Monday, September 16, 2013

Trench Warfare



"How's it going down there?” I said standing on the edge of the pit. 
"Slowly," Mr. Wonderful said tossing soil with his shovel.
"The Army's best work is done slowly." 
"This is glacially slow."
"And you're doing a fine job, soldier."
Silence.


Wartime is loud but also, it is surprisingly full of silences: like those moments when soldiers get lost in their thoughts to contemplate life, death and when will all this interminable digging be finished?!

I knew something about war. As the general leading the work on this corner of the Western Front of California, I especially knew it was hard leading an army of one. Here I was on the edge of the empire trying to inspire a lone Doughboy to dig a trench. I tried various techniques. I told him the trenches would: 1) Be our defensive weapon; 2) Keep the enemy at bay and; 3) Serve as an electrical conduit for my clothes dryer, because every general needs a clothes dryer. Governments have toppled for much less. Ask the Romans.

The digging had started to remove concrete, graduated to deleting a sarcophagus and now had progressed to digging trenches to run from the main house to the guesthouse. The trenches had to be two feet deep and two feet wide in order to allow for new water pipes, gas pipes and electrical conduits. As we say in the Army, it wasn't KP duty.

"I can’t dig anymore,” Mr. Wonderful said tossing his shovel out of the pit. 
“You can’t or you won’t?” I said standing over him, firm in my boots.
“Both.”
“Winning the war means digging, soldier.”
Private First Class Wonderful crawled out of the pit and plopped on the ground. The soldier was exhausted. I jumped into the trench and seized the shovel. Enough talking about leading. I should just lead, by which I meant shovel.

The whole day I dug, burrowed, dredged, exhumed, hoed, mined, quarried, scooped, tilled and forked out, over and under until I had dirt in my ears, nose and throat. I flung the shovel out of the pit and climbed out.

"Looks good," Pfc. Wonderful said brushing the dirt from my uniform.
"Son," I said "That's how a general digs."
"Like a gerbil?" he said pointing to the dirt under my fingernails.
"Quiet or I'll demote you for insubordination!" Private Wonderful rolled his eyes. I would have demoted him, but the glass of water he handed me made me reconsider it.

With the trench finished the next step was up to me. I had to contact and secure a plumber to install the new gas and water pipes and delete the old ones. Compared to digging trenches, using a crank phone to dial a few workmen would be a breeze. Or as we say in the Army, it's totally KP duty, dude.

First, I dialed the plumber who'd done the inspection on The House when Pfc. Wonderful and I had moved ourselves into this farmhouse property among the countryside's fields, orchards and BMWs. The plumber said he didn't have time to get involved in the warzone.

Next, I checked Yelp.com where I learned by reading the consumer reviews that one plumber could be the best thing since sliced bread and the worst things since stale bread. It was as if every plumber was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; both an angel and a devil. War was hell enough without hiring a potential satan.

Then I went to Angie's List because that brigadier general knows how to organize an army of reviewers and keep them honest. The reviews were good, there were plenty of plumbers to choose from but they didn't call me back, not because they were rude but because they were so busy working for other generals up and down the Western Front.

I asked advice of a neighboring general, Gen. Harold Haroldus. He'd earned his stripes in the War of 1812 so, he'd seen his share of war zones, trenches and plumbers.
"Angie's list always worked for me," he said shuffling back to his barracks.

Drat! I already tried that! I looked around the campground and noticed Gen. Jerry Jeroldus. He'd tricked out his trenches with barbed wire, or were they rose bushes? No matter, the man was very clever, he must have an answer.
"I have a great plumber," he said adjusting his general's hat. "He replumbed my entire house."
"Tell me who," I said with pen, paper and ink pot in hand.
"He moved to Florida and bought a yacht. Evidently he made his huge fortune replumbing my house."

Drat! Were there no good plumbers left on the Western Front? I noticed General Charles Charleson surveying his camp. I marched over and asked him.

"I've got one. The best," Gen. Charleson said. I made note of the plumber's name, rank and serial number and called him up. The plumber came out to the property and agreed to to do the work for a fair price. Yes!

"See, soldier," I said to Pfc. Wonderful. "That's how we do things in the Army." Wonderful didn't hear me because he was on KP duty.