As I've stated in the last few columns, the summer before my senior year in high school, my family moved from De Queen, Arkansas, to Greenwood, Mississippi.
Mississippi was not exactly the place I wanted to be. So, to help pass the time until I could return to the "Promised Land" -- Arkansas -- I got a job.
I worked for the local utility service company, Greenwood Utilities. The job consisted of reading the electric and water meters of the customers of the company. I loved the work, as it provided the two components that I found most appealing: Being outside and working by myself. (I still find those appealing, in fact.)
My co-workers were great guys, given to hard work, simple wisdom and the occasional raucous joke and playful prank. They were down-to-earth, unpretentious and not afraid to tell you if you were messing up, although they were also quick to help you out when you did.
About those "playful pranks." It never occurred to me that there might be an initiation for the new reader. But apparently my fellow-workers had one.
One day just before quitting time, my crew picked me up and we headed back for the shop. Then one of the guys said, "We missed an electric meter. We'll drop by the residence and have you read it. It's inside a fence with some dogs, but they won't be a problem."
We got to the house, and I approached the fence. Inside the fence there were two dogs: A golden retriever, which looked harmless, and a German shepherd, which did not. When the shepherd saw me he immediately went crazy; barking, snarling, lunging and giving me the impression that he wanted to tear me apart.
Just then, a frail woman who looked to be at least 100 years old appeared at the back door. "Don't worry, Honey," she said in a thick southern drawl. "He won't hurt you. He's all bark and no bite."
Assuming she wasn't lying, and not wanting to disappoint the office folks who needed to know what the meter read, I opened the gate and went inside the fence.
I immediately squared-up and faced the shepherd, backing toward the wall where the meter was.
And it was then I felt a sharp pain in my, uhm, buttocks. I looked back, and saw the retriever attached to my right rear. And to this day I will believe that dog was smiling at me.
It was then I figured it out: The dogs worked as a team. The shepherd was the decoy, while the retriever was the attacker. I also got the feeling that wasn't the first time those dogs had played that game.
I smacked the retriever and went back to the gate. That particular meter wasn't going to get read that day, and I couldn't care less. I trudged back toward the street.
My co-workers were laughing so hard the truck they were in was bouncing. "That's okay," one said. "We always estimate that meter anyway." Then they treated me to a burger, and by the time the sun went down we were fast friends.
I learned a couple of things that day.
First, never judge dogs -- and people -- by appearances. You're likely to be painfully wrong.
And second, humor, even if it is occasionally at your own expense, is an important part of life. We could all use a little more of it.
Maybe we all need to lighten up a little.
"Do your best to live in peace with everyone." – Romans 12:18 (ICB)
-- Doug Chastain is a retired teacher and is currently a large-vehicle transportation specialist for the Siloam Springs School District. (Okay, he drives a bus.) He is also a grass maintenance technician at Camp Siloam. (Yeah, he mows the lawn.) You can contact him at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.