Tag Archives: career

Hooked on a feeling

Hooked on a feelingIt was summer, and the company was getting a lot more business.

As a result, the owner, Benito, started hiring people at a frantic pace. Every morning, an unfamiliar guy would arrive at the shop while we were loading the truck, to wait for an interview.

One morning, we were in the shop sharpening lawnmower blades when a car pulled up and a man stepped out. The sunlight glinted off his arms, making me squint.

I peered at him, and I saw that instead of hands, the guy had hooks protruding from his wrists.

Crew Leader Carl appeared behind me. I glanced over and saw that he was staring at the man.

“Dude,” Carl said, as the guy walked into Benito’s office. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m wondering if we have the facilities, vehicles and tools to accommodate his disability.”

“Actually,” Carl said, “I was wondering how the guy uses the bathroom. You know what I mean? How could be possibly wipe with those things without tearing out his O-ring?”

I looked at him. “You know, Boss,” I said, shaking my head, “I don’t think you and I will ever be on the same page.”

Finding the perfect candidate

Finding the perfect candidateWe were down a guy, so the company owner, Benito, posted the open position online. Within a day, he received an application. Crew Leader Carl asked me to sit in on the interview.

We used the conference room next door to Benito’s office. By “conference room,” I mean an office furnished with a single plastic table and folding chairs on either side. The room was stuffy and reeked of stale cigar smoke.

Crew Leader Carl and I sat on one side of the table, and a man in bib overalls sat on the other. A toothpick dangled from the side of his mouth, and he sat slouched with his arms crossed.

“OK,” Crew Leader Carl said, holding a clipboard and pen like the high-level recruiter he was. “I just need to ask you some questions to determine if you’re qualified.”

“Shoot.” The man snorted as if he were going to hawk a wad of phlegm. But given the professional nature of the situation, he swallowed it, instead.

“Do you know the difference between a two-stroke and a four-stroke engine?” Carl asked.

“Nope.”

“Do you have any experience operating heavy equipment?”

“Nope.”

“Do you have a commercial driver’s license?”

“Nope.”

“Do you know the difference between an annual and a perennial?”

“Nope.”

“Can you name five shrubs that are native to the area?”

“Nope.”

“Do you have any knowledge of fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides?”

“Nope.”

“Are you willing to work for minimum wage?”

The man shrugged. “Sure.”

Carl stood up and pumped the man’s hand. “Congratulations! The job is yours! You start Monday morning.”

The path of least resistance has weeds

The path of least resistance has weedsAll of us on the crew tensed as we pulled to a stop in front of our next account.

It was an otherwise normal-looking house on a nice street. The issue was that it belonged to the company’s owner, Benito. We knew that if the lawn was cut too short or if a single weed was missed, Benito would chew each of us out in Italian.

To make matters worse, Benito’s wife was a homemaker, so she was always there to glower at us through the window as we worked, and also to make sure that we didn’t tromp on her flowers or kick gravel onto the lawn.

With anxiety gripping my heart, I knelt and started deadheading flowers in the front planter. I glanced up and saw Benito’s wife standing at the window, staring me down. I shivered and focused intently on my work.

Juan ambled by with a weed eater slung over his shoulder. As he trudged along the gravel path woven through the front yard, he accidentally kicked gravel onto the lawn.

The window immediately flew open, and Benito’s wife started screaming.

“That no-good bastard no watch where he step!” she yelled, pointing at Juan. “He kick rock all over!”

“Dammit Juan!” Crew Leader Carl barked. “Watch where you’re going!”

Later, Juan and I were kneeling in the path, pulling minuscule clover-looking weeds that grew in the moss woven between the stepping stones.

Juan paused for a moment to pull a sticker from his finger.

The window flew open again. “He no pulling enough weeds!” Benito’s wife screamed, pointing at Juan. “He lazy! He just sit and stare!”

“Dammit Juan!” Crew Leader Carl barked. “Work harder!”

As we loaded the truck, Carl appeared behind me.

“Wow,” he said, his voice low. “For whatever reason, Benito’s wife does not like Juan. And when Benito’s wife doesn’t like someone, she tells Benito, and then Benito fires them.”

My eyes widened. “He’s actually fired people because she complained?”

“Of course,” Carl said. “And why not? I’m sure it’s easier to find new people than it is to argue with her!”

Don’t put all your eggs in one Dumpster

Don_t put all your eggs in one DumpsterIt was late Thursday morning, and it was already sweltering. We were working at our largest account — a shopping center anchored by a supermarket.

There were no lawns to mow or weeds to pull here. Instead, the job consisted of each of us combing the property and picking up trash.

And man, was there always a ton of trash.

We’d each lug a plastic container behind us, and by the time we’d return to the truck, it’d be overflowing with shopping bags, soda cans, beer bottles, cigarette butts, soiled diapers, used needles.

“I really need to get paid more,” I mumbled, dropping a flat, run-over cat into my container.

I was walking the perimeter of the supermarket and approaching my least-favorite area: the overflowing Dumpsters in the back alley. They always reeked of rotting food, and garbage blew everywhere in an endless whirlpool.

As I approached the nearest Dumpster, I saw a pair of legs poking out, wiggling. As I grew closer, warily clutching my trash container, I saw that they belonged to Crew Leader Carl.

“Hey!” he said, wrenching himself out of the Dumpster. He was holding a carton of eggs. “Look what I found! They must be throwing out food today. I found a whole dozen eggs, and they’ve only been expired for a week!”

My stomach turned. “Boss, it’s ninety degrees out here!”

“So what?” Carl said. “It’s not like they’re refrigerated when they pop out of the chicken. You need to learn where your food comes from, pal.”

“Well, I know where it doesn’t come from,” I said. “The supermarket Dumpster.”

A company-required radioactive shirt

A company-required radioactive shirtWhen we arrived at work the other morning, the shop superintendent, Shoemaker, was standing near the punch clock handing out shirts to all the guys.

“What are these?” asked Slim, as Shoemaker handed him a shirt.

“Benito just ordered them,” Shoemaker said. “They’re the new company uniform. He wants all employees to wear them while they’re working.”

“I’ll take a medium,” I said.

“Once size fits all,” Shoemaker said, thrusting an extra-large shirt at me.

I frowned, holding the shirt to my chest. “This is a dressing gown.”

Shoemaker snorted. “That’s because you’re a runt. They’re designed for men who’ve actually filled out.”

“Filled out how?” I asked. “With their beer guts? Because that describes most of the men at this company. Particularly you.”

Shoemaker glared at me, clenching his goatee.

Slim unfolded his shirt and scowled. “Why are they such a bright, neon green? They look radioactive.”

“Don’t complain,” Shoemaker said. “You’re getting a free shirt. Besides, they’re lightweight, and the neon color reflects the sunlight instead of absorbing it. Benito wants his employees to be cool and comfortable as they work.”

“Benito’s putting our comfort first and foremost?” I asked, narrowing my eyes. “That doesn’t sound right. There’s got to be more to the story.”

“There is,” Shoemaker said. “The bright neon also helps him to spy on his crews from several hundred yards away, so he can make sure they’re actually working.”

“OK,” I said, nodding. “Now that makes sense. That’s the Benito I know.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Requisitioning a company vehicle

Requisitioning a company vehicleIt was a chilly summer morning. We were all at the shop, loading the truck with our mowers and tools.

As I climbed into the backseat, Benito, the owner, grabbed my wrist and yanked me back out.

“You’re not working with them today!” he said. “I need you to do a job with Bryce!”

“What kind of a job?” I asked, as the maintenance truck took off without me, spewing dust and gravel.

“What kind of a job?” Benito repeated. “You all the time questions! It’s a job where I tell you what to do and you just do it! Understand?”

“I appreciate your sharing the big-picture vision,” I said. “Thank you.”

“Load a truck with shovels and rakes, and then see me in the office,” Benito said, stomping away. “I’ll give you the address.”

“How about I just ride with Bryce?” I asked.

“Because he’s already at the jobsite! You and your endless questions!”

“So we’re driving two separate vehicles? This company’s not exactly a paragon of efficiency, Boss.”

Benito pointed at me. “Take a truck and load it with tools! I’ll be in the office.”

“How do I know what truck to take?” I asked.

Per carita! Never-ending questions! Talk to Shoemaker. He’s the shop superintendent.”

So I approached Shoemaker, a short, balding guy with a long goatee. “Benito wants me to take one of the trucks.”

“Which one you want?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know. How about the ’84 Ford?”

“That one’s been stalling at stoplights.”

“OK,” I said. “How about the ’79 Ford?”

“Nah. The brakes is worn.”

“The ’77 flatbed?”

“Nope. Transmission’s busted.”

I glared at him. “The ’68 Chevy dumptruck?”

“Clutch is out.”

“Well,” I said, “I need something reliable. I’ll just take the 2000 Isuzu Hombre, then.”

“That one … wait.” Shoemaker scratched his chin. “We don’t have an Isuzu Hombre.”

“I know,” I said, twirling my keychain on my finger and walking away. “It’s mine.”