October 5th, 2019
Hans called today.
I answered the phone and asked him, “Hey, Hans, what’s up?”
He sounded rough, really rough. I could barely understand him. He finally told me,
“I worked twenty-three hours on Friday; I mean yesterday. Then dispatch called me, and told me to come right back in for another job.”
I heard the click of Hans’ cigarette lighter over the phone. He was lighting up yet another Pall Mall. He took a drag, and then he exhaled. He finally said,
“I told them ‘no’. I wasn’t coming in again.”
It got quiet.
I asked Hans, “And then what happened?”
I could hear Hans gulp down some of his Lime-A-Rita (God only knows how many he had already slammed before he decided to call me). Hans sighed and said,
“Well, they told me that I had to come in.”
“And you said…”
“I told them ‘NO’. I was working a job pouring concrete for walls. The frames were made out of Styrofoam. You can’t pour the mud fast, or it will bust the frames. It was only 200 yards of concrete, but I had to pump it slow and easy. Two hundred yards usually takes only a couple hours. I was pumping for thirteen hours. I started at 2:00 AM on Friday and I clocked out after midnight.”
Hans continued, “They told me that were going to call my boss. I called him first.”
“How did that go?”
“Well, Albert wanted to know what the fuck was going on, and I told him.”
Hans took another drag off his cigarette. He drawled,
“Well, Albert called dispatch. They said that they assigned new work off the start times of the operators. I had started before everyone else at the yard, but I got done after they all were done. Dispatch said that I was first man up because I had started so early. My boss told them, ‘You know how the people at our yard always seems to have a bad attitude. That’s because you fuck them all the time’. He told them that.”
I sighed. “So, what happened?”
Hans spoke slowly. He’s a Texan now, so he doesn’t say anything fast.
“Well, they found some other guy to start the job at 1:00 AM. I went there at 5:00. I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted, but I got some sleep. I worked until noon. ”
Hans said, “I told these people in dispatch that I wasn’t going to run a big pump truck without any sleep. They said that I had to do it, or I’d get fired. I told them that I would find myself a lawyer. They didn’t want to hear that shit. I know that this company has some loophole so they don’t have to follow DOT regulations, but there has to be some kind of law against working somebody over twenty-four hours.”
I replied, “Yeah, there probably is.”
There was the click of of his lighter. Hans lit up another Pall Mall. A couple years ago, Hans bought me a lighter for Fathers Day. I don’t smoke. He bought me a lighter anyway. Maybe he figured that, if his lighter ran out of fluid, then he could use mine. Hans is thoughtful that way.
Hans’ story made me remember things. Years ago, before I retired, I worked as the supervisor on the loading dock of a trucking company. My job was to get the job done, and that often required me to force the forklift drivers to work overtime. We live in the north country, where the winters are long and harsh. That was when we always needed people to stay on the job, after we were already chilled to the bone. I used to put up a sign that said “The gouge light is on!”, which meant “gouge the time clock, earn some overtime”. The guys who worked for me hated for that. They didn’t want the overtime. They just wanted to go home, eat something, take a shower, slam some beers, and sleep the sleep of the just. I couldn’t let them do it. I was the bad guy. They knew it, and I knew it.
One of the men working for me was a black guy, named Mike, who was from Alabama. He was a devout Baptist, a good man, and he and I would talk about religion quite often. I remember in the dark depths of winter, after he had worked almost twelve hours on the dock, he yelled at me,
“Hey, Pharaoh! Yeah, you! Hey, Pharaoh, set your people free!”
I got in trouble for that shit.
Going back to Hans…
I asked Hans, “Have you slept yet?”
He replied, “No. I had a bunch of Red Bulls. When they wear off, I’ll sleep.”
Hans told me, “Dad, I stood up for myself. I told them what I would do, and what I won’t do.”
I said, “Okay, good.”
Hans went on, “I did what you told me to do. I stuck up for myself.”
My throat constricted a bit. “Good.”
Hans said, “I’m not going to let them use me. I’m doing what you said.”
“That’s good, Hans.”
Hans paused. Then he said,
“Hey, I’m sorry for venting like this. I just wanted to tell you what’s going on.”
“It’s okay, Hans. I’m glad that you called. Call whenever you need to.”
“I’m sorry, Dad.”
“Don’t be sorry. It’s okay.”
“I love you, Dad.”
“I love you too.”
Hans hung up.