The Janitor And His Decoy Kitchen

[With thanks to R.]

In the course of my interviews with janitors, a surprising number of them let slip that, in the buildings for which they were janitorially responsible, they maintained, in addition to the appointed kitchen, a second, decoy, kitchen. For what purpose might a janitor do such a thing? That is the question I asked of all the janitors I interviewed, whether they kept decoy kitchens or not, for I intuited that the replies of those who kept just the one, actual, kitchen would be as enlightening as those of the janitors who kept two, a real and a decoy.

Not for the first time, my intuition proved to be wrong. I would not easily forget, for example, how I was caught napping by the Tet Offensive. And just as I wholly misjudged, on an intuitive level, the course of the Vietnam War, so now with my interviews with janitors. When I posed the question about decoy kitchens to those janitors, the majority, who did not keep decoy kitchens, they looked at me as if I had taken leave of my senses. Their replies were not in the least enlightening. The general thread of their responses was to aver that the maintenance of even a single kitchen was not properly the province of a janitor at all, but ought in any sane and just universe be devolved upon a scullerymaid. As for the idea that a janitor might keep a decoy kitchen, that beggared belief. The most likely explanation, I was informed, was that those janitors who claimed to have decoy kitchens were pulling the wool over my eyes, playing a jape on me, engaging in waggery, or some such mischief.

It grieved me to think I might be the object of mockery or trickery by several janitors. After all, I had embarked upon my interviews with a good honest heart, I would go so far as to say a pure heart, such as one might find nestling within a pious Victorian infant slowly perishing from tuberculosis. I did not wish to believe that some among the janitors would give anything but candid and heartfelt answers to my questions. So I determined to reinterview a statistically sound sample of those among the janitors who claimed to keep additional kitchens as decoys. This would necessitate a revision of my schedule and put me in grave danger of missing my deadline. I comforted myself with the reminder that I had set the deadline myself, the entire project, to interview thousands of janitors, being wholly within my own remit, for the simple reason that not one among the many publishers I approached showed even a smidgen of interest in it. Quite the opposite, in fact. I could not count the number of times I was physically thrown out into the street while great imposing doors were slammed shut behind me. I bear no grudges and will not copy out the list of those publishers I have written in my own blood in a little black notebook with a skull and crossbones emblem emblazoned on its cover.

So I rejigged my schedule, adding a year or two to my time frame, and made appointments to visit, once again, some of the janitors who said that they had established, in their buildings, decoy kitchens in addition to the real kitchens. I devised a new and separate set of questions I wished to ask them. I did not give any of my subjects sight of this questionnaire in advance, as I thought the element of surprise would serve me well. Tied to a chair in a dark dank cellar, a Klieg light blazing in his face, even the steeliest and most self-possessed janitor in Christendom would quail and confess all when I put my queries to them in a blood-curdling screech. I practised this screech on a hamster or two, with chilling but satisfactory results.

It was my misfortune, however, that every single one of the janitors I arranged to reinterview sent me to decoy cellars in decoy buildings where I was met by decoy janitors. My project was in ruins. I intuited that the best idea was to slump in a gutter and let sweet rain fall upon my head. Alas, my intuition proved wrong, for the rain turned to hail, and then to snow, and I would have been buried beneath it had I not stood up, and dusted myself down, and pranced along the street, my head held high, my smile beatific, like that of a pious Victorian infant slowly perishing of tuberculosis who sees, dimly, through failing eyes, the ethereal glow of an angel of the Lord at his bedside, come to carry him to a better place.

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