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Ping Fights Monotony In ‘Dirty Gig’ As Duties Lull

May 19th, 2011 · Tags:Arts · Cities · Satire

This blog has detailed some pretty uncomfortable situations and nasty assignments in the ongoing stories about “The Dirty Gig” — my side job in the disaster recovery industry.

Today was different.

But first yesterday … It was somewhat like a throwback to my roots. I was operating a fairly large piece of equipment, called a lull. The lull is smaller than the tractors and combines I drove on the farm as a kid. However, my combines and tractors didn’t have the ability to extend their business end 3-4 stories up in the air. Pretty cool if you haven’t driven one before.

See Lull
So anyway, just picture that for a moment — a 20-year veteran of coat/tie corporate America PR scooting around in a lull, with a huge piece of structural steel dangling from the forks. Man I wished I had one of these back on the farm. Imagine the stuff you could just tear up and haul off … I digress.

Like I was saying, yesterday I was the lull operator on the jobsite, as we dismantled a 4-story storage rack. (Imagine the tall shelves in a Sam’s Club … only taller.) Then today, I was scheduled to do the same. Then there was a wrench in the plan. There were some unexpected guests (company brass) on site today, and we had to beef up security around all the doors of the warehouse.

Guess who got to add security watchman to his resume? Ha! If you have ever been on a construction or demo site and wished you could be the guy who pretty much does nothing … well don’t.

OMGosh … I looked at my watch after lunch, expecting the mid-afternoon break … But we had only been back on the clock for 30 minutes after our meal. Yes, I went from lull to doldrum. I think my stint at doing nothing was just about the longest day of my life.

What does one do with all that extra time? Let’s see, I practiced my newly learned German insults hurling them at the German nationals who work on my crew. That sufficed for a while. Every time one of the Germans walked by, I thought of a different way to tell them no — regardless of what they were doing, right or wrong. “Nein! Nein!.” they heard me echoing through the warehouse, as I stood guard duty. Once during the day, I saw the Germans slip behind a stack of boxes, thinking they were out of sight where they could goof off for a bit.

I left my post long enough to climb a rolling ladder. I didn’t yell at the Germans to let them know they were discovered. I just stared at them. How is it that people know when someone is staring? It only took a second or two before one of my young European friends spotted me. If there is a German word for “busted” I am sure they said it. Then I flashed them a message with sign language. No, not that one. On my left hand, I held up five fingers. On my right hand, I held up four. How many is that (for you following along at home)? NINE! Get it

They laughed and went to hide behind another stack of boxes.

Well … that is a synapsis of 5 minutes of my long torturous guard duty. What else could I find to amuse myself as I stared at an open garage door that no one was using? Aha! Peeking from a trash can on the side of the door was a shiny hand tool of some sort. I retrieved it — a broken ratchet wrench. What kind of a ninny breaks a ratchet? Anywho, it was almost intact, except for the little trigger. So it was worthless … or at least to most people. It was a source of wonderment to fill another eventful 10 minutes of my day. I now know what the internal workings of a ratchet look like and I know how to get then apart. Pretty fascinating huh? HA! If you had been on duty with me, you would have fought me for the ratchet to entertain yourself.

After I had taken it apart, I was left with the handle — a long stainless, forged steel bar, with a round fixture on the end. My next fifteen minutes were like my own personal improv workshop. “How many things can you do with a broken ratchet as a prop?” First I stuffed the long metal shaft into one finger of my glove. It was barely noticeable, except that the middle finger on my hand now appeared to be bigger around and perhaps an inch longer than all the other fingers in the family. I held my hand up to wave at the Germans as they passed by toting some equipment to the other side of the job. You can imagine what gesture my seemingly deformed hand conjured up. Another laugh from the Germans — two in like 30 minutes. Do you know some Germans? … no easy feat!

Let’s see … for 15 minutes I flipped the ratchet handle in the air, learning to do the same trick over and over — catching the ratchet after 4 spins in the air … Over and over, like a gunfighter learning to twirl and holster his pistolero … or whatever ….

Looked at the clock … one hour gone …

Oh … back to the Germans. This is one of those weird things I absolutely love in life. Such a bizarre coincidence … “proof of God’s sense of humor,” I like to call it. As mentioned in this and a previous blog, I have had a great time joking with the Germans … and trading cultural observations as well. The other day, I was telling them about “Hogan’s Heroes,” “The Great Escape,” “Sprockets” and other vignettes of movie and TV that had some influence on how Americans view them. I stopped short and thought better of telling the boys about Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” I didn’t know if Brooks’ zany sense of humor would translate as funny or offensive. You know the movie and the Broadway musical right? — a madcap scheme to make the world’s worst musical, hoping to lose money … but the musical “Springtime For Hitler” becomes a huge success. Well, I decided to just let it be. Well …. this is way too uncanny for belief, but it is true. The next day, after our German’s in American media discussion, one of the workers dropped a box. It flew open. Guess what was in it …. Give up? I kid you not. The box was from a theater and it was stuffed with brochures and press kits from a touring production of “The Producers.” Seriously …. what are the odds?

I digress …

Let’s see … the ratchet could also be used as a bottle opener … oh or a Mafia finger breaking device. I didn’t try that one. Oh, then my other young friend, the French Russian walked by my well-guarded door. If you have read the previous blog entrees, you may know he is a big, physical specimen of a growing, former Soviet Block kid. In fact, once today, i saw him carrying a steel beam in one hand … not a big deal, except he was pumping it in the air for the extra fitness workout as he carried it out. He is just a gung-ho kind of guy. So with that set up, when I saw the French Russian approaching, i stuffed the ratchet back in my glove, bolstering the under side of my hand, out of sight. He walked up, pumping iron, or something … and I said, “Hey Angry Frenchman, watch this.”

I raised my gloved hand up and then brought it down hard and fast, whacking a pile of wooden pallets, making quite a little hammering sound. The French Russian doesn’t speak much English, but I could tell by the look in his eyes he was very impressed and quite curious how I had done this. “So you do this to show me you are strong or something?,” he asked in a thick French accent.

“Oui oui Angry Frenchman,” I said, as he walked off, still obviously pondering the firm, iron-like composition of my palm.

Okay … An hour and a half accounted for …. just about 5 more to go.

Sometime during the day, the egotistical thought troubled my little head that this guard duty thing was a terrible waste of what may have been a pretty good mind at one time or another (depending on who you talk to).

So, of course it occurred to me to write a blog about this. But who would want to read about me flipping a ratchet, twirling it in space at lightning speed and catching it over and over and over with unimaginable precision … no one, I decided.

So I started making observations in the workplace.

This was my best. I have alluded to the project before. We are in a storage facility of epic proportions — a warehouse … with hundreds of really tall racks. Because of the most recent Christchurch earthquake, all of these huge steel racks moved around on the concrete floor like … like … like a dance number on Glee (not that I would know). All of the shelves were still loaded with storage files, but the steel had been damaged and the safety and usefulness compromised (understated jargon). Me, the Germans, the Angry Frenchman and a bunch of other workers have been working a few weeks to take them apart and hopefully not get hurt doing so. We have had to exit a time or two for aftershocks too, btw.

So, as i stood there, on the sidelines and the hard work continued before my eyes, this was my deepest, most metaphorical comparison. This huge beast of a warehouse was like a huge buffalo carcass, laying on its side. We were like Native American buffalo hunters who had either found or taken the beast. We were determined to cart off and use every ounce (or gram) of it. And now, we were in the process of processing the thing. First we took the flesh and the meat (all those boxes) … slowly revealing the skeletal structure below (the steel frames, metal walkways, guard rails, etc.) The only thing, the more I thought about it, in that analogy, we the workers were all too small. My comparison would be the equivalent of us bagging a beast that was 4-stories high (lying on its side). I guess, maybe were more like the Lilliputians … You know the Lilliputians, right? Those little guys in “Gulliver’s Travels” who find the sleeping giant (the shipwrecked Gulliver) and tie him up … Yes, we were just like those little people.

I wasn’t just a security guard, watching a door, I was actually one of a couple of dozen Lilliputians working in a warehouse in New Zealand. Yah, that’s it …

So what did you do today?

Know what I saying?