G. scurries about with a slight lisp, and a habit of looking over your shoulder when he talks to you. He's the custodian at L. Elementary in Twin Falls, Idaho, and the subject of this entry.
His lips are thick and they droop, his back is scoliated and slightly hunched, he wears a walkie-talkie with an earbud and a microphone so tiny that it disappears in his awkwardly oversize fingers. He wears thick square glasses and he shuffles when he walks, which makes his awful quickness all the more surprising.
There are some schools where the evidence of a strong principal can be read from the walls, from the brisk pace and the clear enunciation of their lieutenants, the teachers and the custodians. A strong principal, like a strong President, will leave imprints of their egos on the color schemes, the neatness of the lines of kindergarteners, the awe mingled with fear you see in the eyes of children regarding any of their elders, like so many Latin-American trade secretaries clustered for a photo-op in the Rose Garden. But a strong principal does not necessarily a good school make. Just as a strong President will be a volcano of hubristic passion, so a strong principal can just as easily quash the lives of the children and educators whom Providence has seen fit to set the principal over.
Here at L. Elementary, we see perhaps the beginnings of why the strong principal arises in the first place. The current principal swims in torrents of aides and other educator-officials, the school is a concatenation of swelling classes and older architecture continually added to, improved upon and renovated over the course of decades. There are levels and passages, ramps and doors and interior walls that were very obviously once exterior walls. In such an environment, G. is like State Secretary George Marshall to the principal's Harry S. Truman.
Surprisingly, for all his physical details, children and staff take to G. like Israelites to Moses. He judges, he directs, he stage-manages, he parts. Even the principal watches his cues.
We pull into L. Elementary for an unprecedented three-show day, having performed in the morning for three-schools-in-one-show, and then two shows scheduled in the afternoon for L.'s kids. We're tired, crabby, hungry, things are broken and I haven't slept as much as I should've.
G. leads us into our space, which is crowded with kids eating things and spilling things and smelling funny, like they always do in their larval stage. Immediately I notice the nimbus of soft grace that covers G. like a robe, clothing him in quickness and competence. He arranges cafeteria tables around us. He marshals children around electrical cords and rolling stock. He turns water into wine. Instantly, my day is shorter, my hands are stronger, my feet are surer, my voice lifts like a balloon.
He has every key to every door, he knows the best parking spots, he can hold off legions of shrill children with the wave of his large, leathery hands. He laughs like a girl.
We've known many impressive custodians in our tour, some better even than G. And we've known worse. But I've never met a custodian who could so easily be one of my troll puppets, and still be so damn good at what he does. G., I salute you.