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If You Think Your Job Stinks


Fellow North Dakotan Julie Neidlinger has something to tell you about cleaning toilets. It’s something you need to know, especially if you are one of [ahem] my teenage children. And it reminded me of a story . . .

January, nineteen hundred and ninety-something. There I was, piling wood in the stove at six a.m. in my underwear. By underwear, I mean two pairs of socks, long johns and heavy-weight sweat pants, t-shirt and two sweatshirts (one hooded). While the family snoozed peacefully in their warm beds, I stepped into jeans and a quilted flannel shirt. Over that, I put on a Carhartt quilted vest and insulated coveralls with a snap-on hood. As I laced up my Sorels, my partner pulled up and blew the horn. I pulled on my Carhartt Thinsulated cap (earflaps down), slipped into Thinsulated gloves, grabbed my lunchbox, headed out the door looking like a portly duck hunter.

It was cold. I don’t remember how cold, but it was one of those days when the snow squeaks under your feet, and walking to the mailbox feels like a Jack London adventure. I remember reminding myself that “at least I’m not in Grand Forks.” So we headed down the road in our work van, drinking gas station coffee from insulated mugs, simultaneously glad we had work and wishing we were laid off, and generally dreading the day. The owners of the largest house we would ever build were anxious to get the siding on the dormers finished, and for the last week it had been too windy, even for hardy North Dakotans, to stand up on that roof. Finally, the wind had abated enough that, with an adequate load of nails in our toolbelts, we could hope to remain planted, and the boss said no more putting it off.

So we went. We climbed up on that roof, and did the slow work of trimming and siding small structures that are all angles, taking our gloves off to handle the short nails, pulling them back on to avoid frostbite, and generally feeling miserable. Oh, yes, and complaining. Lots of complaining. Could there be a more odious job? No; never.

Then it happened: a truck with a tank and a pump in the back pulled onto the lot and backed up to the porta-john behind the house. The driver, in garb similar to ours but not so clean, climbed out. He trudged to the rear of the truck, uncoiled a hose, and opened the fiberglass door (here I had a vision of a hillbilly fireman saving the outhouse). We watched. We listened. We heard the lid slap the back wall as Hillbilly Fireman flung it open. Then we heard an exclamation that was both vulgar and ironically appropriate. The hose was recoiled, and Hillbilly Fireman went back to the cab and, from behind the seat, retrieved—No way, he’s not going to . . . oh, yes, he is—a hatchet. Grabbing a handy concrete block, he propped the door open, squared his shoulders, and went to work.

Whack . . . whack . . . whack [more ironically appropriate commentary] whack-whack-whack-whack . . .

We heard some shuffling around, and what we saw next is indelibly imprinted on my memory. Flying through that porta-john door and landing with a loud BANG! in the box of that unfortunate truck was the darkest chunk of ice I had ever seen. My workmate and I stood speechless for a moment, and then in unison, murmured . . . well, you can guess.

The scene was repeated several times until Hillbilly Fireman emerged, tossed the hatchet—and his gloves—in the bed of the truck, climbed into the cab, and drove away.

I vowed that day never to complain about my job again.



Posted 2014·07·09 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Humility · Humor? · The Thirsty Theologian · Vocation/Calling

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