Cleanup Patter | Undercurrents | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Cleanup Patter

Broward County School Board Chairperson Bob Parks, head man at the nation's fifth-largest district, last week offered a novel solution to the old problem of classroom slovenliness: hire a private firm to train janitors.

It's not union busting, says Parks. Just a way to make the schools work better.

Right. We'd guess Parks -- a professor by trade -- has never pushed a broom for a living. So for comment, we phoned "Mike," a chief custodian with ten years' experience at a West Broward school. Mike, who didn't want to give his real name for fear of school brass retribution, uses the word "overworked" like anyone else. But the devils are in the details.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Mike was on duty in the cafeteria when his radio sounded. Trouble in the girls restroom. Someone had thrown, um, "it" on the wall, partitions, and toilet, Mike recalls. Yuck. Cleanup time: 25 minutes.

"Pretty much every week," he adds, a troubled fourth-grader urinates not in the toilet but on the floor. "I guess he wants to fill up the drain," Mike deadpans. A janitor has to mop the floor with disinfectant and hose it down at night. Clean up time: at least 20 minutes.

The cafeteria is nice too. Kids have a habit of dropping orange peels, plastic wrappers, even their schoolwork on the floor. Enough to fill a 20-gallon container each day. Then there's the clever trick of stamping on ketchup packets to spray the wall. Ketchup cleanup time: ten minutes.

Finally, there are the new trends of backpacks on wheels and roller skates that retract into one's shoes. These leave terrible scuff marks. Two months ago, a kid left a 30-foot-long smudge. Cleanup time: 30 minutes.

Management training won't help much at Mike's school. A few new bodies might. Or perhaps a hazmat suit.

Last November, 64-year-old Leon Fornel was feeling kinda geezer-like, so he decided to take a bold step and hire someone older than himself. The owner of South Andrews Auto Parts in Fort Lauderdale took on 71-year-old former gas tanker driver Don Austin.

Then Fornel, who's been in the same spot for three decades, came up with a catchy name for the new partnership: Two Old Farts Auto Parts. He repeated the phrase to sundry regulars until the day after Super Bowl Sunday, when he arrived at work to find an enormous banner covering the storefront. It read: "Two old farts."

"They really prepared. They had to put bricks on the cantilever.... They had to have ladders and a truck.... You could smell the paint. It was fresh."

So Fornel waited. Then he started asking a group of a half-dozen friends whom he suspected. No one came forward. Now he's getting frustrated. "Will the guilty person come forward?" he begs. "We need closure." He won't change the name legally. "Too much paperwork."

Undercurrents was riveted to the TV February 4 and 5 for WSVN-TV (Channel 7) reporter Carmel Cafiero's two-part report "Psychic Secrets." The station had proudly plugged it for days, promising insights into the phone-psychic empire fronted by Miss Cleo.

To us, it looked very familiar. In fact, practically everything Cafiero said had been in our story "Call Me Now! ... And Pay Me Later" a month earlier. To be fair, "Psychic Secrets" reported that Miss Cleo has been subpoenaed to testify in an investigation by the Florida Attorney General's Office. And there were pictures of psychics reading from scripts. The series also named the years for which Miss Cleo owed back taxes. That took perhaps 30 seconds out of several minutes of airtime.

Everything else in Cafiero's report could be found in the pages of New Times: that supposed tarot-card readers for Access Resource Services, Miss Cleo's employer, must sign affidavits of psychic ability; that wealthy Fort Lauderdale entrepreneur Steven Feder owns the whole operation; that ARS is being sued in several states for its brutal collection practices; that the company is accused of billing people who supposedly made calls while they were dead; that Miss Cleo apparently owes thousands of dollars in back taxes to the IRS.

We especially admired the pitch for part two of "Psychic Secrets," which promised a great revelation: Miss Cleo's real name! We had it in paragraph three.

We called Cafiero last week to ask about these odd parallels. She chortled that we both now belonged to the "Miss Cleo Club." "I gotta tell you, I loved the title on your piece," she said. But ice formed on the phone cord when we pointed out that she was following in our tracks. "Channel 7's information is Channel 7's information," Cafiero proclaimed. We suggested that New Times readers knew the same things long before. She responded that people who don't pick up New Times remained uninformed.

Cafiero insisted there was nothing strange about duplicating our efforts. "My work is my own -- I've been working on this story for months," Cafiero insisted. "I think I am now finished with this conversation," she snapped, almost echoing our mutual subject: When Cafiero first attempted to interview Miss Cleo, the psychic walked off with a "Thank you, my dear -- you are quite finished with your interview, my darling."

If "Psychic Secrets" is the best Channel 7 can offer, "Just One Station" will have to settle for bringing you last month's news.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse

Latest Stories