Once upon a time, somewhere near here, there were thirteen sturdy proprietors. They lived within haling distance of one another and things weren’t so bad. There was a fourteenth proprietor as well, a rascally fellow called Vermotte, but no one liked him or visited him.

Anyway, a couple of these householders got a bad case of Condo-maniacal Vision and began speculating and projecting – but no Tulip Mania or South Sea Bubble for them! No, they, like Baldrick, had a cunning plan. It was very utilitarian and English empirical, with only a touch of ideological zeal.

As one of them put it, “Why don’t we do some basic physical-social engineering and stack all our houses together on six or so floors of this new thing called a Condominium? Condos are all the rage in Europe and the best writers like Monty Skew have sorted it all out.” Further: “We can have a couple of man-made lakes and a very nice backyard. There’s a developer in New York, Marplot Scatheland, who does that kind of thing at good rates.”

But one of the ffounding developers objected: “Thirteen, you know, is an unlucky number.” To this the reply came: “No worries, we can provide five or six empty floors under the occupied ones, so that we can admit new members as needed. We can even admit ole Vermotte, if we have to.” That settled that.

Things went speedily ahead, and the projecting owners drew up an 18
-century contract between the prospective United Properties of Condo Land. After a hard sell, the “paper” was duly ratified. But we haven’t mentioned the Janitor yet.

What about him?

Well, during the closed-door discussions that hammered out the famous paper, some wanted to know who would clean the hallways, maintain the elevator (once that was invented), and kick riffraff off the front lawn. “Well, a Janitor, of course,” intoned James Madman, chief tinkerer. So, an Article II was drawn up which proclaimed that “The janitorial power of the United Properties shall be vested in a Janitor in Chief, who shall see to it that the halls be cleaned, the floors be mopped…” There were various other duties, including meeting with foreign janitors to discuss best janitorial practices.

Things went along fairly well under the new regime for a couple of years. Alas, disputes over expenses and positions of trust under the Janitor in Chief (or JC) broke out and grew increasingly heated. Shortly, certain high thinkers from the original Condo-maniacal Coalition, particularly Sander Hamilcar, began arguing that the JC had full authority to make all decisions of every kind on his own motion. “That’s why he is
with the
janitorial power
,” Hamilcar wrote, “and not just any old set of janitorial powers but
Janitorial Power. Here we face mighty emanations and penumbras of vast dimension. Every janitorial power ever plausibly claimed and violently seized, from Ancient Rome down to George III (our late landlord), is implied in those words; and implication is ninety-five percent of the Law. If you don’t believe me, see Titus Livy, Tee Hobbes, Locke John, Black Stone, and all those great men.”

This verbal swindle proved very effective. The JC went from success to success and from lots of power to total power. Much more could be written chronicling the achievements of the Great Janitor-Helmsman. He really tidied up and now patrols the globe, lecturing, sanitizing, and cleaning where needed, and with all means necessary (his favorite being bombing). The choice of means is his and his alone (see sundry gassy emanations of Article II

The Mighty Janitorial Office has many friends and apologists at home and abroad. Its high theoreticians are legion. At home, the fourth-yearly race for the Janitorship attracts the vilest characters across the Condo (as George Carey wrote in 2004). It costs a good chunk of GNP and most of the condo-dwellers’ attention span.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, and the American Janitor is ready to serve All Mankind, which need only obey his orders without fail. In this, he is at least as generous as Kuyuk Khan.
Come to think of it, the old Khan probably got
away with a lot of things himself.

The lesson seems to be that concrete powers, duly specified, might have worked out better. Perhaps grand phraseology subject to partisan readings has its drawbacks. An abstract-sounding “executive power” invites abuse and gets you “wars” on crime, or on good taste, or indeed on almost anything.