They sent us a new guy for survey and the very first time I laid eyes on the lad I knew, really knew, he was doomed. Land Surveying, the way it was done in the early 90’s meant hacking through the woods and chopping down brush and wading through chest deep briars. This kid
showed up for his first day on the job wearing a pair of shorts and some flip flops. Our Crew Chief was a belligerent man, prone to drinking on the job and throwing fits as well as equipment. He introduced himself to the new kid with a scream. We discovered the new guy’s name was Wasston. Gerald Wasston the Third, but he wanted to be called Cobb.
I was nursing a hangover and wasn’t sure I caught that last part. “Cobb”? You want us to call you Cobb?
Okay, I remember two things this man said verbatim, the first was this, “Yes, I want to have a nickname that sounds rough”.
We laughed at him and told him to go get some jeans on, and some boots. Remember this was back in the early 90”s and almost no one had personal cell phones. Wasston did. He called his mother to bring him some work clothes and she did, as well as his lunch. She seemed more than a little concerned about the food going bad in the heat. Did we have means for refrigeration of food? No, we did not.
Land Surveying was once damn hard work. With GPS and computers a lot of the manual labor has disappeared but once upon a time a bush hook was my only friend. I learned early on to stay on line when hacking through the woods and because of this weird creed on survey crews no one would tell you if you were getting away from that line. My trick was to pound two stakes into the ground, one in front of the other, and when I looked back, if I could see the first stake behind the second, I knew I was on the line.
I told Wasted, which was the nickname he got instead of any other he might have chosen, how to stay on line while cutting and he told me he was quite certain he could cut in a straight line. It took two hours of cutting before our Crew Chief stopped him and sure enough, his line was crooked as a stick in water. That mean two more hours of cutting and by that time we had discovered the cookies his mother had left him for lunch.
Wasted seemed to be confused by this world he had been thrust into. Pounding survey stakes into the ground was something he approached with the preparation of a surgeon. Hard baked Georgia clay yields to no wood and we set him to getting stakes in the ground one day just to see if he could. He couldn’t. He had called his mother to come get him because he was having an “episode”.
So the day after the episode episode, our Crew Chief decided we would go to a fast food restaurant for lunch and he would discuss Wasted’s future in the world of surveying. I was watching Wasted eat and as he ate his right eye winked. Chew, wink, chew, wink, chew, wink, and soon everyone noticed I was staring and finally Wasted stopped eating.
“Dude!” I said. “Your eye keeps winking when you chew!” and this led to the next set of words I remember exactly.
“I have a syndrome and I will thank you not to mention it again”.
The rest of us laughed so hard the manager asked us to leave. Wasted lasted another week, but on what was his last day, he slipped into a ravine and was trapped by vines. Turtle-like, he floundered away while we raided his lunch bag for cookies. Alas! The indignity of being left trapped by briars was more than his mother would allow, and Wasted became part of our history and lore. But from that point on when someone was out sick or something they would say, “I have a syndrome and I will thank you not to mention it again”.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit