The Dead Janitors Club
Pathetically true or truly pathetic? You make the call.
The Dead Janitors Club is the latest entry in the emerging genre of crime scene cleaner's memoir. Didn't know there was a whole crop of books dedicated to the people who sop up the blood and bits of brain in the wake of heinous acts of violence? Then you probably didn't know people actually make a living doing that sort of thing. Like Aftermath, Inc. and Mop Men before it, The Dead Janitors Club details the ins and outs of the crime scene cleanup biz, presenting titillating tales of gore for thrill-seekers and car accident gawkers. I don't know about its predecessors, but Janitors Club is not a book about CSI caliber professionals. It is the story of a slacker frat boy and a Los Angeles county sheriff out to make a buck, learning the ropes and breaking the rules as they go.
It all begins with brain matter coming into contact with ocular membrane. How's that for a first day on the job? Jeff Klima, lured by the siren song of money, suits up and jumps in with no formal training. Before he knows it he is up to his neck, treading what he wishes was water. A lesser (smarter?) man would have quit then and there, but with bills to pay and something to prove, Klima struggles to make it work.
Turns out, he's actually pretty good at it. Janitor's Club is as much about finding your way in life as it is about anecdotal gross-outs. Raised Mormon by a magician and a psychologist, Klima moves to LA at nineteen with dreams of a career in advertising. But dreams take a back seat to money, and instead of enrolling in school, he spends two years working at a porn shop for an ex glam rocker named Dirty Pete.
He eventually quits the porn biz and gets himself matriculated, but school costs money, and working at the local beverage mart ain't cuttin' it. So when a co-worker introduces him to the owner of a recently purchased cleaning franchise, Jeff makes the most of the opportunity. Despite the fact that his new boss has no training of his own and bought the franchise from a guy aspiring to be "The Wolf" from Pulp Fiction, Jeff's head is filled with sugarplum dreams of the copious amounts of money he will make.
It's all very wacky. Klima details his trial and error apprenticeship in the cleanup business with a generous dollop of black humor. It is not a book for the weak stomached or the politically correct. Early on, Klima's wise-cracking can grate on the nerves, as he tries really hard to be funny, but he settles in as the story progresses. He admits to not being the greatest writer, but with subject matter like this, who has to be? The true stars here are the crime scenes and the peripheral cast of characters they attract. From group suicides to accidental deaths to nosey will-stealing neighbors- this is a world few have heard of, let alone witnessed.
In the press release that came with the book, Klima is described as "a Palahniuk character come to life." This is an accurate description, though not necessarily a flattering one. He walks a fine line between lovable fuck-up and irresponsible asshole, and you wouldn't want him to date your sister. But against all odds he manages to cull some sort of life lesson from his experiences, or at least he pretends to. Not that you read a book like this for its message. You read it for the spectacle. And Janitors Club is a bloody confection of congealed body parts and gelatinous waste.
Klima has led an interesting life and continues to do so. You'd think the character in the book wouldn't have many future prospects, but opportunities keep coming his way. According to Amazon.com, he has collaborated with New York Times bestselling science-fiction author Steve Alten, and has sold a screenplay about the Iraq war to Cornerstone Pictures. From crime scene memoir to science fiction to the Iraq war, you can't say the man isn't diverse. One has to wonder whether it is a result of persistence or dumb luck.