Publisher: Sourcebooks, 2010
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Humor
Where I Got It: LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program
My Rating: 4 stars
Before I begin this review, it is important for you to realize that this book isn’t for everyone. In fact, let me know go so far as to issue an official caution right now.
The Dead Janitors Club—which has the subtitle “Pathetically True Tales of A Crime Scene Cleanup King”—is that rare book: a horrific account of a disgusting job that is laugh-out-loud funny and full of bawdy and raunchy humor that would make some people’s toes curl. But I loved it! Without knowing it, I think I’ve been looking for a read like this for a long time—ever since I finished my beloved Gig, which is a collection of “told by the actual people” accounts of various jobs. I find learning about other people’s jobs—especially the weird ones—endlessly fascinating. Klima’s account of his few years with a “fake it till we make it” crime cleaning business scratches that itch I’ve felt ever since reading Gig.
And I’m not really overstating how graphic and gross this book can be. Not only do we learn such things as why an alcoholic’s death poops are different (and harder to clean up) than other people’s death poops, but we are also exposed to the seedy underbelly of porn fetishists, hoarders and life in a fraternity.
Klima took the crime scene cleaning job when he was attending Cal State-Fullerton and living at his frat. Barely getting by with a succession of boring retail jobs (and a stint in a porn shop), Klima is dazzled by the prospect of a six-figure income by getting in on the ground floor of a new crime scene cleaning business located in Orange County, California. Brought in as a “partner” by his boss Dirk (a local sheriff), Klima has nothing but a morbid curiosity and a desire for big bucks when he starts out. But his introduction to the field is less than perfect (a chunk of brain falls in his eye!), and things don’t improve much from there. As Klima regales us with accounts of his various “gets” in the crime scene business (mass suicide, cleaning up a child, celebrity death), we also learn that this isn’t quite the high-paying gig he expected. In fact, he spends most of the book barely getting by and scavenging goods and money from the homes of hoarders that the company is assigned to clean out.
The book—which could have easily been a litany of disgusting factoid after disgusting factoid—is saved by Klima’s considerable skills as a writer and humorist. He has a healthy sense of self-depreciation, honesty about the realities of the business and an easy-going, down-to-earth writing style that makes you feel like you’re hanging out with a primo storyteller who just happens to have a really gross job. Although there are times when you feel a sense of guilt for laughing (after all, this is real people’s bodies that Klima is cleaning up), you can relate to Klima’s pragmatic “OK, I’ve got debt coming out my ears and no money…so how can I score the most cash from cleaning up this dead guy’s brains?” As the book progresses and Klima gets increasingly burnt out and turned off by the job, I found myself (like Klima) ready to close the door on this glimpse into a part of life that many of us (fortunately) will never see.
So, to sum up, here is just a bit of what this book is about:
- dead people and the things they leave behind (including gelatinous masses, maggots, dried skin pieces, ungodly odors)
- learning to be a hustler
- why living in a fraternity when you’re 26 can end up being sad and somewhat pathetic
- why loyalty to your employers doesn’t always pay off
- why suicides should consider offing themselves in a bathroom—and staying put!
- the types of things you might find in the homes of hoarders
- why Craigslist may not be the best source for temporary employees
- how a lack of training in dealing with biohazardous material can have unfortunate side effects
- what it feels like to clean up a dead body in the bowels of Dodger Stadium
- and so much more!
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re still excited about this book, I urge you to go and get it now. You won’t be disappointed.
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