The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


December 5, 2013

The most embarrassing thing to happen to me at work was...

The most embarrassing thing to happen to me at work was ... in the summer of 1985, when I was a skinny college student working a summer job at a steel mill down the street. My job was to "poke pigs." I had to use a 5- or 6-pound steel spear to unlodge ("poke") any bread-loaf-sized casts ("pigs") that failed to fall into a bin on their own after being poured as molten steel from a huge bucket connected to a crane 40 yards away. I had to do this twice a night for 90 minutes each. It was the most taxing job there was. Probably why they made the college kids do it. It was so exhausting that poking was all I had to do that night, and I was still paid for an eight-hour shift. The 5- or 6-pound spear gradually felt like it weighed 30 pounds, 40 pounds, 50 pounds. Whatever pigs wouldn't fall even after repeated poking had to be freed by my using a small, hand-held jack hammer, that would rattle my whole, frail body.

After my first night of poking pigs, I was in the large shower room, using both hands to shampoo all the particulates and grime out of my hair. Buck naked and among a bunch of muscular steel mill veterans in the shower room, my tired arms locked -- seized -- in place, with my hands atop my head, my fingers spread across my scalp, my elbows at eye level. Not that my eyes could see. I had a lather of shampoo going and a facefull of soap. Eyes closed, I shuffled backwards and used my butt to navigate to the shower wall, then tried to use my shoulders to pry my arms free. Didn't work.

 All my co-workers could see was the skinny naked new kid sliding his butt and shoulders left and right on the shower wall.

 I waited a few minutes, then shouted "I can't move my arms!"  above the spray of 20-some showers in full use. "Got a problem, there, Junior?" I heard above the sound of 20-some fellows laughing reverberated off the shower walls. I was very afraid of what prank these fellows would play on me. I had heard them all from my dad, a longtime steel mill vet.

 But I managed to escape feeling even more foolish. I felt one hand on my left arm and another on my right, yanking my thin biceps back where they belonged, at my sides.

 I did not live it down the rest of the summer.


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