“Sweep.” We never enjoyed sweeping. It wasn’t like that was the worst chore in the world but there’s something about it. You know it’s not the most important chore. Anyone can do it and it’s sometimes indicative of a lack of other things to do. And that’s exactly why Amos would say it to us. “Sweep.” You would have thought we would have wanted to sweep. The broom wasn’t just your average, house-hold, Wicked Witch broom. The warehouse broom was one of those wide rectangular, gray, always dirty but always room for more industrial brooms with a long handle. It never left the ground it just moved, advanced slowly forward like a perfectly organized army pushing the enemy back, leaving no trace of a scuffle behind. If it had any weakness it was that it was too large unable to get in every nook and cranny. Perhaps with sheer force you could try and drive and slam it into a corner to get that last bit of dust but usually something was left behind. That broom was patient. It new eventually any dustball would accumulate, growing larger and more vulnerable until one day it had no choice but to come and fight. It was perfect for lining up flush against the bottom of the metal shelves that lined the warehouse aisles. Those aisles were as long as football fields. Eight feet high on either side and then product on the top that would extend for a few more feet. It took years of learning that we don’t remember. Like learning a language we just eventually learned that Keith Clark calendars were in the first aisle closest to the doors that led into the office. Sanford Sharpies and Expresso markers were in the second to last aisle from the opposite wall. That was the aisle that stopped short like a street at a subway track that continued on the other side. But every aisle had the same concrete floor. The same perfect surface for that broom to slide steadily forward. The warehouse was so large in fact that within one aisle you could go from listening to smooth jazz to golden oldies and depending on which aisle you turned to return to the front you might be listening to R&B at the end of one lap.
Amos always listened to jazz. It was the first time I realized you could hook a radio up to an outlet that was controlled by a light switch. Every morning as soon as the light switch was flipped the sounds of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Herbie Hancock and various members of the Marsalis family would fill the warehouse. It wasn’t until Dwight or JC came in a little while later that the other radios would be turned on. For awhile our father had a white guy named Bob who worked there. Bob loved Country music and he was alone in that love. Some of the liveliest debates my brother and I ever heard consisted of why Country music was better or worse than R&B and hip hop. To us the words in both sounded similar. Just a different beat. People singing about love, their momma, their daddy, the woman, the “other” woman, their man, the “other” man, the “other” man’s woman and occasionally a tractor, pickup or prison.
During the summer the warehouse was infiltrated by a whole different influence. Teachers and nuns. Word spread at our grade school that there was good part time work to be had at my father’s warehouse and so one by one a whole handful of our teachers decided they would make an extra buck by pulling orders at Fountain Pen Supply. You might think this didn’t sit well with my brother and I but we were the second generation of kids from our family who were taught by Ms. Moonis, Ms. Daugherty, Sr. Anne and Sr. Joan. From the time we could walk we were seeing these ladies at the warehouse in the summer. Working side by side with Amos, Dwight, JC, Henry and for awhile Country Bob. By the time we were old enough to call Ms. Moonis our homeroom teacher we had already worked with her.
During those days we might be assigned any number of tasks and sweeping was just one of them, although we didn’t do it much. Some summer days we would come in and the order pile would be so high we just knew we’d never get to the end of it. I never realized back then what that pile signified. That high stack of papers was the thing that kept the lights on. It was the thing that kept us, and everyone else who worked there, fed. The orders were usually at least a page long if not several. We would dread the size of that pile. They would come out of this large printer that sat near Amos’ desk. The orders themselves came from inside the office. The sales department would input the orders and send them to the warehouse to be pulled. Then Amos would rip them from the printer, tear off the perforated fringes and place them on the pile. It was just a step in the process. Some summer days we would have 10 people in that warehouse pulling orders. We would bring them to the front where Dwight and JC would pack them up and place them on a palate to be shipped out. Every afternoon the outside door to the warehouse would open and the truck drivers would come in and say hey to Dwight, JC and Amos. We loved how animated they were with each other. Like they were seeing a friend they hadn’t seen in years when in reality it had just been 24hrs. They would discuss sports, music and especially women. The first scantily clad picture we ever saw was on the wall of the warehouse bathroom. Some big haired, large breasted tribute to fire fighting if memory serves.
We grew up there. We spent summer days there. Winter snow days playing on the shelves or in the box pile so our parents could be close by and not worry about leaving us at home. We would watch March Madness in that warehouse, everyone checking their brackets and trying to concentrate on work while some Thursday afternoon 15 seed upset a 2 seed.
For awhile the pile was large and we never had time to sweep until every so often we would come in and the pile was smaller and my father seemed more stressed. Then somedays we would come in and there wasn’t a pile. Just a piece of cardboard that would sit at the bottom of the stack and act as a placeholder.
Things were changing then and for better or worse and for whatever reason those days were over. It was those days that we would come in and ask Amos how we could help and he would just say, “Sweep.”
We helped our dad empty that warehouse after he sold everything; the stock, the shelves, the printer, the radios. We helped him sweep it one last time before he shut the lights off.
I’m often reminded of it. Every time I watch.”The Office” I’m reminded of it.
It’s funny I’m not sure how to end this. Guess it just felt like something nice to put out there.