Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Fire Hallway: Sarge

My second day of working for the Paper Mill, the Holy Land, The Promised Land, the Land Of Milk and Honey, The Mill, and all those other things that other people called that place where my father worked, started out poorly. They had hired someone else for the same position, so there would be two of us, and more people meant bad things would happen. The introduction of someone else into the mix also meant my father and his minions would either have to co-opt this person into the Grand Scheme of Things and get him to help torment me, or they would have to likewise torment this person, or they could just have this person off somewhere else while I was being tormented individually. The latter of the options was what I was hoping for, actually.
            Sarge had never been in the military but he liked to wear a drill sergeant’s hat, and that in itself was a story. But it soon became clear he was not in on The Grand Scheme of Things, and it was also clear my father’s minions could not treat him the same way they treated me. He was working his way through college as many of the Summer Help men were, and he had already landed a part time job teaching High School during the year. He was far older than I was in many ways even though he was only twenty-three, but he was not that much younger than some of my father’s minions. My father had this very strict code of conduct where I was to address his minions as “Mister” followed by their first name, and I was to only say ‘Yes sir” and “No sir” to them, and I was not to speak to them unless I was spoken to first. Sarge thought all of this was a little too fascist for his tastes and asked me not to refer to him as “Mister Sarge”. My father didn’t like me being on a first name basis with any adult. There are some of his friends who died of old age before I called them by their first names.
            Being outside The Grand Scheme of Things, Sarge’s first clash with the plan was to shake his head at the idea of what they were trying to do in order to get me to build a door for the shed. My father had declared I was to build a door for the shed with the materials and tools found in the shed. The boards were rotted, the nails rusty, and there was an ancient handsaw that Noah had discarded as useless. My father’s minions were used to me saying “Yes sir and “no sir” but Sarge plowed ahead and showed them the boards were falling apart, and the saw, did they want him to bring a power saw from his house, because he didn’t mind if that was the best they could do, really. I think at some point he had to realize something weird was going on, but to try to get someone to build a door with what I had before me was a lot stranger than he felt he could deal with. He brought a power saw from his house, and the minions got us some real boards, and some decent nails. They also decided that trying to use the hinges where the old door was hung wasn’t very smart. In the space of a few moments, Sarge had waded into the minions and produced new boards and I was no longer trying to saw the rotted timbers that had been yesterday’s torment.
            Sarge asked me to cut one of the boards with the saw and I told him I couldn’t. This got a strange look from him, but I explained that power saws were dangerous and I would cut my hand off. This was what my father had told me about power saw, and chain saws all my life. I had never used any tool that plugged in, and I was afraid of them all. Sarge more or less demanded that I use the saw, and to my surprise, it was really fairly easy. My fine motor skills were less than evident, but we managed to get a door built and hung rather quickly. Sarge was the only adult I had ever met who wasn’t a minion. I liked that in a person and I still do. The minions, on the other hand, liked Sarge because he got things done. They had been trained for years to ignore me, and they did, but Sarge never hesitated to tell them that I helped build the door as much as he had.
            I have no idea what was said, or who said it, or when it was said, but after that first day with Sarge things changed a lot around me, at least when it came to The Minions. He was a deeply spiritual man who spoke his mind regardless of who he was speaking to, but he never cursed ( well, there was that once when the rattlesnake tried to get into the truck with us) and he never raised his voice at all. Sarge had a way with dealing with people that was head on without being confrontational. He and one of the Minions, a man named Hitch, seemed to hit it off very well, and Hitch would be our liaison between my father and reason. Much later in the Summer, Hitch would actually flatly refuse to torment me anymore, and my father would get furious with him over it. But Hitch, minion he might be, was also a man who had seen a lot worse than this, and I think the pettiness of it all finally got to him. Spiffy was still in the program, and still liked the idea of the Summer Of Torment, but it would be a very long and very hot Summer, and Spiffy was going to be the least of my worries before it was over with.

Take Care,
Mike

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