Monday, April 24, 2006

Hidden Talents

Today I got my first lesson in how to operate a forklift.


When I first started working in the warehouse, I was all full of I-can't-cross-that-line-over-to-doing-manual-labor-because-I've-been-hired-to-recreate-this-job-as-purely-administrative thoughts. So, when the warehouse manager told me he was going to teach me how to drive the forklift, I laughed good-naturedly and said, "Oh, I don't think I'll need to know how to drive the forklift." He accepted it but at least one of the other guys also said I should learn how. As I started getting comfortable that the guys were getting the idea about the new distribution of responsibilities, I found that I was thinking about the forklift. Necessity meant that I had learned the basics of the pallet jack, but I'm not actually very good at it and I prefer to do all of my pallet jack when there is nobdy watching. I run into stuff a lot. If something needs to be done and I am not alone, I've found that if I say that like a joke, ("I prefer to do use the pallet jack in private")then someone will usually take over for me. But, my basic, if slow competence, caused me to think about the forklift.

"Why not?" I thought. How could it be bad to have an additional skill? And an unexpected one, at that? It would be almost as good as being able to hustle someone in billiards. I remembered being on tour and watching my friend Matthew teach the young electrician, Richard. As visiting stage hands to the arena, they definitely shouldn't have been using the local forklift, so they were comically operating in secret. I was naturally attracted to this behavior because the blatant breaking of rules is like a roller coster to me: thrilling in its risk. Plus, Matthew and Richard together were always entertaining. I think I asked why they were playing school and although I can't remember the dialogue, I'm sure they indicated, "Why not?" At least, that's the dominant impression I have that is associated with the visual memory of Richard doing as poorly with a forklift as I do with a pallet jack.

So, with that image, when John asked if I had some time because it was beautiful outside, I said, "Sure."

Richard made it look easy.

John is patient, though.

I wish I could do my forklift work in private.

I practiced basic skills. Moving the tines up and down, left and right, tilting back and forward. Testing the brake to see how quickly the machine stops. Rolling forward. Rolling backward. Turning. Lowering the tines exactly on the line of shade. Spinning in a tight circle to get feel for the fork's power. Getting much too close to the cars parked in the lot. Scaring myself a lot to test the limits of the machine. We practiced with empty pallets, taking the top two off and placing them next to the stack. Going around and straightening the top two when I bumped them crooked because I did not skewer them correctly.

It was fun.

Tomorrow, because the warehouse will be open to customers, the parking lot will be full, so John says I'll practice in my aisle, with actual product.

Maybe I'll have a lot of paperwork to do.

Maybe not.

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