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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2005

A dirty job, but done with pride

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Cupid Joseph has been doing a dirty job for 33 years now.

When there's a sewage break and all that mess is spilling out of the manhole, he's the guy right in the middle, trying to clean it up and make it stop.

"Yeah, that's pretty much what we do," Joseph says.

He was just out of school (Kailua High, class of '71) when he started with the city and county road crew. He soon realized that the sewer crew made more money. He never minded the obvious things a person might find objectionable about pumping out cesspools, mopping up spills and climbing down manholes into the sewer system.

"It's not really the stink," he says. "It's the roaches."

Even that, he says, isn't so bad.

Cupid Joseph of 'Ewa Beach displays some of the coins he's found during 33 years of working in the city's sewers. At top, Joseph as photographed by The Advertiser's Charles Okamura in 1979.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

"The roaches and the rats. They see us, they run."

In 1979, Cupid Joseph was featured in a series of articles by Honolulu Advertiser reporter Pierre Bowman about city employees on the job. The accompanying photo shows him smiling and pumping.

He had been on the job for five years at that time. Naturally, he was asked about the smell.

"It just depends on where you stand," he said. He spent his career standing upwind whenever he could.

He's also found some treasures in sewers through the years: diamond rings that slip down drains; money that got lost in the wash. He keeps a collection of these mementos.

"People leave their loose change in their pockets when they go to the laundromat to wash clothes, and it goes in the sewer line. If we're cleaning a line that's close to a laundromat, we know already there will be a lot of money."

As for his unusual first name, no, he wasn't born on Valentine's Day. His great-grandfather was a friend of Prince Jonah Kuhio, who had acquired the nickname "Prince Cupid."

"He was a lover," Joseph says.

Joseph's great-grandfather named his son after the prince. Cupid Senior was his grandfather; Cupid Jr. is his dad, and he is Cupid III. A nephew carries the name Cupid IV.

"Because I didn't have a son," Joseph explains.

After he retires, Joseph will spend his time enjoying a much sweeter job, baby-sitting his 2-year-old grandson (who is not named Cupid).

"Maybe I'll take a part-time job, but nothing serious," he says.

Though the rest of us might not be able to fathom 33 years of dealing with people's, uh, stuff, Cupid Joseph says it was a good job that provided for his family.

He says, "If you lazy, any job is hard. You just gotta' work."

Lee Cataluna's column is published Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.