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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hump Day

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” A male voice called out from the large doorway in strident voice as if he had been standing there for twenty minutes waiting for recognition.

I left the 2002 Buick I was under the hood of, and walked out to greet him. As soon as he saw me coming toward him, he launched into a string of unrecognizable jargon. I’d of rather he kept yelling if he could have done it coherently. We danced at the door for a few minutes with me repeating the phrase ‘I have no idea what you just said’ and him repeating the same non-language; but slower, and louder. Finally realizing I had no intention of playing the street lingo game, he decided to make what he was saying relatively understandable.

“I see you alone, man. Have any work I could do around here?”

Let me explain Workman’s Compensation in California as a preface to the rest of this conversation. If you have a small business, and you take in hired help off the street, you’ll be lucky if all you lose is your business. The State checks, and they will fine you right out of existence. If you take in hired help off the street legally with all the payroll tax and Workman’s Comp., in many cases your worker will end up taking home more than you do. So, for my own peace of mind, and financial well-being, I’m a one-man-show. I endeavored to explain this to the man to no avail.

“Well who does your sweepin’ and clean-up?”

“I do it. I’m too small time to hire clean-up crews or even another mechanic. It’s just too expensive.”

He thought this over for a moment; and I took the opportunity to turn toward my Buick, only not fast enough to escape his next conversational step I had figured was coming.

“How ‘bout lending me…”

“Sorry, I don’t give out money here,” I cut in, as I returned to the hood of the Buick.

“Well, let me borrow a can opener,” he calls out after me.

I start laughing.

“It ain’t funny, man,” he petitions for understanding, to no avail.

“Yea, it is,” I replied. “I don’t have a can opener because everything is pop-top these days, even soup cans; but I don’t loan items out of here anyway, so it really wouldn’t matter if I did have a can opener. Now…”

“You ain’t very Christian, man!” He pronounces judgment on me.

“Yea, I am,” I disagree again, “but I have enough lion in me to believe God helps those who help themselves. You were on the right track when you came in here. Try getting hired on at a place needing help.”

“It’d be different if I was a white man,” he pulled the race card, to no avail. Been there, done that.

I laughed, because after over thirty years working here in East Oakland, I’ve learned to enjoy these little stage plays. They proceed through practiced steps, and I could dance with the best of them. When the crack house was open for business a couple houses down from me, everything was for sale for five dollars back then, and I never bought a single item to further human misery. I heard it all if I didn’t buy what they were selling: got any work, lend me…, you ain’t a Christian, you a racist. Of course, the white crack-heads could only get as far as the ‘you ain’t a Christian’ lyric. Man, there’s a drug that cuts across all human barriers.

Anyway, the guy in my shop had reached his final gambit, and he starts chuckling. He gave me a final wave off and left. Well, they call Wednesday hump day, so I have to get back to it. I wanted to get my conversational journey from potential employer to racist down into words before it vanished from my mind along with my white guilt. :)


Jordan Summers said...

LOL! I still think you should gather ALL of these gems and put them in a book. :)

BernardL said...

What fun would that be? I might sell it to a real publisher, and then what would I have to whine about? Thanks Jordan. :)