Served at Williams College: Almost No One Sees His Face

Note: This post is the second in a series of reflections from three Williams College students who worked with Forklift on “Served” for their Winter Study course in January 2017. Read the first post here.

On January 10, starting at about 7:30am, I shadowed Bill in the dish room. One of the first things that Bill said was that he has to do some parts of his job a little differently than most of the other dish washers, on account of the fact that, due to a disability, he has complete use of only one of his arms. However, the only difference that I noticed, which is to say, the only thing that Bill pointed out, is his clever way of rinsing the plates after, and not before, they’re arranged in the racks that take them through the giant washing machine, which is maybe almost as big as a smart car.

Bill’s most notable characteristic is his laugh. Bill’s laugh is quiet and warm, like a hug. You often don’t hear it at all, even when you’re standing right there next to him, drowned out as it is by the mammoth disinfector described above. But this is not to say that it isn’t still noticeable, as it’s often accompanied by a genuine, eye-crinkle smile, and sometimes also by a slight bending back at the waist, turning a giggle into a full-blown belly laugh.

Bill chuckles when he mentions his favorite sports teams, which are all bad.  

He laughs also when he talks about his two daughters, who, despite being “mostly good kids” and having extremely successful academic records, still “have their moments, like everyone.”  

When I asked him about his wife, however, he replied in a serious tone that she works as a director for meals on wheels, and that he’s very proud of her because of it. I persisted, “But what is she like?” At this point Bill smiled and looked away, and he told me he’s not good at describing people. “She’s a very kind person.”

Seemingly everyone – including the kitchen staff on Bill’s side of the divider wall and the students on the opposite side of the Driscoll dish room you-can-drop-your-plate-but-not-see-Bill’s-face, ceiling-to-Bill’s-elbows divider wall – appears to follow the same unwritten rule when delivering a used something to Bill for washing: don’t acknowledge Bill. This isn’t to say that they ignore him always, like, for example, when Bill walks through the kitchen putting pans away. And kitchen staff are always busy, making their haste to return to work understandable. But I notice the pattern among students as well – some say nothing, others throw out “thank you”’s with varying degrees of emphasis, but almost no one ever sees the face of the person they thank. And that’s a shame, because Bill’s smiles are contagious.

Written by Adam Calogeras, Williams College Class of 2018

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