Figs of Steel: 24 Hours in La Mancha 2

A couple of workers from the town maintenance department lumbered out of the vehicle and hauled their tools and a ladder to the corner of the street where the main square began. They lit cigarettes, exchanged a few instructions, aligned the ladder with its destination ten feet above and prepared for action. One climbed up to their desired height, produced a chisel from his pocket with one hand, grabbed a mallet which had been dangling from his hammer loop with the other, lined the two up and started chipping away at the edges of a colorful Talavera design ceramic plaque which indicated, before it was removed, the name the street had been known by for the previous 75 years: Calle Comandante Sanchez Ruiz. It was a tremendously long title for an extraordinarily short road, in honor of an immensely anonymous character from some forsaken annal of time. Mr. Sanchez was getting the boot, and some locals felt it was about time. Most, though, could not have given a crap.

          The nerve-racking echo of repeated knocking on a solid wall would have spurred even the most staid individual to rise from their bed and investigate. David, the neighbor whose home the plaque was lodged in, just happened to be one of those individuals. He emerged from the iron door outside his patio wearing only a summer robe (and we can assume something underneath) and slippers. He assessed the situation carefully. Though not necessarily as stable a person as he would like to be until he had his first cup of coffee, he felt he could manage the matter and avoid victims at the same time. He was also the proud owner of several hunting weapons, knew how to use them effectively and was quoted as saying once, after an evening of several gin & tonics served in glasses the size of vases, “Everyone should know what it feels like to be hunted down at least once in thier life. It builds character.”

          Without alcohol running through his veins, David was a decidedly less swashbuckling person. As a first course of action, he folded his arms and affected a long, determined glare of disapproval, which he planned on maintaining until one of the two looked in his direction and picked up on the gravity of the situation. But the workers pounded away and did not even acknowledge his presence at first, basically because they didn’t see him. The slight prompted him to adopt a new more aggressive approach. Within seconds he came up with a line he was sure would grab their attention and convey disdain at the same time, “Buenos días.”

          It lacked in creativity but you can’t say it didn’t achieve the desired effect. The man up top stopped hammering. Both he and his colleague looked in the direction of the morning salutation, where David had gone back to his pose of displeasure. They returned the greeting, “Buenos días,” nodded, and continued with the dismantling.

          David sensed that a peaceful resolution was going to be harder than he thought, but he was convinced he could cope. Thanks to the Mindfulness courses that he had taken when he was laid off two years before, he had learned to manage tense situations without, what people close to him described as, “going berserk”. He himself wasn’t armed, but the town employee, the worker in charge of removing the inscription, wielded a tool so imposing that would have passed for a battle mace, meaning that should things take a turn for the worse, he was at an immediate disadvantage. David realized he had nothing to defend himself with, but recalled that he was wearing slippers and that they might serve as a potential flying defense mechanism to divert their attention, should the need arrive. It would probably stun them just enough to give him time to scramble back inside his house and lock the door. The sensible thing to do, though, his Mindfulness coach had instructed him, was to bring tensions down a notch or two. So he shouted at the worker from a comfortable distance. “Is it really necessary for you to be doing this at this time of day?”

          “It is.” replied the worker on the ladder. “What do you want me to do about it?”

          “I want you to leave and come back when normal humans work. That’s what I want. It’s eight o’clock in the morning! Can’t a person get some rest around here?”

          “Of course they can. But that’s not the issue here. Do you always react this way to these situations?”

          “What do you mean, that’s not the issue? What are you, a psychologist?” Given the current unemployment rate of 17%, it was entirely possible. “This is simply not right.”

          “Do you hear that, Quique?” he addressed his coworker who was holding the base of the ladder and pretending to keep him safe. “We have a protestor here. An indignado.” The worker stepped down from his place up top and began to advance towards David, who glanced at his foot and wondered if he’d have time to snag the slipper and whip it in the aggressor’s direction. But the town employee paused to put down the mallet, mainly because it was too heavy, and inadvertently gave David the impression that he was a man of peace. “Look. I’m just doing my job. Is that a lot to ask?”

          “At this time of day, you bet it is. Come back later.”

          “Come back later, or what?”

          The ensuing minutes broke down, according the version reported to me, into an exchange of opposing views where each side had no hope of convincing the other and yet had no intention of being convinced. So they just insulted each other relentlessly until they had their fill. David, who in a matter of seconds had abandoned the counseling of his Mindfulness coach, finally suggested that the worker do something creative with the chisel, while his opponent recommended that if he had a problem the man go to the town hall and take it up there. That’s how they left it off. As is usual in these cases, there was much more bark than bite.

          David went back inside and vented his frustration by immediately taking a shower and scrubbing his head extra hard with shampoo, and the workers, riled by the altercation, decided they needed to take a break to calm down and sauntered over to a café on the other side of the square. The street sign no longer bore the name of the Commander, and only the top left corner where the town seal was exhibited remained. It isn’t clear if this was done out of respect for town property or because they forgot to finish the job, but the fact is, the emblem has been left untouched ever since.

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