Mike Wilson column: My most monumentous messes

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 11, 2021

By Mike Wilson
For the Salisbury Post

And yes, monumentous really is a word, even if it gets the red squiggly underline from Word.  I heard Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green use it a couple of years ago as he described the play of teammate Steph Curry in a post-game interview, so it must be real. I have been saving it for just the right application.

My office is evidence of a general lifelong tendency toward standard garden-variety messiness. I basically like to keep everything where I can see it instead of resorting to filing, etc. I write now of memorable situations I have unfortunately created, sometimes —I hate to admit it — through carelessness.

In the summer of ‘75, I worked for the Coca-Cola Company in Memphis as a bottle truck assistant. In those days, Coke machines were filled with heavy-duty returnable bottles, and the assistant had the pleasure of hauling the heavy cases of drinks to the machines with a hand truck and then collecting the cases of empties from a nearby rack. I remember in particular a machine on the third floor of the science building — which had no elevator — at Rhodes College (back then Southwestern). I managed to get the bottles up and down those concrete stairs every week without incident and then load them into our truck’s side bays, which had spring-assisted sliding doors that we locked down with a handle when closed.

One day, I failed to lock a bay on the passenger side of the truck, so when we made a left turn during rush hour at one of the busiest intersections in Memphis, Lamar Avenue and Airways Boulevard, it suddenly sprang open and hundreds of empty bottles fell out and shattered in the middle of the intersection. It took a good bit of broom work to get that pile cleaned up, and some of the passing motorists and attending officers seemed very displeased. I learned new words from both groups. For some reason, I was soon transferred to special events; my new duties included delivering coolers full of complimentary drinks on ice to celebrities, dignitaries, or just friends of the owner if they happened to be hospitalized. One day, I took Cokes to Elvis Presley; he was asleep, but I definitely felt a connection.

In the summer of ‘77, we went to live and study in Mexico City with the generous support of a Rotary Fellowship. My Rotary adviser there helped us find a small — maybe 220 square feet — apartment on the fourth floor in a neighborhood near the bullring and close to the bus lines to “University City.” Early on, we took a streetcar down to a grocery store and brought home supplies, including a glass two-liter bottle of Jarritos orange soda. The bottle just fit on the lower shelf of the door of our small refrigerator, though I noted that the retaining bar wasn’t very high, just a couple of inches. Guess what happened right after one of our periodic cleaning/mopping sessions? I pulled the door open, the bottle fell out on the tile floor, and soon the entire apartment was flooded with orange soda to a depth of approximately a tenth of an inch, not to mention the broken glass. I hate to admit it, but this actually happened twice…

Just a few years ago, we had the kitchen of our house in Salisbury painted and remodeled a bit. About a week later I decided to sharpen some knives, but it was really too hot to work in the garage, so I chose the kitchen table and carefully spread out some newspapers. I took out a sharpening set I had given my dad years before; after his death my mom had invited me to take any of his tools I might want from his workbench. The set included sharpening stones of several grades of coarseness and a plastic bottle of honing oil along with a device designed to maintain a steady angle between the blade and the stone. I set up the first stone, reached for the oil, and tried to squeeze out a few drops. Nothing. So I squeezed harder. Nothing. Now I really squeezed, the bottle cracked open (are you aware that plastic eventually degrades and turns brittle?) and six ounces of oil sprayed all over the freshly painted yellow walls. Don’t ask.

One mess I eagerly anticipated did not actually come to fruition. I had a plan when I lived in Virginia to invite several heavily-bearded colleagues over for a picnic of ribs, watermelon and ice cream cones and then, once they had been served, inform them with mock horror that we had no utensils or napkins. Unfortunately, we moved to North Carolina before that could happen, but I still like to imagine it.

Mike Wilson is chairman of Modern Foreign Languages at Catawba College.

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