During my short stint in the 82nd Airborne I was once assigned to a detail where me and a couple of other guys in my platoon were driven out to a yard full of lumber (as opposed to a lumberyard) that had been salvaged from who knows where. We were thrown in with a few other soldiers from other units; there were 6 or 7 of us in total. The NCO in charge handed us each a claw hammer, and instructed us to pull the nails out of every board and plank we could find.
“I know ya’ll aint gonna get’em all, but do the best you can. I’ll pick ya’ll up at lunchtime.” With that, he jumped in his Jeep and drove off, leaving us to it.
We were all privates; I think there was one specialist fourth class who assumed because he had the rank he was in charge. But the guy who stood out was a guy you could tell was nearly 40.
He was a lanky grizzled man with a real red neck and a plug of chaw in his cheek. I saw the dark patches of removed rank tabs on the collar of his shirt, and realized that he’d been at least a sergeant first class, just below the highest NCO rank you can make. And now he was a buck private, just like me. I wondered what he’d done, but he looked like he would plant his hammer in the middle of my forehead if I asked. I just imagined that he’d fucked the Captain’s wife or something.
He spent the morning cursing and sweating and throwing boards around, just barely containing the volcano brewing inside of him. He hated us for being young and talkative. He hated having to pull nails out of boards after being a boss. He hated himself for doing whatever it was he’d done.
He reminded me of the TV show “Branded”, which was a favorite of mine when I was a boy. In “Branded”, the ever-stalwart Chuck Connors is kicked out of the army for cowardice. He is stripped of his rank tabs, his buttons, his sword is broken in two, and he’s thrown out on his ass. All to the tune of a song we kids co-opted for our own use.
“Stranded! Stranded on the toilet bowl,
What do you do when you’re stranded?
And you don’t have a roll…”
And now I find myself in that unenviable position. Stripped of my screwdriver and pliers, of my shirt that said “Xavier Handyman” over the breast pocket.
I’m glad I met that busted NCO so many years ago, because that one morning I spent with him taught me to never hate myself for failure. If I don’t fail I will never learn how to get better at something. I know I did the best I could, it just wasn’t good enough for the powers that be.
People have been asking, “Is this your new job? Are you back at the door permanently?”
But most importantly, they all ask if I like it, if it’s all right with me.
I don’t mind it, it isn’t very stressful or demanding, I’m just not crazy about the hours. But at least I have a job, and I’m grateful for that. I know a lot of the tenants for years and years, I’ve seen some of their kids grow up, go to college, come home and get married. I’ve developed some close bonds with some of them, and I’ll be seeing them more now that I’m back at the door. They have all been very kind and welcoming, and I feel at home. Another thing I learned, a long time ago, was if I don’t like it, I could always get another job. One of the tenants told me that, this old guy who has since passed away.
For now it’s OK. I have an income, and I have a little more time on my hands to figure out what I want to come next.