No, not like that.
One of my longest “careers” was working for the same guy, but with different businesses. I started at an indoor miniature golf course and when that closed, I worked for him doing light construction. We did several things, but our main business was closet shelving, both new construction and remodeling. I’ve written before about a weird experience I had while working in closets. I cannot say it is the only one.
Working in closets requires a couple of actions. You have to go in a closet, and you have to come out of one. It will come as no surprise that my first full week on the job went something like this:
Monday. A coworker and I were working on the closets in a new house. Being the least experienced, I followed behind a coworker who drilled the walls to place the hardware for the shelves. I walked out of my third closet and a carpet layer in the same room said, “I guess you’re coming out of the closet then, huh?” I chuckled a bit because even though I had anticipated just such a joke, I found it slightly amusing.
Tuesday. We were in another house in the same subdivision. We started with the living room where an electrician was working. I finished prepping the coat closet and walked out to the electrician waiting for the moment. “I’ve heard about it, but I’ve never actually seen someone come out of the closet before! Are you the one who wears a dress?” I chuckled politely and shook my head.
Wednesday. I backed out of a small linen closet in a bathroom. The plumbers who were just in there were standing outside the door giggling like a bunch of nine-year old boys. I chose to ignore them as I made for the next room, but one stopped me and asked, “Don’t you want to know why we left?”
“Not particularly,” I responded. This, of course did not deter him from offering up his keen wit.
“It’s because we didn’t want to be stuck in the bathroom with someone who just came out of the closet!” He barely finished his sentence before they all dissolved in adolescent laughter (of course, they were in their twenties and thirties). Hilarious.
Thursday. I was working in . . . well, you can see where this is going.
I imagine it’s the same feeling x-ray technicians get when a man makes the obvious joke of mentioning their concerns about being pregnant.
Occasionally, I tried to turn the tables and make the joke myself first. That usually backfired. I was in Kentucky working in some apartments when I ran into a bear of a man eyeing me suspiciously.
“I don’t believe I’ve seen you before.”
“No, you haven’t. It’s my first time up here.” I went on to explain who I worked for which caused him to visibly relax.
“I guess you’re a good egg, then. Can’t be too careful, you never know what someone might be getting up to in these unfinished apartments.” His face then split into a grin and I (wrongly) felt the same, tired joke coming.
I didn’t want to hear his version of it, so I said, “Well, I haven’t gotten into any trouble yet. I just came out of the closet.”
He puffed out his chest, narrowed his eyes, placed one hand on each side of a belt buckle the size of a dinner plate, and said, “What exactly are you trying to say to me boy?”
“Nothing. It was just a joke about walking out of a closet. Actually, that closet right over there.” I helpfully pointed at the utility closet before I continued, “I haven’t really come out of the closet . . . no, I mean, I’m not in the closet either. Not like that. I do not need to come out of the closet. Yes, that’s it, I do not need to come out of the closet because I have never been in the closet. . . I like women. For dating. I like dating women.”
He never said another word to me again.
Much later I was working in an upscale house as it was reconstructed. The home owner kept following me around to make sure I got his closets right. He kept up a steady monologue that was only interrupted when his phone rang. Whenever it did, he stopped speaking, pressed a button on the headset he was wearing and answered, “Speak to me.”
I barely listened while we were in the walk-in closet for the master bedroom (which was a space most people would refer to as a room). He suddenly stopped talking. I looked over because I sensed I needed to respond.
“I’m sorry, I missed that. What did you say?” I asked.
“I said, but you must know how hard it is to meet someone, too seeing as how . . .”
I saw where this was going. We were literally standing in a closet and he was setting up a joke I had grown tired of years before. I thought, Really? We’re going there now? I had absolutely no desire to play my part in the routine.
“Right, I must know seeing as how I haven’t come out of the closet yet. Very funny. Ha. Ha.” My voice oozed sarcasm.
“Exactly!” he exclaimed excitedly, “I’m not out either and it’s so hard to meet a guy.”
“Wait . . . what?”
“I was just hoping you felt . . .”
“No, no, no,” I stammered, “When I said I haven;t come out of the closet, I meant I haven’t come out of this closet. As in walking through that door. I’m going to find my wife and kiss her.” Just in case he was still confused, I exited through the door. Visual cues are more memorable.
You would think that was the oddest thing that ever happened. You would be wrong. My strangest experience took place somewhere outside of Springfield, TN.
I knew I was in trouble when my boss was giving me directions to the house I was going to do. He was giggling uncontrollably. I loaded up my truck and headed out. I drove through Springfield. Then I drove for a while. Then I drove some more. Eventually I turned on the road he described. I found the turn off from that which was a poorly paved road. I stayed on it as it became a gravel road, then a dirt road, and finally two ruts running through the weeds.
The house (a structure I have always referred to as a shack) was literally in the middle of nowhere. I was glad it was daylight, because there was not a soul in sight. I went inside and got to work. I had to cut the metal shelving on site because it was too far away to make two trips, so we only had rough measurements. I was sweaty and miserable even in the cool of fall.
When I finished the last closet, I turned around and walked in to a nightmare. I had heard no sounds other than the ones I made myself. There were no vehicles anywhere nearby other than my own. That’s probably why the two men standing in the room with me scared me half to death.
They were both wearing camouflage overalls over camouflage shirts. They each had a shotgun propped over their shoulders in their right hands and beers in their left hands. Let’s call them Bubba One and Bubba Two. We stood in silence for a moment. Bubba One noisily slurped his beer and said, “What are you doing here?” I swear I heard the faint sound of banjos.
“Um, I was putting shelves in the closets.” I realized my mistake the moment the words slipped from my mouth.
“So you was in the closets?” Bubba One asked, smiling. Bubba Two started snickering.
“Yes,” I sighed seeing no way to avoid it.
Bubba One laughed, slapped his knee, and said, “So you just came out of the closet!”
He laughed, but Bubba Two guffawed. “Aw, man, you made me spill my beer!”
I wasn’t laughing, which apparently concerned Bubba One. “Don’t you get it?” he said slowly as if to a child, “I’m saying you came out of the closet. That you’re gay.” Bubba Two dropped his beer.
“I get it,” I said, “I’ve just heard it before. Very funny. I came out of the closet. I like men.”
Bubba Two stopped laughing. Their grips tightened on their shotguns.
I held up my left hand and pointed to my wedding ring. “All jokes though. I’m married. To a woman.”
“Shoot,” (pleasedonotusethatword!) Bubba One said, “we was just playin’ .” They visibly relaxed though. I was extremely glad I hadn’t tried to make the joke first this time.
I’m not sure I ever packed up as quickly as I did that afternoon. When I was finally back on pavement, I knew beyond a doubt two things. One, I would never make a pregnant joke to and x-ray technician. Two, if by some strange chance I ever met Ned Beatty, I would not utter “Squeal like a pig.”