The Caper of the Picnic Table

October 31, 2010 by cynick | Posted in b-ark , mundanities

One of the magical things about all of this fancy wireless internet technology is that I can define my “office” to be any terrestrial location I wish.

I have spent a lot of time writing code at historic Bridge 15, a rather odd, asymmetric swing bridge over the Mississippi, built in 1915, and last painted in 1950. The area near the bridge is what I call an “unsanctioned” park: there are no woodchip-laden paths, no interpretive signs, no native prairie grass plantings; only some remains from the distant industrial past.

For over a decade, this area sported a rickety, etched, charred, splintered wreck of a picnic table. It wasn’t tied down to anything; people just used (and abused) it. I was constantly amazed at that table’s ability to survive.

It was my office on many a nice summer day. I would see eagles and trains and boats and ducks, watch the waves wash over the bridge piers – it was nice!

So, I was very saddened when I came back from my road trip last spring to discover that nature had done what humans never finally got around to doing: the table had been washed to the hereafter by the Flood of 2010.

Touched by the fact that the community of the area had supported and protected this table for so very long, I decided I would “give back” by procuring a replacement.

And where would I find such a thing?

I certainly knew of one such splinter factory, sitting behind a converted cut-rate department store building at which a company I formerly worked for had leased space.

Definitely more than a one man job, though. I messaged Shawn, a strapping young lad who used to work with us at that office, and asked whether he was up for some lunchtime larceny.

He was. 12 o’clock noon, I told him.

I showed up there, looking conspicuous, and Shawn arrived soon after with another former colleague, Nikki, along for the ride.

We made quick work of dismantling the table – it was just one o’ those DIY tables from Home Depot that was just as easy to take apart as it was to put together – and loaded it into my truck.

Alas, just as we were closing the gate, suddenly, from out of nowhere, came a small truck driven by what has to be a rare bird in this society: a maintenence man who actually gives a shit about the people he works for.

“What you think you’re doing?!”

“I would have thought that was obvious, we are taking this table.”

“You can’t do that, it belongs to the building!”

“Well, actually, it doesn’t. Do you remember us? WE bought this table for our own enjoyment, after asking building management to put one here for over a year.”

“Oh! you worked for that company that broke its lease, huh? That means the building owns it now!”

“Wrong again! We bought it, but never bothered to be reimbursed for it, so technically, we own it, and since we own it, we are now relocating it to a place where it will be more appreciated.”

The guy seemed to sense that we didn’t look like the kind of people who would make something like that up, but then he asked,

“Do you have a receipt?”

Do I have a receipt. What nonsense! A receipt? Who would I have expected to show it to, the hobos who live under the bridge nearby?

I told Nikki and Shawn to get in. “Let’s go.”

And then: some drama! The guy actually zoomed up and boxed us in so that we couldn’t leave! All of this over $10 worth of kindling!

And then he started talking about calling the cops. They would certainly want to see a receipt.

Just at that moment, the situation got even stranger. The building manager happened to come back from lunch, and came over to where we were.

I knew this guy. I’d talked to him many times, and in fact, one time he gave me some spare baseball tickets.

I thought he’d tell us to go ahead and take it, after I explained my purpose.

Nope, he was up in arms. Apparently, these people were still very mad that they didn’t get their $50K in early lease termination money, and they thought that this picnic table, as an asset of that company, should go toward the money that was owed.

My mind was still reeling over the silliness of that remark, when the building manager said,

“Hey! This table cannot disappear on MY WATCH! This is MY LIFE!”

Whoa! Dude! You mean, your whole freakin’ life would be at stake if we were to drive away with this thing? Who owns this building, anyway? The Irish Mob?

There is no arguing with a person of such pathos. His world must be very small, indeed.

I shook the guy’s hand, and said, “As long as I am alive, this table will not be molested by me, sir! C’mon, Shawn, help me unload the truck!”

We pulled it down, and put it back together. The maintenence man wouldn’t leave until we left.

Sure thing, pal, better make sure we don’t turn around and load it all up again. You know – after you knew who we were, and presumably, after you noted my license plate. Better play it safe. Where would all of the bitter old ladies who worked down the hall at that health services place eat their lunch without it? We drove away from there, our dobbers down. Nikki said, “Wow! I feel totally defeated now!”

Indeed. Except: what kind of idiot tries to pull off such a stunt at 12 o’clock noon, when the internationally accepted time for such shenanigans is 3:30am?

But, I gave the man my word. And Bridge 15 still needs a new table.