Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How to be Outstanding

For several years I owned and operated a small residential painting company. I not only was the owner, but the estimator, the PR guy, the customer service guy and sometimes even the helper and laborer. I offered my services for a reasonable price, always tried to give a little extra and did a nice job on the homes I painted. I stayed busy due to word of mouth and was making decent money until… “the fire!”

For those readers who have been thinking about lighting your self on fire, I would highly recommend against doing so.

Don’t do it!

It Hurts!


And you may end up in Indiana!

Just ask anyone who has used old gasoline as an accelerant and then foolishly bent over with a Bic lighter to get the brush pile going. I’m confident they’ll agree that it is not only painful, but makes it very difficult to paint houses while you are growing new skin on your arms, hands, neck and face.

After months of daily debridement followed by more months of being amazed by the human body’s ability to regenerate skin cells, I had a fresh coat of brand new baby skin and a lot of bills. The painting business did not recover and I was looking for work.

I had to find employment and was offered a job as a laborer for a company that built fiber optic networks throughout the country. Considering the overtime pay for the planned 12 hour days, six day weeks and the per diem, the money offered was impressive. The person offering me the job, aware that I had been a successful business owner, expressed concern with offering a menial position. I told him that I would start at the bottom because I knew nothing about the industry, but I also told him I wouldn’t be a laborer for long.

It was late January when I departed Billings, Montana to report to work in northern Indiana. I reported to the shop, to find a crew of well over 100 fiber bums stumbling in to work in the pre-dawn, bone chilling, sub-zero weather. As the crews began to leave for their respective job locations, someone pointed at me, asked if I was a new laborer, pointed to an old toothless guy and said go with him.

An hour later I was dropped off in a cornfield next to an open manhole. The hole in that field contained 18 various colored pipes coming in one side, and 18 others going out the other. My instructions were simple: Watch the hole. As the dentally challenged man, who I later came to know as Smitty, drove off in a cloud of powdery snow, the wind picked up and I realized it was very cold where I was, and I had absolutely no idea where that happened to be. Nor did I know what I was supposed to be watching for in that hole in the middle of that Indiana corn field.

The only thing I really knew about my new job was that I had been assigned to watch that hole and I was being paid well to do it. I stood there in that corn field, thinking at times I would freeze to death. I couldn’t avoid wondering what I had gotten myself into this time. I not only watched that hole, but several times I even crawled into that hole and used it to escape the brutally cold winds coming off of Lake Michigan.

Because I had no place to go, nor any way to get there, I stood there in that field and watched that hole for a bone-chilling six hours before Smitty returned. It was fortunate that he noticed my lunch bucket in the back of his truck and remembered he’d left me watching that damned hole or I may still be there. Unapologetically, Smitty informed me there was a situation 20 miles away and he got redirected. Meanwhile, I shivered.

I’ve always tried to do any job to the best of my abilities and this was no different. I did exactly what I was told to do that day, but this time it wasn’t out of my normal sense of self pride. The plain truth is the only reason Smitty ever saw me again after deserting me in that Indiana corn field that morning had nothing to do with a strong work ethic or dedication on my part. I stayed there simply because I didn’t have the means to go anyplace else.

The next morning at the shop, in front of my new co-workers, the project manager called my name and proceeded to present me with a certificate. I had no choice but to laugh with everyone else as he read the words proclaiming that I was “Out Standing in my Field.”

No comments: