When we were in college we had no money. In the summer we had to work two jobs to try to save enough cash to continue. One summer, we worked in a boatyard in Annapolis early in the morning…then, we did an evening shift painting television towers. Painting the towers was such dangerous work our poor mother begged us to quit. But the money was good – $5.25 an hour – so we had to keep at it.
There must not have been an Occupational Safety and Health Administration back then. We worked high in the air without harnesses. In fact, we were handicapped; in our right hand was a mitt that we dipped into a paint can. So our right arm was useless for holding on the to beams…which were usually slippery from the paint we had slimed on. Looking back, the whole thing seems suicidal. But hey…we needed the money.
One day, a new kid joined the crew. He was a little overweight. We wondered how he’d be able to climb up a 500-foot tower and maneuver around with the painting mitt on his hand. It was work for monkeys, not for hippos.
After much huffing and puffing he made it up to where we were painting. But then he made a near-fatal mistake: he looked down. The sight of so much distance between him and terra firma gave him a fright. He froze. He grabbed the I-beam with both arms and refused to budge. He couldn’t go up. He couldn’t go down. He couldn’t move at all.
“Yust leave him dere…” was the advice of one of our co-workers, recently arrived from some country where people were apparently very blond and very stupid.
The foreman, also a recent immigrant from some Eastern European country without the ‘th’ sound, was more sympathetic.
“Idiot! C’mon down from dere.”
But the poor kid couldn’t move.
“Hey…calm down…you got up here…you can get down too.” We thought logic might succeed where threats failed.
But it was hopeless.
We decided that time, which heals all wounds, might also help this fellow overcome his fear. We left him alone and painted the tower.
At dinnertime, he was still there. Still petrified. It looked like he would stay there until he died.
But we knew we couldn’t leave him there. So, we all gathered around him. Hitched some ropes to him. Reassured him. Threatened him with castration…and worse.
“If you don’t let go of dat beam, I’m gonna knock you off it,” said the foreman.
Finally, he realized he had no choice.
“Just don’t look down,” we suggested.
After much coaxing…and much time…he was down on the ground. He got in his car and drove off.
“Damned college boy,” said one of the Eastern European. “They’re always a pain in de ass.”
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