The clouds hid the moon and snow floated down upon the quiet town, shrouding the rough edges and corners in softening white drifts.
At midnight the alarm chimed, awakening the young man from his slumber. Happily, he sat bolt upright in bed, a smile upon his face. His coffee maker burbled from the kitchen, pre-set with a timer to begin brewing before he awoke. As he hit the shower he could smell the aroma of cinnamon and caramel from a holiday brew of ground coffee wafting through his apartment.
Before the steam dissipated after the hot shower the man’s phone began to ring softly, indicating that his fellow Christmas revelers were ready to begin the festivities. Thumbs a-flutter, he began texting his comrades-in-fun and clarifying the plans for the night.
“We shall all meet at the school parking lot!” he crowed with glee, anticipating the upcoming delights.
At just past one o’clock a medley of snow-dusted vehicles prowled through the blowing snow and into the parking lot of the local high school, lights revealing falling snowflakes like bits of glitter. Men emerged quickly, steam from their excited breaths whipping through the night air. Thermoses of coffee and cans of energy drinks were clutched in their gloved hands.
Colorful stocking caps and earmuffs protected heads and faces from winter’s brisk chill and the men spoke animatedly, their cheeks rosy red from the cold.
“And to the restaurant we shall go!” yelled one man, his broad chest clad in his high school janitor’s uniform, the nametag proudly starched and bleached to white perfection. With hurrahs the gentlemen returned to their automobiles, engines revving for the cross-town trek. The convoy drove slowly and majestically, rivaling even Santa’s sleigh and reindeers in magnificence.
Tires crunching through icy snow, the cars and trucks eased into the parking lot of the popular restaurant, its windows decorated festively with Christmas and winter accoutrement. The interior, brightly lit, positively radiated cheery warmth.
“Now ’tis time!” a man in a tan suit with an assistant principal’s ID badge announced, sweeping his arms wide toward the glass doors of the restaurant, the smell of delicious fried food emanating from its kitchen.
The men entered the inviting eatery, smiling at the few patrons who were dining at the inhumanly early hour. A glance at a wall-mounted analog clock revealed that it was about 1:30 in the morning. Outside, the snow-bearing wind howled.
A smiling man with a mustache and a red vest, nametag adorned, approached and spoke closely with a man in a navy blue suit. The besuited man, his lanyard-attached ID card revealing him to be a high school principal, spoke in a jolly tone and handed the mustachioed fellow a slim envelope labeled Christmas cheer. “A token of our appreciation to make this holiday cheer worthwhile!” he beamed.
The man with the red vest smiled appreciatively and withdrew to his back office, closing the battered wooden door behind him. “Take the best seat in the house!” he called, Santa-like, as the brass lock clicked home.
Happily, the group of holiday revelers approached the front counter.
A gaggle of teenagers behind the laminated countertop, manning the cash registers and kitchen appliances, froze in wonderment.
Before the teens, on this night near Christmas, stood a whole smattering of their school’s faculty, staff, and administrators. Janitors, teachers, aides, office staff, and principals stood, dressed in their workday finest, against the backdrop of the December snowstorm outside.
Lightning sizzled and thunder cracked. Thundersnow. A storm of which Santa’s own North Pole could be proud.
One of the larger teens, trying to register some false bravado, swaggered up to the till with a smirk. “What can I getcha?” he asked.
“Many platters of your messiest fare!” an English teacher said with a flourish.
Some teens behind their once-swaggering peer paled slightly, anticipating that things would not end in their favor. As they watched, wide-eyed, a couple of teachers crinkling and crumpling napkins suddenly relaxed their hands, dropping the smudged papers on the tile floor.
A third teacher, wearing a Christmas sweater, casually swiped a handful of ketchup packets from a condiment station onto the floor, his face all a-grin.
The teenage employees of the diner cringed and glared, but could respond with nary a threat – to do so would jeopardize their job most dear!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
For hours the school employees ate, drank, and were merry. They occupied tables and booths and made quite a mess, rubbing condiments onto the vinyl of booths and laminate of tabeltops. Coleslaw was spilled and grease was wiped, napkins were shredded and tossed about, and grains of salt and pepper scattered like debris from avalanches.
Two teachers even began playing a game of haphazard catch with a tennis ball. Bits of decoration and adornment fell from the walls as the ball flew between clumsy hands, bouncing about like an evil gremlin.
Every manner of abuse that had been rained down upon the school’s classrooms was returned, in part, that glorious night.
The restaurant had been carefully selected, you see, and the shift timed just right, so that the school’s most notorious troublemakers were at work, earning much-desired cash.
Those students who regularly dropped trash, spilled sugary drinks, engaged in horseplay in the halls and rooms, and who were routinely disrespectful saw their own behavior returned that fateful night as the snow fell over the town. Their night shift at the restaurant turned into a janitorial to-do list of epic proportions.
The night manager, an old friend of the high school principal, watched from the security cameras with joy and mirth as the faculty and staff made messes that the teens would be forced to clean. When principal and his friends had come to him with their plan, he had been honored to help.
“So long as there’s no real damage, ravage the place as you see fit! Those teen hooligans will learn a lesson in courtesy and respect that night for sure!”
A social studies teacher spilled a full glass of sticky Coke into the crevices of a cushioned booth.
A computer teacher smudged greasy fingerprints all over glass countertops.
An assistant principal talked loudly and disrespectfully, ensuring that his din could be heard by the cringing teens while the teachers laughed with glee.
An art teacher made colorful messes with ketchup, mustard, mayo, and guacamole.
Janitors decorated the restrooms with bathroom tissue and paper towels. Soap was strewn liberally.
Others wrote crude and inappropriate messages atop tables and counters. The graphic design teacher drew crude cartoons, most disparaging of the teen staff, on napkins that he put on display.
The gang of school employees, enjoying their merriment, stayed thirty minutes past closing before departing in a feigned show of surly behavior. As the last man tromped out into the early morning flurries the teenage restaurant staff, teeth gritted in anger, surveyed the damage with dismay. They’d been unable to express their anger and felt impotent and disrespected.
“We don’t get paid enough for this!” wailed one teen boy, eyebrows furrowed in disgust.
Before departing home for holiday revelry with their families, each member of the night shift had to clean, organize, and scrub the tables, benches, and floors.
Backs ached as spines bent to pick up wadded napkins. Hands were covered in sticky residues. Pants and shirts were smudged with marks from ink and graphite that had covered tabletops and chairs. Tempers flared as knocked-off bits of decoration were re-attached to walls and ceilings.
Grumbling, the teens trudged to their battered cars and trucks and drove home, their spirits even lower than the blizzard-stricken temperatures outside their Plexiglas windshields.
But, within each and every cranium, a seed of knowledge had begrudgingly been planted.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Word spread via text, phone, and Facebook, and that spring the school was kept much cleaner.