The Lunchtime Martyr
worksite personalities, part B
Continuing with the characters you encounter on the jobsite:
The One-False-Move Foreman
No doubt a crew leader has to keep an eye on the workers, not only to keep them on-task and busy, but to make sure they’re doing the job correctly. A good foreman can spot a problem and come up with a quick solution that increases productivity and makes the job easier and quicker for all. But the watchful eye can also be a menace. When the worker has the foreman breathing down his neck, he knows he’s being graded on procedure and speed. He doesn’t want to screw up and so he becomes nervous. Then he screws up. Knowing he’s being watched, he might come to a problem and instead of solving it himself, with a little trial and error, he’ll wait for instructions from the foreman. An exceptional jobsite manager knows just how much to coach, and just how much to lay off. It’s a difficult balance. He has to be very skilled not only in his trade, but in human psychology.
Hubert (“Who-Bert”) was a crotchety but hard-working and skilled cook in the kitchen of the hotel restaurant where I worked for one ski season in Austria. One day a big group of Texans was finished with dinner, waiting for their dessert. Billy-Joe ordered ice cream with chocolate sauce. Hubert was too busy with Wiener-Schnitzels to bother scooping ice-creams.
Dan- I need a bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce.
Hubert- Ein moment!
After a couple minutes, having brought out some coffee in the interim, I repeated my request. “Hubert, I need that ice cream.”
H- Ja! Ein moment, bitte.
Waitress Inge looked over at me, waiting on the other side of the counter from Hubert. She stopped to watch me grab the ice cream out of the freezer, and the chocolate sauce out of the fridge. Hubert didn’t have time to look at anything but his schnitzels, or so I thought. Inge watched closely as I scooped the ice cream and began to squirt the sauce on it. Billy-Joe was a big man and I figured he had a big ol’ Texas sweet tooth so I was a bit generous with the chocolate blob.
“NEIN! NEIN!! NEEEEEIIIIIIIIIN!!!!!!!!!” screamed Hubert, beet red in the face. He slammed his meat cleaver down and slammed his palms on the steel counter. “THAT IS NOT HOW YOU DO IT. LOOK AT THAT. LOOK AT HOW MUCH CHOCOLATE YOU HAVE WASTED. NEEEEEIIIIN!
Stunned Inge looked like a child about to get a whooping, even though I was the target of Hubert’s ire. His anger was legendary, and I, the dumb American who knew nothing about correct chocolate sauce measurements, had inflamed it.
“GIVE ME THAT BOWL! GIVE IT TO ME NOW!!”
I handed him the bowl.
“AND THE ICE CREAM. GIVE IT TO ME!!”
I handed him the cream.
“AND THE SAUCE. GIVE IT TO ME!!”
I handed him the sauce.
“NOW YOU WAIT!!”
He picked up his cleaver and went back to his schnitzels. After a minute or two, he served up a bowl of ice cream. Two small scoops of vanilla and a nickel-sized circle of chocolate on top of each. I looked over at the bowl with the big scoops and huge chocolate blob I’d made and wondered who, if anyone was going to eat it. The question flickered in my mind for a second but I didn’t ask Hubert if I could have it. Then Hubert shoved the new bowl in front of me without speaking and went back to his schnitzels. Billy-Joe, who had been happy-go-lucky and chummy up until that point, had a now what the heck is this? look on his face when I served him the petite dessert. For the next few nights, I was nervous doing anything in that kitchen, under the constant watch of Hubert the Austrian chef and One False Move Foreman.
The Lunchtime Martyr
This is a classic worksite phenomenon that makes me chuckle every time. It’s noon, or twelve-thirty or later, and the gang has taken off the gloves, put down the tools and gathered for lunch, but out in the field, or up on the scaffolding, is the lunchtime martyr, gettin’ things done.
Sometimes you even get invited into the kitchen or dining room by a generous client, and it’s a real, hats off, wash your hands, sit down and say grace meal with a huge spread. Twenty minutes later and the lunchtime martyr shuffles in, wiping sweat off his brow and casually glancing at all the ne’er do wells with a touch of surprise and disgust. The lunchtime martyr has no need for silly things like sustenance; there’s work to do, after all.
Lunchtime martyrs come in different degrees of dedication to toil and starvation.
The Guys: “Hey Steve, lunchtime!”
LM Steve: All right, I’ll be right in. I just have to rake up these leaves. If the wind picks up they’ll scatter everywhere.
LM Joe: You guys wanna finish clearing this ditch, or take lunch?
The Guys: Let’s have lunch.
LM Joe: You sure? We’ll probly be done with cutting these cat tails in less than a half hour.
Guy: It’s three thirty.
Joe: OK, suit your self, (frown/shrug)
Jake: Hey Jared, you coming in? Mrs. Higgenbotham has lunch for us.
LM Jared: I’ll be in.
Jake: She says she made fajitas, and likes to serve them while they’re sizzling n’ stuff. You might want to come in.
LM Jared: OK, I’ll be in! Just let me fix the flat on this skid steer first.
Long live the lunchtime martyr!
The Sure I Can Guy
Where I’m from, for the most part, when you sign on to a job, you kind of agree to do whatever they ask you. Out here in Montana it feels just a bit more like the worker can tell the boss or client to stuff it if the request seems unreasonable. I’ve heard many times that it’s hard to get laborers over here and even harder to get them to do the crummy jobs. Luckily there are sure-I-can dumb-dumbs like me to do the dirty work.
Boss- Hey Dan, Would you mind clearing out that bramble?
Sure I Can Dan: You mean that row of poisonous stickerbushes about a football field long over there?
Dan: Sure I can!
Boss: That pile has to go over the fence and on the other side.
Sure I can Dan: You mean that 8-foot pile of huge tree limbs and concentrated pond muck with all the stinking dead perch in it?
Boss: Yep. Can you manage?
Dan: Sure I can!
The other day I was down at the temp agency. My payroll goes through them so I was just down to pick up the old paycheck. Officially on the books as a temp worker here, I’m technically available for any job that comes up, though ponds will keep me busy enough as the weather warms. Joleen was at the desk.
Joleen: Hey Dan, I don’t suppose you could work on Monday? Ned Preston needs some help for a job out at his property off of Middle Burnt Fork.
Dan: Well, I don’t think there’s any pond work on Monday… Yeah. Sure I can!
Joleen: Oh, thank you Dan. Ned’ll be real happy.
As Joleen was printing out the job details sheet, she said, “His daughter-in-law is getting married and he needs to build some stairs up the hill to where the wedding will take place. I guess they’re using old railroad ties for the steps.”
I thought about pitchy, heavy old railroad ties, the hill, and my herniated lower back. But I’d already said, “Sure I can!” so I just went with it.
“Oh, a wedding. Sounds cool!”
Joleen smiled and gave me the printout. I read the section entitled, safety concerns.
Please dress for the weather. Brings gloves, water, lunch or snacks. Watch footing for tripping hazards. Use proper lifting techniques. Constant standing, bending, lifting, twisting, use of hands and arms. Thank you for taking this job. Ned will be happy to have such a good employee on his team. Have a good day! Joleen
“Constant standing, bending, lifting and twisting?”
Sure I can!
DW Shumway is a reader-supported publication. To learn more useful neologisms, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.