Friday, April 23, 2010

The Unicorn

Deep down, I’m an office guy, have been for a long time. But times are tough for office guys these days. Unless you have friends in really high places, the odds of keeping your soft, well-paying office job are slim. So one can either become well practiced in the art of ass-kissing or become acquainted with the unemployment line. I chose the latter because without a college degree to my credit, my professional career choices were rather limited, and when it came down to playing the office politics game, I was a born loser.

I fell into construction to keep the rent paid a few years ago and, while the work is pretty hard, I have very few complaints. A sharp person will notice I said I have very few complaints. I did not say I had zero complaints.

First of all, I am a pretty smart guy with a very above-average IQ. Smart guys aren’t very welcome on the job site. I don’t get picked on like the other brainiacs, but it is a lot like being back in school again. Most of the kids in the class are goofing off or doing their own thing but I’m paying attention and trying to think two or three steps ahead. I find myself being told to just do my own job and not to worry so much about what the other guys are or aren’t doing, but I have a deep hatred of doing something twice. I consider it a mortal sin.

While my forward thinking has eliminated a lot of the more obvious problems, that hasn’t gone over well with my co-workers. Being creatures of an hourly wage nature, fuck-ups mean more money to them, so if I stop a wall from being built that doesn’t need to be built, they don’t get to rebuild it somewhere else. That entire pride in a job well done thing is a total myth to them out here. It’s all about filling as much time of the day doing as little as possible so that you keep this job going on and on and on to insure a steady income.

It is on the subject of Myths that I wish to focus on here. There are quite a few initiations that new guys have to endure in this world, and the world of construction is no different from any other. While most of them are silly methods meant to trip up the slower thinkers, “Hey kid. Go fetch me a lumber stretcher.” or, “Hey kid. Go grab that left-handed pipe wrench for me.”, some have the necessary amount of intrigue to capture even my refined attention. The Unicorn was just such a beast.

I had never heard of the Unicorn before and I have to admit I was a bit taken aback when I was exposed to it. My initial skepticism wouldn’t allow me to fall for obvious silliness like the less intelligent of my work-mates, so in my wisdom, I ignored the repeated proclamations of its existence. But please believe me when I tell you that it does indeed exist and bear with me while I explain.

I was working on a construction site for a $200 million dollar shopping center out in the far suburbs one summer. I needed to take a nature break in a bad way. You learn early on in the construction game to do your business in the morning, and the veterans out here often preach that wisdom to any and all who will listen. Your first experience with a highly trafficked Port-a-shitter will drive this point home in a hurry. It’s more of a health issue than personal choice.

But I was new to this and still learning the basic ropes when nature called just after lunchtime. All the hindsight in the world won’t help you when your belly feels like it is about to explode. The intense pressure building inside me was clouding both my better judgment and my sense of self-preservation.

The construction site was a large one, over 20 acres…maybe more. I have never been a good judge of acreage. It was easily the size of two, maybe three city blocks. There were over a thousand workers on site on any given day. As a result, there was a large collection of Port-a-shitters spread across the jobsite, well-spaced to provide maximum coverage. I wanted to avoid the more well-used ones, but I really had to go bad. Swallowing my pride, I asked one of my co-workers if he knew where a clean one was. I thought this a mistake at first, but this was how I learned about the Unicorn.

“You’re lookin for WHAT?” Earl said. “Hey Tommy! Come here!”

Tommy waddled over to where the two of us were standing. “Yeah…what?” he said.

“Rookie-butt here’s lookin for The Unicorn.” Tommy gasped.

“The Unicorn?” I asked.

“Yeah, kid, The Unicorn.” Tommy spoke in hushed tones, careful to not be overheard in passing on this deepest of legends. “What YOU are looking for ain’t a toilet. There are dozens of them out here…just look around. What YOU are lookin’ for is different.”

“Different how?” I asked and waited for the punch line I knew was incoming.

“You want the shitter that no one’s used yet. The one stocked with the soft paper instead of that gravelly ass-paper the others have. One with a clean seat, that ain’t been pissed all over and the funny graffiti that is new every time, done by someone who‘s a good drawer. It’s off in the outskirts so no one’ll come bangin on the door and interrupt you and clean…BOY it’s clean. You’re looking for the Holy Grail of the construction game.”

Earl added, “Only thing is it’s a figment of your imagination. It don’t exist.”

A blinked where I stood as Tommy went on. We call it The Unicorn for a reason, kid. Everyone in the world knows what a unicorn looks like, but ain’t no one ever SEEN one. It’s the same with this shitter. Even if you hit one out here just after it’s been cleaned, it ain’t the same. The seat’ll be clean, but the paper’s rough. Or maybe it’s got the same ‘Wetback Go Home’ or ‘Fuk U Greengo!’ graffiti you been reading since you got here. Or maybe it’s the one with that smell that’ll never go away no matter HOW much blue water they pump into it. Either way, the Unicorn is perfect and that one ain’t.” He stopped and looked around.

“Now Carlos over there? He swears he seen the Unicorn once.” he pointed to a fat Mexican leaning on a shovel. “Says he went in and was about to shit…only he couldn’t. He says he stopped. Just couldn’t damage something that perfect.” He paused for a moment, reflecting on this deep thought so rare in his mind about the human condition and then Tommy laughed. “But he’s a Goddamn liar.” All three of us laughed. Only mine seemed forced.

“I know he ain’t seen The Unicorn cause I know it don’t exist. But don’t let that stop you from lookin for it, kid. Everyone needs a quest in life. Somethin greater than just our plain old selves. That stripper I see at the club calls it the William Blake Effect. I don’t know who the hell that is…prolly some queer-assed poet or something worse, but what this guy said was dead nut on.” He paused and tried to recall the exact words. I could tell how much effort this task was taking. He dug deep and said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what else is Heaven for?”

He reflected on this minor mental victory for a moment and added, “Never had much use for poetry aside from what I wrote on the odd shitter myself here and there but that one really stuck. It just seems right no matter how you think about it…don’t it? You need something to look for that you’re never gonna find or you just kinda wander around half-way living, you know?”

He looked at me with the deep stare of wisdom beyond his means and said, “But I will tell you one thing, kid. If you ever do find The Unicorn, you better grab ahold of it. Treat it like a leprechaun and grab it by the Shillelagh cause if you let it go for just a second…” he snapped his finger with a crack that awoke my concentration, “ It’ll vanish right in front of your unworthy ass.”

This shook me from the brain fog his story had placed me in All the talk of horned horses and leprechauns was fine and good but I needed to take a shit. Tommy seemed to sense this and pointed me to the crapper that he said was cleaned. It still had that funny smell, and I had already read the “Swim back to Mexico, Frijoleros!” and the “Fak U Whit Boy!” graffiti a million times before. This started me thinking though. What if this myth was real? What if The Unicorn really did exist? What would it be like?

This type of thinking can get a fella in trouble. It was too late for me to go back though. I was on the quest now. My coworkers seemed more accepting of me after this as if I had passed through some unseen barrier and crossed over to their side. But that didn’t matter to me now. I was determined to find The Unicorn.

I will tell you this before I leave you in peace. I will find it. You can bet the farm on that.  And I promise you one more thing. When I find it, I will shit in it like no man has ever shit before in the history of shitting. I will foul that thing beyond all sense of reasonable comprehension. I won’t do this out of spite or some inner desire to wreck something beautiful. You must understand this. I will do it out of the deepest respect I can muster for an inanimate object. And as I wipe my ass on the softest ass-paper ever, laughing at the funny little cartoon on the door, safe in the knowledge that I could stay in it all day and no one would come banging on the door, I will say “Thank you.” and mean it for the first time in my life.

The end