OPINION – Long before Mike Rowe was a household name for his immensely popular TV show “Dirty Jobs,” I received my first life lesson in being hired to take on a very undesirable task.
It started innocently enough with my father asking if I’d like to make a little extra money working at the drug store he managed. He casually mentioned that it would involve some driving, I was too naive to see the bait he was dangling before me. So I took it.
I was 14 years old and though I didn’t have my drivers license, dad knew perfectly well that I’d jump at any chance to get more time behind the wheel.
Dad’s pharmacy was situated in downtown Buhl, Idaho, in an old three-story building with a modern store front at street level and two floors of crumbling, unused apartments above. The task my dad had in mind for me involved cleaning out a 30-foot long, 3-foot wide catwalk just outside the apartment windows on the third floor.
For years, the catwalk had been a favorite hangout for the flocks of feral pigeons that populated the downtown area of Buhl. Anyone who has been around pigeons to any degree knows that these birds are best known for what they leave behind.
In my mind, I envisioned the job consisting of sweeping the pigeon droppings into a neat pile, carefully shoveling them over the edge of the building into the bed of a borrowed pickup truck below and then driving them out to the landfill to be disposed of. Dad knew better.
When I saw that he had provided me with galoshes, gloves, and an old pair of his Air Force coveralls, I began to suspect that there was more to this job than he was letting on. It wasn’t until I had climbed out of an apartment window onto the catwalk that I began to realize just what I’d gotten myself into.
The entire length of the catwalk was buried beneath more than half a foot with years and years of accumulated pigeon filth. What I’d hoped would be a single truckload turned out to be more than half a dozen backbreaking trips to the county dump.
It was a sunny July afternoon and I soon found myself laboring beneath an almost unbearable combination of oppressive heat and mind-boggling odor. Dad later told me that the unpleasant stench I was stirring up was the talk of the town in Buhl that day.
For a small town that is home to numerous dairies and a fish food manufacturing plant, that’s saying something.
After the last load of muck had been hauled off to the landfill, I then had to drag a garden hose up to the catwalk and spray it down. Fortunately there was a drain pipe located at the far end of the catwalk, but the drain soon plugged up and I had to clear it by forcing the hose down it.
As the filthy water began to drain into the parking lot below, I heard a strange sound that warranted a peek over the edge to see what was causing it. It wasn’t good news.
We had carefully blocked off the parking lot earlier that day to spare any motorists the indignity of getting their car soiled while I was flinging crud into the pickup parked below. But one guy, who assumed that we were simply saving the entire parking lot for his use, had driven past our barricade and parked in the space located directly beneath the drain pipe.
From my vantage point, I could no longer tell what color the car had been originally.
I sprinted downstairs to tell my dad the bad news and saw him come staggering through the front door of the drug store laughing so hard he could barely walk. With tears running down his cheeks, he managed to gasp out instructions to get the car hosed off as quickly as possible, which I did.
By the time I was done, the car looked as good as new. Unfortunately, it still reeked like the foulness it had been covered in just minutes earlier.
Sure enough, about an hour later, a very angry man was demanding an explanation of what had happened to his sweet ride. To my dad’s credit, he refused to throw me to the wolves and pointed out that the parking lot was clearly blocked off before I ever started working.
Though I hated every second of this particular dirty job, it was the one we laughed about for years.
In the end, I got my money, a bit of driving practice, and a great lesson about the importance of asking questions before agreeing to anything.
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