Monday, September 12, 2011

365 Jobs: From Russia With Luck

September, 1985

I'm installing a light outside an office in Palo Alto.  A small man with stooped shoulders is watching.  He wears dumpster clothing with a Giants baseball hat.

I'm pulling wires through thin-wall pipe known as EMT, or Electrical Metallic Tubing.  It's a two-man job, but I'm working alone.  As I'm pulling wires at one end of the EMT, the little man goes to the other end.  Without asking he starts guiding the wires into the pipe, which is exactly what the second man should be doing.

In 3 minutes, it's done.  Working alone, it would have taken 30 as I walked end to end, over and over, pulling then guiding, pulling then guiding.

"Thanks," I say.  "You knew just what to do."

"Got smoke?" he asks.  He smiles.  Gold teeth.

"No. Sorry."

"In Russia," he says, "I do this."

"You were an electrician?"

"Da."  He handles my rusty old fish tape that I bought at a garage sale.  I'm using the fish tape as a wire puller.  The little man frowns and says, "In Russia they got this.  Not so good.  In Russia, everything, not so good."  He fingers an EMT coupling.  "In Russia, do different.  Not so good."

"Are you an electrician here?"

"Garden.  I garden."

"Are you asking me for a job?"


I almost never need an electrical assistant.  Today is a rare exception.  "Next time I need somebody, I'll give you a call.  How can I reach you?"

"I be around."

"You have a phone?"

"I be around."

I am so lucky to live in the USA. 

"Here."  I give him a five dollar bill.  "For smokes."

"Spas-ee-bah," he says, or something like that.  Whatever, he clearly means "Thank you."

I'll never see him again.

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