A tornado on his back, he blitzes the classroom, poking the vacuum's snakelike plastic nozzle at tiny bits of notebook paper under the desks. "Here I am again," he shouts over the din.
"Me too," I shout back.
I work late when my wife works; he works late every night. We repeat this drill twice a week or so. Some nights we talk football, others we just nod and smile.
If my wife decides to work less to concentrate on school, this might be one of our last hellos, I tell him. He shakes his head, weaving through the desks.
"I know all about that," he shouts, then stops the vacuum and plunks down on a desk. "I tried that thirty years ago. Pre-med and a full-time job. Then the kids started coming, and I had to decide."
His eyes are bigger behind his glasses, his close-cropped gray hair hidden beneath a backward baseball cap. He adjusts the cap and scratches his scalp from time to time, mostly when making a point.
A military man for twenty-three years. A father with three grown sons.
Now, by choice and circumstance, a night custodian. "It's a great profession," he says. "With all my combined pension checks I'll retire with the big boys. But I wish sometimes I hadna left... It was tough. I didn't do real good in math. Those big lecture halls... it would go in one ear and out the other. But in the lab, it was different."
He pauses, searching for the moral. "When I look back... I threw away three years."
"Ever thought about dabbling, taking a few classes at the community college, getting back into it?" I ask.
"My friends are all doin' that," he replies. "I don't know. I don't know if I have the mentality anymore--to study like that."
"There are times when I just want to say 'screw it.' I take a lot of shit. I never thought I'd be cleaning up after people."
Five minutes of straight talk: back to work. Hitching up the vacuum, he drags a chewed up extension cord behind him and hollers good-night.