The last real fistfight I was in was back in 1990, and I told the guy if he kept screaming at his girlfriend after midnight I was going to clock him. I did. I thought that was going to be the last fight I got into but then back in about 1994 the deed came really close to being done. I was working out of a trailer and it was one of those projects that had started poorly, gone downhill, and no one was happy with anyone at any aspect of the project. We had called a meeting with a bunch of contractors and subcontractors. Everyone was bitchy.
I had just started the job, I was the most recent hire, and everyone assumed, rightfully, that I didn’t know a damn thing about what was going on. So there was this one guy who loved to ask me questions about things he knew damn well I didn’t know, and he was a smoker. I told him to stay out of our office when he was smoking and he’d stand in the door on the steps. The whole office smelled like cigarettes the whole damn day after he did that. One day he parked his truck right behind mine so I couldn’t move. It was raining and he told me if I wanted to get out bad enough the keys were in his truck. I backed his truck up about a half a mile, rolled down both windows and left it there. That pretty much started some bad blood between us and it got worse the day he showed up for that meeting with a cigarette in his mouth. I reminded him there was no smoking in the office and he told me as soon as he was finished there would be no smoking and then he blew smoke in my face. I took the lid off my coffee cup, which held just short of an imperial gallon, and threw it in his face.
I knew it would take him a full five seconds to react and I knew by that time if I hit him hard enough I had a more then decent chance of coming out of surgery being able to walk, but that was about all I had any hopes for. About the time the whistles blew and his face turned red, his employer walked with his Weasel for a Nephew and with my supervisor’s supervisor. The coffee is all over this dude and all over the floor, which was also covered with grown men, rolling around laughing, did not bode well for the future of either of us.
So they separated us, sent us both home, and when I came to work the next day I was a legend. Everyone had heard what I had done, and it went all the way up to headquarters who decided that I had acted rashly, but in, more or less, self-defense. On the other side of the coin, the man who had been served with karma and coffee made the mistake of telling his employer if he didn’t do something about the situation he would.
The reason we all thought he nephew was a weasel was he went to work with his uncle a very long time ago and it was rumored he had plans to take over the company when his uncle retired. This put uncle’s son out of the equation, but the Weasel had very cleverly taken a franchise of the business, let it nearly go under, and the son had to go rescue it. Meanwhile, the Weasel was back at his uncle’s side, trying to blame all that went wrong on the guy who was the superintendent of that business. He was the guy I hit with the coffee. The Weasel came to me and told me if I wanted to press charges, they would hate it, really, and they didn’t want me to, but if I felt like I had to, here let me buy you lunch, then they might have to fire that cigarette smoking SOB who nearly ruined them at the other plant.
I hate weasels more than I do cigarette smoke. I told him that I would be told what to do by those who paid me but as far as I was concerned it was over. But I do so much love a good steak that is medium rare, thank you, really, ever so much.
So everything sorted itself out, there was no more smoking in the office and no more airborne coffee, but the Weasel tried to get the Smoker fired for another incident and the man had to quit. He got a job with another firm and it went under. It wasn’t his fault, but then the Weasel’s uncle retired and left everything, every damn thing, to his son, and they say the Weasel sat down on the floor and cried like a little girl. He went on to work at a much lower pay with a competitor, but I never heard from the Weasel again.
In business, there’s an old expression, “The butt you try to kick today may be the ass you have to kiss tomorrow” and that’s true.
Smoker is not exactly in a position to have to kiss my ass but he’s working for someone that I work very closely with. His employer has to know the back story on this and if I know the man like I think I know him, he’s going to tell the smoker, “If this is going to be a problem for you let me know right now and I’ll make sure it isn’t.” Because he has a zero tolerance for bullshit. I do too at work. That’s why I never talk openly about what I do or who I work for and I never will. This story is so generic I could be in the bread baking business for all most people know. I do know that everything you do comes back to you so keeping the peace is good for everyone. And good for business.
There’s more than a few people who know the story, I know they know, but no one has mentioned it. I sure as hell don’t talk about it anymore. So Smoker has to drop by this morning and do a few things for me. I hate it for him, really, because considering his talent, he ought to be drawing better assignments. But he got Weaseled out of a damn good job, another folded up on him, and he’s not related to anyone in any family owned business. Now, he’s just trying to work until he can’t and that’s hard to look at in anyone.
He stands in the doorway and his cigarette is long gone, tossed far away from the door, and I remember how he looked covered in coffee. There are two younger guys with him and I can tell by looking at their faces they’ve heard the story. They’re grinning. Smoker and I shake hands and I ask him if he remembers some brickwork he did, might have been ten years or so ago, and that was some of the best brickwork I had ever seen in my life, really, impressive as hell, and I wonder why no one does work quite like that anymore. The time when a man’s work was as good as his name, why those days are gone. Yep, it’s hard to fine craftsmen these days, it is.