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I’ve always been a little less tolerant of boredom than many people are. Whereas others are content to show up for work and slog through yet another day of tedium, my mind refuses to lapse into a hypnotic trance. It is always on the alert, always looking for a way to wring just a little fun out of my day.
I mean, I have to work, but I don’t have to hate it, do I? My current job is very fulfilling and I enjoy going in every day.
It has not always been so.
Many of you know that the summer I was fourteen I worked in the hotel where they would later film the movie, “Dirty Dancing.” My Uncle Bob was the manager of Mountain Lake Hotel and fourteen was the minimum age to work there, so I got to accompany his son, John, who was the same age, to the hotel for the summer, where we started out working as dishwashers.
Dishwashing was dirty, greasy work and not exactly exciting…usually.
The kitchen help was expected to assist in unloading the trucks that delivered food to the hotel. Ice cream had to be kept frozen for the trip up the mountain so was packed in dry ice.
In case you aren’t aware of it, even a small piece of dry ice, when dropped in water, will begin to bubble and emit cold clouds of carbon dioxide vapor – basically fog. At first glance, it’s hard to tell it from smoke.
Now, the kitchen steward was a college kid named Shawn. He acted as if my very reason for existence was to make him miserable or, at the very least, unhappy. In retrospect, he may have been right.
I volunteered to climb into the freezer truck when it got there one day. As I handed out the frozen boxes of ice cream I “accidentally” kicked out quite a few little chunks of dry ice.
After all the ice cream was put away and the other kitchen help left to enjoy their short time off between meals, I quickly moved around the kitchen and adjoining bathroom filling every sink, many pots and pans, and even the toilet with water. Then I dropped a little chunk of dry ice into each container. It wasn’t long before the kitchen of the popular vacation destination was filled with the sound of bubbling as the air turned into a dense, white, cloud.
And that’s when Shawn walked in. The first thing he yelled was, “MATTHEWS! What the h— did you do to MY kitchen!?”
How did he know it was me?
Mowing the lawn has never been one of my favorite chores so, as a kid, despite the fact that I could barely push the heavy machine I would alleviate the boredom by first drawing pictures in the yard with the cutter. I always mowed them away quickly. Well, I usually did. There was the one day I ran out of gas after creating my art and the fuel I thought was waiting on the back porch wasn’t.
It normally took me about an hour to walk to the neighborhood gas station clutching an empty milk jug in my hands to buy fuel and carry it back home. That day I’ll bet I set a record because the LAST thing I wanted my sweet, Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher mom to see was the artwork her innocent junior high aged son had created in her front yard…the one facing Highway 25…the main thoroughfare through our quiet Midwestern home town.
Like many residents of southeast Missouri, as a teenager I got a job picking peaches in the summer. The orchard owner’s son didn’t have to pick the fuzzy fruit in the steamy heat of Swampeast Missouri like the rest of us. He’d drive the tractor pulling a trailer to wherever we were picking that day. Then we filled with peaches while he took a break in the shade…and complained about the heat.
One day he must have been recovering from a particularly late night of revelry because he quickly fell asleep in an orchard filled with peach picking friends who were secretly a little jealous that he didn’t have to work nearly as hard as we did, most likely for better pay.
Before long his drowsing body was covered in paper-cone drinking cups and carefully balanced peaches.
I shouldn’t take credit for the practical joke as I really don’t remember whose idea it was and I had help setting it up…but I will if you want to blame me.
My friend must have dreamed he was being attacked by some kind of monster because he woke up flailing his arms and legs and spewing words that increased my knowledge of French…a lot.
When I was in the service, I arose about 5 a.m. to wake my troops, then went to the chow hall in the dark. On the way to breakfast I passed the quarters of some Marines who had yet to get up and quickly noticed that one room in particular usually had a mop sitting outside the door to dry. It only took a second or two for me to turn that mop upside down and lean it against the door so that whoever opened it would get a sloppy, wet mop “kiss”.
Just call it my contribution to keeping the Marine Corps “combat alert”.
After my stint in the Corps, I returned to my home town and started college. I got a job helping open the new Wal Mart. One of the assistant managers was soon a buddy of mine and helped get me a transfer to the Paris Road Wal Mart when I moved to Columbia to attend the University of Missouri.
One day I enlisted a friend’s help to “lift and scoot” my girlfriend’s car. The two of us would pick up the front end and scoot it a few feet to the side, then repeat that process on the back end. It wasn’t long before the car was “parked” between two supporting posts on the sidewalk in front of the store with mere inches between each bumper and the poles.
It wasn’t much longer before my girlfriend discovered her un-moveable car. Pretty soon after the discovery I was single…again. I guess I kind of deserved it but we did “un-park” her car for her despite the “dumping.”
A few days after that my buddy (yes, the same buddy who helped with the girl’s car) walked out of work to discover with the cab of his pickup was FULL of packing peanuts.
I don’t think I deserve the blame for that one.
Well, maybe I do.
One morning, after the Wal-Mart managers had locked me in the store all night to change the bad ballasts in the fluorescent lights, they arrived to find that someone had placed a neatly printed sign on the store printer that said, “Prints Charming”.
A few years later I was working at a factory north of Columbia. I noticed an old sign tucked in a corner that was soon relocated to sit on the back of the toilet in the employee bathroom.
The sign read, “Weight Limit 5 Tons”.
That same bathroom was the site of one of my favorite pranks. I went in to find that the previous occupant had left it smelling bad…really bad. There was one of those room deodorizer boxes on the wall that was supposed to eject a little spritz of flowery scent from time to time. My first breath told me the deodorizer canister was past due for replacement.
It seemed like every day the next week I entered that bathroom after my “stanky” coworker. And every time I realized that maintenance had not replaced the canister.
Something had to be done.
Within a few minutes I had gotten some tape and cardboard and gone back to the little room to hang a hand-written sign on the deodorizer that read, simply, “Out of Odor.”
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(above) A little video I put together of things people did to add a little fun to their workday.
(below) Some videos I found of people bored at work.