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The Wellness Cricket

The Meaning of Cleaning: A Coffee Date with Scott Fair

by Kate Lundquist, guest columnist, the Wellness Cricket

One of the most extraordinary people at Warren Wilson College is a janitor. The stigmas in our culture run rampant around the jobs we hold and the money we make. Someone cleaning your toilet does not have the same prestige in our society as say, perhaps, a doctor. Scott Fair, however, is teaching our community a lesson in honoring the divine in the mundane, mixing pleasure with the unpleasant, and learning acceptance in what most students consider to be an unacceptable job when paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend college.

Scott Fair’s motorcycle is parked beside the coffee shop. After ordering a coffee with cream and sugar, and a cheese danish to top it off, he buys my coffee and we sit outside to chat. He exudes happiness and contentment –– and he cleans freshman dorms? Moving to Asheville after receiving his undergraduate degree in art at the University of Maryland was a challenge. “I studied sculpture in school. I wanted to see if I moved to the middle of the woods in North Carolina would I still make art because then you see if you make it because you really want to. It was the height of the back to the land movement.” He ended up focusing more on installation art; his greatest achievement with sculpture was an installation piece in Spirit Square in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, art was not paying the bills.

After a few sips of his coffee he looks at me with kind, blue-green eyes. He is wearing a plaid Kangol hat, motorcycle boots, and a Warren Wilson College zip up sweatshirt. “I built houses,” he says. “But my body was starting to wear down. I needed a grownup job that would not wear and tear on my body.” In 2004 he got the job at Heavy Duty. He had his reservations. “I was skilled carpenter, and I would be cleaning up after people? It was a low life job. It wasn’t until I started working at the college that I began to collapse it down to what I was actually doing. I was cleaning this white porcelain thing. That’s all. It was all ok.”

Now, most of us would say that is one way of looking at it. Another way is to see a dirty bowl that you poop and pee (and in the college situation, throw up into). I worked on heavy duty my first semester and it was not an easy adjustment. I was from an affluent section in Boston. I never thought I would be cleaning toilets at college. I was not pleased that I was scrubbing showers instead of planting vegetables in the morning. What made it tolerable, and even enjoyable? People like Fair. And the people who worked with me. But it was Fair’s leadership that helped us to see where our judgments and preconceptions lie.

“Have you ever seen the movie Gandhi?” he says. “Gandhi’s wife is upset that she has to clean the outhouse. Gandhi responds, ‘If not you, then who?’” This is Fair’s mantra. Why do some people think they are better than others, and that the one who cleans is less honorable than the one who sits at a desk answering emails?

“I had to make an adjustment. I was leading the heavy duty crew. I did not want to be a drill sergeant. If you do that the crew will see it is not who you are and see through it. Then you lose them. I wanted to do something for my crew. I wanted to teach them that this is an honorable and important job. Some people will judge you up one side and down the other. You need to walk around with your head up.” The heavy duty crew, including Fair and the three other bosses, are some of the least appreciated people–– and they are the ones who set the chairs up for guest speakers, help our campus look beautiful, and keep us healthy.

I remember Fair asking everyone to tell a story before the work shift began. “Having a happy crew is the most important thing to me. The tradition of storytelling is alive in my crew. We are all natural storytellers, and we all have something to say. Life isn’t one big happy thing. Every person has a voice, and we bond together. We go out to work happy and we are proud of what we do.”

It is easy to feel disheartened when you tell people your job is to clean toilets and they give you the ‘Oh, I’m so sorry’ stare. Scott shows us that there is prestige in every job, and that someone has to do it. Why not you?

“Do you still do art anymore?” I ask as I take the last few sips of my coffee, and smile at the story he has told me. “At this point it is easier to hop on my motorcycle. It is a rolling meditation. You have to do it right, pay attention. It is cleansing. It’s gettin’ clean.”


One Response to “The Meaning of Cleaning: A Coffee Date with Scott Fair”

  1. Scott Fair is one of the coolest most down to earth faculty members at Warren Wilson who seriously appreciates his team. He holds a sort of honor system, where maybe one day you aren’t feeling so well or you’re really struggling on finals and he’ll let you slack off or get out early that day.. but you want to make it up to him the next time at work because you don’t want to disappoint the guy. I was so shocked when I found out I’d be a janitor instead of one of the more glamorous positions as Wilson, especially because of the experience I was bringing to the table… but I was quickly humbled and taught all of the lessons mentioned in this article. I think everyone should have to work in jobs like this right off the bat to appreciate true hard work.

    Posted by Kaley | December 9, 2013, 9:32 pm

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