The word “furlough” snuck into our vernacular recently.
It’s commonly used to describe an unpaid day off of work. These pro bono vacations have become mandates in both the public and private sectors as a way to balance budgets during a recession. The Wife took one of her “furlough days” last week.
It could be worse. She could be out of a job entirely. But that argument doesn’t cover the shortfall. I offered to pick up the slack by working a few days at my old summer job. I worked as a landscaper throughout high school and college.
It’s a family business, which means my boss is also my dad. He agreed to hire me (a stay-at-home dad) on days when The Wife was on leave. I’m truly blessed to have an opportunity to walk into a good-paying job on such flexible terms. That’s not to say I’m much of a landscaper.
Some jobs you feel good about. I feel good when I write an interesting newspaper column. I’m confident about the process, my ability, and the end product. But something always seems to go wrong when I put on landscaping boots and that pale blue shirt with my name stitched above the breast pocket.
Some of you may be familiar with the story of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It’s a classic children’s book by Judith Viorst. Alexander’s day was indeed terrible, but I think my day may have been worse.
I arrived at work at 7 a.m. I checked the oil level on the truck I was going to be driving that day and found the dipstick tube had rotted out after years of snowplowing. The dipstick itself shot out of a hole in the corroded tube and was scraping against the outside of the rusty oil pan. I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I was sent to pick up a new dipstick tube at a Chevrolet dealership. Along the way, another truck broke down with a faulty alternator. I called the dealership to get a new one. They didn’t have an alternator. I think I’ll move to Australia.
I managed to fix the dipstick. Then, I connected the truck and trailer, loaded a damaged tractor onto the back and headed to a mechanic’s shop located just shy of the Wisconsin border. I was about an hour into my commute when I heard a loud boom. I pulled to the side of the interstate and saw one of the rear tires had blown out. I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
The flattened tire was a rear dual, meaning I still had one good tire to drive on. This allowed me to slowly pull into the Sears at the nearby mall. Of course, Sears didn’t stock the oversized tire I needed. Neither did the adjacent Firestone. Tire shops in Australia must be more accommodating.
The Firestone dealer gave me the phone number of a tire shop that provides emergency roadside service for over-the-road truckers. They had the tire I needed and promised to send help. The dispatcher said a repairman would arrive in two hours. As I hung up, my cell phone started to beep. The battery was dying. I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
While waiting for the repairman, I wandered into the mall. I was dirty, angry and hot. I found an Apple Store and asked the clerk if I could charge my iPhone while I waited. He agreed. I sat with my arms crossed, looking like a seething hobo as bubbly tweens wondered out loud, “Like, why is my computer so slow?”
The tire repairman showed up looking even more ragged than me. He spoke very little English. What he did speak was mostly curse words. He swore at me for about a half hour while changing the tire. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I got back on the road, which was now a parking lot. The repair shop had closed but promised to keep the gate unlocked so I could drop off the damaged tractor. I arrived in the pouring rain to find a 30-foot gate blocking the driveway. I struggled with every bit of my puny frame to open the heavy gate. It finally gave way, allowing me to pull into the yard.
I skipped dinner thinking I might make it home before my two sons went to bed. I was making good time until the truck started to sputter. Again, I pulled over to the side of the road. I had run out of gas. According to the gas gauge, I had half a tank left. The gauge just happened to be broken. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I made my way down a steep embankment off the interstate. I walked about the length of a football field and found a Speedway. I bought a gallon of gas and made my way back up the Walter Payton hill. Hurried cars and huge trucks whizzed by as I bent over to fill the tank.
I eventually exited well-lit interstate and merged onto the dark, local road. That’s when I realized my headlights weren’t working. I finally returned to the landscape yard about 9 p.m. It had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I’m told some days are like that. Even in Australia.
Image provided by the author.
Howard Ludwig is a former business writer who traded his reporter’s notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.