A recent prompt from my Florida writers’ group was to write a story about a screw-up—either a situation gone haywire, or a person who just didn’t seem able to manage. This was my submission—
“Son, you’re ‘bout two steps short of the finish-line, an’ three bricks shy of a load.”
So said the foreman, minutes before handing me my walking papers. I tried arguing with him, saying it wasn’t my fault the wooden cartons of glassware fell off the fork-lift, smashing all the contents. The stupid machine lurched forward as I started the motor.
“C’mon, gimme a break,” I whined. “Whoever drove it last left it in gear.”
“You drove it last, dummy!”
On the bright side, that wasn’t the first job I ever got fired from, and I managed to survive. On the dark side, it wasn’t the last, either.
For example, take that job driving a taxi. I got canned after my first shift, when I inadvertently drove my cab out of the service station with the gas nozzle still in the fuel door. Pulled the pump right off its moorings, flooded the whole area with gas, shut down the whole block for hours.
“You musta already donated your brain to medical science!” the dispatcher growled. “You’re livin’ proof of the theory of de-volution!”
He wasn’t happy that I asked for a free cab-ride home. Turns out, I had to walk.
Keeping jobs isn’t the only thing I’ve messed up, though. I’ve also had issues with landlords from time to time, all of whom seemed quite unreasonable. On one occasion, I answered my phone in the kitchen, forgetting I’d left the taps running to fill the bathtub. I realized the problem immediately when I saw water pooling around my feet, and quickly rushed to shut off the taps. The landlord began pounding on my door as I was cleaning up the mess, summoned by the tenants on the floor below whose ceiling had caved in on them.
“Your elevator don’t go all the way to the top floor, y’know that!” he yelled. “Your antenna’s not pickin’ up all the channels!”
In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best time to remind him the building was a five-floor walk-up—no elevators, no TV service. I got an eviction notice the next day.
Thank goodness it didn’t take long to find temporary digs, but I was only there a couple of days when my new landlord—my surly sister-in-law, never my biggest fan—told me to get out. Screamed it, actually. She’d reluctantly agreed to let my brother set me up in their spare room in the basement, but apparently she wasn’t a fan of Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden cranked to a hundred decibels ‘til well past midnight.
“But Tish, they only sound good if you listen with the volume way up,” I griped.
She looked at me pityingly. “Well then, you’re deaf as a stump. An’ about that smart!”
“What?” I said, trying to be funny. She didn’t laugh. Didn’t change her mind, either.
In addition to mistakes with jobs and landlords, I’ve also had issues now and again with the demon-rum. I vaguely recall the time, after knocking back a few pints, I knelt down in front of the first woman I wanted to marry—Mary-Ann something, or maybe Mary-Lou. Astonished, she asked me what I was doing on my knees in the middle of the pub, and sadly, right at that moment, I couldn’t remember. And then, according to what I heard later from the police, I toppled over on the floor. The love of my life was long-gone when I awoke in the drunk-tank.
In court the next morning, I told the judge I’d be representing myself. “Not a good idea, son,” he intoned. “In your condition, you’d lose a debate with a doorknob! I’m surprised you managed to hit the floor when you fell on it!”
Even the therapist the judge sent me to was unimpressed a month or so into our sessions. “When you were assigned to me,” he said, “I didn’t realize you had a drinking problem. Not ’til you showed up sober once.”
“Not to worry, Doc,” I told him amiably. “I’ve always been a coupla beers short of a six-pack!” Not surprisingly, I don’t see that therapist anymore. Never saw Mary-Sue (Mary-Jean?) again, either. Never had our second date.
I suppose I’ve always walked a bit of a crooked line, even when not under the influence. My mother, God bless her, once said, “It’s like you’re half a bubble off plumb! Like you’re one saucer short of a tea-set.”
That might have been what got me started on the hard-stuff, come to think of it, because I never did drink tea again after she said that.
Probably the biggest mistake I ever made in my life—although I still have years left to change that—was when I decided to join the Marines. I was unemployed, nowhere to live, without a girlfriend, banned from my favourite pubs, and hungry. In desperation, I signed up for a pre-boot-camp, where a former Drill-Sergeant set out to weed out the wannabes from the wunderkinds. You can probably guess which I was.
“You hafta be the poster-child for birth-control, gomer!” he screamed at me on the first day. “You give inbreeding a bad rap!”
“I was adopted!” I said, as if that would make any difference.
“Yeah? Well either way, you musta fell outta the family tree an’ hit every branch on the way down. Too much chorine in your gene pool!”
He never let up on me, and by the fifth day, I’m sure I’d heard every description of screw-up ever invented. They just kept coming.
Day 1: “You’re not pullin’ a full wagon, boy! You’re a few mules short of a team!”
Day 2: “You’re ‘bout as sharp as a marble, son! You don’t know whether to scratch your watch or wind your butt!”
Day 3: “The gates are down, the lights are flashin’, but the train ain’t comin’, bucko! You’re deprivin’ some village somewhere of its idjit!”
Day 4: “Your driveway don’t reach all the way to the road, boyo! The wheel is spinnin’, but the hamster is dead!”
I flunked out on the fifth day, and for the first time the sarge seemed to take pity on me. “Sorry, son, but bein’ a Marine means you gotta be burnin’ on all thrusters, roger that?”
I didn’t know what thrusters were, nor did I know anyone named Roger, so I just nodded meekly, no smart wisecrack this time.
“You got a good heart, kid, but it’s like your boat don’t have all the oars in the water. Like you don’t got all your soldiers marchin’ in line. So, here’s what you oughta do. Go join the navy. Or join the army. They need guys like you!” He ended that last sentence with a mocking laugh.
So, shortly thereafter, I found myself on my way to the nearest army recruiter, filled with hope after such a rousing send-off. I chose the army over the navy because someone once told me they’d invented the acronym FUBAR!
Which, as I’d come to understand by then, is what I was!