Saturday, June 03, 2006

Sweep, sweep

Cutting lots of plywood, 1x8 and 1x3 has produced copious amounts of sawdust and little pieces of wood ends. When I’m not cutting, I’m cleaning up the workstation. (Sawdust on your sheet of plywood when you try to stand on a sloping roof is quite slippery and small chunks of wood can easily turn an ankle.) Having a broom in your hands, rather than being idle, is something I learned back in high school when working at Burns Hardware on West Oakland Avenue and relearned at the Arrow Metals warehouse in Wanaque.

Mr. Burns hired me on as a store clerk and general helper around the store. His Dad, the elder Mr. Burns was in his 70s at the time and a veteran of WWI who had lost a leg in his life’s sojourn. The store was small and the garden supplies in the garage filled it to the rafters and wall to wall so there was hardly any floor space. Nevertheless, I was instructed that should there be no customers in the store and should I have no other instructions I was to grab a broom and sweep. Sweeping would keep me busy and make the store look cleaner to the customers when they did arrive. Once the sweeping was done and if no customers had come in or instructions had been issued, then I could sit back and relax.

The foreman at Arrow Metals’ warehouse gave much the same speech—without the customer being included. His concern was to justify four of us on the payroll during slow nights knowing full well there would come nights when we were going to work our butts off loading tractor trailers. Dirt and grim came from the forklifts going back and forth out into the yard to drop off empty pallets. Stones, sand and grit could make moving a forklift around on the concrete floor a little tricky—especially at the speeds college kids could attain. On really slow nights we might be told to sweep the warehouse two or three times. Or we could be told to get lost in the stacks of product after the first sweeping.

Like a man with a clipboard under his arm, a man with a broom is never questioned—and seldom approached to be given a new task. After all, he’s already busy.

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