UnderFoot


"That's ninety percent of any boss's job, anyway."

I spent my day trying to stay out from underfoot. It's a skill I learned from my earliest days. In my time (spoke the geezer), children were either underfoot or not underfoot. Underfoot was a bad state, a situation that would inevitably result in some form of chastisement. A child then should have been seen but not heard or, better yet, not seen, either. I was raised in a world almost exclusively inhabited by adults and children hiding out, lest we be seen, or worse, heard. No Black Hawk Helicopter Parents then, we were born sort of independent, or independent enough to know that we could not rely upon our elders to stroke the odd ego or attend to emotional needs. These days, and, indeed, in my own children's childhood, the kids are buddies and their parents their co-conspirators. Then, we were flotsam in public, best left to our own designs. If we made trouble, we prayed that the news wouldn't make it back to the mothership. We were largely on our own, and grateful for the space.

I spent this day trying to stay out from underfoot because I had workers on the place.
They were replacing the big front window whose jam was cracked in our huge hailstorm last year. The jam, our contractor explained to me, is the Achilles Heel of windows, the most vulnerable part, always constructed from brittle material and most likely to shatter when hail strikes. Replacing a window upsets a delicately-balanced apple cart. Siding needs replacing because it wraps around the window frame. Inside, the window sill, protected from the hail, at least needs replacing because it doesn't quite match the new interior window finish. Even the adjacent gutter needed fiddling with because the trim board it attaches to also needed replacing and since we were already fiddling with that connected trim board, we might just as well fix that gutter overflow difficulty, too. Replace a hip bone and every connected bone also needs some attending to. Half of the bones connected to those connected bones also need some work. I can watch attentively, but hardly help. I will certainly pay the bill, which I suppose makes me the boss, except I know almost nothing about hip bone surgery and even less about the associated procedures. When the contractor shows up, I call him boss.

I call him boss because I've been a boss in my time. I know that respecting the knowledge and skills of the people who actually do the work serves as the primary responsibility of any boss. Deferring to superior knowledge and experience might not sound like the job description you imagined a boss might have, but those so-called bosses who failed to respect this tenet should have already convinced you otherwise. Know-in-all bosses serve as exactly the opposite, demonstrating how little they know with every grandiose proclamation of squirrel-headed presumption. They strut much better than they ever perform. I'm not that kind of boss. I'm the sort that calls the ones who know better boss, stepping sideways and slightly down, trying to stay out from underfoot, a skill I learned at my parents' receding attention.

I can remove nails from discarded trim boards, a perfect geezer chore. I can maintain my end of the patter that accompanies all construction and destruction work, but I cannot long pretend to know what my contractor's up to. I'll offer my opinion and almost always defer to his greater judgment. I owe him respect. He owes me nothing but his skills and experience, which I'd better respect in return. I mostly try to stay out from underfoot to show my respect. Most of what any terrific boss does had better remain invisible to the rank and file. Of course this ethic results in the rank and file making crude jokes about the boss' contribution. The great boss seems impervious to these critiques. He's working undercover, in the same way my folks and I worked undercover in my youth. They were a greater influence in absentia than I could have ever imagined. The operational details had best stay in the orbit of those who know better, guided distantly by a spare word or two, mostly words of encouragement. When bosses order others around, it's a reflection of the boss's insecurity, and almost never anything else.

I learned self-reliance through the backhanded direction of parents who hardly ever demanded anything other than invisibility from me. I grew to appreciate that while their world was clearly dominated by adults, my resulting world was almost entirely ruled by children, kids who grew to be specialists in their own right. They grew to hardly never need direction from above. We learned to decide for ourselves. My contractor isn't a child and I'm certainly not his parent, though he still insists upon calling me "Sir", a designation I shrink from receiving. I proclaim that I'm just trying to stay out from underfoot, and I sort of hide out lest I witness a fumble he's completely capable of recovering from without my witnessing or my advice. I agreed to do the painting, but I will mostly complete that work after he's gone or at least in his absence. I know my painting. He knows his construction. I can appreciate his work without complicating it with my irrelevant perspectives. I say thank you at the end of the workday, thank you for helping me today. That's ninety percent of any boss's job, anyway.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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