Goofy Dad Stories (9) – Splinters I Have Known

Goofy Dad Stories (9) – Splinters I Have Known

Goofy Dad Stories (9) – Splinters I Have Known

While working through graduate school at Michigan State, I enjoyed a variety of jobs… liquor store manager at Sav-On Drugs, painter of apartments with the Christian Brothers Painting Company, gas station attendant at a Shell station, and a lineman for the Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

While being trained at the phone company, they wanted to make sure I could safely and efficiently climb all the phone poles and work with both hands while belted in at the top of the pole. So, a part of the training was practicing that process: putting on 2-inch gaff hooks on the inside of each foot, wearing a thick leather belt, and climbing a 3-story wood pole at the training ground. The gaff hooks would pierce the wooden sides of the pole as I ascended, and my belt hooked around the pole at the top would allow me to lean back and still be connected to the pole. Because all my weight was centered on these little gaff hooks in the wood, I had to be careful that each hook was securely sunk into the wood. If my gaff hook cut out, I would have nothing supporting me or connecting me to the pole, and down I would go.

One fateful day during training I ascended a 30-foot pole, gaffing into the wood all the way to the very top. There were no handles on the pole, just the wood into which to sink the gaff hooks. There were 6 poles all near each other, and all 6 of us trainees were belted in up at the top of our respective poles, nervously leaning back, gaffed into the old splintered wood. The trainer then threw one of us a big beach ball and asked us to play catch with it, 30 feet off the ground, so that we would be comfortable at the top, using both hands, instead of using our hands to help balance us on the pole.

So there we were, with varying degrees of fear and trepidation, at the top of our poles, belted in, only those little gaff hooks keeping us on the pole. All of a sudden, both of my gaff hooks dislodged from the wood. I was belted in, unfortunately. If I were not belted in, I maybe could have pushed myself away from the pole on the way down and just landed on my feet. But alas, such was not the case. The gaff hooks cut out of the wood pole 30 feet off the ground, and I had no choice but to ride the splintered wood pole all the way down to the ground. The whole trip down lasted a few seconds, but I felt every second.

As I lay at the bottom of the pole, fully spread on the ground, I caught my breath, made sure I was alive, and looked up the pole I had just ridden down. Sure enough, pieces of my green corduroy pants were sticking in the wood all the way to the top. I had lost most of my pants on my ride to the bottom. I think some of my boxer shorts were caught in the splintered wood as well.

What did the trainer make me do? You guessed it, I had to climb up the pole again, with the remainder of my pants flapping in the breeze, the other trainees aghast at what I had just experienced, trying not to look at my shredded pants. The trainer wanted me to conquer the fear that I was certainly feeling at the time. I did it, but I was not happy. There were splinters and blood, and I was extremely sore, of course. I didn’t count the number of splinters I took out of my skinned body later on.

The crazy thing was that this all happened on the very day after Sheri and I became engaged. I told her not to be surprised if at some point one of our kids is born chewing on a toothpick. If I remember right, she was not amused, and wondered what she got herself into.

Somehow I successfully completed the training, and for a few months actually enjoyed fixing phone lines up on the pole. However, once I received my M.A., I wasn’t tempted to continue with the phone company, needless to say.