Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gracias, Pablo

We have all made fun of someone when we thought they weren’t aware that we were doing it. We catch someone doing something that isn’t “normal” and jump on the opportunity to poke fun at him or her before they are aware of what is going on. Not nice, but fairly innocent. I have done it and you have done it. Admit it. But, have you ever been so cowardly as to make fun of someone when they didn’t speak the same language? 

Once upon a time, a couple of guys at Koos Inc. did.

The Hayssen machine was humming that day. Those 10 pound bags of Safe Step ice melter were flying up that inclined conveyor belt nonstop.

Benny and I were standing at the top of the line, grabbing the plastic bags, alternately filling up larger brown paper bags. When there were six in the bag, we would slide them down the table to Willie and Russell. Their job was to tape the bags shut and stack them on a pallet. When there were forty bags on the pallet (2400 pounds), a forklift pulled it away and the routine would begin again.

And again. And again. And again.

The only time this tedious, mind-numbing and body-wearying process stopped is when the roll of plastic film on the Hayssen machine ran out. At that point, the operator of the machine would poke his head out of the small room that encased it and holler, “Clean it up!”

That’s right, when we finally got a break from the monotony; we were expected to clean up the area. We were supposed to sweep, shovel and pick up any ice melter, plastic and any other debris that littered our area.

With a collective groan, we pushed our brooms around half-heartedly before plopping down to rest. Well, at least that’s what Willie, Russell and myself did.

But not Benny.

Benny was cut from different cloth than most of us. He was a working machine that would never stop. Benny could easily outwork two men. That’s what he did. Today Benny was outworking three men – me, Willie and Russell.

Perhaps I should give you a quick background of this phenom. Benny was from Mexico and didn’t speak English. He came to America to provide for his wife and kids back in his home country. Now, before you go calling Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Benny was as legal as you or me. Not that it mattered, but Koos Inc. was pretty thorough about such things.

Back to Benny putting us to shame.

While we were “lounging”, Benny was working up a storm. He was sweeping and shoveling at 100 mph. When he finished cleaning our area, he made his way over to bagger #3. That’s when Willie lost it.

“Shit, look at that ignorant fool”, were the first words out of Willie’s mouth. He didn’t stop there. Stupid, asshole and a bunch of words with Ks in them were soon flying.

Before long, Russell joined Willie and soon both were brashly chiding Benny for his work ethic. The entire time the demeaning barrage went on, they were laughing and slapping their knees and pointing at him.

Finally I had enough and bellowed, “Give it a break you guys!” Thankfully, Willie and Russell responded and stopped taunting the seemingly clueless Benny. He stopped cleaning and looked on intently.

With a big grin on his face, Willie said to me, “Shit, Paul, we was just having some fun.” He continued, “Besides, the dummy didn’t understand a single word we was saying.” Then for good measure, Russell added, “Hell no, not a damn word!”

Shaking my head, I told Benny’s tormentors, “Are you kidding me? Just because he doesn’t understand the words, he knows when someone is badmouthing him.”

When I finished saying that, I noticed Benny nodding his head at me. Our eyes met and when I smiled, Benny’s face lit up at and he beamed, “Gracias, Pablo.”

See, Benny understood a lot of things.

Until next time…from the booth.