This occurred while I was working as a quality control inspector at a steel coating plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was sitting at my desk filling out paperwork–paperwork that I’m sure was vital to the daily functioning of the plant, and not be interrupted–when the crane operator, Jim, burst into the office.
“We have a problem,” he barked.
Jim tended to have problems more days than not. Urgent problems. Urgent problems of all varieties. (I could tell it was urgent because Jim was using his urgent voice. His urgent voice was similar to his whiny voice, but an octave higher.)
I looked around the office to discover I was the only one there. Crap.
“Houston,” I said to him.
“When you burst into a room to exclaim that you have a problem, you’re supposed to say, ‘Houston, we have a problem.'”
“But we’re not in Houston.”
Note: nobody gets me.
“Never mind. What’s the problem?” I asked with genuinely feigned interest.
“Look at this,” he said as he shoved his phone at me. It was a picture of some temp workers standing outside on a smoke break.
“It’s a picture of some temp workers standing outside on a smoke break.” I said.
“You don’t see the problem?” He was incredulous.
“The threat of emphysema?”
“Look closer.” He shoved the phone at me again.
“Okay. They’re all smoking cigarettes, except for that little guy who seems to be holding…a crack pipe.”
“So you understand the problem now?”
“He’s not sharing with the others?”
“This is serious,” he snapped.
“Selfishness is a serious problem, Jim,” I admonished him.
“I can’t be operating a crane out there with people running around all hopped up on drugs.”
“Do people still use the phrase hopped up?”
“Are you going to do something or not?”
“Where’s Rick?” I asked. “He’s loud and obnoxious and loves to yell at people.”
Rick was the foreman, he was loud and obnoxious and loved to yell at people.
“He called off today,” Jim told me.
Note: It’s so rare that you’re in want of a person who is loud and obnoxious and loves to yell at people, but the one time you are, he’s not around. I once asked the owner why he made Rick the foreman. He told me that Rick was too stupid to do anything useful, but he was good at yelling at people, so he made him the foreman. Just another reason the Pittsburgh steel industry is thriving–in Japan.
My immediate boss was also off that day. This was horrible luck for me since I mainly dealt with readings, measurements, recording data and that type of thing. What I didn’t deal with were problems that could lead to me being stabbed in the side of head.
I approached the person in question. He was a little guy with glasses. He looked like Mr. Peabody if Mr. Peabody were a crackhead and not a cartoon dog. He was sweating profusely and his eyes were darting back and forth.
“We won’t be needing you for the rest of the day, so you can go home now,” I told him, hoping that he would just acquiesce and leave.
“Why?” He demanded.
“We just don’t need you.”
He leaned into me, and growled in a slow deep voice, “is it because of the leprechauns?”
I gaped like an idiot.
“It’s the leprechauns isn’t it?” He persisted.
“No. It has nothing to do with the leprechauns.” I spoke slowly. “It’s more that you smoked crack on your break.” I felt at that point, honesty wasn’t going to make the situation any worse.
“Is that what the leprechauns told you?” He screamed. “The leprechauns lie!” Then he produced a razor blade from his pocket and held it to my face.
Evidently honesty could make things much worse.
He then gave me a very strange look and asked in a near whisper, “are you a leprechaun?”
You’re never really prepared for the first time someone asks you if you’re leprechaun. The public schools are woefully inadequate in such preparation. Knowing how to diagram a sentence or use the Pythagorean theorem are useless abilities when you’re about to be cut.
So I said the only thing my agile brain could produce: “I’m not even wearing green.”
Luckily for me (almost leprechaun lucky) Mr. Peabody became so fearful of leprechauns, he left on his own without incident.
But the next time someone asks me if I’m a leprechaun–I’ll be prepared.