I am embarking on an A-Z challenge, this one featuring short pieces of fiction. Today’s letter is G for gotcha.
Mike Chu was new at United Auto Stores, a busy foreign and domestic car parts outfit on the east side of San Jose. He’d been hired because he fit the profile of most of the newly hired at United: He was a sophomore at nearby San Jose State University, he had filled out an application, complete with resume, and arrived punctually for his job interview.
It was tough to make it at United. Not only was there a mountain of information to disseminate, there were factors such as intricate electrical problems to learn about, language barriers, and the usual hazards, like flying under Big John’s radar. Big John, the shop manager, had the polished ease of ten years in the business going for him. Not only imposing in terms of height, Big John was relentless when it came to squids, which is what new guys were called in the shop.
Though the only way to learn was to ask questions, and apply the answers, Big John had little if any patience with squids. It was like running the gauntlet to ask even the simplest question, if you were the new guy in the shop. Once you were well-established, then Big John would give you the shirt off his back, or the benefit of all his experience, but you somehow had to acquire the knowledge first.
I liked Mike, with his lopsided smile, a kid who was motivated to learn. He was careful in the way he spoke, and quick to grab a broom or a mop, and do more than his share of the dirty work. So it bothered me that Big John rode him so roughly, and never gave Mike an even break. I felt that Mike was coming along fine, and had plenty of time left before he got to the six-month point in his counter life, the time at which an in-house assessment was always done, to determine the progress of all the newcomers.
As if it weren’t hard enough at United, a new computer system was being implemented, one which tracked every item sold in the store and did the ordering of replacement parts automatically, thus saving us the hassle of having to scour the shelves and write an order manually. I struggled with the new system, and I know Big John did also. As funny as it was, Mike did not. He was young enough, and smart enough, to have that innate ability to grasp all things electronic, almost by instinct.
Thus it was, one very busy Saturday, that things kind of came to a head. A customer had purchased a generator for his British Triumph, in the hope that it would solve his charging system issues, and Mike had not known enough to talk him through the polarizing process. It was simple enough, if you were familiar with it. One had to take a screwdriver and place it across the two connections on the generator to prevent the whole thing from frying, the minute it was hooked up. All six-volt systems had to be put through the process, before a new or rebuilt generator was installed. Only Mike didn’t know it.
When the customer installed his newly-purchased generator, and threw the solder, and brought it back as defective, John hit the ceiling, and chewed Mike out, right in front of the customer. I felt bad because that was some pretty sophisticated information that Big John was expecting Mike to know. It was above and beyond the norm, but Big John didn’t see it like that. I felt Big John derived just a tad too much pleasure in playing “Gotcha!”
Mike hung his head, but he refused to be defeated. He took his verbal beating with dignity, and went about his business, hustling even more than usual, to try and make up for his knowledge deficiencies. So it pleased me no end, later on in the day, when Big John once again did battle with the new computer system, struggling to get it to work the way it was designed to function, only to have it freeze up, just as we were hitting the busiest point in the day. I thought Big John was going to hit the computer with an axle, he was that frustrated.
Hustling past, on his way back to the machine shop, Mike took one glance at the computer, and veered off course from his route, just long enough to reach out and flick a switch on the computer, rendering John’s crisis from a standoff to a done deal. With a click and a whirring of action, the computer spit out the receipt, and John’s customer was on his way, leaving Big John scratching his head in wonder, but grinning like a monkey.
“Damn! I’ll get the hang of these computers yet, especially if my man, Mike, sticks around.” Mike looked back over his shoulder, as he headed for the machine shop, shaking his head in amusement, and I didn’t worry about Big John harassing him again.
Mike had arrived, and did not have to worry about being Gotcha-ed again.