I received an email the other day asking me, what was the best job I have ever had in my life.
Although I have been a United States Marine, government contractor and a Doctor for a week once, and an author, I have enjoyed them all to the fullest.
But the best job I ever had was one I had when I was a kid. It was just a summer job, but it was a great job.
I rode on the back of a big old smelly truck and I was a garbage man.
But it wasn’t just your regular garbage route, like you have through your neighborhood.
I was on a garbage truck, a route, that picked up garbage and waste at construction sites.
Despite living in a foster home, “other” jobs were few and far between, especially after I had just spent six months under the watchful care of the Alabama Department of Youth Corrections for stabbing Sammy Foster in the neck with a pencil in Mr. Greene’s math class.
EDITORS NOTE: In the event you haven’t read that story, I just want to say that Sammy deserved it.
As ridiculous as it may sound to you, this job gave me an opportunity to be around positive role models.
In the event you are unaware, a person’s job or profession doesn’t define their worth as human beings nor does it have anything to do with “who” they are as people, or their level of integrity or honesty.
The crew I worked with on the truck were very kind to me and I was just a kid.
I was picked up every morning by the foreman of the crew and driver of the garbage truck, Mr. Nick.
He was an older Italian man, who dyed his hair jet black, and he drove a beat-up four door Chrysler that had a patch of the landau roof that flapped as the car went down the road.
EDITORS NOTE: Please do not make any Italian and waste management jokes here.
Mr. Nick had already picked up the other crew before me. There was Bobby and Tom both of them in their late twenties and usually they were in the back seat and I rode shotgun next to Mr. Nick to and from work.
They were really nice to me and treated me like “one of the guys”, an equal to them.
They never spoke down to me or treated me like I was stupid and that in itself was a new experience.
I learned a lot being around those guys. The interaction between men, and the power of humor.
There are a lot of stories I can tell about that job and I will write about them later.
But for now, I want to tell you just one and it involves (once again) the fact I was renown rock thrower.
That’s not really true. I should probably explain, but I need to give you a little background first.
At the end of every single day, Mr. Nick would pull into the parking lot of the same store and give me money to buy him a bottle of “Wild Irish Rose” and an eight pack of Little Kings Cream Ale for the three of us
Mr. Nick would sip on his Wild Irish Rose; I would take two of the seven-ounce green bottles of Little Kings out of the eight pack and pass the other six bottles to the back seat to Bobby and Tom.
We would sip and drink and laugh until Mr. Nick dropped me off at the foster home.
Then he would take the other guys to their homes.
The following afternoon, we would wash rinse and repeat the same routine.
But one afternoon after work, as were sipping, talking, and laughing on the way home we passed a man with a home-made sign in front of a table that was set up on the side of the road. It said something about honey and jams for sale etc.
The old man had one arm and was waving his stump at passing vehicles on the highway.
Presumably to make people feel sorry for him and then they would pull over and buy something.
At least that’s what I thought at the time. But Mr. Nick, he had a kind heart.
As we passed the old man waving his stump around, Mr. Nick, who was a World War Two and a Korean War veteran said something to the affect that “we would stop by there tomorrow and buy something.”
Mr. Nick said something or another about how that guy probably lost his arm during the war.
He took another long draw off the bottle of Wild Irish Rose and had tears in his eyes. Nobody said anything the rest of drive, we just left Mr. Nick alone with his wine and his memories of his own wars.
The following day, after a brief stop at the market, and our usual purchase, we drove towards the stand with the man with one arm with the honey and jelly for sale. No one was laughing or joking around, it was as somber as it was the following afternoon when Mr. Nick became emotional about the one-armed man.
Mr. Nick pulled over in the gravel on the side of the road and we all got out of the Chrysler.
The old man had a hat on and was waving his stumpy arm at passing cars as we walked up to the table.
The table was full of glass jars of honey, jams and jellies and other things I didn’t recognize.
Mr. Nick spoke to the old one-armed man, “How are you doing today friend?”
The old man didn’t make eye contact but was waving his stumpy arm and yelling at other passing cars.
Mr. Nick continued talking even without a response from the one-armed man.
“You got some fine stuff here my friend, did you or someone in your family make all of this good stuff?”
Still nothing from the one-armed man that continued to yell and wave his stumpy arm at passing cars.
Mr. Nick, not one to give up on a conversation easily asked,
“I noticed your Veterans of Foreign Wars hat yesterday. What branch of the military were you in?”
The old man finally made eye contact with Mr. Nick and replied,
“I weren’t in no military I lost my arm when I was a kid in an accident.”
Mr. Nick’s voice changed, it was more authoritarian, something I had heard before.
“Then where did you get the Veterans of Foreign Wars ball cap?”
The one-armed man said, “I got it at some yard sale from a widow woman, it helps get people to pull over and buy my honey and things.”
I will tell you, “Fake War Veterans” are tolerated in Cumberland County Tennessee and not just accepted, but embraced and given free stuff, but in the rest of the damn country that isn’t and wasn’t cool. It damn sure wasn’t cool with Mr. Nick.
Mr. Nick didn’t say a word.
He just turned around and started walking back to his car with the rest of us right behind him.
After we all got in the old Chrysler, nobody said a word. We knew that Mr. Nick was mad.
After a prolonged silence and a few long swallows from his bottle of Wild Irish Rose, Mr. Nick vented (in no uncertain terms) his displeasure at how wrong the old one-armed man was to portray himself as a wounded veteran just to get people to buy his “stuff”. Although Mr. Nick didn’t refer to the man’s countless jars on the table as “stuff”, if you know what I mean.
The last thing Mr. Nick said, before he got quiet, was “To Hell with that old one-armed Son of a Bitch.”
The very next afternoon, it was a Thursday and we stopped once again at the same store and I once again went into the store with the money Mr. Nick gave me and purchased our post workday refreshments.
I failed to mention something earlier about the Little King Cream Ale.
Those little green seven- ounce bottles had a short neck on them. Like a mini longneck bottle.
As a renowned rock thrower, I can tell you, that once they were empty, they were perfect for throwing.
I mention that, because this particular Thursday afternoon, I had already finished one Little King.
I could see we were coming up on the one-armed man still waving his stump at passing cars.
Being on the passenger side of the car, the stump waving fake veteran was on my right to the side of the road with his large table of his jars of honey and other stuff.
To be fair, I was upset that Mr. Nick was upset about that guy.
With that being said, it was my intent to put the fear of God into the old one-armed fake veteran.
So, as we got closer and closer, I timed my throw and tossed the empty Little King bottle out the window towards the gravel near the table.
I thought that the seven-ounce beer bottle would break or at least make a loud noise and scare him.
But what actually happened was this….
The Little King bottle skipped off the gravel at sixty miles an hour, went about three and a half feet high and cleared the table of glass jars with an explosion that hasn’t been heard since the last fourth of July.
The jars exploded close enough to the one-armed man that he was covered in their contents.
Mr. Nick gave a “What the Hell!” and gunned that old Chrysler down the road.
Bobby and Tom didn’t say anything, as Mr. Nick asked me why I threw the Little King bottle.
He wasn’t being mean or ugly with me. He was just stunned, I guess, that I did that.
I told Mr. Nick why I did it and what I “thought” was going to happen.
He said he understood, but I am not sure he actually did.
None of them condemned me but I could feel their disappointment in what I had done.
It was a quiet ride the rest of the way that afternoon.
The next day at work was business as usual and the previous day’s events weren’t mentioned.
That afternoon was payday Friday and once again we stopped at the store.
But it was that afternoon that I formulated a plan for redemption with Mr. Nick and the guys.
Like I said earlier, I learned that there was power in humor and I intended to test that theory.
After we left the store, I told Mr. Nick, “I feel like I need to stop and talk to the one armed-man.”
Mr. Nick looked at me with admiration and in the side view mirror, I could see Bobby and Tom smiling in the backseat. There was pride in their eyes. I could feel their thoughts.
“Mike was going to apologize for what happened and since it was payday, he would make restitution for the damage he caused for all the broken jars and for scaring the old one-armed man.”
Bobby and Tom reached up from the back seat and patted me on the back.
One of them said, “You are a good young man.”
Mr. Nick chimed in with, “He sure is…”
We got closer and sure enough, the old one-armed fake veteran was still there on the side of the road.
His table was still set up and there were more jars of whatever lined up on it, just like the day before.
Mr. Nick eased the old Chrysler off the gravel road and brought the car to a stop.
No one was saying a word.
I got out of the passenger side of the car and everyone got out too and were walking behind me.
The old man was still waving his stump at passing cars and yelling for them to pull over and he was still wearing the VFW hat although it looked a little stained from the “Battle” he experienced the day before.
I cleared my throat and began what I had rehearsed in my mind earlier in the day.
“Excuse me sir….”
Just like two days before with Mr. Nick the old one-armed fake veteran wouldn’t make eye contact.
In fact, he didn’t even acknowledge me, so I said,
“Excuse me sir, I need to talk to you about what happened yesterday.”
That got his attention, and his head whipped around so fast that he almost lost the VFW hat on his head.
“Somebody throwed a damn beer bottle and damn near killed Me! Broke a bunch of my jars! Them jars exploded all over me, could have killed me!”
I took a look over my shoulder at Mr. Nick, Bobby and Tom who were standing side by side behind me.
They had a look on their face of love, admiration and dare I say, pride. That I was doing the “right” thing.
I turned my head back towards the one-armed fake veteran and said,
“Yes sir, we saw it all that’s why I asked Mr. Nick to pull over so I could tell you what happened.”
I had the old one-armed man’s attention now, so I continued.
I pointed behind me at Mr. Nick and said, “Mr. Nick is too good a man to tell you, but we saw them boys in the red pickup truck in front of us that threw something at you. We saw them jars explode, and Mr. Nick tried to run them boys down, but they got away from us.”
I looked over my shoulder again and the three of them looked stunned, but not as stunned as they were about to be after the old one-armed man said,
“Well, I appreciate you boys doing that, I would like to catch them damn boys myself!”
I shrugged my shoulders and stuck my hands in my pockets and with as innocent a look as I could muster said, “Well, how about a few jars of some free honey. Mr. Nick damn near burned his car up trying to catch them boys, least you could do is reward us for our effort.”
Rubbing his stumpy arm, the old man said,
“I reckon I could do that; you fellers get over here and get you some free honey. I appreciate what you done. I just wish you could have caught them.”
“I wish we could have caught them too sir!” I said with joy in my heart….
I looked behind me and motioned to the guys and said,
“Come on over and get you some honey, you deserve it!”
The three of them had their heads down and made their way to the table and picked up their jars of honey but I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Nick was grinning so hard that I thought he would burst out laughing right then and there.
We got back in the old Chrysler and nobody was saying anything.
I waved at the old one-armed fake veteran and he yelled “Thank you Boys!”
I yelled back, “You are Welcome Sir!”
We didn’t get a hundred yards down the road until Mr. Nick started laughing so hard that he had to pull off the road, in fact the whole car erupted in laughter. It took at least ten minutes for the howling to get to a low roar.
Mr. Nick wiping his eyes said, “I sure as hell wasn’t expecting that!”
The laughter started all over again and I can’t say for sure but either Bobby or Tom peed on themselves.
Mr. Nick trying to regain his composure asked me,
“You know that wasn’t right, right?”
I remember saying, “Well, it’s not right that he’s acting like a fake war veteran either, but at least we got some free honey out of the deal.”
The laughter erupted again, but a least we got back on the road.
Before Mr. Nick dropped me off at the end of the driveway at my foster home, the three of them in unison more or less said that was the hardest they had laughed in a very long time.
As I opened the car door to get out with my free honey, Mr. Nick told me,
“Don’t go feeling bad about what happened today.”
I replied, before the three of them started laughing again…
“I don’t feel bad at all Mr. Nick, it’s like you said, To Hell with that old one-armed Son of a Bitch.”