The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 5, 2013

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

For The Daily Item

— 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.