Marcus Korg and Janitor Boy

By Devin Gilbert

           Not sure why he was in the room but knowing he’d been painting for hours, Marcus Korg glanced up from the trance he was in. Elbows in, hands chest-height and out to each side, they were covered in paint; he still had a brush in one hand. He looked down. Nothing but a lousy, hand-painted color wheel lay before him. He looked around and found the white, white room’s edge bordered by cheap easels. There was a row of windows towards one end of the room, but it was dark outside so he could only see the glare of the room’s own reflection. The smooth concrete floor looked like it belonged to a painting studio: it was covered in paint. His feet ached. How long had he been standing? He realized he had been holding his jaw at a weird angle; it hurt too. How long had that been going on?

            Marcus heard footsteps near the room’s only doorway. As he still mindlessly stared down at the color wheel, he caught the image of a teenage kid sweeping up the miscellaneous debris on the floor with a gym broom in his peripherals. He looked at him as he approached. Janitor? he thought; his thoughts were so sluggish. The kid had shoulder-length, dark, greasy hair. He had small silvery earrings in both lobes, a XXL T-shirt and dark jeans. He was also accompanied by an all too noticeable aura of B.O.  Marcus looked down at what he himself was wearing: a bright shirt that pronounced, “Kiss Me. I’m a Wildcat.” He suddenly felt embarrassed. Then he noticed the music that the kid was blasting from the headphones around his neck.

            The janitor kid remarked, “Does my music unnerve you? Some people don’t like it.”

           “No, it’s fine” Marcus found himself saying.

           “It’s techno. Most people think that techno started in the 80s, but it really started in the 60s.”

           “Really?” Marcus automatically and thoughtlessly replied.

           “Yeah of course!” said the janitor kid with an excited grin. It didn’t look like he was accustomed to having an audience. Marcus decided to start looking like he was cleaning up his painting supplies. “Yeah, of course Cybotron started in the 80s, but there were others before them.”

           “Uh-huh.” Marcus looked around for the paper towel he had been using to wipe the excess thinner off of his brush and saw that janitor boy was sweeping it off into a pile of other trash. Ah, whatever, he thought.

            “Yeah, before the members of Cybotron were even potty trained, there were live techno shows going down! Ha ha ha!” the kid excitedly guffawed. He ever so slightly reminded Marcus of a character from a movie he vaguely remembered seeing. He couldn’t remember the title, something about Gilbert eating grapes? His mind was so cloudy. The song changed, and the greasy-haired kid exclaimed “Ah yeah! Mr. Crowley! Did you know that Ozzy has three favorite songs?”

           “Nah, I didn’t.” replied Marcus, “Ozzy Osbourne?”

           “Yeah! Who else? So yeah, his favorite songs—he said this himself—well, two of them are “Crazy Train,” which is, ya know, a Black Sabbath song, and the other one is Mr. Crowley.”

           “Huh” mumbled Marcus as he swished his brush in a mason jar full of cloudy thinner, avoiding eye contact with the now wide eyes of the enthused nighttime janitor. He had stopped sweeping and was standing towards Marcus, profusely moving his arms and shaking or nodding his head as he talked.

            “Ozzy is so hard to understand now” the Janitor offered.

           “Cause of his thick accent, yeah.” Marcus dumbly replied. All that he knew about Ozzy Osbourne was from “Wayne’s World 2” anyways.

           “No.” said Janitor Boy, eyes wider than ever. “Well, yeah, his accent” the kid corrected, “but mostly because during the eighties he FRIED his brain doing so many drugs and everything.” The janitor said this last part while making the umpire sign for “safe” with both arms, shaking his head especially slowly and strongly, keeping his eyelids well apart.

           “Oh” said Marcus as he started towards a sink in the corner of the room.

           The eyes of Janitor Boy kept fixed on him as he continued, “Yeah, he fried his brain so hard! But even though you can’t understand him when he’s talking, he starts to sing and you can understand every word as clear as a bell!” This time a forefinger and thumb held together about head height, accompanied by vigorous nodding.

           “Oh yeah, when he sings, huh?” echoed Marcus as he rinsed his brushes under the stream of water from the faucet, applying liberal amounts of cheap foaming soap from a plastic dispenser. Man, the drain’s all clogged with who-knows-what he thought as he eyed the paint-muddy sink bottom and considered scratching at the drain with a fingernail.

           “Yeah! And you know why?” asked Janitor Boy with the widest eyes yet, his mouth hung in an expectant, inquisitive frown.

           “Well, uh, no. Why?” mustered Marcus as he scratched at the drain with a fingernail, wincing as it bent backwards, luckily not too much: no pain. Whew, that was close. Who cares if it’s clogged anyway?

           Kid Janitor continued, dead serious, as he tucked his dark, greasy locks behind his ears, “Cause he practices for a show for days, sometimes weeks, making sure that he can say every word. He’s dedicated man. He makes sure that he delivers for a show.” Marcus applied more foamy, odd-smelling soap to the brush he was working on.

            Suddenly switching moods with an excited grin, Janitor Boy inquired, “You know when Ozzy bit the head off of that bat?”

           “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of that” said Marcus just as he caught another whiff of Janitor Boy, convincing him the soap didn’t really smell that odd at all.

           “Did you know that it was supposed to be a mechanical bat?”

           “Uh, no. I didn’t.” said Marcus as he ripped a paper towel out of the dispenser above the sink.

           “Yeah. It was all part of the set, but it just so happened that that very night there was a lady at the concert, an’ she had a pet bat that she loved, an’ she brought it to the show. Well, it got away from her, an’ Ozzy grabbed it thinking it was the mechanical bat an’ didn’t realize that it was a real bat until after he bit its head off! Ha ha ha! Crazy huh?!” This kid was probably as amazed by this story as the first time he heard it, judging by how wide he maintained his eyes.

            Not knowing what was getting into him, Marcus felt like he wanted to talk to the kid. He just wanted to be nice to him. “Wow, I never heard that before. Ever.”

           “Yeah man, but Ozzy, because he’s such a good performer, cause he’s so good on stage, he just went on like nothing had happened! Ha ha!” the kid squealed, his face stamped with adulatory unbelief. “Of course, afterwards he apologized profusely to the lady whose bat it was. She loved that bat. But he paid her for it. He paid her how much the bat cost and more money so she could buy a new one. He even paid more money for emotional damages, cause, ya know, she loved that bat.”

           “No way” said Marcus as he squeezed the water out of his brushes with the paper towel.

           “Yeah, so crazy!” said wide-eyed wonder boy, shaking his head as he went back to his sweeping. Marcus, clean brushes in hand, walked back over to where he had been painting. His paint tubes were all over the ground. He gathered them and hurriedly stuffed them into a small teal-colored plastic sack. What did I eat for breakfast this morning? he thought. Psh, what did I even eat for lunch? I’m starving. He put the sack and his brushes into a clear plastic packet and zipped it shut, being careful not to catch the brushes’ bristles in the zipper. I can’t even remember what I did today, except paint.. Putting it all into a leather-bottomed backpack, he walked to the door just as Kid Janitor had finished sweeping.

           Expectantly, the kid asked, “Do you watch, well, I mean, have you ever watched CSI Miami?”

           “Yeah, sure” Marcus said. He had wasted as much time as anyone at one point or another.

           “You know the people in the background while they’re filming?”

           “Yeah..”

           “Those are just regular people. They film on location in Miami, an’ the people in the background are just regular people.” Wide-eyed, the janitor nodded while saying this, awaiting Marcus’s reaction.

           “You mean they’re not paid extras, they’re just people in Miami that happen to be walking by?”

           “Yeah man! And if they interact somehow with the actors, they just go along with it. They’ll keep it in the show a lot of times. In fact, if they end up using something that a person does on camera, they will go and find that person, and pay them money!” His mouth hung wide open in an unbelieving smile as he made breathy squeals of amazement, “Ha ha!”

           “Wow” said Marcus. He made no attempt to exit, leaning against the doorjamb.

           “Yeah,” affirmed Janitor Boy, “one time—I don’t know if you’ve seen this episode or not—a little kid walks up to where there’s a corpse on the street and says something like ‘well that’s not good.’ Ha ha!”

           “And the actors just go along with it?”

           “Yeah! The actress that’s playing one of the investigators just says ‘No it isn’t good, is it little boy? Now run along and find your mommy.’ But here’s the thing. Later, the actor that plays Horatio, ya know?”

           “Yeah I know”

           “Well, he walks around till he finds the little kid and his parents and hands ‘em a check for twenty-five hundred dollars! Out of his own pocket!”

           “Wow, twenty-five hundred dollars..”

           “Yeah!” beamed the kid, more excited than ever. “And that’s why the show does so bad. I mean, the actors are payin’ for stuff outta their own pockets. I saw the guy that plays Horatio, ya know?”

           “Yeah, I know who you’re talking about.”

           “Yeah, he was on a talk show, an’ he told that story. They were just so underfunded cause no one thought they were going to make it. So they were doing everything they did with a short budget an’ actors paying for stuff themselves! Ha ha! But after that, people just started sending them donations. Just sending them money! Ha ha!”

           “Really?”

           “Yeah. One time my cousin, she sent them five-hundred bucks just in an envelope-“

           “Five-hundred bucks?”

           “Yeah, and here’s the thing: they put her actual envelope in one of the episodes as evidence or something in one of the scenes…with the money still in it!”

           “What? Yeah right. Really?” Man I’m hungry, thought Marcus, I need to get home so I can eat.

           “Yeah, after they used it they emailed her saying, ‘how do you like the way we used your money?’ And they’ve used it in three different episodes now. They email her and tell her every time they’re going to use it. Ha ha ha!” Kid Janitor was beside himself by now. He was elated. Wide eyed, he went back to his sweeping, shaking his head as he grinned.

           Marcus muttered a shy “bye” and walked into a hallway styled similarly to the room he just came from. Again, he could still see nothing out of the windows, only his own reflection. He looked closer.. Man! I’ve got paint all over my face! He dropped his draw, stretching his face-skin a bit tighter so he could try and scratch the paint off with his finger.

           Then, it hit him like Easter morning hits huevos. “Paint! He shouted audibly. “Paint!” This is all wrong he thought. He unshouldered his pack and, unzipping it while kneeling on the floor, ripped the teal-blue sack out of his art packet. He frantically fumbled with the knot made with the plastic sack’s handles, thought screw it, and just tore a huge hole through the small bag. He dumped the paint tubes onto the floor, and began holding each one up to his eyes. Cadmium Red, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Umber, Azo Yellow, yeah yeah. Ultramarine Blue, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Wake Up, Titanium White, WAIT! Wake Up? Since when is “Wake Up” an oil paint? It dawned on him, and he vaguely remembered the pre-dream world.

           “None of this is real!!” he screamed. He looked around wildly, ran to the nearest wall, and jabbed his fingertips through it. It tore like paper; bright white light burst through the holes his digits had made. Breathing heavily, he started tearing the wall off in sheets. The greasy haired janitor ran from around the corner. “Are you all right man?” he asked.

           “Nothing’s real!” exclaimed Marcus.

           “Wha, what are you talking about man?” stammered Janitor Boy.

           Marcus ran over to where the bewildered teenager stood and socked him right in the face. The kid dropped to the floor, but showed no signs of pain at all. “See, nothing’s real! You’re not real!” Marcus shouted down to the kid as he stood over him, breathing so hard that his shoulders raised a couple of inches with each gasp. Janitor Boy merely kept looking up at Marcus, the same dumbstruck look on his face.

           Whipping around, Marcus sprinted towards the gaping hole he had made in the wall and dove through.