Prior to graduating from college I had a fair number of pretty cruddy jobs. I’ve worked on farms, in food banks, for K-Mart, convenience stores, and the Roger Williams Park Zoo. I was a seasonal worker at the Zoo, a veteran of 3 summers. There are probably a number of stories I could tell about this job, but today’s tale is about one of the times I almost killed myself.
As a member of the Warehouse & Maintenance crew, one of my duties was to help wash up the restaurants by the elephants. One warm, summer day, there was a particular nasty spill that needed tidying. I filled my mop bucket with warm water and poured in a bit of bleach (for that extra shine). I figured the “more the merrier,” so I also grabbed a bottle of industrial strength cleaner to pour into the concoction.
The small plume of smoke rising from the bubbling bucket was my first indication that I screwed up. The burning sensation in my eyes and throat was another. I quickly realized that I had forgotten to check to see if the industrial strength cleaner had ammonia in it. As you may have ascertained, it did.
With haste, I lifted the mop bucket, held my breath, and waddled out the back of the restaurant. Thankfully, the only thing between me and the back door was a small, slippery hallway and a few wayward sleeves of plastic cups. I kicked the half-propped door open, leading me to the small fenced patch of dirt that housed the AC unit, a few trash cans, and a wasp’s nest. I poured the smoking bucket into the dirt and watched as the Earth absorbed the smoking liquid. Then I left.
Sitting on the dust coated picnic table under the big gnarled tree where the employees hang out, I was trying to remember the name of the gas I had just created. I asked my husky Samoan manager, Tone, if she knew the name.
“Death,” she said as she shrugged.
My coworker, Carter, thought for a moment and replied, “Death.”
As Carter sat pondering, our tall, rail-thin, black manager walked through the gate. Tone turned to him and shouted, “Hey ‘Mumba, what’s it called when you mix ammonia and bleach?”
Lumumba thought for a second, raising his brow as he wiped sweat from his mahogany skin. He took his hat off and replied: