The Worst People I Have Worked With
After a lifetime of working in the pool and spa industry I have had the opportunity to work with literally hundreds of people. If I am honest, not all of them were great workers. Who am I kidding - the vast majority of them were incapable of producing a solid day of work if you gave them a week to do it. Swimming pool work, all of it, is hard. Even the "easy stuff" like vacuuming a pool is hard because you are required to do it at breakneck speed just to get through your list before nightfall! I understand that not everyone is cut out for working a physical job, or a job that requires more effort than most other professions, but some of the people I have worked with are another breed entirely. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some swimming pool hall of shame worthy nominations for the worst workers / employees that I have encountered in this industry.
So what, precisely, would qualify someone as "the worst" or at least potentially one of the worst employees out there? Well try this on for size: I once worked a first day with a very slight young man who showed up for work dressed like he was ready to head out for a night out in the clubs. At the very first job I told him to clean out the skimmer basket as it was full. He told me: "No way bro - the ladies don't like it if your hands are all covered in crap". I changed my orientation because the sun glint from his giant diamond stud earring was blinding me and I needed to see if he was goofing on me. Sadly, he was not. He was in fact 100% serious about not wanting to touch anything that is potentially dirty because "the ladies" would not be into his gross workin-man hands. This all-star holds the prestigious distinction of being the fastest person I have ever fired and this says a lot as I am known for too many second chances. I once had an employee steal, break and lose one of my pickup trucks without being fired right away. If there was an honest accounting of the details, and a genuine apology, I was prepared to move on. Instead he asked for a cash advance and I had to let him go. Dirty-fingers was fired within five minutes of arriving at the first jobsite. Which presumably "the ladies" are really impressed with.
We Call Him The Woodchuck
My business partner Max once suggested an old friend of his for a labor position that our construction firm had available. At the time we were very pressed for time due to the pre-Olympic construction boom happening in Whistler and Vancouver. The first few days "Mike" started with our company he shadowed my partner to learn the basics of what we did. On the third day there was nobody available to take Mike, so I brought Mike out to a pool that we recently shot and stripped the forms. The wood forms were in a giant pile and I gave Mike the suitable safety gear, as well as a nice hammer, nail puller, and crowbar and asked him to strip all of the nails from the wood and stack it all up neatly. Mike was looking for hours so I was just trying to give him some work for the day doing something that would not require supervision. I was wrong.
Flash forward eight or so hours later and Max and I arrive on the jobsite to pick up Mike and bring him back to the shop. When we arrive I am very surprised to see that there is no pile of neatly stacked lumber as I expected to see. Instead I see the original pile, except now it is even more spread out and disorganized. Beside this pile is also a very small, neat pile, that consisted of perhaps a dozen or 15 individual pieces of wood. I was immediately concerned that Mike had injured himself, or just quit and left, but then I saw him standing over a length of 2x4 with the hammer in his hands. His face was purple with strain...he was standing on top of the 2x4 and had the claw end of the hammer hooked on the head of a nail - but instead of rolling the head of the hammer to pull the nail out with leverage, Mike was pulling straight upwards on the handle as though he were trying to pull Excalibur from solid stone. As we approached he waved the hammer in frustration, covered in sweat, and exclaimed "how in the hell am I supposed to get all of these nails out? I have been at this all day and I only have like 20 boards done!"
I stood dumbfounded. I did not know whether this was some kind of elaborate joke that Max and Mike were playing on me...until Max slowly walked up to Mike and removed the hammer gently from his hand. It was at this time that Max said one of my most favorite things that I have ever heard. He leaned in close to Mike, who again Max is good friends with, and said to him: "I don't know whether I'm more disappointed in you, or your father". Mike did not return to work after this day.
I Could Replace You With A Sturdy PylonThere have been times where employees are in such short demand that you pretty much will take any warm body that you can get. Seasonal swimming pool areas very often need to deal with problems like this for the opening and closing seasons where you need hard workers by the dozens, if not the hundreds for larger and more established companies. Do you have any idea how many people you need to interview, hire and try out before you can find a dozen hard workers who will actually show up on time and do what you tell them to do? I don't know either...
In most of the companies that I have worked, I am the most experienced person on staff. This means that I always would get the new guys for their first couple of days to help bring them up to speed. Seldom have I encountered a person who can steal the energy out of the room as quickly and as readily as "The Pylon", as I named him. He could not stop from yawning, and only ever had both of his hands in his pockets. You can probably already start to picture this guy. I had four discharge hoses run out to drain a pool and when the pump finished I explained to him that it is time to pack up and go, and showed him how to disconnect the hoses, how to drain them, and which direction to roll them up in. I asked him if he "got it". "Yup". Great - I have other stuff to do.
When I came back ten minutes later he was standing in the exact spot where I last saw him standing. Right where I had finished rolling up that first hose. The other three hose lengths sat, untouched, as they had been. I guess, technically, this is my fault for not being more specific about rolling up and loading all of the hoses...not just that one that I rolled up for you. I can totally see how you might have assumed I only wanted the one, and we are going to just leave the rest of the hoses here on this pool when we leave. By the third day with The Pylon I determined that it would be less work overall to just work by myself. Either way I had to do 100% of the work, but at least by myself I don't have to explain what I am doing to the vacant stare of a brick wall.
The Destroyer Bills In Advance
When you are introduced to someone and they shake your hand and say "Nice to meet you. You can call me The Destroyer" you know you have a real gem on your hands. I might have thought that he was joking if it were not for the very prominent gun tattoo on the side of his head. The kind of man that tattoos (poorly) a full size replica of a gun on the side of their head is not the kind of guy to joke about being named "The Destroyer". You can't make this stuff up.
I worked with the destroyer a few different times over the years, with a few different companies, but always the result was the same. The Destroyer would show up for a few days of work and work just hard enough to be invited back the following day. He almost always carried a plastic shopping bag of cigarette butts that he would unashamedly roll up into "new" cigarettes and smoke throughout the day. After a few years without seeing him, I was informed that a new person had been hired with the company I was working. It was The Destroyer. Since I care about what I do, I warned the owner about the very high likelihood for problems with him. Despite my warnings he proceeded with the hire to attempt to help with the drastic shortfall of workers. The Destroyer did have lots of experience after all...
On his first day of work The Destroyer did not arrive. I later learned that he experienced a vehicle breakdown on the way into work, and would not be coming in that day. On the second day he did not show up again, nor did he call to inform of his situation or intent. Again I spoke with the owner about the very high likelihood that we will never see The Destroyer again, but they insisted that they were looking for alternatives but currently had no other potential candidates. On the morning of the third day I was very surprised to see The Destroyer arrive bright and early at the shop. The owner shot me a knowing glance as he held the door to his office open for The Destroyer. I had bet that he would not return and the owner was being smug that he showed up for work. Well, less than five minutes later The Destroyer got in his car and left. When the owner came out of his office he was looking rather sheepish. "What happened?" I asked. The owner replied "He gave me the bill from the tow truck for having his car towed on Monday. He says I need to pay it". I don't remember much else about that day except my productivity was severely hampered due to continuous fits of laughter throughout the day.
You're My Boy Lou!
I was unsure about putting this story in since it has a very sad ending. This is the story about easily one of the worst people that I have ever had to work with and his name, his real name, was Lou. Lou was an unabashed alcoholic. He was 40 years old but he looked 60 if a day. Lou clearly and openly struggled with his demons and he held employment, kind of, largely based on the laurels of his father who had worked a lifetime with the company. Lou should have been fired a million times over again, but there was something very endearing about him. He was as non-threatening as a person could be. He looked like you mixed a biker outlaw with Montgomery Burns and the end result was a leather jacket and sweat pant wearing miscreant, shaking like a leaf in the wind.
Lou looked so bad that many times he would get kicked out of commercial jobsites even when he was completely sober. He was incapable of looking sober even when he was clean. Site safety coordinators would simply walk up to me and say "Uh...he can't be here. He has to go". The thing was that Lou was good with a trowel, go figure, and in the pool surrounded by workers he could be closely monitored. Plus the owner felt a debt to Lou for the lifetime his father had put into the company and so Lou just kept getting more and more chances.
I did not know Lou a long time. In the short time that I worked with him I became his friend, because I could see the decent person trapped inside trying to get out. He would show up for work five days per week, but three of those days he would need to be sent home for being drunk, or too hungover, to work. Even when he was sober, he would be a shaking mess and eventually one morning he had a seizure at the shop because he was trying to go cold turkey without booze. He was brought into the hospital and stayed there for a few days before letting himself out late one night. The next morning he was found at home, dead, from alcohol poisoning. He had not much in the way of living friends and family that I know of. That is why I am including his story here, as sad as it might be. Lou definitely earned his title of being one of the worst people I have ever worked with...it just so happens that I liked the guy. I would like to end on a positive note here and say that the cleanest, neatest, straightest, flattest and most perfectly U shaped pipe trench I have ever seen dug was done by Lou. Granted he only made it about three linear feet to my 50 feet, but damn if that trench didn't look A-1. Miss you buddy.
Trapped Atop A Rocky Mountain
This final entry for "worst employee" that I have ever worked with is unique in that the main subject this time was actually the boss, or at least part of the family that owned the company. You know how every company has that one guy...you know what I mean...one guy. I am not even saying anything specific about them - just that "one person" that always seems to come up when you are talking about something stupid, or something dangerous, or drama, or something that needs to be fixed etc. Well in this case I am riding shotgun to this fellow for an out of town project. Now, I typically do not like being away from home, and I really do not like working away from home with someone known to be unreliable and difficult to work with. But I am nothing if not a team player.
To set the scene, we are building a set of concrete hot tubs in a new "Alpine Resort" that is being built at, unsurprisingly, the very top of a mountain. The drive up the mountain was a series of dangerously steep switchbacks that seemed to go on forever. There was no snow down at sea level, but by about half way up the mountain snow lightly blanketed everything. The resort itself was huge, and all but deserted. It was right before the winter season was due to begin, and almost all of the other trades had finished and left. Other than a security guard, a site safety officer, and a site superintendent, this gigantic resort complex nestled into the forest at the top of this mountain was empty. When we finally arrived at the top of the mountain we quickly located our hot tub pipe stubs from the initial visit months prior and unloaded the truck.
We planned to form, plumb, rebar, and shoot this hot tub in a matter of days, but in order to do so we needed to secure a line pump for our shotcrete. Once we unloaded the truck I started to build the spa while the boss took off to pick up a rental line pump. Throughout the next few hours working alone it became very clear to me that I was living out the first few pages of a Stephen King novel. The resort was almost completed, and so I would take cigarette breaks outside. A rear service door near my working area opened to a clearing of snow covered ground about 20 feet wide, followed by an impenetrable line of trees. Forests and trees in the Pacific Northwest of Canada are remarkable.
Standing, alone, silently, staring out into the vastness of this forest deep into the wilderness of Vancouver Island is an awe inspiring thing...but also a little unsettling. Brown bears are common in this area, but more importantly this area of Canada holds the distinction of having the highest mountain lion density in the world. But don't worry - they mostly live in the forested mountain habitats...
As dusk began to approach I was getting worried. The boss had been gone all day and it was going to be dark soon. I had left my lunch cooler in the truck, which had my phone (and flashlight) in it - not to mention my lunch. By this point I was irritated, hungry, tired, and tired of working out of town already. The uneasy feeling from this deserted resort amplified greatly as I sat listening to a scratchy local radio station give an alert about a severe winter storm blowing into the area. From what I could hear it sounded like an unusually bad one. The site superintendent happened to walk by and commented that we will likely lose power in the storm, as they usually do, and the backup generator systems are not due to be installed before next week. Within the hour his premonition came true and the power cut out.
As I sat there, now too dark to safely work inside, I watched the heavy fog of snow fall through the waning light of the day. The snowflakes were huge and fluffy and each one seemed to add a half inch layer of snow to the ground individually. Shortly the sounds around me became muffled from the snow. I sat in eerie silence, watching the snow accumulate, knowing of the impending storm, and knowing already that I am likely now trapped at the Overlook Hotel, and cursing "that guy" for screwing me again. He has been gone all day now where in the hell is...
At that moment headlights broke through the wall of snow and the roar of a 6.8L V10 engine filled the air. I had a smile ear to ear as he pulled up, massive line pump in tow, thinking that I would soon escape the nightmare here. As I watched him drive perhaps 100' across the white blanket of snow in the parking lot, it dawned on me that there was something in the snow behind him. As I approached, and he slowed to a stop, I was able to see the blood red and steaming trail of automatic transmission fluid painting a solid line behind the truck for as far as the eye could see off in the distance.
As he stopped and put the truck in park, a mighty wave of bubbling red oil spewed forth from under the truck like a stuck pig being bled out. The stark contrast of the red transmission fluid pooling in the pristine white snow was mesmerizing, though I knew with certainty what it meant. "That guy" jumped out of the truck with a smile on his face, clearly proud of having procured our needed line pump. "Did you by any chance forget to gear down while pulling this 5000 lb pump up the side of the mountain?" I asked him. I will save you the rest of the details of this story except to say that I escaped murder mansion on the mountain, but that truck never moved under it's own power again.
If you enjoyed these stories about some of the worst people I have had to work with in this industry then you might also enjoy these other tales from the swimming pool hall of shame. For more funny, lighthearted and satire articles relating to pools and spas check out some of these other articles that I have written:
16 Lessons that all pool workers must learn
Job interview questions you wish you could ask pool workers
6 Things you should NEVER say to your pool guy
Customer profiles you will encounter while working in the pool industry
Common personalities that work for every pool company
Famous people who could have been great pool builders
Celebrities who would be terrible at maintaining their own pools
Common mistakes that pool owners tend to make
Swimming pool myth VS. facts
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