Offcuts: Pete and the Wheelbarrow By: Don Heisz
Today is Mother’s Day. So, happy Mother’s Day to all people who are or have a mother.
Of course, not when I was a kid. Back then, Mother’s Day was a day to say “Happy Mother’s Day” to your own mother and not really anyone else. My father was good enough to get my mother a present one year, though. It was a fine, full-sized wheelbarrow, great for mixing concrete I’m pretty sure he set about using it right away.
My mother never said much about it. The fact was, she could use the wheelbarrow.
Who doesn’t need a wheelbarrow?
One time, when my good old friend Pete and I were on a job site that was nearing its end, we spotted a labourer dragging a wheelbarrow with one handle over to the dumpster.
“What? Are you throwing that away?”
“Huh? What? This?”
The labourer stared at Pete for a minute then continued taking the wheelbarrow to the dumpster. When he got there, he stopped. The dumpster was, as always, a big steel box, almost overflowing, the gate at the back was closed. And it was over eight feet high. The labourer, who was not a very big guy, looked at the wheelbarrow and looked at the dumpster and then called out to me, “Hey! Can you help me out for a minute?”
Being always ready to oblige, like the fabled Boy Scout, I started to walk over, but Pete stopped me.
“You can’t put that in there,” he said, “I’m taking it home. We’ll put it in my truck.”
“What do you want that for?” I asked him.
“I can fix that handle with a maple 2×4.”
“Won’t that be a bit uncomfortable to use?”
“I’ll shape it to be like the other handle.”
“You’re very skilled,” I said in awe.
“Shut up, now.”
We went to where the wheelbarrow was marooned next to the shipwrecked tanker. It looked pathetic, fallen over on its hull, since one side no longer had any support.
“What about the leg?” I asked. One side had a steel strap as a leg, which was how it was manufactured. I can’t think of any other way to describe it. Anyway, the other had been attached to the wayward handle. It was nowhere to be seen.
“Hey!” Pete called out to the labourer.
“Huh? What? Me?”
“No. Where’s the other handle? The one that broke off?”
“They used it on the roof.”
Pete and I looked at each other. What?
“They used it on the roof. I don’t know. You’ll have to talk to them. I’m busy. I got no time.”
“This guy has been huffing too much gasoline,” Pete said to me.
“What?” the other guy called out.
“I wasn’t talking to you!” Pete called back.
The labourer waved and walked into the building.
“Did he mean the roofers were using it and they broke the handle and he doesn’t know what they did with it?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s just busy. Never mind him, he’s a busy fellow.”
Pete and I each took one side of the wheelbarrow’s bucket (or that’s what I’m calling it) and carried it over to the back of his truck. “I gotta get the tailgate open,” he said. He started rummaging around for the long standard screwdriver he always used to stick in through an opening under the handle to lever the mechanism that opened the gate.
“Why don’t you get that fixed?” I asked, since he was starting to unleash a steady stream of curses about not being able to find anything in this junkheap of a truck.
He stopped rummaging and looked at me. “Do you know how I can keep valuable stuff in the back of this pile of crap?”
“What do you mean?”
“The thieves!” he said, “Nothing ever gets stolen. Do you know why?”
I was wondering where these thieves were, exactly.
“The thing about thieves,” he said, in his wisest tone, “is they are fundamentally lazy. Do you know what fundamentally means?”
I said nothing for a minute. Then I said, “Huh? What? Me?”
“Since they’ve only ever known laziness,” he said, and I started to wonder if he knew what “fundamentally” meant, “they approach the target and see if it’s unlocked.” He mimicked the fabled thief and stealthily approached the back of the truck, where he quietly and gently tried to lift the handle.
“What are you doing?”
“Fiddlesticks! It’s locked!” he exclaimed.
“No! They’re too lazy to climb into the back or reach over the side. They are like horses with their heads tied up.”
“Never mind, you’re clearly an idiot,” he said. Then he resumed searching for the screwdriver.
After a few minutes of cursing, he pulled it out. Then, after a few more minutes of more cursing and banging, the gate opened.
“Ok, now. Help me lift it up.”
“Hey, what are you guys doing?” came a voice from the building. We looked over and saw the site supervisor standing in an open doorway.
“We’re leaving,” called out Pete, and waved his hand in the air. “See ya!”
“You can’t take that wheelbarrow.”
“What? Why not?”
“It’s not yours,” he yelled.
“It’s broken! And your guy was gonna toss it in the dumpster.”
“But it’s garbage, right?”
“Why do you want it?” I was starting to wonder if it would be easier to have these conversations if could all get a bit closer to each other. Pete must have thought the same thing, because he didn’t say anything more but walked over to the doorway where the supervisor stood.
“It’s garbage, yeah? Your guy was putting it in the dumpster. Well, he couldn’t actually lift it into it.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“I was going to fix it.”
“Then it’s not garbage, is it?” asked the supervisor, with a satisfied grin on his face.
Pete said nothing else. We turned and walked back to the truck.
“I’m glad we’re getting out of this nest of lunatics,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Hey. Did you see what was propping open the door he was standing in?”
“The missing handle.”