The manager was off doing whatever he did (among other things, it turned out to be smoking crack in the walk-in freezer but that’s another tale). Before he had left, he told me to expect a workman to come to balance the blades of the restaurant’s ceiling fans which had begun to wobble unsynchronised like drunken dervishes. The workman said it would take an hour which would be plenty of time before the start of the dinner rush.
The workman came. He tottered in on stick thin legs. The grizzle of grey stubble ringed his chin. His eyes wet as if on the verge of tears. He told me he was here to balance the fans and asked if I had a ladder. I retrieved a short step ladder we had, but that was insufficient. He then asked if I could help him bring in the ladder from his truck instead. I dutifully did and set it up for him. He thanked me and I returned to reading my book behind the counter except I didn’t read a page. I watched him move cautiously and laboriously up the ladder from which he seemed at every step about to fall. There was an overwhelming sense of exhaustion to his person. So much so that it seemed to sap my own energies. He was a tired mind and body only continuing its animation from inertia.
He finally reached the top. He examined the twirl of the fans. Clicking the chain, turning it on and off. His tools for this task? A pocket full of pennies and regular clear office tape. He would divine the required weight and tape the stack of
The manager was polite enough and paid the man for the job but told him his services would be unnecessary for the remaining wobbly fans. I helped him pack his ladder. He seemed confused and told me he’d be back tomorrow to finish. As soon as I returned I was asked to mount a table to remove the remaining pennies as a salvo had just broken a wine glass.
I finished my shift but I was stunned. I kept thinking about myself ending up incoherent and frail like him. I had never considered that just maybe my story doesn’t end happily. I just never considered any ending at all, but now was overwhelmed with all the possible horrors that can be visited upon a man. Sickness, want, and misery ceased to be possibilities and became certainties. He didn’t return the next day and it took awhile for me to regain some perspective but a pandora’s box had been opened.