The Bet

Men fall into one of two categories. There are those who-can-swing-a-sledge-hammer-effectively–and those who cannot. Those who-cannot-swing-a-sledge-hammer-effectively can be subdivided further into two groups: those who-cannot-swing-a-sledge-hammer-effectively because they are weak and those who-cannot-swing-a-sledge-hammer-effectively because they over-think it; whereas those who-can-swing-a-sledge-hammer-effectively remain united. Being fairly strong, Pete found himself in the category of unable-to-swing-a-sledge-hammer-effectively because of over-thinking it. Roughnecks nicknamed some variation of Thor seem to limit their thoughts about the task at hand to “object needs to be struck; strike object.” To his detriment, Pete, on the other hand, took a more studied approach. To him, the task included thoughts such as, “Is this really the only way to accomplish the task? How many people are watching? I hope they’re standing far away, because once I begin there is no telling how this will end.” And, “While I realize that I am supposed to be swinging this 12-pound piece of metal as hard as I possibly can at this other piece of metal, is it possible to unintentionally break anything? Follow-up: If so, will someone be mad at me for breaking it?”

There is another nuance of sledge-hammer use that rarely surfaces in white papers. Men like Pete have full awareness of what happens at that moment–the moment the back-swing ends and the forward-swing begins. Despite increasing his effective swinging average from .500 to .734 in seven months time, Pete couldn’t forget about the remaining .266 that was unpredictably divided between missing completely and striking the object in such a way as to cause his muscles to have to transition from “HIT THAT MOTHERFUCKER!” to “PROTECT THE MASTER!” in an instant. Lucky for his face and feet, an instant was plenty of time.

****

“Want a break?” one of them asked him.

It was night. It was always night. They were in the middle of rig move and in the process of hammering up one of the mud-line’s hammer unions. A hammer union is a particularly fiendish way of connecting two pieces of pipe–several inches in diameter themselves–which must not leak under pressure. A thick metal ring with three or four gear-type knobs protruding at even intervals, the hammer union (permanently affixed around the male end of the connection) is first twisted onto the female end’s threads by hand. Upon reaching the limitation of its human’s tool-less ability, a hammer is then lifted by a gloved hand and proceeds to strike the knobs in an effort to seamlessly seal the union.

“Na, I’m good,” he answered in the middle of his quick breather.

After a few more solid swings, the tone of the metal-on-metal contact lowered several octaves until the four men heard the deep sound of the hammer hitting the entire mud-line that signals the job is complete, rather than the high-pitched sound that informs all that more swings are necessary.

“Peter, I bet you one hundred dollars I can get one more full turn out of it,” Becki volunteered.

Breathing hard, Pete peered into Becki’s soul, saw innocence, and said, “Whatever man. There is no way. No way. That one is not moving anymore. It’s good.”

“If you think so, then bet me,” Becki rejoined.

“You bet me one hundred dollars that you can get a full turn on that union?” Pete asked, his winnings already spent.

“Yep.”

“Okay. That’s a bet,” said Pete, offering his hand.

Glee filled the other two men’s eyes as they each claimed witness to the bet and excitedly awaited the outcome. But not as much glee as filled Becki’s eyes.

“That’s the wrong way Becki,” Pete said, shaking his head that even the fastest roughneck messes up righty-tighty lefty-loosey sometimes.

“Wrong way!” yelled an onlooker to the unceasing Becki.

The twinkle in Becki’s eyes could be seen for miles. It spoke so loud that he needn’t put his voice to use until the loosening turn was completed at which point he asserted, “Like I said, one full turn. Pay up.”

A very sad Pete put up one volley in a futile argument concerning unstated betting assumptions.

At the young age of twenty-two, Becki had waited a full tenth of his life to put to use one of the oldest oil-field bets on an unsuspecting worm. Suffice it to say, Becki got more than one hundred dollars. He made a friend.

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