I was trying to avoid the bottom of the pecking order without much success. I watched the boss try to put Ken there several times, but the man was resilient. He had a kind of intelligence that can’t be learned in school. I suspect he was the class clown his teacher couldn’t silence. If the whole class laughs, the clown wins and Ken had been doing that since primary school. He wasn’t malicious; he just needed to drill for nerves. And Ken had an uncanny ability to strike insecurities or those places most men want to keep hidden.
The boss was five feet tall with a handlebar mustache and a balding head. He wore cargo shorts, a polo shirt, and work boots. Steve wrote the assignments on the board with malice. It was his way to get even with anybody on the crew. The guy on the lowest end of the pecking order always got the shit jobs.
“Ken, you get Entrance today and you can set the course.”
“Awe, come on, why do you always pick on me Steve? Is it because you look up to me?” Ken opened his mouth for a reaction and the boss only glared at him. The rest of the guys tried not to laugh, but had difficulty.
“I guess I’m on the poo poo platter again,” Ken said. It would go on like this for days or weeks until one of the college kids screwed up. They’d get stuck with the bad jobs until someone else messed up, but they usually quit before this happened. Pretty soon I was the only college kid on the crew. The boss was thinking of hiring the homeless man who slept under the bridge, but he found a better prospect in a guy who picked up trash for the county last summer. He was 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed over 300 pounds. Robert wasn’t smart and he kept to himself. He was just the kind of guy Ken loved to poke.
“Robert, I bet you got a big one, but do you use it?” The giant just stared straight ahead. Bill looked up from the National Inquirer. He knew something more entertaining was about to happen.
“Don’t you speak?” Ken asked. “The guy says less than the golf course.” And then the mountain erupted. Robert grabbed Ken like a rag doll and lifted him off the ground. “Don’t fuck with me!” Robert said. And Ken went as pale as a bed-sheet, dangling 6 inches off the floor. He survived the moment and always gave Robert a wide birth after that.
Maybe Robert was smarter than he looked. He had done what none of the college kids had the courage to do.