By Phoebe McPherson, Managing Editor
Maybe you’ve seen him cleaning bathrooms, picking up trash and talking gently to students who know him. He wears the same outfit most days: straight leg jeans and a UNH Facilities shirt tucked inside a thick brown belt. His U.S. Air Force hat, a nod to time spent serving, covers his gray hair. Light, gentle eyes sit behind wire-framed glasses and his beard is kept to a mustache and an outcrop under his chin. When he’s cold, a simple flannel is enough to keep him warm.
His pace is slow-moving throughout the building. Bony shoulders and a rounded back hunch over a stocked utility cart. He knocks on a door and announces his presence: “Housekeeping!”
This is Michael Hall.
He steps back from the bathroom door on the first floor of the Memorial Union Building as a student walks out. He knocks again to make sure it really is empty. The coast is clear.
At 60 years old, Hall has worked as a janitor at the University of New Hampshire for three years — two years inside the MUB. He used to work the night shift but now keeps what he calls “a more normal schedule.”
Hall works six days a week, each day beginning the same way but no two quite alike.
“Do you want the grossest thing or the weirdest?” he said trying to remember different experiences while on duty.
He remembered a time when he was called out to a building that won’t be named because of fecal waste that was spewing out of the men’s urinals. Another day, he discovered huge bags of ice that had been thrown into MUB bathroom trashcans.
It’s just after 11:20 a.m., and Hall is about to begin his day. Before each shift, he reads through his schedule. There is a group of prospective students and their families coming through today which means extra rounds to make sure the place “looks livable,” he said.
As if on cue, a student giving tours to prospective families greets him and turns around to give the group context.
“He’s awesome, everyone loves him,” she said and the group continues down the hallway.
A former building manager, Matt Long, breezes by and says hello.
“I punched him in the nose,” Hall said lightly of Long. “But it’s okay, he’s over it.”
In reality, the situation that happened last spring was much more grave: Hall has type 2 diabetes.
Long described one evening when Hall was sitting down looking overtired. When he went to check on Hall, he was barely functioning. As Long’s colleague left to call 911 and get help, Hall began flailing his arms and displaying loss of gross motor skills; he was hitting his head against the wall.
Long remembers holding his head so that Hall didn’t suffer a concussion. It was then that the beloved janitor took a swing at Long’s face — but he didn’t make contact.
“He doesn’t actually remember a lot from that day,” Long explained, adding that the diabetic was later transported to the hospital.
The incident was a result of blood sugar dropping too low. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, if a diabetic’s blood sugar drops too low, he or she can go into a coma, which was the next phase after Hall’s seizure.
So now, Hall is sure to check his insulin levels at the beginning of each shift and takes a break if he feels hungry or weak. Checking his levels is easy for him: He sits down at his desk and pulls out a camouflage zippered pouch. The technology is similar to what nurses prick potential blood donors with to check their iron levels. Instead of a machine to prick him, he uses a needle himself, quickly poking it into his skin then pushing out the blood.
According to Virginia Mason Medical Center, normal blood sugar levels are less than 140 mg/dL within two hours of eating. But someone fasting would drop to 70-99 mg/dL.
This morning, his blood levels 48 mg/dL.
“Oh, I’m low. So that means I’ve got to eat something,” he says while wiping excess blood from his finger.
That “something” comes in the form of glucose — orange tablets that are not too dissimilar from TUMS. Hall eats two of them before he gets up. When his sugar levels are stable, he begins his day.
“Alright that’s done, now we go work,” he says while chewing the last tablet.
He takes pride in his work, but also pride in making his job enjoyable.
“I always try to do a good job and I know I do,” he said while changing out the trash. He went into further detail on another day.
“Nora told me it’s because of my attitude that this place stays so clean,” he said, laughing off the compliment.
He looks around and leans in close to give another evidence of his hard work.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I’ve been to seven colleges and this is the cleanest,’” he said.
He finishes off cleaning the bathroom — which was mostly changing and trash and flushing a lot of toilets — then moves towards the information desk.
“Ladies!” he exclaims to two building managers walk by. He makes his way back to the information desk and hands off two packages of Peeps.
This is a Friday tradition.
“On Fridays, I wear my MUB Love shirt. It’s MUB Love Friday,” Hall said, emphasizing by underlining the words with his finger.
He also brings gifts (like Peeps) for the building managers and other students working in the MUB.
He also buys three lottery tickets, one for himself and two to give away.
“College isn’t cheap. Being a student isn’t cheap,” he said.
He pops a piece of gum in his mouth. On his cart are different packs of gum — all sugar-free so that he doesn’t upset his sugar levels. His current favorite is Mentos gum red fruit with lime. He adds that chewing gums helps him avoid all the sweets that students are known for offering him in throughout the afternoons.
“This job is virtually stress-less … and I don’t need stress. Stress causes sugar and I don’t need sugar,” he said. His tone is more serious, than other things he’s talked about.
“It’s a big thing in my life. I have to eat right and get plenty of exercise,” he continued. “Which I do.”
He does. Besides walking around the MUB all day and cleaning the building, he cross country skis — every day in the winter.
Hall reflected on his life which now consists mostly of skiing, reading history and learning more about his family tree (like Ancestry.com).
“I’ve done a lot,” he said.
Hall has worked as a logger, a worker in a manufacturing firm, a manager of a Woolworths Financial Services and in hospice. But the list goes on.
Hall laughs a hearty laugh while saying this. He also laughs whenever he mentions students or his job or even while telling a story. Hall laughs a lot.
“I get up every morning and smile and say, ‘I’m alive,’” he said, explaining that he’s outlived his grandfather, father and twin brother, all of whom died relatively young.
That’s the thing — each day for him is a blessing and he’s happy to live a simple life.
“Let’s put it this way: I don’t live to work, I work to live,” he said.
His home is a trailer in South Berwick, Maine with a half-mile long driveway. He has five grandchildren and noted that he likes to have enough money to buy them presents and visit as often as he can.
“You’re being when happy when you get up in the morning and you smile and take a deep breath and go about the day,” he said reiterating.
He walks down another hallway to change out the trash and looks over his shoulder smiling.
“If you need me, I’ll be here.”