By Daniel Nguyen
Douglas Melgar, the lead man for Hofstra’s night time custodial staff, leaned slightly into the dim light of Hofstra Hall’s lower floor as he told me about the best and worst parts of his job.
“I believe the best is the benefits that you have, because you give your kids the opportunity to attend school – a good school and you don’t have a big load on you as far as a loan or them taking out a loan. You can pretty much manage. The worst is the mess – the clean ups, throw ups … otherwise it’s a great job.”
It was a Friday night just before 7 p.m. and I caught Melgar as he was walking toward Hofstra Hall, where the staff gather at the beginning of their shift. Hofstra was kicking off its basketball season with a match against Army West Point and Melgar, along with several dozen other custodial staff, were working the overtime shift.
Melgar has a clipped, terse way of speaking, and he answered my initial questions with a pithy efficiency that belies a gentler, quick-to-laugh disposition. When I asked where he’s from he said, “El Salvador.” The number of staff on the night crew? “36-37.”
This initial characteristic impression of stoical reticence frequently gives way to a softer more loquacious side that surfaces in between Melgar’s more perfunctory two-word responses.
“I’ve been working for Hofstra for 19 years,” Melgar said. “I started working here because a friend recommended me. He told me it was a good school to work for, a good job, pension, benefits – especially if you have kids, they can come to school here.”
Because of his full-time status as an employee of Hofstra, his kids go to Hofstra tuition-free. Melgar pays a paperwork fee of $500 each semester for every child.
“I have three kids,” he said. “My first one is 21, which is my daughter. She’s attending here now. She’s a senior now at Hofstra, and my second one is 19, so he’s a freshman here at Hofstra. My youngest is 17 so he’s a senior at Levittown Division High School. My daughter is studying nursing. My son just started, so he’s not too sure what he wants to do. Maybe dental, but he’s not too sure yet.”
Melgar was born in El Salvador but he immigrated to Long Island with his parents when he was 2 years old. They initially lived in Williston Park in Nassau County, and his mother still lives nearby in East Meadow, NY.
As the custodial lead man, Melgar acts as the first line of supervision among the custodial staff. “There’s a boss, a foreman and lead man who works with the workers,” Melgar explained.
Normally, Melgar works from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. with a crew of 36. The work involves inside and outside maintenance of the Hofstra grounds and buildings, which includes the buses students take to and from parties.
“We work the nights, and Friday nights is usually the busiest because the kids go out,” he said. “On the bus, when they get transported back, wherever they get picked up, that’s probably the messiest: the seats, the floors on the bus – the Hofstra bus.”
When I asked if he gets much interaction with the students whose mess he and his crew regularly clean up, Melgar replies, “Not really, because we’re at night. It’s pretty rare.”
Still, Melgar and the custodial staff manage to maintain the appearance of Hofstra’s campus for each new morning rush of students going to class. “We see what has to get done and make sure everything gets done. Everything has to be cleaned and ready for you guys for the following day or the following events,” Melgar said.
And for the night crew, the night had just begun.
“I’m just getting started. Hopefully it’s a quiet night tonight,” he said, chuckling. “Hopefully.”