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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #495
Janitoria
David Gunn

Unprepossessing situated just south of the southernmost classroom of South Carolina Communicable College in Southwicke is the ancient kingdom of Janitoria. It is the only known sovereign kingdom in the entire southeastern United States and is allowed to coexist with other more municipally-oriented communities simply because it has the longest pedigree--Janitoria first appeared in the early days of Roman mythology. In those days, the citizens claimed descendancy from Janus, the Roman god of gates and door knockers. Like their paterfamilias, they were generally comely, two-faced people, skilled in the arts of prognostication and building maintenance. But whereas Dad used his bi-countenance to dredge up the past and predict the future, his Janitorian progeny easily drifted into the seamy world of fortune telling and high-stakes bingo. Profits were large and frequent, and some of the other gods--among them Neptune, Mars and Buster--griped loudly over their bad luck at the gaming tables. As a result, late one Friday following an especially egregious night of deity-swindling, Janus' kindred were booted unceremoniously out of Mythville. It came as a complete shock to them, which is odd, given their gift for divination. For millennia they wandered the areas of earth inhabited by mortals, taking odd jobs as prophets and office cleaners. Life in those days was as full of unpredictability as it was of adventure, so by the time they happened upon Southwicke, the Janitorians were ready for a little stability in their lives.

First of all, the kingdom needed a king, someone who could rule their land fairly and wisely and swiftly settle the increasingly acrimonious squabbles over the indigenous pimientos, which some were using as currency, others as kindling. But kings were by tradition a consequence of divine favor, and since the Janitorians were by now several generations removed from their godfather, no one was around who qualified. Focus groups considered alternative types of government -ochlocracy (mob rule), kakistocracy (government by schlemiels), kleptocracy (administration by and for thieves), idiosyncrasy (the "regime of the eccentrics")--but in the end unanimously decided that a kingdom warranted a king.

Then, one Saturday afternoon in what, countless years in the future, would come to be called "November," the clouds parted and a shaft of sunlight shone down upon a scabrous old maintenance engineer named Flungh, singeing his eyebrows and whiskers and, according to an obscure verse in the Ballad of Janitoria, officially anointing him king:
   And when ol' Sol didst glimmer down
   On krill and other things
   The Janitors produced a crown
   And turned a man to king.

Flungh was of that ilk of Janitorians who were borderline unattractive, a result of their having let good personal hygiene habits lapse for years. His long, Byzantine nose, especially, brought to mind the word "chiseled," as in swindled. But his pulchritudinous shortcomings were of little import when it came to kinging, for his skills at building maintenance were unimpeachable. No matter these were the days long before there were many structures to superintend, the Janitorians still regularly practiced the arts of sweeping, mopping, scrubbing hallways and furnace-tending.

One night during the Middle Polishing Furniture Period, there mysteriously arose in the kingdom's central plaza a strange monolith. Future generations would instantly identify it as an air conditioning unit--albeit, at 19x15x13 hectares, a giant one--but it was wholly unprecedented to these Janitorians. It hummed slightly and emitted the occasional fluorocarbon, but otherwise adamantly refused to reveal its purpose. So Flungh commanded that it be explored, and sixteen explorers armed with squeegees, rags and buckets set out at once. The men swarmed over the surface of the monolith, dusting the condenser coils and weeding around the filter. But, after spending six days in an atmosphere pleasantly free of the stifling humidity that frequently pervaded Janitoria, they failed to learn any more of what its function was.

Flungh was overseeing a massive kingdom-wide carpet shampooing clinic that was not going well when the expedition reported in, and the news did nothing to bolster his spirits. His subjects seemed unable to comprehend the concept of a thorough rinsing. This was not a new notion; in fact, it was cited in one of the primary quatrains in the Ballad of Janitoria:
   Wash thy carpet
   Queen and prince
   Before ye dry it
   Rinse, rinse, rinse!

Flungh bade the Janitoria Festival Ululators repeat the verse over and over until they were blue in the face, at which point a team of washroom attendants had to restore their natural color with fumigants. The bulk of the Janitorians, however, remained uncomprehending in the ways of carpet rinsing, utterly frustrating the king. Future historians contend that a malfunction of the air conditioning compressor aggravated Flungh's unattractive condition, but at the time, his subjects thought it was simply a result of his exasperation. Whatever the reason, Flungh did screw up his face until he was indisputably ugly. And what then was a loyal subject to do? Remain comely in the presence of divine hideousness? Not if he or she wished to live to tell about it! Immediately, the Janitorians set about de-beautifying themselves. Frumpy clothes, adobe hats, colognes made from gingko seeds, pine tar mascara, bad-bordering-on-naughty hair--nothing was too outré when it came to making oneself uncompromisingly unappealing. Meanwhile, Janus, nursing a gin and nectar in a lonely café in Mythville, was amazed and discomfited to see how far his once comely progeny had fallen.

However, they haven't fallen so far that they can't guest-appear on Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. It's true. This 495th episode features the Janitoria Festival Ululators reinvented as the Ugly Janitors of America as part of the scheduled interview sequence. So sit back, avert your eyes--for the protagonists truly are unsightly--and stay tuned for the comparatively handsome remarks of Kalvos.