I was loading the truck one morning when Shoemaker, the shop superintendent, approached me with another man walking beside him.
“Hey, Peter,” Shoemaker said. “I’d like to introduce you to Ron. Today’s his first day, so I want him to work with you to learn the ropes.”
“Sounds good,” I said, shaking Ron’s hand. “Welcome aboard.”
“I’m glad to be here,” Ron said, sounding a little too enthusiastic.
“Well, it’s early yet,” I said. “After you dig a few trenches in the hundred-degree heat, we’ll revisit that remark.”
As Shoemaker walked away, Ron set his lunchbox in the back of the truck. “So, do you like working here?” he asked me.
I shrugged. “It’s a job. I try not to complain.”
“I know,” Ron said, kicking at the dirt. “I feel lucky to have been hired. I just don’t want to do anything to blow this opportunity.”
“If you keep a shovel in your hand and a smile on your face, you should do all right,” I said, tossing a coiled hose into the back of the truck. “And don’t hide vodka in your thermos. Apparently, that’s frowned upon here. The guy you’re replacing found that out the hard way.”
“Have you ever seen anyone get canned?” Ron asked.
“Of course,” I said, nodding. “Lots of times.”
“What sorts of things will they fire you for?” he asked. “I mean, just so I know what behaviors to avoid.”
I looked over at Crew Leader Carl, who was yakking with Shoemaker. Carl was wearing his typical ripped T-shirt and ragged shorts, his hair hanging in greasy strands. As usual, a cigarette dangled from his lips. Shoemaker was wearing a torn tank-top and stroking his foot-long goatee, which he had recently dyed red.
“Well, I’ll tell you this much,” I said. “I’ve never seen anyone here get fired for their appearance.”