No one’s mistreated, mind you, just kept on task. Sometimes our staffers can get chatty, and a couple of ’em mutter to –and then answer– themselves. One of my fellow court-referred community service workers said he didn’t like one of his disabled colleagues because of that, so no doubt the Wrangler is there to protect them from assholes, too. If someone takes too long or too wide a stroll, she goes and gets him or her. Usually they don’t go further than down the ramp, through the double doors, and into the store itself, but the Wrangler’s presence is crucial because the parking lot is psychotic. Many of my co-workers would stand little chance against this area’s entitled, medicated divorcees.
But you’re probably wondering when I’ll get to the part about the toilet, right?
Okay. Despite these precautions, tedious chores, and a barrier or two, the disabled workers I’ve seen seem happy with their treatment here. And I’m happy to see that Goodwill doesn’t have ‘em making waterboarding hoses for the CIA. So it was with a genuine but obliging smile that I held the solo restroom door open for a disabled co-worker at the beginning of my shift.
On his way out and my way in, we excused ourselves with an awkward laugh. Some of the disabled workers at this location are less “abled” than others, and when two very different levels of physical acuity collide it can be humbling. But there’s understanding and humor too, and this particular person enjoys raising a hand for a high-five, so high-five we did.
Smile still on my face, in I walked. I locked the door, turned around, and whispered “Fuck.”
It looked like some hammered Coachella wreckage had tried to write his name. Toilet paper that appeared as though it was spun off the roll for amusement littered the area where one’s feet would be placed if sitting. It both surrounded and filled the toilet bowl. The seat itself –one hinge broken– created an off-kilter picture frame for the whole drippy mess.
The store’s entrance had only been unlocked five minutes prior. We’d been the restroom’s first occupants, I was sure, but in the millisecond that my brain processed disgust and fault, fairness also factored in. This particular restroom is for men and women, and it’s open to all customers. We all know about the busted seat-hinge. Maybe High-Five had only gone in to check in the mirror – ?
True, the sink and floor at the faucet were still dry and showing evidence of the nighttime janitorial team’s work, but I have to look at this from all angles. It’s not right to simply jump up and blame the one person most likely to say, “What earthquake?” once the shaking stops.
But goddamn! Maybe it was Blindfold Day at the Goodwill and no one told me. Oh sure, I’m presumably an experienced former felon, so I realize I shouldn’t be fussy. In truth, though, these days I’m about as hard as a day-old banana. A crapper resembling a really sad Pixar character is as close as I get to prison flashbacks. But I’ve seen prison assault victims treated with more respect than that toilet.
As a general rule, I try not to walk out my front door without sitting on my own personal throne. When necessary, though, I’m not above squaring off with a unfamiliar butt hairs. So I looked up at the ceiling, sighed, and got busy cleaning. (What, you think holding your breath and squatting is enough?)
When I run into High-Five again, I’ll be even less likely to do what the disabled hate most: put their physical limitations before their identity. I will, however, regard that kind smile with a little suspicion for what I’d like to believe was a good laugh at my expense.