Monday, January 3, 2011

nugget #17

Back in 2006 I had a wonderful experience in dealing with bricks, and so I wrote about it.  Nothing to do with running away back when.

I’ve Got Gas
By Bill Donnelly

            Here’s a concept for you.  How about an article that has nothing to do with Back in the Day.  In fact, I promise you this story has little to do with running at all.  Sounds new and exciting to me, so here goes.
            As I’ve mentioned before, I now work for the company that provides natural gas to most people in Western New York.  Since I don’t want to use my writing talent to promote companies that make huge profits, I will not mention the name of the company I work for; I’ll just say its name rhymes with Irrational Fool Class.
            That’s right; I gave up the very rewarding life of teaching special education for twenty-three years for the life of working with gas meters.  As I tell people who wonder how I could make such a change and be happy, meters don’t talk back to me.  Let me explain, I did teach kids who at the time were called Severe Behavior Handicapped.  Gosh, I miss those darlings. 
            I’ve been working for IFC now for just over two years.  I started at the bottom as a meter reader, and that is where the running part of this story comes in.  You see, at first all the walking I did was great for my running.  Meter readers get a low base pay, and to make more money one has to really hustle.  For every meter we read, we get an incentive of a whopping twenty cents.  Wow, be still my heart.
            Actually, if one really pushes it and does a couple routes a day, the incentive adds up.  Being in good shape from running, I was able to do this, and I was getting in ten to fifteen miles a day walking.  This, along with my running was giving me 100 mile weeks for the first time since Back in the Day.  I guess I just had to slip a “Back in the Day” in here somehow.
            Anyway, this proved good for my running, and I was very pleased with my time in the 2005 Boston Marathon.  But then my times started slipping, and I was slowing down.  My legs were feeling like lead weights were attached to them, and there was no kick left.  I knew it was from all the walking I was doing for IFC, so what was I to do.
            Well, fortunately, last December I was promoted to serviceman in training, and all that walking ended.  My legs were so dead, my running fell apart, and I had to decide to skip this years Boston, and I took a couple months off from running.  I’m just getting back to it, and my legs feel somewhat alive again, it’s just hard to get back into shape.
            So now I’m a certified serviceman, and although I do not get the same exercise from walking, I do get some other nice perks.  The money actually is not as good, since I get no incentive, but it’s a better hourly rate, and I do not have to beat myself into the ground to make it.  I also get to spend more time in those wonderful, scary, nasty basements as I turn people’s gas on or off, and relight all their gas-fed equipment.  Let me tell you, there are some scary basements with scary equipment in them, owned by some very scary people. 
            But there are good perks to my job.  I do get to meet some wonderful and/or interesting people while working for IFC.  There was the little old lady who had several pictures in the basement.  They were of her with some famous movie stars back in the early 1930s.  When asked, she explained she had won the Miss Buffalo title back then, and her prize was a trip to Hollywood and an audition for a movie part or two, and she got to meet all these famous stars.  Unfortunately for her, she was born too soon and didn’t get to meet the really great super stars like Paris Hilton or Ryan Seacrest.  Well, at least she got to meet me.  
            Then there was the other little old lady who just got back from shopping and asked me if I would carry two huge jugs of vinegar down to the basement for her.  She still did her own pickling.  She told me she was 94, and used to be much spryer, though I thought she was still in pretty good shape.  Then she showed me the two silver medals she won in the tryouts for the 1940 US Olympic team.  She got them in what was then called “apparatus”, (now gymnastics), and in the sprints.  Of course she never got the chance to partake in those never held Olympics, thanks to World War II.  There seems to be a story or two for each basement in Buffalo.  Some you don’t even want to know.
            But the best part of my work with IFC is the free things I often get from grateful customers.  I’ll give a couple of examples. Back in April I was telling a customer that I would have to shut off his gas if he didn’t pay up his gas bill.  Next door was a young man working on his house with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, and after I was through dealing with the deadbeat, err, customer, his neighbor with the cigarette asked me if I could do him a favor.  Seems he and some friends of his thought they smelled gas in his basement.  He wondered if I could check it out.
            Not being certified in handling leaks, I said “Why sure.”  I figured I could see if there was a leak, and if so, call it in so someone qualified could be sent to fix things up.  I got my trusty GasTrac, a device that can detect the smallest amount of natural gas in the air.  Unfortunately, it also detects the natural gas that emanates from a person’s behind when one has had too many bean burritos the night before.  Too many the time I had to tell customers they had a gas leak when in truth I had eaten at Gramma Mora’s the night before.  Sure, they had to deal with the hassle of thinking they had a gas leak, but that was better than them knowing it was I who had the gas leak.  How embarrassing would that be? 
            But back to cigarette man.  I checked out his basement with the GasTrac, and as my stomach was in fine shape, I detected no gas.  I did find a table with what looked like hundreds of tiny pot plants growing under a grow light, but they turned out to be two hundred tomato plants the guy was starting.  Seemed he was really into gardening.
            He was so happy with me taking the time to check his basement, he gave me three of the plastic cups, each with a tiny tomato plant in it.  It turned out these were the only ones of his plants that survived to this day.  You see, later that very day, as the guy was lighting another cigarette while watering his big gaggle of plants, his basement mysteriously blew up.  Fortunately, he survived with only minor damage to his hair and cigarettes, but his plants were all destroyed.  IFC settled out of court (just kidding).
            I took my three survivors home and put them in my kitchen window box, where they thrived and grew tall.  Now I had the problem of having to plan a garden.  I once had a garden in Cleveland that I had built of used bricks, making a boxed brick wall that I filled with dirt and plants.  I thought I would do the same thing here, so I started to price used bricks.  The best deal I found was used bricks for 45 cents a brick, along with an $80 delivery charge.  As I figured I would need at least 800 bricks, that was too much to spend.
            Now my next free perk.  In early May I was turning on the gas for a customer who had a big old house on
Laurel St.
, near to E. Utica and Jefferson.  His name was Jerome, and I noticed a tarp covered pile of bricks next to the house.  Seems he had taken down his whole chimney since it would cost too much to repair, and he guessed there were a couple hundred bricks there.  I asked how much he wanted for them, and he said they were mine for the taking if I would just get them out of there. 
            Well, this was just what I needed, so the following Saturday, Diane McGuire and I rented a truck from the RentaTruckforMovinganythingbutBricks Co. and we headed over to
Laurel St
.  A couple hundred bricks “My Donkey”, as Anne Reif would say.  We spent six hours and two trips loading and unloading what turned out to be over 1500 bricks. Late in the hot afternoon we got the U-HaulOhMyAchingBack Co. truck back to them and then we collapsed for the rest of the weekend.  But with gas and rental fee from Don’teverRentthisTruckbecauseithasaBadAxle Co., we only spent $85 for the bricks. 
            Now I had to build the garden, and since I had so many bricks, I built two big gardens.  Talk about back pain, and after a couple weeks of after-work labor of digging up grass and hauling bricks, and two destroyed wheelbarrows, I had my gardens put together.  Now for top soil, since the soil in North Buffalo has the clay consistency of Gumby.  I ordered three cubic yards of top soil that, with delivery charge, cost over $135.  Delivered in one huge pile that was, oh, about 278 yards from the gardens, or so it seemed.  My new wheelbarrow and my poor back had just enough left to get the soil all the way back and into the garden, and now I was ready to plant my three free tomato plants.
            But wait; now I had two big brick gardens with three cubic yards of top soil in them, and my poor tomato plants looked so lost and lonely.  That’s right, now it was out to a garden store or seven in order to purchase many dollars worth of plants to fill my gardens with, and all the wonderful tools and manure needed to show my plants I really care for them. 
            By now I figure my three free tomato plants had better yield 1,237 tomatoes each just for me to break even.  Either that, or I will need to set up a roadside stand and sell my tomatoes to make my money back.  Of course, I will need to sell each tomato for, oh, let’s say $33.17 to be exact.  Then those three free tomato plants will actually have been free.  And that is not even counting how much I have had to pay my chiropractor for his six months worth of treatment I will have to have, nor does it cover the special back brace I had to buy.
            Well, I had better end this tale of what wonderful perks I get from working for IFC.  I have to go to the Biggie Mart to purchase a couple miles of hoses so I can water my free tomato plants.  But in a month or two when I have that first BLT made with my free tomatoes, boy, will it be all worth it.
            So now my legs are in better shape for running.  Once my back heals up, I’ll really be able to give running a go.  Until I can really get back into running, I guess I’ll have to spend my spare time weeding my gardens and writing more stories about what running was like Back in the Day.  Cripes, those perks just never seem to end, do they? 

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