With all these revelations of sexual harassment and workplace bullying, I thought I’d slip in a little anecdote that I heard on the job many years ago. Strange, the places life takes you …
In all the years I worked as a sub-contractor for the Greeks, I worked on my own. I found that it was the best way to have control of my time and workload. But every now and then, there would be a commercial building job that required another chippie to keep the schedule moving and up to date. On one of these jobs, an older carpenter was brought in to do some finishing work, while myself, being a young bloke then could do the ‘heavy lifting’ … we got to chatting at smoko after a couple of days on the job. His name was Mark, an older bloke, as near to retirement as I was far away from it. He’d be long gone by now so I’ll tell you what he told me.
I was not long married and we were expecting our first child, so was full of that “new parent keenness” sort of thing. I told him of our expectations.
“You got any kids?” I asked.
“Two, girls … by my second wife,” he replied.
“Oh … none from your first ?” I asked.
“No, we never got around to it … only married a few years,” he spoke as he shelled a boiled egg.
“That’s bad luck,” I offered.
“Not as bad as it would’ve been if we stuck together! She cleared off with my work-partner.”
“Christ! That’s a bit rich,” I said. Mark shrugged.
“A long time ago now.”
“I never had any work partner.” I reflected.
“Yeah? Good idea … but we’d known each other (the partner and myself) since our apprenticeship days … and when the big building companies folded back in the seventies, we formed a partnership … first fix roofing.”
He sat back with his legs crossed and sort of stared ahead in some thought while he ate the egg. Of course, being an inquisitive chap (I love a good gossipy story!), I was dying to hear some more … but there are times and there are times … I knew now was not the time to pry, so I left it to the next week at smoko. I then took up the story with him:
“That partner you had, was he a good tradie or the bludger type … I ask, since you say he took off with your wife …. I was wondering if you had to carry him on the job?”
“ No, no … he was a bloody good tradesman … knew the job inside out … much brighter than me. He used to do the quoting and setting out … that was probably my downfall.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Well, he would leave me with the cutting-list, say, and take off for a couple of hours to do a quote and I’d be there on the job cutting the timber and he’d come back and we’d get stuck into it.” He sat back and pondered a moment … ”You know … I probably would never have found out when I did except for that one small slip with the pencil.”
“What pencil?” I was now very curious.
“These pencils … you know; these thick carpenter’s pencils.” And he motioned to the one in the top pencil-pocket of his overalls. He took it out and turned it over to show me three little cuts near the top. “That’s my mark … I put it on all my tools and things … it’s a habit since my apprentice years … so you know your gear.“ Mark put the pencil back into the pocket and leant back against the wall, “I shoulda’ worked it out a bit sooner … like when my partner Dave’s wife bumped into me at the shops one day and asked me to join her in a coffee there …
She asked me then out of the blue if I thought Dave was having an affair. I was gobsmacked … ’Dave, I repeated … nah … can’t see it … he’s always on the job ’cept when he goes to do a quote, an’ then he’s usually only gone an hour or two. I had to think a bit … Nah! … Can’t see it.’ I said again’ …. but it did stick in my head for some reason.”
Mark leant to his lunch-box and took out a snack-bar … he continued:
“It was about a month or so after that chat that I was there on the job early, setting up … I was at my tool-box marking these six new pencils I had bought the night before from the hardware store … I sharpened one for myself and had just put the remaining five into the top drawer of my tool-box when Dave was at my shoulder … ’Ah!’ he said, ‘I’ll have one of those if you don’t mind, I’m all out of them.’ I gave him a new one.”
Mark again stopped as if in deep thought and stared ahead … he was like that … then he continued:
“It was that very night, actually. I was putting my slippers under the bed and when I lifted the valance there, I saw the pencil … it was one of my carpenter’s pencils with my mark on it … I picked it up and said my thought out loud:
“What’s this doing here?” … and the missus looks over her shoulder and mumbled something like:
”It must have dropped out of your pocket.” I just accepted that, shrugged and put it on the bedside table to take to work in the morning.
I never gave it a second thought, to be honest … and I never would have again except when I got to the job, Dave was already there, up on the roof doing some measuring. I went to my tool box, took out my nail-bag and remembered the pencil in my pocket from last night … I opened the top drawer and saw four new pencils there … I automatically put my hand into my nail-bag and felt and took out the new pencil I had put there yesterday …”
Mark stopped, frowned, like he was going through the moment all over again, recalling it step by step:
”I remember I was thinking to myself … I’m not a fast thinker y’know..an’ I’m not quite ‘with it’ sometimes, if you know what I mean … and I’m sort of confused trying to work this thing out. There’s the four pencils in the tray … there’s the one in my nailbag … five … an’ here’s the one I found under the bed last night … that makes six. Hang on, didn’t I give one to Dave yesterday before he went to do that quote and if so how come I have six again now? And then that meeting with Dave’s wife an her thinking of him having an affair and the pencil I gave him and him going for a quote … how come I have six now? And then the wife’s; “It must have fallen from your pocket” … all this sort of jumbled stuff. Of course the LAST THING on my mind was any idea of Dave … of Dave and my wife … and it might still have been explained away except at that moment, Dave calls out from the rafters; ’Mark! Can you throw me up another of those pencils … the other must have dropped from my pocket’ … but I was in the middle of this dammed awful thing and wasn’t hearing him properly till it all twigged with him bloody calling to me over and over:
“Mark … Mark … the pencil … the pencil …”