Those who don’t know, teach

Those who don_t know, teachIt was Monday morning, and all of us were seated on folding chairs in the shop, facing the open bay door. Shoemaker, the shop superintendent, had called an impromptu meeting before the crews took off to go to their respective job sites.

“The owner, Benito, asked me to gather everyone together this morning to discuss something very important,” Shoemaker said, stroking his goatee and pacing back and forth. “The company has gotten a lot of complaints lately. Apparently, some team members have been whistling at women while driving company vehicles.”

I looked at Juan and Slim. Both of them were staring at their laps, examining their hands, as if they’d never catcalled in their entire lives.

“As we all should know,” Shoemaker continued, “whistling at women is inappropriate behavior. Not only that, but it’s sexual harassment. And when we make disparaging sounds at members of the general public, it reflects poorly on our company’s image.”

“Unlike our 30-year-old vehicles,” someone called out. (It might have been me.)

Shoemaker stopped grooming his goatee mid-stroke. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.” He continued to pace. “Because of these complaints, we’re going to spend an hour this morning undergoing sexual-harassment training. I’m passing out pamphlets now. Please take one and pass them back.”

I raised my hand. “Can I ask a question?”

Everyone turned to look at me. Shoemaker closed his eyes and sighed. “Yes. Go ahead, Peter.”

“Are you going to be administering the training this morning?” I asked.

Shoemaker tugged at his goatee. “Yes. As the shop superintendent, it’s my responsibility to ensure all employees are appropriately trained.”

“OK,” I said. “And just so we’re clear, you’re also the one who wallpapered the shop bathroom with all those Penthouse spreads last week. Correct?”

The entire company laughed. Shoemaker’s face turned red.

“Everyone turn to page 1 in your pamphlets,” he said, casting his gaze downward. “Maybe we all can learn something this morning.”

Love this job, and love you, too

Love this job, and love you, tooWe were driving between jobs, barreling down Main Street with our overflowing trailer swinging behind us.

One of the guys, Juan, saw an attractive woman walking along the sidewalk, so he stuck his head out the window and whistled at her as we cruised past.

“OK, that crap’s got to stop!” said Crew Leader Carl, turning around with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. “We have a name on the door!”

I was in the backseat, sitting in the middle. Juan was on my right, and an overweight, acne-ridden guy named Slim was sitting on my left. He, too, was a smoker, and between every job he lit up and puffed like a maniac, filling the cab with both the scents of his smoke and his body odor.

“Hey,” he said, turning to me and elbowing me in the ribs. His breath smelled like limburger cheese and Pall Malls. “You want to know something cool? If you take a song — any song — and you replace the word ‘love’ with the F-word, it changes the entire meaning of the song.”

I looked at him, blinking.

“Seriously, try it,” he said. “Any song. Just replace the word ‘love’ with the F-word, and you’ve got yourself a whole new song. It’s hilarious.”

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” I said.

We passed another woman, so Juan stuck his head out the window and whistled.

“Dammit!” Crew Leader Carl said, pounding the dashboard. “I mean it!”

Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane,” Slim said, hacking on his cigarette. “Let’s change the words! C’mon, man! Sing it with me!”

I shook my head. “I’d really rather not.”

Another woman was walking up ahead. Juan glanced at Carl out of the corner of his eye, then looked out the window and let out a small chirp.

Through the rearview mirror, I saw Carl’s eyebrows rise. “I heard that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Slim was singing Somebody to Love with the perverted lyrics. Every time he changed the word “love” to the F-word, he laughed and hacked on his cigarette.

Just then, on the left side of the two-lane street, we saw a heavyset woman walking alongside the road.

“Hold on a second,” Slim said. Holding his cigarette, he stuck his double-chinned, acne-riddled face out the window and bellowed “Moo! Moo!”

“Dammit!” Carl said, slamming the dashboard. “How many times do I have to tell you guys? We have a name on the door! A name on the door!”

I sighed, closing my eyes. “These morons are loved.”

Slim looked at me. “What’s that?”

“If you change the word ‘love’ to the F-word, then it makes sense,” I said.

Redheads are notorious

Redheads are notoriousWe were driving between jobs one afternoon, cruising through town with the windows down.

As we went through an intersection, we all noticed an attractive young woman up ahead walking along the sidewalk. She was wearing high heels and a short skirt that showed off her long legs.

As we drove past, one of the guys, Juan, stuck his entire head out the window and whistled. The woman jumped, startled.

“Well, that was subtle,” I said.

Juan elbowed me in the ribs. “She was hot, no?”

I shrugged. “Yeah. She was OK.”

I didn’t want to state the obvious: that she was way out of my league.

“No,” said Crew Leader Carl, shaking his head and puffing on a cigarette as he drove. “You wouldn’t want her, Pete.”

“Why not?” I asked.

Carl looked at me in the rearview mirror. “Isn’t it obvious? Because she’s a redhead!”

We drove in silence for a moment.

“Um, OK,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t get it. What’s the deal with redheads?”

“Oh, man,” Carl said. “Don’t you know? Redheads are the nastiest of them all! They’re gross. They’re dirty. They’re notorious!

I stared at him, blinking. “Carl, what are you talking about?”

“Well, let me explain,” Carl said. “The only reason I say that is because the first redhead I dated gave me the crabs, and the second redhead I dated gave me the clap.”

I’m sure my mouth was hanging open. “But you can’t just impugn an entire class of women based on your personal experiences!”

“Sure I can,” Carl said. “They were miserable experiences.”

“Maybe it’s not so much redheads in general as the type of women you date?” I suggested.

Carl shrugged. “Crabs and clap. I think the math speaks for itself.”

Teamwork gets the job done

Teamwork gets the job doneBryce and I drove to the job site together. It was an older house with a dirt yard in front and an aged paver patio in back.

We hopped out of the truck. I grabbed both a pick and a shovel.

“OK,” Bryce said, “I want you to dig a three-foot-deep trench from here—” he walked the entire length of the front yard — “to here.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I got to run to the supply store for spray paint,” he said. “I forgot to grab some at the shop.”

So he left, and I started to dig. An hour later, he returned with the paint.

“OK,” Bryce said, “now that you’re done with the trench, I want you to tear out all those old pavers in the backyard. Put them in a pile by the sidewalk.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I got to run to the supply store for a couple of bags of sand,” he said. “I forgot to grab some at the shop.”

So he left, and I ripped out all the pavers. I hauled them in several wheelbarrow loads to the front yard and stacked them in a pretty pile by the sidewalk.

An hour later, Bryce returned with the sand.

“OK,” he said, “now that you’re done with the pavers, I want you to dig a four-foot-deep hole by the front of the house. Make sure it intersects with the trench.”

“What are you going to do?” I asked.

“I got to run to the supply store for a valve box,” he said. “I forgot to grab one at the shop.”

So he left, and I dug a four-foot-deep hole. An hour later, he returned with the valve box.

Just then, Benito pulled up in his small truck. He climbed out and inspected the site.

“Good job!” he said, walking toward us. “You guys get a lot done!”

“It’s all about teamwork,” Bryce said. “Together, Peter and I kick some serious butt.”

He looked at me. “Isn’t that right?”

I glared.

Seeking out opportunities for advancement

Seeking out opportunities for advancementWe were loading the truck one morning when Benito, the owner, appeared behind me and grabbed my arm.

“I want you work with Bryce today!” he barked.

I sighed. “Again?”

Benito wagged his finger in my face. “You do what I tell you and no complain! Bryce is good guy! He’s been with me long time!”

“Of course he’s been with you for a long time,” I said. “He’s too useless to work anywhere else.”

“How dare you!” Benito screamed. “You take that back! Bryce is my No. 1 guy!”

“Yeah?” I said, crossing my arms. “Because his work ethic is No. 2. Seriously, the guy doesn’t do anything! Whenever you pair us together, he sits and delegates while I do all the work!”

“Bryce is a foreman!” Benito said. “That means you do what he says and no complain!”

“How come Bryce gets to be a foreman while I’m just a laborer?” I asked. “I actually work. And not only that, but I’m competent, too. What does it take to get a promotion around here?”

“You no work with me for long time!” Benito screamed, clenching his fists. “You no prove yourself!”

“OK,” I said, “so let me get this straight. If I play my cards right and muddle through for several years without making waves, then someday I, too, can achieve Bryce’s advanced stature and prominence? Is that what you’re saying?”

Benito glowered, his eyes narrowing. A vein started to protrude from his neck.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” I said.

Several minutes later, as I was loading one of the trucks, Crew Leader Carl approached me from behind.

“I heard you and Benito fighting,” he said. “What was that all about?”

“Nothing,” I said. “We were just discussing advancement opportunities.”

Carl’s eyes widened. “Did he say he’s going to promote you?”

“Only if I achieve longevity through bureaucratic momentum and run-of-the-mill performance,” I said, shrugging. “I guess I didn’t realize this place was so corporate.”

Never make the same mistake twice — even if you’re not sure what it is

Never make the same mistake twiceAs we drove out of the shop one morning, Crew Leader Carl stopped at the office to talk to the owner, Benito. The crew waited in the truck while Carl went inside.

Several minutes later, Carl returned looking pale and trembling. He hopped behind the wheel and lit a cigarette, his hand shaking.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

Carl took a deep drag. “Not really. Benito just chewed my ass for fifteen minutes straight!”

“For what?” I asked.

Carl shrugged. “No idea. It was all in Italian. He was waving his arms and screaming. I never even saw him take a breath. It was like a damn Francis Ford Coppola production in there!”

“So you have no idea what he was so mad about?” I asked.

“No idea,” Carl said. “But I’ll tell you something: Whatever it was, I’m sure as hell never going to do it again!”

Adding beauty to the world

Adding beauty to the worldThe crew was loading up the truck after finishing a yard. As the other guys climbed into the cab, Crew Leader Carl and I stood on the sidewalk in front of the house, admiring our work.

“You know,” Carl said, taking a deep drag from his cigarette, “I love this job. I really do. I always get such a tremendous sense of accomplishment after sprucing up a yard. We showed up to find the lawn overgrown, with weeds choking the planters and garbage caught in the shrubs. By working together as a cohesive team, we transformed the place from an untidy scrapheap into a verdant paradise.”

He waved his arm. “I mean, look at it. Thanks to us, the homeowners now have this pristine sanctuary in which to seek refuge from the stress of daily life. Tonight after dinner, they can sit outside with a cup of coffee and admire the twilight sky. The wind will rustle through the tree branches above, and off in the distance the crickets will chorus, providing a relaxing atmosphere lit only by the moon and stars.”

He took another long drag from his cigarette and let it out slowly. “Humans are meant to be in nature,” he said, his eyes misting as he gazed into the distance. “We’re meant to be free and roaming; not caged in cubicles like corporate prisoners. And you and I, we’re advocates of nature. We not only beautify people’s yards; we purify their spirits. By enhancing the yards that surround their homes, we’re helping people to find peace and tranquility. We’re not only giving them a space to meditate – we’re giving them a refuge in which to rediscover their souls.”

He wiped a tear from his eye. “We create beauty – that’s what we do. We create beauty.”

As I climbed into the truck, Carl remained outside. I noticed him wipe a tear as he looked at the yard, savoring all the beauty that we’d helped sculpt from the once-messy landscape.

Then he climbed into the cab, sliding behind the wheel. Starting the engine, he took one final drag from his cigarette before flicking it out the window.

It landed on the front lawn just as we were pulling away.

No call, no show — no work

No call, no show — no workOne of the guys on the crew unexpectedly quit, so Benito hired a man named Marc to replace him. Marc was large and rough-looking, with tattoos covering his face and neck. If you tried speaking to him, he’d only glower and grunt.

After a week, Marc didn’t show up one morning. The crew remained at the shop to wait for him, even after everyone else had gone to their respective job sites.

“I hope he’s OK,” Crew Leader Carl said, pacing the shop floor. “According to Benito, he didn’t call in.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I said. “He’s probably hungover or something.”

“He knows to call in if he’s sick,” Carl said. “And he obviously didn’t quit, because he didn’t say anything to me or Benito. I’m just worried that something happened.”

“Maybe we can obsess about it on the road,” I said. “The longer we wait here, the later we’ll have to work tonight to get everything done.”

Carl glanced at his watch. “We’ll give him a few more minutes. I’d hate for him to show up and for us to be gone.”

“Yeah, that’d be a real tragedy,” I said. “We’d all be deprived of his sunny disposition.”

Carl continued to pace while the rest of us leaned against the truck, loafing. Francisco yawned and started to nod off, even though he was standing up.

“It’s not like him not to show up,” Carl said.

“He’s been here a week,” I said. “He hasn’t exactly demonstrated longterm stability.”

“But he explicitly told me how much he appreciates this job,” Carl said. “He was so grateful for the opportunity. I can’t imagine that he’d squander it.”

He shook his head and sighed. “I wonder what could have gotten into him?”

“Probably a fifth of tequila and a six pack,” I said.

Finally, Carl’s cell starting ringing. He put it to his ear. “Yeah? Oh, you did? Well, that’s good news. I’m glad you found out. The entire crew was worried. Huh? Yeah, we’ll go ahead and hit the road.”

Carl put the phone away. “That was Benito. He just heard from Marc. Apparently, he couldn’t come to work this morning because he’s in jail for beating his wife.”

“Well, that’s reassuring,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Thank goodness he’s OK. Now we can all rest easy.”

Carl glared at me.

“I mean, I know all of us were deeply concerned about his health and well-being,” I said. “I’m just glad he isn’t hurt.”

Carl closed his eyes, sighing.

“I just have one question, though,” I said. “Is going to jail for beating your wife an acceptable excuse to miss work? I mean, can you declare that as sick time, or maybe personal vacation? I must have glossed over that part in the employee handbook.”

“OK, Peter!” Carl barked. “Enough! You’ve made your point.”

Seeking professional expertise 

Seeking professional expertiseIt was a sweltering summer morning, and we were working at one of our newer accounts. All of us on the crew were scurrying around mowing, pruning and pulling weeds, while Crew Leader Carl stood with his arms crossed, supervising.

The front door opened, and the homeowner came hobbling out. He was an older man with thin, wispy hair. He was wearing shorts that showed off his pencil-thin legs and knobby knees. The bright sunlight glared off them, and I had to look away.

“Excuse me!” he called to Carl. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Carl said, walking toward the front stairs.

“I’ve had that tree there since I moved in,” the man said, pointing. “Do you know what kind it is?”

Carl rubbed his chin. “You know, I’m not sure.”

“The reason I ask is that it seems to drop a lot of leaves,” the man said. “It’s as if there’s a new pile every morning. Do you know if that’s normal?”

Carl shrugged. “I really couldn’t say.”

“I also noticed that it’s close to the street,” the man continued. “I’m worried about the roots. Do you think they could tear up the sidewalk as the tree matures?”

Carl tilted his head. “That’s a good question.”

“The trunk also got a split in it during a recent windstorm,” the man said. “I don’t know if it’s a hardwood or a softwood. Is there a chance it could snap someday and topple onto my house?”

Carl licked his lips. “That’s definitely something to think about.”

I turned to Francisco, who was kneeled beside me, pulling weeds.

“I love to watch a professional at work,” I told him.

Spit happens

Spit happensBenito, the owner, had given me an address and told me to work with Bryce for the day. I found the house and pulled to a stop in front.

Bryce was standing in the front yard, scratching his shaved head. A gargantuan wad of chew bulged from his bottom lip, packed like gauze into an open wound.

I grabbed a shovel from the back of my truck and approached him. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“Got a busted pipe underground,” he said, spitting a chunk of tobacco at the saturated soil. A stream of juice dribbled down his chin. Brown beads glistened from the stubble.

I winced, my stomach turning. “Broken pipe?”

“Yep.” He spit again, the juice landing on the toe of his boot. “Water’s coming up by that tree. Looks like a geyser. I reckon the pipe’s busted underneath.”

“So we’re going to have to dig down to find it?” I asked.

“Yep. That’s what you’re here for. Glad you brought your shovel.” Bryce spit again and grinned, showing off his rotted teeth. They looked like black beans protruding from rancid gums. My nausea grew worse.

“Aren’t you going to help me?” I asked. “You’re not just going to stand there while I dig, are you?”

“I’m the repair specialist,” Bryce said, spitting. “I’m not supposed to touch a shovel. I’m just here to diagnose the problem.”

“So you’re saying there are two types of employees: Those who diagnose the problem, and those who dig?”

He grinned again. “Yep. And because you’re new, you dig.”

He hawked another wad of spit, the juice trickling down his cheek and neck. He brushed the back of his hand across his face to wipe it off. I threw up a little in my mouth.

“Sorry,” I said, dropping my shovel and walking away. “No can do. I got to go home and take a shower.”

“Take a shower?” Bryce said, chunks of tobacco dribbling from his mouth. “What are you talking about? You haven’t even done anything yet.”

“I know,” I said, “but for some inexplicable reason, I already feel dirty.”