My first Minneapolis slacker job


Me: “So, harrumph, welI, I don’t believe that young people today have the luxury of living idly. Why it might have been fine 30 years ago to “find yourself” so to speak and try different jobs and lifestyles so forth, but in the 21 century economy a candidate for employment must ….”

My kid: “Dad! Nobody wants to hear you lecturing on the good old days! Tell me what kind of jobs you had when you say you were a cool slacker guy. How’d you pay the rent anyway? Write about that!” 

Point taken. Ok, so those who are as I was at age 19, without many resources, use what you got. An older sibling got me my first job in Minneapolis, parking garage custodian at the Curtis Hotel. The Curtis, a huge old downtown hotel, started a recurring slacker work theme for me: working in hotels. Strange building the Curtis, with an original 1903 central lobby, rooms and banquet hall with two later enormous wings and a 50’s style motel tacked on for good measure.

I started in the parking garage because some manager was being nice because of my sister who was a bartender in the Palm Room Bar. A parking garage custodian wasn’t really needed, it was a make work thing. For my two-week tenure I worked four or five-hour shifts in the garage emptying trash and pedestal ashtrays next to the elevators.  You don’t really see standing ashtrays anymore. I was supposed to learn to drive a Zamboni looking sweeper that vacuumed up dust and gravel from the auto area. That unfortunately never happened. Mostly I hid out in the parking garage office, a bare room except for a desk and a phone. I brought books to read but I was so bored that I took to repeatedly calling information on the desk phone to see what time it was and how soon I could get the hell out. I suppose I didn’t have a watch.

Later the head custodian asked me about the dozens of calls to information. I guess the hotel got charged for each call and some auditor was puzzled by the itemized list of calls placed ten minutes apart. I denied all knowledge. No matter. Somehow I was promoted to a somewhat better gig, all night custodian, 10 pm to 6 am in the hotel itself.

My coworker was a grizzled old Northeast Minneapolis guy who had worked at the Curtis for like 50 years. His name was Maki, just Maki no more no less. Maki was a wiry, strong gnome of an old fellow a bit swallowed up by his too large uniform. His nametag said “Maki”. I’ve since run into a few other Makis and used the name in my writing. Maki chain smoked filterless Camels and always offered me one, which I always accepted. 

Maki, who got off at 1 am, and I swept out the hotel diner, emptied trash, wiped down tables and booths, cleaned windows and did other janitor stuff around the hotel. He taught me to get our work done fast so we could chill and hang out at the diner counter smoking Camels. We’d stop by the elegant Palm Room and say hi to my sister and the gorgeous cocktail waitresses in their low cut gown uniforms.  The hotel also had an urban cowboy themed nightclub in the basement. I think the sign for the club was written in a lariat style cursive font. Yeah, before alt country become hipster fashionable, country music was happening in downtown Minneapolis. When an urban cowpoke threw up and the bathroom needed cleaning noble Maki went to take care of it. I avoided the place at all costs.

Weaseling out of work was mostly what I did at the Curtis. After Maki left and the clubs and bar closed, myself, two Mexican cleaners and a couple of all night maids had the run of the place. We’d shamelessly raid the diner kitchen, making big Dagwood sandwiches and milk shake smoothies with raw eggs tossed in. We found some back rooms to hang out in. This cute red hair night cleaner girl and one of the Mexican guys had a thing going. At 4 am we’d be hanging out in a cleaning supplies storeroom, practicing Spanish, the two of them flirting, all of us smoking cigs.

We had to hide from Rico the security guard. Rico was a tall Puerto Rican dude with a rent a cop uniform, potbelly and a slick Little Richard hairdo. My sister told me that he was a cross dresser who wore panties under his uniform. Rico tried to catch us goofing off and I remember us catching him creeping us outside the cleaning storeroom door. He didn’t say anything to us but no doubt he was filing reports on the lazy night workers.

At 5:30 am or so I’d roll out the big walk behind vacuum and actually fulfill one of my duties: sweeping the grand carpet in the grand hall off the lobby. The head engineer a craggy, scary guy who ran the place like a king, once yanked the cord of the big vacuum out of the outlet and reamed me for not wearing a uniform. I wasn’t there long enough to get a uniform. Towards the end Maki had a talk with me along the lines of “I know ya’ can work if ya’ want to. Doncha want ta?” One of the Mexican guys stole my leather jacket. 

I apologize to Maki for being totally worthless. For him the Curtis was a decent job, union wages with benefits and vacation. Also to my sister who probably had to endure questions like: “What’s the deal with your worthless kid brother?”

A few years later I ran into the cute red haired cleaning girl. One of my slacker roommates was dating a deaf girl and the red haired girl was dating one of her also deaf friends. They came to a party at our apartment and we had a good laugh about the Curtis. I’ve always liked that Minneapolis is a big city small enough that you’re always running into people you know.  

The Curtis did pay off because I met someone who advised me to check over across the street at the Leamington Hotel. That’s what I did and I soon moved up to a somewhat better gig in the world of slacker guy hotel jobs.