Last one on the dance floor

| 12 Oct 2016 | 04:49

Students, teachers and principals come and go at Henry Hudson Junior High School in the Bronx. But one person has stayed. Ralph Archer has been a janitor at the school since 1972.

“I saw it all,” he says, making a rainbow in the air with his cracked hands. “Nobody has been in this place all this time. Only me.”

Archer was 17 when he moved from Puerto Rico to the Bronx. His dream was to be a cop. But at 5 feet, 2 inches tall, he had to dream again.

At 20, he was hired as the middle school’s janitor. Almost half a century later and he’s still here. “I like to be doing the same thing every day,” he says. “I don’t want to go.”

Archer takes pride in everything he does. Though his shift doesn’t start until 6 a.m., he’s in the building by 4:30. Where others might be sloppy, he’s meticulous, Archer insists.

“If my name is involved,” he says, “I want to do a good job.”

In the mornings, it takes him two hours to sweep outside the school. “I should be halfway dead,” Archer, 65, says. “But I’m alright.”

He remembers a 1980s snowstorm when the snow reached up to his shoulders. Still, he made it to the school, where he turned on the boiler and began the long cleanup. “Who came? Me. I was the only one,” he says.

Back in the day, when janitors were asked what they did, they’d tell people that they were teachers, explains Archer. Now, he says, lots of people want the job because of the high hourly pay and benefits.

When he’s not working, he loves to dance. The teachers invite him to their nights out.

He brings along the school crossing guard. The two are always the last ones on the dance floor.

Sometimes he joins the students on their field trips. He recalls one field trip where he and the students were out canoeing, He got stuck paddling. “The kids do nothing,” he laughs. “I had to do all the work.”

Having been a fixture at the school for so long, many teachers rely on him for guidance. One even came to him to discuss marital problems. Archer told her that she should try to resolve things with her spouse.

“You know what you got,” Archer told her. “But you don’t know what you’re going to get.”