It’s a long way up a 300 ft. wind turbine. But you don’t really know how tall that is until you have to ratchet yourself up the 250 rungs inside the stem of the wind flower. It’s what you call a ‘young man’s’ job. At an in-service, a couple of weeks ago, the kids called me ‘Pops’ as they watched me climb, like I was some old lady driving 15 mph in busy traffic. Hey, when you’re in your 50’s, you realize you’re getting paid by the hour. So, what’s the rush? I do scheduled maintenance and on-call stand-by two weekends a month. It’s not a bad job. The hardest part is getting up there…what you’d call ‘a tough commute’.
But I enjoy the work, especially on certain days. The days when I cover for Brian, my partner. He punches-in and then heads up north for trout-opening-day, or 4th of July, or just a long weekend. That’s when I get a chance to be alone in a stationary space capsule. I can look out through a little port hole…like looking at farm fields from a high hill. Well, not quite, because I can look straight down and also the hill doesn’t sway in strong winds. And the sounds. And the vibrations. Okay, it’s not much like looking from a hill. Maybe more like looking out the window from a tall building. Or, maybe, more like a squirrel up high in a tall tree or an old-time sailor in a top-mast crow’s nest. Swinging in the breeze. Never mind. Too many metaphors. I’ve been told I’m ADD. My wife says I have an over-active imagination. I think I’m a poet. Huh!
In plain prose, my job is repairing turbines. I’m a mechanic. Instead of standing in a pit underneath the guts of a car, I’m up in the air like a lighthouse keeper, keeping a light burning…or in my case, keeping many lights burning. But, what no one knows is, I get a little extra out of the job—alone time with the quiet under the noise in my man-cave, my pod in the sky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hermit. I like my wife and our two children and three grandkids. I just enjoy being away from them once in a while… to climb into my shell, to huddle with my thoughts and the mute logic of machines before eating my lunch, snugging against the hull and taking a nice nap.
Back on the ground, I often feel sad. I wonder if entertainers and sport stars feel a let-down after getting-up for a performance. I guess I live for my off-chance solitude in the altitude. I wish everyone could find that little extra in their jobs. My father-in-law says Italians work to live, they don’t live to work. Well, I agree with that mostly. But I do live for part of my work—my lunch break and snooze in the clouds when Brian’s away.
Except for the time I got stuck. There was no wind that morning. Quiet in the hub. I went through the one-month check list then settled in for my break. I woke when the blades started circling in a brisk breeze. The generator vibrated to a gentle hum. I started to uncurl from the fetal position when my back locked. I had never had this happen before. I couldn’t move. It didn’t hurt if I lay still but every time I tried to unwind I was pierced with excruciating pain. I clenched my teeth so hard that I cracked a tooth.
My first thought of course, was to call Brian for help. Well, have you ever tried to reach your cell phone tucked into a pocket under a seat belt? That’s sort of where I was, tucked in a very confined space, my phone in my right pocket, the side I was lying on. When I tried to arch my back, to twist up enough to reach in my pants, a spasm yanked me down. I felt like the Apollo 13 movie: “Houston we have a problem.” Only I couldn’t call Houston.
I closed my eyes. Took several deep breaths and tried to calm myself. I wasn’t going to die. People knew where I was going, where I…we, were supposed to be. I was just temporarily out of the loop communication-wise. I thought of the panic my granddaughter would have felt if couldn’t use her cell phone, cut-off from a state of constant self-reflection with her army of virtual friends. The beginning of a chuckle was stifled by a stabbing pain. Communication isolation. I flashed to the time I drove myself to ER for a racing heart rate. I was isolated in an exam room, wired to the max for EKG, blood pressure, pulse rate—tons of data dumping to a bank of beeping monitors but I couldn’t make a simple call to my wife, to let her know where I was…like now. So, I forced myself to do in the pod, what I had done in the exam room. I focused. Told myself I wasn’t going to die. Things would work out in time. Like what things? Well, when I didn’t punch out at headquarters, they would notice…by tomorrow morning at least. And my wife, when I didn’t show up for supper would probably call the office. I grimaced. I had at least three hours till the end of the shift before anything stirred. I might have to spend the night up here.
Nothing to do now but wait. I wish I could stretch out on my back. But I’m stuck for the duration…however long that is. I wonder if this is how my wife felt when she was in labor with our kids. Not the pain part. The constraint. Once the process starts you have to see it through. There are a couple of escape-jail-free moves like epidurals and C-sections but nothing changes the reality that one way or another you’re not going home till the baby is out. Maybe I needed a C-section—bring in the company installation-crane to lift the lid and haul me out. Ha! I suddenly thought of the Steven Wright line: “I was a Caesarean birth. And now every time I leave the house, I go out the window.” I start to chuckle. Stop. Hurts too much.
Okay, get serious, I tell myself. I’m not going to spend the night up here. For one thing, I got to take a piss. Bad. And in my current position I might short circuit the cell phone. I almost chuckle again. Not funny, guy. I finally wiggle and scooch myself back just a bit. I bump against the barrel shaped generator. It vibrates. It’s warm. Feels good if I hunch a certain way and don’t try to move.
Waiting. Enduring. My mother used to reflect on parts of her life, the difficult times: when her mother was dying, when my father lost his job at GM, when she broke her tail bone. She always ended the recollection with, “But, we got through it.” Makes sense. As good as any other approach. Works for marriage too, I suppose. A base of loving, waiting from time to time, for liking to come back around. I suppose she went through that with my dad—seasons of the heart.
I snuggle against the generator, curled like my grandson was last Saturday when he cradled the football after getting sacked. Kid’s good. Maybe not ‘pro-potential’ but lots better than most boys his age. Poor guy was so anxious when he was moved up to the Under 12 level, afraid he would embarrass himself, that he got sick before games, cried that he didn’t want to play. My son talked to him. Told him he owed it to himself to see how good he could be but that there was no shame in dropping back to his previous level or even walking away from the sport entirely. Good advice with just the right amount of push and support. Now Jason is the star of his team and he knows it. Got to learn to add those up, I want to tell him, another kind of trophy to recall when you need a jolt of confidence. But first I got to get myself out of this jam.
After a while, I stretch my legs and slide a little further under the generator. I can feel the spasms receding. I can wiggle without pain. I carefully roll onto my back. Much better. I reach my hand into my pocket. Pull out the phone. Who should I call first? My wife, so she doesn’t worry? Then I think. What would she be able to do? And anyhow, she wouldn’t be expecting me until supper time. She wouldn’t even be worried yet. Brian? Hell, he was half-way to Higgins Lake. And what could he do, anyhow? Maybe bring me some food and a blanket for the night because he sure couldn’t help me emergency-rappel. Not in the shape I was in.
I really got to pee. I get an idea and reach my lunch box with my foot. If I play this right I can use the almost empty thermos as a urinal…damn, I just bought it last week. I gingerly ease to my knees. So far. So good. Relieved, I zip up with a jaw clenching spasm and hunch back against the giant, warm vibrator. I can move. Barely. Should I call work? Brian and me would get busted. And if they have to rescue me, they may fire me. Say I’m too old, not up to the job, a safety risk.
There’s nothing for it but to get myself down without letting anyone know I ever had this problem.
So, I did.
End of story.