There's one where the cute black woman has something in her contact lens and she stumbles into the bathroom to fix her eye only to realize that she had stumbled into the men's restroom, all the guys staring at her as if she had two heads. There is another one in which a vendor at a sporting event laughs at a "Wanna Get Away?" commercial on the scoreboard and then proceeds to stumble down the stairs, spilling his full bevy of drinks on the isle-sitters. At the end of each commercial, Announcer Guy intones, "Wanna get away?"
That was me, today, at work: the woman with the effed-up contact lens, the vendor spilling down the stairs.
"Why don't you back-fill that hole, while I draw up the picture," Paul said. No problem. I had already back-filled a smaller hole, adjacent to the house's driveway, I was familiar with the Ditch Witch front loader, and, if this other hole was bigger and dug fresh out of muddy Bloomfield dirt? So what? I could do an adequate job of it. I was sure of myself, I was confident. Usually, the linesman does the machine work, though my job title is TMO, Trenching Machine Operator. Hey, it's like that for all the TMOs, for the most part--the linesmen -women do the digging and the TMOs do the grunt work.
Paulie's a little different. And, in a way, that's good. It's good to get practice on the machinery so that you don't get rusty with your skills. Well, I haven't been doing any digging, for the most part, since I've been in the department. I am rusty.
But, like I said, I had already back-filled a hole admirably and so I had a little confidence under my belt. Plus, it was a small Ditch Witch, easy to move and use, almost like a joystick-centered video game.
"All right, Paul," I said, "I got it."
This hole was different than the previous hole I'd filled. On the first hole, I could sit myself on the driveway--very stable--and I could just sweep the dirt and clay and roots into the hole by use of the digging arm. Very easy. This second hole, however--this one was different in a number of ways. First, this was a much bigger hole; this was where we had done the majority of the work, namely retiring a service tee and having the welder weld a new tee on and running a new service to the house. Bigger hole: more dirt. Second, there was no stable driveway upon which I could sit the machine. This was on the front lawn, butt-up against the two oversized mailboxes on posts. Third, the ground was soft as a baby's posterior. Fourth, I was tired--it had been a big job--and I just wanted to finish up and go home. Does that set the stage for disaster?
Maybe, maybe not.
This time, yes. Kind of.
I could go into detail about back-filling and how I had the welder's advice to which I listened, but I'm pretty sure I have bored y'all to tears by now. Long story short, I switched to the big shovel bucket on the front loader so that I could more easily push the dirt back into the hole and, having not had a lot of experience on the machine, I went a little too far into the not-quite backfilled hole and I...sunk in. No problem. Back out, right? Well, um, no. The problems were thrice. One, lack of experience. Two, the way in which the little Ditch Witch propells itself. It moves on treads, rather than wheels. Kind of like a little tank. Good for something, I guess, but not as reliable as good old-fashioned wheels. Three, the soft ground. I had gotten myself into a pickle; I had gotten flat-out stuck.
Matters were made worse by the mailboxes. I sincerely did not want to try to extricate myself from the mud and, upon operating the machine, take out two home's mailboxes with the front loader. So, maybe in the beginning, I tried to play it too cute, too cautious. Bad idea on soft untamped mud. I just dug myself deeper and deeper. I looked to the welder for help: he was on the phone. I looked to the linesman for help: he was in the 44, working on the computer diagram of the job we had done. I was on my own. It was not a success story.
Eventually, Paul wandered over to the hole, just in time to see me slam my hardhat against the machine's roof. "What was it?" he asked, smiling. "A bee?" Paul is a good guy, as genial as they come. He's also got an absurd sense of humor; often you can't tell whether the guy is serious or is yanking your crank. I have the same sense of humor and also I know that when Paul says something, you can bet that it is Theater of the Absurd. He plays good Make-Believe.
I told him that it had not been a bee, that I was stuck, that I was frustrated, that I was fucking pissed off. He smiled.
I fucked around a while longer with the controls and only succeeded in burying myself deeper in the mud. It felt like an Uncle Remus story, all Tar-Baby and shit. I gave up. "I give up," I said to Paul. "I'm stuck and I can't get out. This is fucking bullshit." At that point in time, I wanted to break something, anything. I got off the machine and Paul got on.
He had no more success than I. Though we tried to dig it out, put wooden planks under the treads, get a tow-chain from the welder's truck, nothing worked. In the end, Paul had to put down the digging arm to make sure the machine didn't topple onto its side. "No good," he said mildly, "we'll have to call for a tow truck."
I've been largely ineffectual since I came to the department. Sure, I work my ass off and people appreciate that, but I just have not yet caught on; I have not yet become as proficient a worker as I believe that I can be, should be. Maybe I put too high of expectations on myself, maybe not, though. It's coming up on two years in this department--I feel that I should be running circles around my previous self.
In most ways, I am. I understand what needs to be done, now, on jobs, and I do the work in a professional, hard-working, proficient manner. Yet I feel that I can't escape the ghosts of Adam Past, and getting the machine stuck in the mud?! Yeah, that didn't help my confidence.
In the end, like I said, the digging arm was down for support and the machine was tilted at, I'll say, a 30-degree angle. Not cool.
To make matters worse, Paul was on-call and a job had been sent to his attention. He was needed but he couldn't get to the job because his TMO had sunk his machine into about two feet of mud. Joy. He had to call, over the truck's radio, to the dispatch for a tow truck. "My machine got stuck in the mud," he said. "Tell'em I did it," I mumbled angrily. "Don't let them think it was you who got your machine stuck."
"I'm not saying that," he said, after he hung up the CB transmittor. "Shit happens. It's fine."
After the tow truck came and the driver took exactly seven minutes to winch the machine out of the mud, Paul walked up to me, smiling, and asked, "So...were you scared when the machine started to go into the hole?"
I know his humor. I knew he wasn't asking if I were seriously scared. I answered, "No, Paul. Not scared. Just fucking pissed and frustrated."
I have a softball game on Sunday. The welder is on the team. Other co-workers will have heard the "news of the stuck machine" on their truck's radios. I'll get some guff, some good-natured ribbing. I'll try not to be sensitive about the matter. But, seriously, ineptitude begins to get old, especially to the practitioner, if he cares a whit.
But, like Paul said, laughing, "This kind of shit always seems to happen to me. Never anyone else."
And now, as I write this, remembering the events, it is actually pretty funny to me. Shit does happen. I get super-worked up at the time, but, later, I'm all good with it. I think Paul has a good philosophy on life: don't take shit so damned seriously. It'll only raise your blood pressure and make you old before your time.
(By the way, because of the stuck machine, I got a meal ticket and an extra hour-and-a-half of overtime. But, no--it was not intentional!)