WuToWu # 69: Whistle (or Sing) While You Work

Hi Jessica,

I’m a day late! I can’t say I have any excuse, other than the normal busyness and the fact that the Golden State Warriors were blown out in last night’s playoff game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thankfully, I don’t have a lot of schoolwork, at least until Summer School starts, so I look forward to your challenge with relish!

Thanks for giving me a second-person perspective on the CCS swim meet! Having never been an athlete of any sort in high school, it was really cool to get a sense of what it’s like to be at a big event. Congratulations to the Paly swimming team on winning CCS!

Last year around this time I was in Florida for the RUF Summer Conference, but this year I stayed in Cambridge to help Harvard Dorm Crew clean up the dorms in preparation for the arrival of alumni for commencement week. My freshman year, I worked Fall Clean Up as my freshman orientation program, so I thought I had a good idea of what to expect: lots of physical labor, cheap meals consisting of carbs and protein, and camaraderie brought about by spending a lot of time with people. My expectations were generally accurate. However, memory has an interesting tendency to solidify certain particulars and reject others, as well as weaken in vividness over time. Now that I am separated from my experience by a weekend rather than a year and a half, it’s much easier to recall, mentally and physically, my experience.

The first major difference between Fall Clean Up and Spring Clean Up is the amount of time students have to mess up their rooms. Fall Clean Up follows the summer school session, which runs for about seven weeks. There’s only so much a person can do to trash a room in seven weeks. Give the same person eight months, however, and they can really go to town. Thankfully, Weld (the dormitory I was cleaning) didn’t have any terribly messy rooms.

Weld Source: hcs.harvard.edu

Weld (Source: hcs.harvard.edu)

However, I heard from other friends of a room in which the entire hardwood floor was covered in a black, sticky patina. There were rooms in which it seemed that the person hadn’t moved out at all, but had merely gone to the dining hall and would be back in a few moments. Some rooms had even stranger things, which you can see if you watch this video produced by the Crimson. I walked away with a bottle of antibacterial wipes and two mason jars, which is not a bad haul. On the more valuable end of the spectrum, we found a couple of passports, a check, a money pouch with a couple hundred dollars, a lone fifty dollar bill, and a pair of Beats headphones. Although there’s more trash at the end of a school year, there are also more valuables. So it cancels out somewhat.

Greater familiarity with my co-workers is another way Spring Clean Up was an improvement over Fall Clean Up. My captain (boss) for this past week is a member of the Glee Club and there was another Glee Club member in the crew. I’m much more familiar with them than with the classmates I met for the first time during Fall Clean Up. This initial connection also made it easier for me to get to know the other members of the crew, a group comprised of people from the women’s rugby team, a boyfriend of one of the women on the rugby team, my captain’s friends, and a girl from my chemistry classes. I even discovered that one of the people in the crew attended Gunn, and we reminisced about the high school days. My conversations with them helped the time pass when the afternoon came and everything seemed to be moving slowly.

Although I could recall mentally how hard I had worked during Fall Clean Up, my body had forgotten what it was like to do physical labor for eight hours a day. Now, the memories from Spring Clean Up are still fresh. The end of the first day held an enjoyable exhaustion, brought about from working hard and not saving anything for the next day. However, I had to work the next day, and the next, and the next… Aches in my wrists and fingers came and went, depending on what I was doing. Vacuuming required me to contort to accommodate the vacuum on my back as I reached under desks and behind beds and down to the floor moldings. Damp dusting had me scrubbing away in tight corners and shoving my fingers into crevices. By the end of the week, I had somewhat dissociated from what my body was feeling. My arms were numb from carrying tools and buckets back and forth, my legs numb from climbing up and down stairs and onto beds, that I might reach the top of the wardrobes.

The last day of cleaning Weld was even more hectic; we had to provide linens and towels for the alumni who would be staying there. This step is unique to Spring Clean Up, as students are expected to provide their own bedding and towels. By the end of the work day, we had completed four-and-a-half floors. It was a bit disappointing not to have finished in the time allotted. The captains and overtime workers would have to work through the evening and again on Saturday morning before Weld was ready for move in, and knowing this cheapened the sense of accomplishment somewhat. However, I was happy that I helped a little with the giant operation of commencement.

My role in commencement choir is much less labor intensive and much more enjoyable, for which I am grateful. It was a long week, but the rest that I’m getting now feels more earned.



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