Punk rocker, vegan and triple j Drive presenter Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall started his working career in the halls of his high school.
Back before spewing garbage on my radio show, or recording trashy guitar riffs in mildly unsuccessful pop-punk group Frenzal Rhomb, I was cleaning up everyone else’s rubbish. At high school.
No, I didn’t have detention. I wasn’t vying for a place in the teachers’ good books. I was getting paid for it.
When you’re at high school, the one thing you think most about is not being at school; being absolutely anywhere else. So why I decided, in sound mind and body, to extend my purgatory by two hours, three days a week, I’m really not sure.
Maybe stupidity, perhaps a subconscious pride in my school and its cleanliness. But more likely it was out of sheer laziness.
It was quite literally the closest employment opportunity I could find. So, at the end of the school day, as my friends and their backpacks climbed the bus stairs, I was picking up an oversized push-broom and sweeping their chip packets up for them.
It wasn’t a particularly hard job. Schools aren’t quite the cesspits of degradation we think they are. Mostly plastic wrappers, gum, apple cores and the occasional half eaten pie and sauce that I missed a few weeks ago, slowly coalescing into a furry little foul-smelling mystery pile.
It wasn’t a particularly well-paid job. It was a long time ago and I remember thinking $12.50 an hour seemed perfectly reasonable.
There was also possibility for advancement. Not to one day control my own school-aged gum-scrapers, but to more advanced machinery.
I still remember the day I was asked to put down my oversized broom and dusty garbage bin and follow my boss into a classroom. This was unexpected. My domain was the outdoors. The quadrangle, the outskirts of the oval, the places soiled by our lunchtime and after school shenanigans.
My boss was a short lady with curly hair, wearing (at least in my memory) a perpetually faded pink jumper, jeans and a spacesuit – not like Sandra Bullock, more like a cartoon astronaut with an oxygen tank hanging off her pink polyester back. That day, my boss took her breathing apparatus off (one of those cool vacuum cleaners you wear like a backpack, if you hadn’t already guessed) and handed it, suction nozzle first, to me.
I was unprepared for this rise in status. I thought back to a simpler time, pushing a broom around the playground, whistling idly, my brain floating off to what my friends-who-didn’t-work-at-their-own-high-school-as-cleaners were up to. This was the big time. I was on the inside now, well, the inside of the classroom. These heightened responsibilities had privileges too.
I was given a master key, so I could access the classrooms during the holidays, watering plants and feeding fish. I walked through the classrooms, swinging my key like a jail warden. I was drunk on power.
Sadly, I had to leave my employment after the holidays. I think I said it was the dust. “Allergies”, I lied. In truth I couldn’t be trusted, couldn’t trust myself with that sort of power. I finished my time at St. John Bosco High as a normal, everyday student, just like everyone else, never again to taste the sweet tang of a cleaner’s master key.
Having said that, my ABC pass does get me in to the 7:30 studios, so apologies in advance to Leigh Sales’ disappearing Christmas sherry.