Turds Fall Within Pepe’s Bailiwick

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08/16/2009

Bronx State Psychiatric Hospital, 1500 Waters Place, Bronx, NY 10461

Neighborhood: Across the River, Bronx

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Someone pooped in the cabinet today. It wasn’t the first time the staff bathroom had been despoiled. It happened once before but I’d completely forgotten about it in the general whoosh of activity around the clinic. The bad part is we don’t know if it was a patient passing by or a staff person. That says a lot about my workplace. Whoever it was took a dump, wrapped two major league turds in toilet paper and deposited them in the cabinet under the bathroom sink. When the smell got bad enough, people began to comment and complain.

On any given day at this site something totally unexpected happens, the kind of incident no one I know ever describes while we discuss our day at work over coffee. My stories rather than create mere interest, usually stimulate coffee nose tricks. After every insanity--as the honcho, or resident honchette--it falls to me to handle it. The incident, not the turd, thanks god.

So I summon Pepe, the janitor, to extricate it. I dread this, but tell myself each time I need to call him that it goes with the turf. There are whole days when Pepe doesn’t nudge a dust ball. But when bad things happen they sometimes fall into Pepe’s bailiwick. Pepe brings things back to merely abnormal. Like the time that Mr. Malatesta brought in his pit bull who killed a cat in front of the clinic ramp. Pepe had to clean that up, too.

He was new then. That was before, on a rare peek into the clinic storeroom, I discovered one entire wall plastered with semi-nude photos of Madonna, ripped from a wide variety of popular magazines. That was the start of the event I later called “The Battle of the Madonna Pinups.”

With my discovery I had to request Pepe to take them down after explaining to him that the store room, where he changes clothes and sneaks smokes, is not his office, private or otherwise, and the discovery of his crotch trove by my boss or an unannounced state auditor would create tsunamic consequences for us both.

First he whined and cadged. When I finally said, “Pepe, please stop trying to manipulate me,” he replied, “I only manipulate the women I make love to.” Did he really say that? Yes.

“Pepe, you have no right to post pictures of bare breasts in there.”

“It’s my office,” he retorted.

“No it’s not. And it’s not your garage.”

“Other workers have pictures on their walls,” he sneered.

“They’re counselors. They see patients all day and they put up reproductions of restful scenes, and inspirational sayings, not semi-nudes.”

“These are my inspirations. They give me strength!”

“Stop now. Pepe. Just hear me, please. They have to go.” I could feel myself on the edge of an abyss.»

“I need them,” he added, “This is my shrine; I look at them every morning.” His voice had gotten louder and slightly mean.

“Skip the religion, please. There’s an empty locker in the hallway. Drag it in here and put them inside it if you need inspiration, but they can’t be visible whenever anyone opens the door to the storeroom. Finito.”

I started to walk back toward my office. He followed close behind.

“I have a constitutional right!” he shouted.

“Bull.” I was struggling with the door to my office. I wanted to yell, “Call a lawyer!”

Instead I said, “Pepe, I’m too angry to talk to you any more right now. We’ll talk again when I’ve cooled down. You better think about what I said in the meantime. It’s not an office, and this is a state-funded clinic and the constitution has zip to do with it. Put your pictures in the locker tomorrow and enjoy them in privacy. The end.”

“You don’t respect me.” He carped.

“Pepe, if I didn’t respect you I would have ripped them off the wall as soon as I saw them instead of speaking to you about them. I’d also write you up for insubordination for refusing to take them down. Instead you give me a hard time.” This was the first time I’ve ever raised my voice at a worker. I closed my office door behind me.

Pepe was still arguing with me when we locked the clinic and left with the Burns guards.

“Talk to Sgt. Diaz,” I told him, knowing they carpool and the Sarge would clue him in, “He won’t lie to you. Ask him if I’m being fair or if I’m asking you to do something out of line. Then tomorrow tell me what you decide.” I could tell he had already talked to the Sarge, who was nodding in agreement behind Pepe’s back.

This doody is three years later and now we get along, Pepe and I. I still don’t know if or when he’s conning me, doing a kind of Latino Stepin Fetchit, but when there’s a shit in a cabinet he knows who’s going to clean it up, even if we never learn who’s made the smelly statement.

You know, it might just be a staff person. Someone who wants to create commentary, controversy, disgust. One of the more demented ones.

My friends think they’re having a tough day when the printer gets jammed, or it takes an hour for the lunch delivery to arrive, or any one of a thousand office vagaries. I feel good when no one comes to the clinic carrying a bazooka. An anonymous poop doesn’t get me down.

 

Originally from southeastern Massachusetts, Marcelle Harrison lived on City Island for many years enjoying the quiet almost crime-free life in far northeastern Bronx.

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