Friday, November 11, 2016

the ditch

here are four versions of a story, all with the same beginning:

it was a slow day at the jones daily employment agency.

no big jobs had come in in the morning, and now, as the clock approached ten thirty, only three people were left when a call came in.

ralph, the manager, took it. he listened a minute, wrote something on his notepad and hung up.

of the three people left, bob white was the most experienced and trustworthy, and most wiling to do lousy jobs.

bob was one of the last of the regular guys. he had five kids aged 2 to 14, and a wife who was out of work. he usually stayed until closing time if nothing came in. he could try other places, but he and ralph had an unspoken agreement that bob would stick around and would take any job, and in turn that ralph would give him first pick over anybody else if something came in, no matter how slow it was or how many people were waiting.

“how would you like to dig a ditch, bob?” ralph asked, even though they both knew the answer.

“sure.” bob folded down the page in his paperback michael connelly novel. he got up and took the paper ralph had written the address and directions on.

version a:

the client was waiting for bob. bob parked his pickup truck and went over to meet him.

the client was a guy about bob’s age and almost as ordinary looking, but with a mean look on his face.

“hi,” said bob. “my name is bob.”

“did i ask you what your fucking name was?”

bob smiled politely. “i am here to dig your ditch, sir.”

“you don’t say so. i thought you were here to sell me some stock in a new g a i company. do you know what g a i is, my man?’

“no, sir, i can’t say that i do.”

“i didn’t think so. tell me, how old are you?”

“thirty-six, sir.”

“thirty fucking six years old, and you are digging fucking ditches. how pathetic is that?”

“i am willing to start, sir, if you show me - “

“i’ll tell you when i want you to start. i see you have a wedding ring on. you got any kids?”

“five, sir.”

“five! five fucking kids! in the 21st century! are you shitting me? what do you do in your time off, bomb abortion clinics? i mean, when you are not taking your kids to the hospital for swallowing rat poison.”

“i am ready when you are, sir.”

“what, are you in a hurry? you are not enjoying my scintillating conversation? tell me, bob - that was your name , right - how much do you think i make a year?”

“i wouldn’t know, sir.”

“higher than you can probably count. all right, the sun is getting nice and high in the sky, we might as well get going. follow me.”

bob followed the client around to the back of the house. there was a swimming pool, and a couple of chairs and a table, and some boards and other building materials partially covered by tarpaulins.

the client kept talking. he pointed vaguely at the ground beyond the swimming pool and some trees.

“just start over there. there’s a shovel and a wheelbarrow behind that pile of boards.”

“start exactly where , sir?”

“any fucking where, i don’t care. do you know why i brought you out here, bob?”

“no, sir , why?”

“just to see you fucking suffer. just to see you sweat. you think i care about a fucking ditch? no, i just like to torture people. because that’s what guys like me do to guys like you, and have for ten thousand years. that’s what we are here on earth for. to grind you into the dust. what do you think of that?”

“as long as you have made your arrangements with the jones agency, sir - “

“oh, i’ve made my arrangements, bob. i’ll pay, don’t you worry. just like i paid this fucking hooker last night. it’s all about power, bob, power. and grinding people’s souls to fucking powder. she earned her two thousand dollars, let me tell you, just like you are going to earn whatever nickels the jones agency tosses you. yes, it’s getting hot now, bob, it’s going to get up to ninety-five. and i am going to sit here in the shade, with my cool drink, and watch the sweat trickle down your back into the crack of your sorry ass…”

bob began digging the ditch. the client continued to berate him. at one point the client slowed down and started to nod off, but he went inside and did a few lines and came out ready for more.

the afternoon wore on…

version b:

bob parked his truck. there was no one waiting outside for him.

he got out and approached the front door. before he could ring the bell the door opened and a woman stood before him.

she was wearing a loose dressing gown. bob thought she looked like a movie star, though a little bit tired.

the woman let her dressing gown fall away a little, and bob saw she had the biggest boobs and the longest legs of any woman he had ever seen.

“hello, there.”

“good morning, ma’am.”

“your name is?”

‘bob, ma’am.”

“i’m stella. it’s hot out here, bob, why don’t you come inside?”

“thank you, ma’am.”

stella led bob down a hallway into a spacious living room with a couple of enormous couches. a bottle, a bucket of ice and a couple of glasses sat on a coffee table between the couches.

stella sat on one of the couches and pointed to the other.

“it’s an awful hot day to be digging ditches. why don’t you have a seat ?”

“thank you, ma’am.”

“this silly ditch was my husband’s idea. my husband, to put it in words of two syllables, is an asshole. he doesn’t know anything about ditches - and between you and me, he doesn’t know anything about women.”

“whatever you say, ma’am.”

“stella. call me stella.” stella smiled. “as for me, i don’t know anything about ditches, either, but i know all abut men. and i know a real man when i see one.”

well, you can just guess what happened next…

version c:

bob rang the bell, and the door was opened by an elderly woman. she had bright eyes behind thick tortoise shell glasses.

“you must be the young man from the jones agency.”

“yes, ma’am.”

the woman held out her hand. “i’m helen weatherly. you must have had a long drive out here. why don’t you come in and rest up a bit?”

“thank you, ma’am.”

mrs weatherly led bob into a small sitting room. there was a round coffee table in the center of the room, with a stack of what looked like photo albums on it.

“would you like some tea or coffee? coca cola or mountain dew?”

“thank you, ma’am, a coke would be nice,” bob answered. “i don’t need ice.”

mrs weatherly went out and returned in two minutes with some coke in a tall glass. even without ice, it was cold.

“i was just looking over some old albums here. would you like to look at them while you drink your coke?”

“thank you, ma’am, that would be a pleasure.”

mrs weatherly began showing bob the pictures, and telling him stories about her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and other assorted family members and friends.

the afternoon got on, and mrs weatherly continued with her stories, pausing occasionally to get bob more coca cola and herself tea. when encouraged, bob told her stories about his own wife and children, which she professed to find fascinating and amusing.

it got dark. suddenly mrs weatherly looked up.

“oh dear, oh dear, look at the time. it is too late for you to start the ditch now.”

“oh, no, there is still some light - “ bob began.

“oh no, no, this is all my fault, this is all my fault. i hope you won’t get in any trouble.”

bob smiled. “that won’t happen, ma’am.”

“i tell you what, i will call the agency and tell them you did a wonderful job, but the job was bigger than i expected. and you can come back tomorrow.”

“thank you, ma’am, that sounds like a plan. i really appreciate it.”

after a few more apologies from mrs weatherly, and after declining one more coke, bob made his way back out to his truck.

he would tell ralph all about it in the morning. similar things had happened a couple of times before, and ralph always had a laugh about it.

version d:

bob found a note taped to the front door.

it read: jones man. come on in. instructions on kitchen table.

bob went inside. the house felt, and apparently was, empty.

he found the kitchen and the note. it was neatly typed, and gave very detailed instructions as to where the ditch was to be dug, how deep and wide it was to be, and where the tools to dig it were to be found.

it concluded: carafe of water in refrigerator. help yourself.

bob dug the ditch, had a couple of glasses of water, and went home.


which of these versions, if any, seemed most “true to life”?

which seemed least “true to life”?

which most accorded with your own experience, if any, of the workplace?