“Death be not proud.” In Jeff Klima’s memoir, death is not only humble, it’s also humiliating. The Dead Janitors Club is the memoir of a very young man (Jeff was born in 1981), and a hilarious confession, as well as an exposé of the world of crime scene clean-up. Having recently seen two films on the subject, Cleaner and Sunshine Cleaning, I was ready to move up to the real deal — nonfiction. I never claimed I didn’t have a dark side.
The Dead Janitors Club is dark, disturbing, morbid, creepy, and unsettling — qualities I find very attractive in a book. It is the true story of a college student badly strapped for cash who hated working retail. Really hated working retail. When a ground-floor opportunity in a crime scene clean-up company arose, he snapped it up. Untrained and unlicensed, he and his “boss” (Dirk) promoted their business as best they could, finally getting a job because the police who called had mistaken them for another clean-up company. One job led to another in a business that would never run out of potential clients.
Klima was a natural in the clean-up biz. In addition to crime scenes, there were lots of suicides (for some reason Motel 6 is a popular spot. Me? I’d go for a Hilton, at least. At that point, why would I want to save money?), cleaning police cars that arrestees had “soiled” in a variety of disgusting manners, and the intensely gross job of cleaning a house where someone had died three months previously and was just found (although month-old corpses do not seem significantly less disgusting). Hoarders were also meal tickets — the county contracted out the jobs and the cleaners got to keep lots of goodies (some of which they would sell) in addition to being paid.
Now you would think that there would be laws about the proper disposal of biohazards such as blood-soaked mattresses, carpet pieces, and towels. Actually, there are, but Jeff and Dirk had as much use for those regulations as they had for ethics and sympathy. Not that they were unsympathetic — the more a prospective client seemed able to pay, the greater the compassion he or she would receive. Using a sliding scale, they quoted jobs based on the neighborhood, house, and cars owned by the clients. As sleazy as that is, they still grossly undercharged on many of the jobs they did.
As for waste disposal, Dirk thought nothing of dropping off furniture, mattresses, carpeting, and linens at a public dump (in the dark, of course) and Jeff would throw bags full of blood, brain matter, and assorted contaminated cleaning materials in the dumpsters of the fraternity houses near his own. He also slept in a “murder bed,” his own mattress on a bed frame taken (legitimately) from a murder scene. Incidentally, he had a rather large collection of furnishings and electronics that came from death scenes and hoarder homes.
Dirk, who was also employed as a sheriff, seemed to have unlimited excuses for pushing all the work off on Jeff, but he was always willing to hire qualified help through the most reputable source, craigslist. It’s a little difficult to believe that people would respond to a call to clean up blood, viscera, skin, fluids, and even nastier stuff through craigslist until you watch a video for the competing California Crime Scene Cleaners, in which one of their trainees had responded to an ad on craigslist. (Jeff and Dirk’s company, Orange County Crime Scene Cleaners is no longer a viable entity.)
Throughout the murders, suicides, mental cases, and deaths by natural causes, there is a sadness, but it doesn’t compare to Jeff himself. Low self-esteem seems to be only one of his problems. There are also poorly developed social skills, excessive weight, immaturity, binge drinking, cigar smoking, callousness, an inability to find work, a lack of ethics, personal hygiene deficiencies, an unwillingness to grow up, and horrible decision-making. These are not judgments; Jeff admits or alludes to all of these flaws — and more. When discussing Dirk he sometimes mentions how much he hated him and sometimes talks about actually liking the man.
In an uncensored narrative, Jeff Klima takes us from his first job (where a piece of brain fell from the ceiling into his eye) through his last (removing the remains of a drunken pedestrian from the undercarriage of a car). While some of the things mentioned here may seem unappetizing at best, The Dead Janitors Club is far more graphic. But it’s presented in a way that probably relates to the job itself; massive doses of gruesome description lose their impact as the reader becomes inured to the suffering imposed on some by others, and on others by themselves.
While Jeff and Dirk (and the rest of their crew) may have been sleazy operators, in the end the reader will be disappointed that the business tanked. Klima may not portray himself as the nicest of guys, but there’s something there with which the reader can identify. Perhaps it’s his honesty, attempts at redemption, or just plain humanness. Or maybe it’s that tattoo.
Bottom Line: Would I buy The Dead Janitors Club? Oh, yeah, if for no other reason than learning what I don’t want to do when I grow up.Powered by Sidelines