"None," I said. "But I'm not afraid of hard work and I can learn anything quickly. I'm a little more intelligent than what you're probably used to having walk through the door."
That was probably the wrong thing to say. I saw the squint in his left eye, barely noticeable, but there. I've been in enough interviews to know the signs on a persons face when they aren't exactly pleased with an answer. This continued for about thirty minutes. A long interview, in my experience, has always been a good sign.
"Well, what we're looking for is someone who doesn't mind getting dirty. Termite work is hard, I don't mind telling you that up front. We work quickly and get the job done because there is always work to do," he said. "I see you were in the Army, that's a plus, and a combat engineer. You don't mind getting dirty or working hard and I like that. Well, I'll talk to the manager and the owner and see what they think. We'll call you in a week and see what we can do."
"Don't bother," I said getting up from my chair. "It has been very nice talking to you but I need a job and really don't have the time to wait. It's a shame too, I think we could have worked well together," I said. "I'll have a job by the end of the day."
"It's awfully tough out there," he reminded me. "Jobs are scarce right now."
And didn't I know it. I'd worked for Coca-Cola for about six years and had looked for a way off of that truck for the last three. Nothing paid as well, nothing I wanted to do anyway.
"Well, I'll have something by the end of the day even if it's flipping burgers," I said as I walked out the door.
Ten minutes later back at our apartment the phone rang. I had gone to the interview in Coca Cola uniform having just quit that morning. I couldn't follow the new company line they'd adopted since buying us out from a smaller family owned operation. They were looking for any reason to get rid of us anyway.
"This is Phillp from Carolina Pest, why don't you start Monday morning?," came the voice on the other end of the line. "I think I can use you."
This began somewhere around eleven years of a, I guess I can say, friendship. Phillip was always hard to read. You never knew quite what he was thinking. But he was the kind of guy that would praise in public and berate in private. He would never raise his voice even when he was angry.
I learned most everything I knew about termites from him. He then taught me about moisture work, powder post beetles, repairing wood damage, etc. So much knowledge in that head of his that the student would never become the master. Not that he would hold anything back, he always offered his knowledge of things relating to the job. I just couldn't hold it all in my head.
I found out a lot about him over the years. He liked his beer. He liked to fish and hunt. He gave to others. Of himself and anything else he could. He was one of those "give you the shirt off his back" kind of guys. I watched him cut the price back on a few jobs because the folks just couldn't afford it and he always, always let the owner of the company know why. Sometimes offering to make up the difference himself.
Then came one year that we weren't going to get a bonus at the company. No one was happy about it. Some threatened to quit. I had to explain to my partner Josh that we weren't due a bonus, that a bonus was something the owner gave out of appreciation and that this year was a tight year for the company. A month later and we got a surprise. A bonus, not a big one, but we all got something. At least the termite crew did.
We found out later that Phillip had taken money from his own pocket and made those bonuses for us. That's the kind of guy that hired me and I gladly worked for and with. He never made you do anything that he wasn't willing to do himself. And was always willing to lay a hand to a tool and get the job done.
Sadly, I fell out of touch with several folk at the company. That hits me hard because it's my fault that I did. They were like family to me but I had moved on to other opportunities. I won't ever forget my time with them.
That squint in his eye? I saw that many times. I always stood down when I saw it, no matter how much I thought I was right. Very, very rarely was I right when pointing out anything that I though was wrong on paperwork, chemicals, the way to do things on a job. But when I was I always heard, "Well, you're learnin'!"
Yesterday I found out that my friend had passed away. I can't say that we were friends in the way that people throw around so carelessly. I had and still have a huge amount of respect for the man. And, it's not a slight against anyone else I worked for in the company, an even greater amount of loyalty. I was there for some of the hardest times he probably went through with his family. And he took me aside when he was able to come back to work after being gone awhile and thanked me for taking care of our business in the company. No one else could make me feel that proud there. He did.