GAINESVILLE, FL–Hamilton's Bar & Grill dishwasher and prep cook Cory Akers experienced a fleeting moment of joy, followed by a deep and abiding sense of shame, upon receiving a new mop head Monday.
Akers, 25, whose duties at the popular midscale eatery include taking out the trash and mopping at the end of each shift, was initially overjoyed by the prospect of the new mop head before collapsing into despair upon realizing the heart-rending pathos of his situation.
"I'd been asking for a new mop head for what seemed like forever. They kept saying they'd order it, but then they never would," Akers said. "It really gets kind of gross when you have to keep using the same mop head over and over. So when I showed up for work [Monday] and my manager said, 'Hey Cory, merry Christmas!' and tossed me the new head, I could hardly believe my eyes. There it was, a brand-new, snow-white, virginal mop head, unsoiled by grease or dirt. I was in heaven. At long last, the new mop head I'd been dreaming of was in my hands."
Coworkers said Akers seemed to be "in a revitalized, reinvigorated mood" throughout the remainder of his 8-to-5 shift. He even remarked to waiter Lance Dumont that he "[couldn't] wait to get out there and mop tonight."
"I was really excited to use that pristine new mop head for the first time," Akers said. "So when 4:30 rolled around, I raced over to the mop closet and, with great pleasure, unscrewed the filthy old mop head and threw it out. Man, that felt good. Next thing you know, I'm out there in the main dining area, mopping away like a kid in a candy store. The new mop head worked so much better than the old one, I was literally whistling while I worked."
"Everybody was remarking how happy I looked, saying stuff like, 'We should get Cory a new mop head more often,'" Akers continued. "It was only later, after punching out and heading home, that the depths to which I'd sunk hit me full force."
Shortly after returning to his apartment, Akers' happy state was obliterated by the crushing impact of his realization. As a bowl of soup heated in the microwave of his kitchenette, he became distracted by his own household mop, itself badly in need of a replacement head, leaning against a nearby wall. After staring blankly at the mop for several minutes, he disappeared into his bedroom. The congealed, long-cooled bowl of cream-of-mushroom soup was discovered several hours later, sitting in the microwave untouched.
Experts say the elusive human emotion known as joy can often prove a double-edged sword.
"As a lowly dishwasher forced to use the same filthy, slime-encrusted mop head for months on end, Akers is seldom afforded the chance to enjoy a general sense of well-being," noted therapist Dr. Eli Wasserbaum said. "Further, his capacity for self-awareness affords him no peace of mind, forcing him to recognize the low to which one must sink to become overjoyed by something as pathetic as a new mop head."
According to roommate Gabe Haugen, Akers' feelings of shame and degradation over his state of joy have proven far less fleeting than the initial elation.
"The poor guy was slumping around all day, and I could tell something was wrong," said Haugen, 23, a longtime temp worker. "When I finally asked him what it was, he was really reluctant to say."
Haugen said that when Akers finally confessed to the happiness he felt upon receiving the mop head, the conversation became even more uncomfortable.
"I guess I figured that once he told me what was wrong, I'd be able to tell him it wasn't so bad," Haugen said. "But what could I say? It wasn't like there was some misperception on his part that was causing him to feel depression and self-doubt when he shouldn't have. He was reacting the way any sane person would. I mean, feeling gleeful that his boss finally bought him a new $3 mop head with which to perform his unrewarding, low-paying, menial chores? You'd have to sink pretty low to think of that as a good thing. He was right to feel ashamed and degraded."
"I should know, man, because I've been there," Haugen continued. "I remember how horrible it felt the first time I realized how good it felt to finally gain access to the toner-cartridge cabinet. As I stood there, looking down at the toner-cartridge-cabinet keys in my little hand, beaming from ear to ear, I suddenly felt the worst emptiness I'd ever known sweeping over me like a thousand tidal waves."
According to Akers' father, lifelong factory worker Warren Akers, his son is better off coming to terms with his sad reality now than continuing to live in denial.
"The truth is, in Cory's miserable dish-washing world, a new mop head does count as a reason to be happy, however pitiful that may seem. In this shit-bucket life, you take your moments of satisfaction where you find them," the 61-year-old said. "Do you think I like the fact that the best moment of my entire day usually comes when the factory's break-room toilet flushes all the way down on the first try instead of taking two or three? Pathetic as it is, that's the truth. After a 12-hour shift making screen doors, if I make it all the way through one rerun of Adam-12 without falling asleep in my chair, I get a tiny jolt of happiness. And I learned long ago not to be ashamed of that tiny jolt of happiness, because, let's face it, that's as good as it's going to get, and I may as well enjoy it."