In today's paper, you meet Oscar Dantzler, one of two custodians at Duke Chapel on the Duke University campus. He will be featured in an upcoming documentary film about college janitors.
Dantzler is a character. He's chatty and friendly and quick with a story, and it appears that everyone over at the chapel loves him.
For me, Dantzler's a notebook-filler, someone with a backstory so rich that I couldn't cram every detailed I learned about him into the story. So let me tell you a bit more about him.
Oscar was born on the Fourth of July, which just sort of seems fitting for an American original. His job is to clean the Duke Chapel sanctuary and basement offices, a job he attacks with a great deal of pride.
He starts work each day at 5 a.m. Here's what it's like then: "You have the whole building, the whole campus, to yourself. It's a strange feeling when you walk in there. I can't describe the feeling. It hink it's just being in the place, I call it the House of God. My mother always said if you can't keep the House of God clean, you can't keep your own."
He works for a few hours and each morning he opens the Chapel doors to the public at 8 a.m. It often gets active. The Chapel is one of the state's busiest tourist attractions, and Oscar is a de facto tour guide, question-answerer and all-around font of knowledge.
"I can answer any question they can ask me about Duke Chapel," he said.
When he told me that, I was skeptical. So I asked Bill King, the now-retired Duke University archivist. King set me straight.
"I have complete confidence in anything he'd say," King reported.
The film in which Oscar will be featured is called The Philosopher Kings, a 70-minute documentary debuting next week at a film festival in Maryland. He's one of eight custodians at colleges across the country profiled.
Dantzler is a Floridian. Grew up in Ponce de Leon - "like the explorer," he told me, where his mother raised a large family essentially on her own as Dantzler's father was away working extended shifts with the railroad company. Dantzler said he got his strength and work ethic from his mom.
Though Dantzler also spent many years working in New York, his heart seems stuck in Florida. He's a big fan of Florida State and its football team, whose chief rivals are Florida and Miami, not that you'd learn that from him.
"I can't even mention those other two teams," he jokes.