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The Parable of the Porta Potty

Tim Challies tweeted this older post on the grace of labor today, and it reminded me of a story I like to tell when I hear job complaints. I don’t know if it does any good, but I tell it anyway, because I’m old enough to tell the same story over and over like it’s the first time. So here you go:

In a former life, I was a carpenter. The contractor I worked for built houses from bottom to top, footings to shingles, so I’ve done almost everything (except plumbing and electric) that you see—and can’t see—in your house.

Going on twenty years ago now, we built the biggest house I’ve ever worked on, a sprawling two-story that came in at about three-quarters of a million back then. It was all closed in by winter, but, as often happens, a few odds and ends were still left when the cold weather blew in. And blow in, it did. That winter was one of our coldest, but work must be done and, more importantly, stomachs must be filled, and so it was that I and a partner found ourselves standing on a roof on a sub-zero-degree day finishing the siding on a couple of dormers. I don’t remember if there was wind, but this is North Dakota, so I’m guessing there was. Either way, it was cold. To make things worse, much of what we were doing required more finger dexterity than gloves would allow. So we stood on that roof, taking our gloves off, putting our gloves back on, and complaining.

imageThen he came: the poor, miserable fellow who would change my attitude—at least a little—forever. He drove up in an old pick-up with a tank in the box and backed up to the construction porta-john. This was the porta potty pumper. We stood watching (it was probably break time, anyway) as he climbed out, zipped his coat a little tighter around his neck, uncoiled a hose and dragged it into the privy, blocking the door open. We heard the fiberglass lid of the reservoir slap the back wall. Then we heard an appropriately descriptive word I will not repeat at this time (which, I’ll admit, made us laugh), and saw the hose fly out, slapping the back if the truck with a loud whack.

This is where it gets ugly. Women, children, and sensitive college students might want to go back to that Challies post.

Our waste management specialist came stomping out of the outhouse, rummaged around in the bed of his mobile office, and extracted a hatchet. He returned, muttering a few more choice words, and went to work. Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! Now we really felt sorry for the guy, imagining frozen fecal fragments flying at his face. Then the chunks, large chunks of frozen waste, came flying, thump! thump! thump! into the back of the truck. Now, having worked with dairy and swine, I’ve done some dirty jobs. I’ve shoveled, stepped in, and even fallen in more manure than I care to remember. I’ve pumped and spread thousands of gallons from manure pits. Still, this scene horrified me.

Finally, this hero of the hideous emerged, undefeated but not unscathed. I almost felt I should shake his hand and thank him for his service, minus the hand-shaking part. But I could only stand there in grateful silence as he returned to his chariot and rode off into the sunset (it was only noonish, but that’s how I saw it).

And I vowed right then and there never to complain about my job again.

Posted 2018·09·05 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Vocation

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