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The Colors Behind The Gray Uniform: Ricky The Custodian

By Michelle Yang

You may find him in the main hall or in the surrounding areas after school. At first glance, nothing particular will stand out. He is a custodian and wears the gray shirt and pants like all the rest. You probably see him every day—sometimes sporting a black beanie, usually with headphones—even if you don’t know his name.

With or without a black beanie, he is Orlando Mohammed—or Ricky, as he prefers to be called. Upon talking to him, you may find out that his favorite food is pizza. He doesn’t like dogs, or cats, but maybe likes fish. He is a father. And he is more similar to students at South than you think.

Born in Jamaica, Ricky moved to the United States when he was around five years old. In his earlier years, he went to school in Queens, but then moved to Great Neck later on, attending South Middle and South High.

“I was not bad, but you know, I was not good either,” Ricky said, reflecting on his life as a student. “I remember I got into a fight in the upper cafeteria and got suspended.”

He also recalled, “Every day I was in the swimming pool.” Ricky also participated in track, doing the long jump and running the 500m. One of his favorite memories of South is his senior pep rally, although he won’t say much about it because “[my friends and I] did stuff that we weren’t supposed to be doing.”

He remembers liking science, specifically Earth science, which was taught by Dr. Malazzo. He was also taught by Dr. Shine, who is the man you see on a plaque in the main hall.

Outside of school, he does things as everyone else does: shopping for groceries, running errands. “Sometimes, like today, I had to go to the principal’s office [of my son’s school] for his behavior,” Ricky said.

However, although he might be embarrassed to hear it phrased this way, he has a passion for fashion. “I know how to shop!” said Ricky. He likes Urban Outfitters and recently bought a sweater from there, which he describes as a “colorful quilt.”

“Sometimes I like to coordinate [my clothes]. I can’t really coordinate with these though,” Ricky said, gesturing to his grey custodian clothes. However, Ricky does add his personal touch to his custodian uniform, though it is not discernable at the surface. “I don’t know if this is going too far, and you might laugh,” he said. He took off his shoe to reveal neon, rainbow colored socks.

Other than fashion, Ricky is also interested in the band Guns N’ Roses and reggae music, “because it’s my culture.” Over the weekends, he plays basketball with a group of his friends at a local gymnasium. Other times, he may just “hang out” with his son, maybe going rollerblading or ice-skating. “I’m a good father, hopefully,” said Ricky.

This summer, Ricky plans to visit Jamaica for possibly two weeks, which he can’t do often because of the expense. His father still lives in Jamaica, though his mother passed away. Ricky also brought his son to Jamaica, but found that his son didn’t like it very much.

To students, Ricky would advise, “You guys do know that it’s a real world outside. It’s not fun and games. You don’t want to live with your mommy or daddy for the rest of your life, so you’re going to have to get a job—a high-paying job…so whatever you do now, it matters for the future.”

So next time you see Ricky, say hi. Maybe ask about his son. You may learn more surprising facts about him. Then again, you may not learn anything at all. “I’m a shy person and don’t like to talk much about myself,” Ricky explained. But still, ask to see his rainbow socks.

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