Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Al Taught Me About Non-Violent Protest

From the earliest age, Al was a master of the non-violent protest.  He was a good kid - incredibly laid back and easy-going.  We didn't have a problem bringing him anywhere because we was very go-with-the-flow and loved hanging out with adults.  Despite this, for reasons I can't remember, we bought one of those child leash things that you attach to your wrist and your child's so that they can never get more than three feet away from you.  Al hated it.  I don't know if it made him claustrophobic or he felt we were infringing on his personal rights, but he absolutely loathed it.  

When you picture a two year-old rebelling against something he hates, you envision screaming fits,arms and legs flailing everywhere, a red face and a snotty nose.  Not Al.  I have no idea where he learned it or how he managed to perfect it at such an early age, but Al was a master of the non-violent protest.  Without fail, as soon as the leash was snapped on his wrist, he would silently slump down to the floor in a giant boneless mass.  It looked like we were trying to walk a jellyfish.  He would make no sound and not move a muscle, but just lie there.  Picking him up was impossible.  If he would of fought, it would have been easier as we could have at least used his flailing leverage against him.  Instead, he would remain a silent shapeless mass.  It was like trying to pick up a 25 pound lump of oatmeal.  It was incredibly effective.  KT and I soon realized we couldn't fight this.  You can't yell and scream at a child that, technically, isn't throwing a tantrum.  The best we could do was drag him via his leash for a few feet hoping he would give in and begin walking.  He wouldn't.  So, we would grudgingly pop the leash off and - boom - he would be on his feet and happy as ever.  If we brought the leash back out, it was a repeat performance.  Needless to say, the whole leash experience didn't last long.  It only survived as long as it did because KT and I got such a kick out of watching him go all MLK Jr. on us.

It's a skill that never really left Al.  He simply changed his strategy some.  Throughout his teenage years, the following scene would play out more times than I care to remember.

Paul or KT:  Al, do the dishes please (or pick up poop or clean the kitchen or whatever)
Al:  *no reply*

10 minutes later -
Paul or KT:  AL, did you hear me?  I asked you to do the dishes.
Al: ok

20 minutes later -
Paul or KT:  AL!!! I said -
Al (interrupting): I said OK!

An hour later after KT or I have done the dishes - 
Paul or KT:  Thanks a lot, Al
Al:  What? I said I would do them

He wouldn't yell, he wouldn't scream, he wouldn't thrash or throw things.  It was maddening as hell and incredibly effective.

Flash forward to Friday.  At new job I am a vacation relief guy.  Meaning, I fill in and run routes for whomever may be on vacation or sick that particular week.  This Friday, for the first time, there was nobody out, so there wasn't a route for me to run.  On Saturday, however, I had to cover for a guy at our depot in Sauk Centre.  Being start time is 3:30 AM, they put me up in a hotel room Friday night rather than having me drive up Saturday morning.  So, the plan was for me to head into the depot Friday morning about seven, do "maintenance" around the depot until early afternoon and then drive up to Sauk Centre.  I wasn't thrilled about this, but understood they probably had to have me to do something to justify paying me for the day.

When I arrived Friday morning, however, and learned what "maintenance" was, I was a little less understanding.  As it turns out, maintenance consisted of two tasks: sweeping and mopping the grease stains out of the garage and cleaning the bathrooms.  I won't pretend I'm above either task, but I had used the bathrooms there before and I was not at all interested in having my mouth, nose or any other exposed cavity near that toilet.  Keep in mind that the people that use this toilet have five basic food groups:

1.  Twinkies
2.  Double fiber bread with flax
3.  Raspberry Zingers
4.  Wonder bread
5.  Cigarettes

It's not pretty.  I desperately wanted to avoid the task but knew that throwing a fit would just make me look bad.  Fortunately, as if by divine intervention, I had a flashback of leash boy and the zen of non-violent protest.  I grabbed the broom and started sweeping the garage.  Veeerrrrryyyy sllloooooowwwwllllyyy.  I felt like the Tim Conway old man character from the Carol Burnett Show.  I was working so meticulously and with such thoroughness that after 30 minutes I was not even half-way done with garage.  It looked damn good, however.  Too good, in fact.  Enter divine intervention number two.  I realized that doing too good of a job on this task might give them reason to assign it to me again.  So, the challenge became to both work at a snail's pace and do a shitty job.  As easy as this may sound, it is actually extraordinarily difficult.  Luckily, my manager unwittingly helped out.  The man is the very definition of a chain smoker.  It must have absolutely killed him when laws changed and he could no longer smoke at his desk.  So, every fifteen minutes, he trudges out to the garage, stands under the NO SMOKING sign, lights up and stares at his phone for five minutes.  If nothing else, I'm a quick learner.  After three smoke breaks, I picked up the habit of stopping what I was doing and staring at my phone for five minutes as soon as he would head back inside from his smoke breaks.  I justified it by observing that I shouldn't be punished for not smoking, so I would take breaks like a smoker.  It was brilliant.

I managed to waste four hours in the garage - sweeping, re-sweeping, not smoking, mopping, not smoking some more and re-mopping spots I had conveniently missed the first seven times through.  I could tell my manager was getting a bit exasperated by how long it was taking me from the looks I was getting, but I also knew he wasn't going to say anything about it because, after all, this wasn't really my job and I wasn't technically doing anything wrong.  Finally, about 11:00, he had enough.  On his way back into the office from his 700th smoke break, he stopped and grumbled "why don't you just take off?".  He didn't have to ask twice.

In my victory speech (for not having to clean the bathroom), I made sure to give a shout out to leash boy.  His Gandhi-like protestations may have been maddening, but, in retrospect, they were absolutely brilliant.

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