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Wednesday, 22 September
What A Time That Was

Like a lot of people, summer jobs during college are not that unusual. After all, I had to defray some of the costs of attending school, such as profligate drinking and unlooked-at textbooks. And my deadbeat parents sure weren't helping, what with their incessant whining about $10K+ a year tuition and so forth--thanks for nothing, Mom and Dad. What, a third mortgage would have killed you? So I worked. Like a dog. A really lazy dog.

My main job during a couple summers was with the good people at the US Forest Service, whose mission seems to be, "Jesus, we've got to sell these fucking forests!" To that end, I worked what was called "Class III P-line Survey." This typical bit of jargon meant: "Go out and figure out what kind of a living bitch it will be to build timber roads for logging." Logging in Idaho is, unsurprisingly, a rather heated topic, and it was totally unremarkable at the time (and probably now) to see prominent bumper stickers (modern America's version of political broadsheets) with the words "I Love Spotted Owls . . . For DINNER!" I dealt with this sort of incendiary rhetoric by mostly not caring, a cherished skill amongst teenagers everywhere. Every now and then I'd get a pang of anger and think, "That's fucked up!" Then I'd get distracted by something else, like actually getting fucked up.

But the job was pretty good for me. We worked "four tens," Monday through Thursday, all out in the field in a camper with no shower or toilet, so you can imagine how we smelled when we came home at the end of the week. There were always four of us, the supervisor and three gormless boneheads. I am ashamed to say that I remember hardly anyones' names, save for the supervisor, whose name was R. R. was a good boss, diligent about keeping good hours, but also making sure people were rested and safe. R. did have some various neurological tics both motor and sensory that made him interesting, however. A compulsive smoker, he was given to tapping his unlit smoke on any available surface to tamp the tobacco down, which sometimes included our skulls. I have since occasionally tried this method on the wife, who is less than appreciative. The first time it happened to me--TAP! TAP! TAP! as he bounced the cigarette off my skull nonchalantly--I thought he was coming on to me with some weird bonding ritual. Later I learned to ignore it. His other strange habit was to idly blast out weird little rhyming raplets whose provenances were unknown. One that sticks in my memory that he blurted out while playing Spades one night--we played Spades constantly--went:

Johnny had zippers on his sleeves
And zippers on his knees
And a tattoo on his back
Sayin' "Mammy don't you please?"

I never asked about stuff like this, because I assumed he'd actually try to explain it.

I'd like to say I remember the other people who worked with me on the job, but their names are forever lost to me. One guy, a nice fellow with a relaxed temperament, I knew spent most of his spare time selling drugs--I knew this because I was occasionally a customer--and there was a girl as well, who distinguished herself by complaining to me a couple times about the motorcycles we'd have to ride out in the field to get to our destinations. "I hate those fucking things," she'd say. "They make my snatch buzz."


Road surveying is a really boring thing to do. What happens is, someone decides they want to build a road into some fucking desolate place, and they refer to geographic maps to etch out where, roughly, the thing could go. Thats where we come in; we would go out there, map out the "center line"--the center of the road--and then take 90-degree measurements every 25-50 yards to fine-tune the geography. So every 25-50 yards, one person would go up the hill and one down (because they are always on hills) to take azimuth and elevation measurements on a 90-degree angle from the planned road, and you would take those measurements also at 10, 25, 50 foot increments. So in other words, two people monitoring the center line would stay on the planned road line, and then the other two luckless fucks would dash up and/or down a slope to take multiple measurements up/down to the center line, calling out figures as one went. Then, twenty-five feet later, you'd do it again.

More than any college course, this job taught me about what it is to be a functional adult. It's so great that you've taken a course in Renaissance Art, it told me. When you're done fucking around, we need you to run all over this godforesaken hillside and take measurements for future timber contracts.

I don't mean to sound bitter. I'm really not. In fact, I know I'm very lucky to be where I'm at. I don't even know what I mean. I didn't even write any of it thinking it was very funny. And I left a bunch of stuff out, like the time it snowed in July and we played cards all day ("No one on my watch is breakin' an ankle"), or the time where we stayed up until 4 a.m. watching a lightning storm create tiny, beautiful forest candleflames that we would the next morning go chase down and try and put out.

Johnny had zippers on his sleeves
And zippers on his knees
And a tattoo on his back
Sayin' "Mammy don't you please?"

Note: Comments are closed on old entries.


Remind me not to read your post when I'm drinking any liquid. When I read, "They make my snatch buzz," I actually spit out my water. I was laughing so hard I started crying. You've elicited many a liquid today, my good man.

Comment number: 005095   Posted by: Flipsycab on September 22, 2004 02:01 PM from IP:

Nothing like a good logging road to get you where you want to go. I was on one today, an old ridge-road recently re-cleared to make way for yet another harvest of our dear friend, the oak tree.

I build trails on Forest Service land, wee paths though the Missouri Ozarks, a hardwood forest dotted with pines. I'm told it was once a pine forest dotted with hardwoods, but once the pines fell in 1900 to build the sort of grandiose structures you might visit on house tours, the oaks took over.

Those cunning bastards. Oaks, that is.

So these 100 y/o oaks are just begging to be cut, pleading to be suburban flooring, so the old roads are opening up again. No need for Idaho summer crews here-- the old ridge roads are remembered by yellowing maps stored faithfully in paint-peeled green metal drawers, just waiting for some grader or dozer to shave off the saplings that have evaded the weekend ATV traffic, so many fat men out for their own personal brush with nature.

So I'm familiar with logging roads, my rural byways to hiking trails I'm trying to build amidst 2nd- and 3rd-growth harvests. They remind me that a Forest Service road isn't just a path to the trees of today, but a highway for future generations of loggers, biding their time for saplings to grow, to prosper, to be cut at their knees.

It's a shame your crew didn't carve their names into the trees along your road; it might have provided a good conversation for someone's Great Room. Or at least an interesting place to throw that bear-skin rug.

Comment number: 005096   Posted by: John on September 22, 2004 06:27 PM from IP:

...I mowed lawns for the bus service...god was it bad...

Comment number: 005097   Posted by: Ci$co on September 24, 2004 03:49 AM from IP:

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