Q: What made you decide to get a job as a janitor?
Aaron Bostian: I had left my job as a shipping clerk and was sick of getting up early in the morning, so I opened the newspaper to “J” and started looking. When I applied, they told me “If you can speak English, lift five pounds, and pass a drug test, you’re hired.”
Q: How long have you been doing this?
Bostian: About five years.
Q: Tell me about your first assignment.
Bostian: They sent me to a metalworking shop. The sinks were covered in grease and the vacuum had a big magnet on the front to pick the metal shavings off the floor.
The first vacuum I worked with, I called it Maud. She was a good vacuum. You know, life is like vacuuming — you’re going along and everything is fine, when suddenly it shuts off and you realize you’ve run out of cord.
Q: So what did you do after the metalworking shop?
Bostian: I worked at this school for naturopathic medicine. It’s this old brick building in southwest Portland. The original building was built in 1905, and they’ve made a bunch of additions to it since then.
Q: Did you tell me once that you thought it was haunted?
Bostian: Well, there was a time when it was windy outside, and I swore it sounded like children screaming in the distance.
Q: Are you making this up?
Bostian: No, A lot of weird things happen to you at two a.m.
Q: So what else about that place was creepy?
Bostian: Well, I would be cleaning the hallway and the elevator would suddenly come open, even though there was no one inside. I would just turn up my Walkman. I usually listened to books on tape to pass the time. I listened to “War and Peace” in about a month. It was fifty cassette tapes.
Q: So did you just clean the classrooms and bathrooms at the school?
Bostian: No, the worst part was cleaning the dissection lab. I would try to wait until the sun came up to clean that room. It was not something you wanted to do in the dark.
At first, there was a pile of bodies on the floor. They were wrapped in plastic and they were there for about a month. This was spring semester, and it was warm.
Q: Did it smell?
Bostian: It smelled like chemicals, but the bodies were wrapped pretty tight.
Q: So did they ever get them off the floor to start dissecting them?
Bostian: They ordered steel tables that took about six weeks to come in. Then, when the tables got there, they put the bodies on them. But when they moved the bodies, a big sticky mark was on the floor. I had to mop it, hard. I would mop for ten minutes, let it dry, and it would still be sticky. You couldn’t see it, it was just sticky. It wasn’t blood or fluid, just some kind of chemicals. It took two weeks to get it all off.
Q: What did the tables look like?
Bostian: They were stainless steel and they collected runoff on the side. There were hoses that led to pickle buckets underneath.
Q: Pickle buckets?
Bostian: You know, these plastic buckets for collecting the fluids. I used to work in a hotdog restaurant where we would get five-gallon plastic barrels of pickles. You know, pickle buckets.
Q: Were the bodies just lying on the tables then, or were they covered up?
Bostian: They were under a stainless-steel cover that sort of folded back to the sides. One night I came in early and there was a guy there, listening to the classic rock station and reaching into the abdomen and pulling stuff out of one of them.
Q: Did you ever peek at the bodies when no one was around?
Bostian: Sure, of course. You get curious.
Q: And what did they look like?
Bostian: They were usually whole people with their guts sort of showing. There was one that had no head — they had cut it off, to study the brain I guess. One had no arms. You know how dissection goes. They peel back the skin, peel away the tendons, peel maybe the chest back so the ribs are sticking out.
Q: Were there any other rooms at the school that you didn’t like cleaning?
Bostian: Yeah, there was one room where they had minor surgery classes. I think the professor would go to Safeway and buy about twenty-pounds of pigs’ feet for the students to practice stitching on. Then, when they were done, they would just throw the pigs’ feet in the trash. I worked Sunday through Thursday and the class was on Fridays. The room had big windows facing west, and it got a lot of sun and no ventilation. There weren’t any maggots or fleas or anything, but it didn’t smell the greatest. That was the first room I would clean when I got in on Sunday.
Q: When did you stop working at the college?
Bostian: When the contract expired, and the college was trying to make budget cuts.
Q: Were you disappointed?
Bostian: Yeah, in some ways. I could imagine working there for twenty years. But now I get to drive the van and deliver toilet paper. So it could be worse.
Q: Do you ever consider leaving this profession?
Bostian: I can sleep all day and get up when I want. Sure, the janitor job isn’t the greatest job in the world, but it’s quiet, you don’t have to deal with people, it’s less hectic than my previous job, and it’s better than working in fast food.