Newly married, living in Hawaii, and 3 months fresh out of the US Marines. (Semper Fi to all my fellow Marines). Could not find a job! Not much demand for a sidewinder missile technician in “the world”. As fate would have it, coming from Lynden, would pay off. Just finished an interview with a small airline company which basically when, they saw I was a Haole boy it wasn’t happening. Walking back up to HR, but who did I run into but Cheryl Clay. She was a few years my senior in HS. We were both surprised. (To give an idea, Lynden was a town of 5k people in Washington state) . After small chit chat, including my unemployment , Cheryl told me her husband worked at an irrigation company and they were hiring. I thanked her , called Lani, her husband. I was hired by Lani the next day as a laborer for 4.75/hr. Lani told me to report back the next day. I would be working with Dick.
Bright and early over the likelike hwy at the shop the next morning, in walks Dick. Around 40, he stood about 5’5″ 200 lbs. He had these enormously disproportionate forearms not unlike Popeye . He wore thick eyeglasses under an Indiana Jones hat while sporting matching safari shirt and trousers. (No less than 20 times I heard people ask him if he was going on a safari, Dick didn’t blink an eye). “All right , let’s get the truck loaded.”
The truck was a small Nissan with a pipe rack, tool box and PVC parts bins in the back. The cab was tight. Dick drove, and I hung my head out the window to avoid the stank of dicks half full brass spittoon.
We arrived at the small commercial building where we were to install the irrigation system. Small lava rock facade building with compacted coral bed interwoven with bamboo roots.
Feeling a little like i was in a “Cool Hand Luke ” movie, Dick shouted out, I need a trench all along here about 6″ wide and 6″deep.
Balls to the wall I started digging. Dick wouldn’t say much except for the occasional fart or burp. Unfortunately the air would smell like fermented Skoal regardless of which end it came out of. What a character. Not unlike an overseer in a plantation, Dick stood, hands on hips burning holes in the back of my head. Close to lunch, U overheard Dick on the pay-phone. “Yeah he’s a real hard charger, but they all are on the first day.
I wasn’t afraid to work and eventually won Dick over. He began teaching me how to fit pipe, braze copper, repair valves etc…he never ceased to amaze me with his mischievous antics. If he saw a young hottie walking along the street, you guessed it, he would cat call and howl. When the lady would scowl and look over , Dick would point to me. He also loved to burp loud. Not just any burp but a burping yell as he tried to burp the words All Right!.. Periodically would be down in a trench. He would let loose. I would ask him, didn’t you learn you should say excuse me? Stoic and speechless, he wouldn’t flinch.
With all his questionable mannerisms, Dick knew his stuff, he also appreciated that I took interest in learning. Slowly I was becoming an irrigation technician.
One afternoon we were literally chest deep in mud repairing pipe in a deep planter outside a high rise , out walks a young beauty in a white dress with her white poodle in tow. We worked on slopping in the mud, 10 minutes later she walks back, stops. Takes out a tissue, wipes the dogs backside and walks in the building. Dick and I busted out laughing in disbelief. What’s wrong with this picture? Lol.
Time was passing and within 18 mos I had earned 3.00 more on the hour. Dick was abit disturbed by this making the comment, ” you get one more raise and I’m out of hear”.
The owner if the company had a Porsche, a boat and a high maintenance GF. I would periodically hear him defend himself to others who accused him of being a tightwad. Might had been working 60 hours a week and until my 1st wife pointed out that I should be getting 1,5 for anything over 40, I was clueless . Marines didn’t get OT pay . I asked him about it and miraculously my hours were cut to 40. Next came the vacation conversation , I asked him, “well I’ve been here a year and a half, when might I get vacation pay”?
“Ray,6 more mos after you have been here a year you can have a week. “. “I’m a bit confused”, I replied . He said, “remember 6 mos ago? We changed the company name.
I felt sorry for Dick. He was somewhat trapped. In his forties, body giving out. In him I saw myself 20 years from now. Just finding out we were expecting my first son, made think about my future and where I didn’t want to be. Bickering with a self serving employer? Nope. I started taking software engineering classes at night. I would hose off in the shop head to class til 9 and do it all again. These men have me the gift of seeing who I didn’t want to be like. I was proud to be the first in my family to go to college.
God blessed me shortly after my vacation chat with the owner by bringing another irrigation specialist into my life. Jay was a mild mannered gentle owner who simple handed me over my own truck, list of customers, gas card. I was see him every 2 weeks to get my check and give him my invoices.
Jay taught me, trust instills confidence. What a great fair man.
I stand amazed by the fact that regardless of their motive, you can learn something from everyone.
Today I am thankful .