Today at work, Jolly Green informs me that she and I are members of the Steel Workers Union. Shut up, we are not! Yes, yes, Sprout! We are members of the Steel Workers Union! Hip, hip, hurray! It seems that by virtue of being city employees, we are members of the Steel Workers Union. I don’t know how that can be, but I’ll certainly not be the one to try to find out if this fact is, in fact, fictitious. No, I’d much rather keep believing in my joyful heart that I am a member of the Steel Workers Union, because Jolly Green and I are working on creating our very own membership cards at this very moment (you’ve got to be card-carrying members). Personally, I’d like mine to be in the vein of Soviet propaganda posters. I hope there is room on the card for a riveted, steel-clad book with an iron fist rising out of its open pages…And as members, of course we’ll have to wear the right outfit, coveralls and steel-toed boots. Where did I put my steel-toed work boots? The ones I acquired the first (and only) time that I ever hitchhiked?
Yes, it was an early morning, summer of 1994 and I was part of the Dream Team of the Dry Branch excavation in Calhoun County (my crew chief referred to us as the Dream Team because we worked so well together, like O.J. Simpson’s defense team of the same name). We were practically living at the site, taking turns camping there because it was such a well preserved site with such great cultural artifacts, we had people constantly trying to sneak up at night to loot. This happened to be a morning that I had not spent the night, so I was driving in early to get started. I stopped at a quick shop about a mile from the site, just to pick up some food for the day. When I returned to my car, it wouldn’t start. I contemplated walking, but I had so much gear to haul I thought I’d just call AAA and have them drop me off at the site before they towed the car on in to the shop. So, I’m trying to call AAA from the pay phone and all I can hear is CB feedback. I’m getting pissed off the more I try to hear, and I’m looking around for whoever is using their CB so close to the phone. There’s an old beat-up pick-up right in front of me and the guy inside is talkin’ away on a CB mouthpiece. I hang up the phone and knock on his window. “I hate to ask you to do this, but my car is broke down and I can’t get through to AAA because all I can hear is you talking on your CB, and I’ve got to get to a job down the road, pronto!” The guy rolls down his window and says, “Sorry. Where ya trying to get?” He’s kinda soft-spoken, and has a little bit of a stutter and I notice that he’s wearing a security uniform from Bynum, and against my better judgment I think, “Aw, he’s got to be okay.” So I reply, “I’m working down on the excavation across from Gaulden’s Gun Shop.” To which he responds, “Hey, my nephew Chris is the crew chief on that dig. Hop in and I’ll carry ya there!” There were several things that prompted me to hop into the cab of his truck that morning so that he could “carry me there”: 1) the fact that he was wearing a security uniform, 2) the fact that he knew Chris was my crew chief without me prompting it, and 3) the fact that I just really didn’t want to walk down a busy back road in the rapidly growing heat of the day with all my digging equipment slung up on my back, being catcalled at by all the construction crews that frequently used that road. So I happily climbed in (with a fleeting vision of the female hiker in the beginning of Friday the 13th Part I who ended up having her throat slit by Jason).
Now, keep in mind that this was a very short trip down the road, a trip down the road that would very quickly seem to last for hours. We started talking about what kind of artifacts I was finding at the site as I buckled my seat belt (hoping that it wouldn’t get jammed if I needed to make a hasty exit from the vehicle while it was in motion), and I was sittin’ there just happy as a girl with a broke-down car can be, thanking my lucky stars that I had this ride. We’re out on the road, at a good clip when my driver quietly queries, “What size shoe you wear?” “Um…um…what’s that you say (I start fiddlin’ with my seat belt nervously as I think about wishing I didn’t have feet upon which to wear shoes for this person to be asking me what size shoe I wear and trying real hard to make my butt cheeks release from clench they are in at the fear that I feel overtaking my body at the sound of those words)? Slower now, “What size shoe you wear?” (Oh, please don’t touch my feet…please don’t touch my feet…). “Reach under your seat, I got something there that might fit ya.” (Okay, play along and maybe while you’re reaching down, you can hit him with whatever it is that he’s got under your seat, then you can release your set belt, throw yourself out the door and roll when you hit the ground). I reach under the seat and feel the top of a pair of boots. When I pull them out, they’re small, black leather, steel-toed workman’s boots, the kind I had looked at not too many weeks before at the Army/Navy store (the kind I couldn’t afford to buy at the time). Driver says to me, “None of the guys at work can wear ‘em cause they’re too small, so I took ‘em to give ‘em away. You can have ‘em.” So, when I walk up to the site that morning, late and sporting some new black, steel-toed boots, everyone asks where I’ve been. “Well, you’re not going to believe this…”
So, that’s the story of my steel-toed boots. And although it was a completely unnecessary story to tell, I thought it book-ended exceptionally well with the Jolly Green and the Steel Workers Union yarn.
I really am terribly excited about my Steel Workers Union membership. I think it will have a positive effect on my standing in this community, or at least a positive effect on my perception of my standing in this community. I can just see us now, walking into the Tavern, wearing our coveralls (I’ll be wearing my steel-toe boots) with our welder’s helmets cradled in the crook of our arms, sidling up to the bar to order a glass of cabernet (me-Sprout) and a vodka with cranberry juice (Jolly Green). We’ll talk about the hard day we put in at the library, welding together nouns and verbs, hammering out dangling participles, pouring a red-hot rail of stream of consciousness…