During the summer before I started college, I worked as a laborer for a lawn-cutting service. There were five guys on the crew — including me — and my boss was a guy named Crew Leader Carl. He had hair down to his shoulders and always had a cigarette sticking out the side of his mouth.
I recall my first day on the job, when Carl set his stringent expectations.
“On my crew, safety is paramount,” Crew Leader Carl said, as we gassed up before work. “If you want to keep your job, you’ll have to make safety your No. 1 priority.”
As he was saying this, he was filling a gas can that was sitting in the back of the truck, a cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“You’ll need to keep your head in the game at all times,” he continued, looking me hard in the eye. “Pay attention to what you’re doing. Being distracted, even for a second, can cause you or someone else to get hurt.”
“I think the gas can’s full,” I said, pointing.
“Huh?” Carl turned and saw the gasoline overflowing into the truck bed. “Ah, damn!”
He yanked out the nozzle, tipping the can. Gas cascaded off the back of the truck.
“Piece of junk!” Carl bellowed, shaking the gas nozzle as if it were somehow deficient.
One of the crew members, Francisco, jumped forward and uprighted the can. Gas continued to drip off the open tailgate.
“Anyway,” Carl said, hanging up the nozzle, “what was I just saying?”
“We were having a safety meeting,” I said.
“Right.” He walked back to the truck and jabbed a finger into my chest. “On my crew, I don’t tolerate negligence. You got it? If you do something stupid and hurt yourself or someone else, I’ll kick your ass from here over the Rocky Mountains. You’ll be eating Hellman’s Mayonnaise for lunch instead of Best Foods. You understand?”
I squinted. “Not really.”
Carl slammed the tailgate closed … just as Francisco was climbing out the truck. Francisco tripped and fell onto the pavement.
“What the hell you doing down there?” Carl said, his voice raised. “Get up! Your clothes are getting soaked in gas!”
As we climbed into the truck, Carl glared at me through the rearview mirror. “You remember what I told you about safety, now. You got it?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
With that, Carl fired up the truck. As we pulled away from the pumps, he took his cigarette and flicked it out the window.