"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

"That Long Haired Hippie And His Mickey Mouse Watch"

"Johnny" was a young Hispanic fellow originally from Brownsville, Texas.

He was an ace carpenter who came to Georgia in the 1970's because work was plentiful, wages were good, and there was this trouble back in Brownsville that involved a woman, liquor, somebody's stolen Colt Dragoon pistol, and jail time. Johnny was hardworking, dependable, and a whale of a good carpenter. No one bothered to ask him a lot of questions about his past.

Johnny did good work and unapologetically expected the same out of others. The foreman always put new-hires with Johnny knowing full well that they would be made to work, and that hopefully they would learn something while watching and helping Johnny do his craft.

Some plans, however, look good on paper but come apart like wafer-thin toilet paper when applied to the derriere. This was just such a plan.

Johnny not only expected a lot out of his co-workers, he literally and absolutely despised laziness, incompetence, sorriness, and stupidity. This, coupled with an extremely high strung, "Type-A" personality, made Johnny one that could never have been accused of having the patience of Job.

Building the ark would have been a real challenge for Johnny.

To top it off, whenever Johnny would lose his temper he would curse, loudly, and in his native Spanish tongue.

Construction jobs are famous, or infamous - depending on your point of view, for their imposing and sometimes deafening noise level. The collective roar of saws, hammers, drills, heavy equipment of different varieties, the slamming of building materials, and a hundred other things have made many a good construction worker lose his hearing, if not his sanity. However, whenever Johnny got on the warpath because of either a co-worker or some other matter that had activated his trip-wire, the tirade of Spanish expletives ("wet-back cussing" - as he called it) could be heard loud and clear above all other noises.

Only the voice of the arch-angel and the trump of the Good Lord could have outdone him on these occasions.

What a show it was to watch and hear - all from a safe distance!

Once, Johnny got a real surprise when he showed up for work one Monday morning. The boss had done found him a brand spanking new helper. A long-haired, older teenage kid had shown up right off the street that very morning saying he needed a job. His "resume": no construction experience, no hammer, no tool-belt, no measuring tape, nor any other implement of the building trade. The only thing this new helper had besides his clothing and tennis shoes was a watch. He was little more than a warm body. Evidently, that day the superintendant had been desperate for warm bodies.

"Where's Johnny?," the superintendant asked the foreman. "We've got him a new side-kick!" Everybody standing in that construction trailer that morning began smiling. Everybody except the kid. He was the only one who didn't have clue as to what was about to happen.

You could almost see the the steam slowly rising from Johnny's head and ears on that cool morning as the foreman informed him of, and introduced him to, his new co-worker. "Blankety-blankety-blank-blank, why you stick me with this blankety-blank long haired hippie?," he mumbled as the foreman walked away - trying to hide his ever expanding grin.

One of the other things Johnny hated with a passion was long hair.

"Come on, sweetie, let's go to work," he said - shaking his head and looking disgustedly in the direction of his new apprentice.

Anyone who has ever worked on a construction job knows the unspoken gospel regarding the three most important times of the day: break time, lunch time, and quitting time. Starting time is negotiable but the observance of break time, lunch time, and quitting time are not. B, L and Q time begin, without exception, at precisely the very milli-second they are scheduled - if not several minutes before.

It just so happens that on this first day with his new hippie co-worker, Johnny had left his trusty pocket watch at home. "Can you tell time?," Johnny asked - gesturing toward the young helper's watch. When the young rookie affirmed that he could, Johnny snapped, "Good, then one of your jobs is to let me know when it's ten o'clock - that's break time, and then when it's twelve o'clock - that's lunch." The kid said he thought he could handle the job.

The morning slowly passed with little or no incident. Everything Johnny told his new laborer to do, he did - but only after pulling his long stringy hair back out of his face for the hundredth time. Johnny offered to fix the hair in a pony tail, saying that he would fasten it with a piece of rusty clothesline wire that he kept in his tool belt.

The boy did not accept Johnny's offer.

After what seemed to be an eternity, Johnny's stomach began to growl. "Got to be break time," he said out loud. "Nope," said his helper, "only 8:45." Later in the morning Johnny said again, "You sure it ain't break yet?" The kid said, "Naaah, it's only 9:30." Johnny was getting a little weak in the knees when he inquired again about the time. The boy shook his head, "Not yet...almost...about ten minutes 'til."

Johnny had gotten busy and had almost forgotten himself when suddenly he turned - without warning - grabbing the young helper's watch hand. When he saw the time Johnny let out a loud shriek, "It's 10:30...dude, why didn't you tell me?" "You seemed busy, I didn't want to disturb you," was the reply.

Johnny's face turned every shade of red there is in Arizona's famed, "painted desert." He shook his finger in his partner's face and said, "OK...little Miss hippie long-hair...NO BREAK!...We missed it because of you!...If you let me miss lunch I'm gonna shave your stinkin' head with a rusty sheetrock knife!...Comprende?"

As the morning dragged on, the scene was the same. Johnny would ask the time...The helper would give it. Each time it seemed like four hours had passed. Finally, Johnny asked if it was lunch. "Actually, it's almost three minutes 'til twelve," the helper said.

Relieved, Johnny started taking off his tool belt and looking for his lunch pail. He was famished.

About that same time the foreman walked in, took one look at Johnny and said, "Pablo...(Johnny hated it when the gringos called him by that name...Since his first morning on the job, "Pablo" had stuck as THE name his co-workers used when trying to kid or "razz" him)...where in the (you know what) have you been?...Aint' you hungry today?"

Before Johnny could answer, the foreman facetiously continued, "Man, it's almost one o'clock...Lunch is done over!...What's the matter with you, son?...Can't you tell time, amigo?..."

Johnny took one exasperated look at his apprentice, reached in his tool belt, pulled out a gigantic framing hammer and threw it in the direction of his young timekeeper. "Blankety-blank you, you slimy, good-for-nothing hippie...You and that blankety-blank Mickey Mouse watch of yours has done cost me my break and my lunch...When I get through with you...they'll have to dig that blankety-blank Mickey Mouse watch out of your skull!"

The last time that young new-hire was seen, his long dark locks were blowing and flapping like a flag in the wind as he ran for his life out the front gate of the construction site - with Johnny hot on his tail, throwing every scrap piece of lumber at him that he could pick up - screaming and "wet-back cussing" to the top of his lungs.

The kid never even bothered to come back to pick up his half-day paycheck.



LIB John Brown


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