Saturday, September 02, 2006

I was working at an Italian restaurant during my undergraduate. I was doing a double shift and was standing in the empty restaurant during the slow time between two and four. Waiting tables is an ideal occupation for putting yourself through school. Minimal hours, maximum return. I was twenty and still invincible. There was no hint that anything in life could not go your way. Hard work always paid off, and life was always fun.

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 Lincolns to the blade attempting to achieve the balance. He would then turn on the fan to see if his estimate was right and the wobble had gone. Most of the time, he was wrong. Sometimes it was worse. Other times it was no better but no worse. Inevitably the pennies would come off and zing across the room dangerously. The worst was when the pennies would stick long enough for him to move on to the next fan, and then come off with a clang when it hit the canals of Venice mural. He would have to dismount the ladder, get me to move it back, and then scale the ladder once again with fresh pennies. Around four, customers began to trickle in. After two hours he was only on the third of six fans. The manager returned and quickly realised he should be panicking. I had been seating the few early customers in seats shielded by a partition to protect them from the fan flung shrapnel but when the rush came we would have to accept the certainty of customer casualties.

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.


  1. That's a good one, Dr. Jarred!
    It does seem, however, that you've been reading way too much technical literature: casualty and causality are non-related words, methinx...