Empty Sacks

When we finished eating, he walked me over to the wall behind the boiler and showed me the charts he had made up to cycle the chores akin to the building. He rotated floors for scrubbing and buffing, and broke down the bathroom maintenance so that it was timed with the hours that kids were in class and bathrooms were empty.

He scheduled window cleaning and lawn cutting with the other maintenance divisions so that they occurred on the days when classes were minimal or unscheduled.

The building ran like a well-oiled machine. There were always paper towels in the bathrooms, never litter on the floors, always well-illuminated rooms, never burnt-out bulbs.

He took great pride in his work. It came from years of useful back labor, family habits and a self-inflicted protocol about life that didn’t even consider laziness.

I learned from him that all jobs should be done with pride, no matter how mundane and unnoticed they may be to others. Because doing a job well elicits pride, and this fellow was loaded with it.

On that first day, as we stood looking at each other at the door, I’d have never believed this man was about to provide me with a boiler plate for a quality life. But I can’t even begin to tell you how often I hearken back to his steady example, his “full sack” of character and poise.

Conversely, I have seen lessons from the other side as well.

As a very young man of 16, I’d been given the task of umpiring Little League games for the local Recreation Department. The other umpires were all college guys five to eight years my senior, but I was considered mature for my age and they decided, “Ronnie can handle it.”

One evening after umpiring three day games, I called a third strike that was borderline and, in fact, if I could have taken it back, I would have. It was a little low and when the crowd moaned, I felt they were justified. It was a game ender and the last game of the evening, and I simply muffed it.

Both sides began to pack up and I was putting away the bases when I was suddenly aware of someone coming at me with quite a head of steam. I stood and took the full chest-to-chest blow of a 40-plus adult man, a disgruntled parent who happened to be the father of the kid that had just struck out.

I stumbled backward and looked up, bewildered. There, at second base, under the lights for everyone to see, I got berated and screamed at for my incorrect call. The vein sticking out of this man’s forehead was so thick I could have towed my car with it. I thought he would burst, and I considered retaliating, but he outweighed and outsized me times two and was at least 25 years older than me.

He grumbled off as the whole field and parking lot had watched the spectacle he created and my tolerance in response.

The next morning, a Sunday, I watched he and his family file into the pew right in front of my family at church. He suddenly noticed me behind him and the back of his neck turned bright red.

I hadn’t told my father what had happened, but he was right there next to me and you could see this guy was overwrought by the situation. As the Catholic service went on, the congregation was instructed to greet each other for the “sign of peace” and he refused to turn around. I finally tapped him on the shoulder and he still refused to turn around.

For years that followed that bombastic evening, I saw that man a hundred times and he never once acknowledged me. Gas stations, church, at the ball field; he’d become a victim of his own indecency and it was virtually eating him alive.

Seems paybacks can really be a bear.

It wasn’t more than 10 years ago I was in town to see my mother and the snow was coming down like a ticker tape parade. At a stop light near her home, I saw an older man, all hunched over and walking into the wind, and I drove to the side of the road and offered a ride.

The man came to the window smiling, but his face went white when he saw who I was.  It was none other than my old baseball friend. Are you ready for this?  He turned back to the snow and started walking without so much as a word.

I watched him hobble up the street all bent over, his empty sack twisting in the wind, unable to hold him up.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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