Dad was a great provider, but putting five kids through college on a blue collar salary meant we all had to scramble for beer cash when school was in session.
I had several jobs, and the one I hated the most was student union rathskeller mop boy. At least I hated it for awhile…
Here’s the story.
Winter in Oneonta, in 1973, was brutal at 430 am, always so cold as I trudged across campus toward the brand new Hunt Student Union. Leaving a warm bed with a snuggle partner made it much worse.
Upon arrival, I check in with my mop buddy, Ethiopian student Yirgu. Yirgu was a delightful, funny guy, but I was not looking for laughs before daybreak.
We step out into the rathskeller, and observed the bomb scene. The floor was littered with thousands of beer cups, paper plates, and occasional undergarment items. The floor was also incredibly sticky, everywhere.
In the corner was a jukebox, still lit up, ready to rock and roll. This will become important.
Yirgu and I pick up the cups, the undergarments, the paper plates, and eventually get to mopping. As the sound of the dual swishing mopheads echoed off the walls, I counted the seconds till this miserable job was completed.
After three weeks, in mid mop, Yirgu points to the juke box and says, ‘Play mu zeek, play mu zeek’. So I drop a quarter into the slot (Yirgu never had a quarter) and check the selections…and I punched the selection for ‘The World is a Ghetto’ by the group War.
Immediately, Yirgu and I adjust our mop cadence to the music, and pick up our schloshing to the beat, as the sun peeks over the lake viewed through the east hall window. After the song finishes, Yirgu and I look at each other and break into gigantic smiles.
‘Again..Again!’, screams Yirgu. Pop in another quarter, and do it again. This time Yirgu and I criscross our soap slop, forward and reverse, an act worthy of Dancing with the Moppers.
Went from hating work to loving it within a few moments time. Left work with a bounce in our step, and could not wait to return the following week.
For the next several weeks, we repeated the mop dance to War’s hit…until one week, the song was no longer on the jukebox.
Panic stricken, I tried other songs. None of them did the trick. We couldn’t regain the lunatic magic.
Not all stories have a happy ending, and I guess that was the case here. We finished out the semester as gloomy as when we started.
But for a period of time, unexplainable magic happened between a New York state kid and a young brown man from a very far away place.
Wondering if Yirgu remembers that time.
Hope he does.