Forgiveness, they say, is divine. But I’ll never forget the day I got my revenge on Airman Zwick.
You might recall that I was a high voltage lineman when I was in the military. Working high lines, transformers, and cabling was my daily task. It wasn’t my favorite job, by far, but it served as an alternative to college…a School of Hard Knocks that hauled me out of blind adolescence kicking and screaming into adulthood.
It was my 4th year, my final year of active duty, when Zwick committed his transgression. We were working on tear-down after a very high-level State Department event, removing a spaghetti-string generator backup contraption that amounted to triple redundancy and a lot of hot, 480 volt cables. The cabling had been color coded to avoid accidental shock.
Zwick was a fresh, 18 year old troop. He was from a new class of lineman, the "bucket babies" who hadn't learned how to use pole-climbing equipment. And he seldom paid attention.
“Go over to the generator and pull the blue cable,” I said to him. A few minutes later, he called over the radio to report the task complete, so that I could pull my end from the now safe junction box. Being in the habit of keeping all my pieces and parts firmly attached, I asked him to confirm.
“Is the blue cable detached?” I asked.
“Yes, blue,” he replied.
I had learned, in my short time working with electricity, never to take anything for granted. Rather than reaching out and grasping the lug for the blue cable, I licked the back of my hand and let it bounce off: a double-check that should have occurred with no pain or distraction.
It bears mentioning, here and now, that I have been shocked many times. I was bitten by 110 volt shocks more times in base housing than a nudist on the Mosquito Coast. I had even taken a powerful 277 volt zap once that left me sweating and checking to make sure I hadn’t pissed myself afterwards. None of these could prepare me for the coming surprise.
As the 480 volts coursed through the back of my hand, my muscles involuntarily clenched and contracted. In addition to the blinding pain now demanding the attention of my entire nervous system, I had to try to dodge my own fist flying toward my own face. I did not make my save vs. stupid self facepunch.
I thrashed like an epileptic penguin. I hit myself in the forehead and saw stars. My right arm curled temporarily into something a T-Rex would call useless. Expletives poured forth from my mouth, a stream of syllables that caused those around me to double check that there were no officers around. Big Ro, the staff sergeant supervising the job, ran to check on me.
Using my left hand, I picked up the radio.
“Zwick. Look in the box. Which cable did you pull?” I asked, every word dripping with venom.
“The red one, Dangerboy.” He hadn't done it with malice, just a very impressive lack of attention.
Big Ro slapped a hand across his face, and offered to take care of it himself. Needless to say, I checked again even after he told me blue was disconnected.
Well, that one sat on the ledger for a while. Finally came the day when I was able to cruelly inflict the lesson the youngster needed.
We found ourselves up in the tall bucket of nine-six, a 90 foot boom that could take you to great elevation. I forget what we were working on at the time, I just remember we were up fairly high. And poor, poor Zwick had told me, just days prior, that he had a problem with heights. Wrong career, buddy boy.
The fiberglass boom of a bucket truck protects you from voltage…it’s good to 100,000 volts. It is also somewhat flexible. And flexibility means there can be resonance.
Once we got up to height, with Zwick standing back to stay roughly in the center of the bucket, I began lightly flexing my feet. Just a bit, at the ankle. The effect was unnoticeable at first, the bucket responding by only moving an inch or two.
I chatted on, giving no indication of the fiendish plot I was even now enacting. I asked him to hand me a tool, and kept slightly flexing, just a little bit, finding the perfect rhythm.
“Is this thing shaking?” he asked suddenly.
I looked around, still moving the ankles. “Only a bit, just a bit of wind,” I said. I fought down a maniacal giggle.
I had found the sweet spot, and through the joy of physics, soon had the bucket bouncing up and down about 3 feet. I had yet to bend a knee, using only the feet. Zwick clutched the side of the bucket like Charlie Sheen grabs a toilet at 3 am on day 4 of a 5 day Vegas bender: desperately, afraid to fall off the planet.
“So, Zwick,” I began, conversationally. “Next time I say blue, which one you going to pull?”
“Shit, man, make it stop!”
“You going to pay attention on the job?”
“Ok then.” And I let Mr. Toad's Wild Ride stop.
I had sympathy, truly. I’d been in his boots before. So wet behind the ears I needed a towel, homesick, and a bit dumb to the ways of the world. And I’d been similarly awakened by my peers and experiences.
Still, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun. Sometimes, revenge is a dish best served bouncing up and down like a bungee jumper.
What about you? Ever teach a hard lesson? Or maybe learn one?