I lay my head against the faded cloth of the seat and close my eyes, hoping to get a little sleep on the train ride home. The sawdust, a fine brown layer on my skin and clothes, irritates me; I scratch my arms lazily and try to sleep again. I'm sure the passengers around me can smell the sweat of a full day's work. I shrug to myself; how do they expect me to smell after working eight hours in a theater that feels like a furnace? I'm sure that if I'd sat in a comfortable, cool room all day, I'd smell pretty sweet too. But I don't envy them one bit. They can keep their silly air conditioning; I have something better--the best job in the world.
It's astonishing how much a person can learn in just three days. I laugh to myself, remembering my first day working for the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival...
I freeze, balanced on my toes, crouching with hammer and crowbar in either hand. My heart pounds. Sweat rolls down my dust-caked cheeks. I settle back down onto my knees and start to pry up the stage flooring again. I pray that I misheard the request. As I swing the crowbar back behind me, the voice halts my arm. "Becca," it said, "would you mind unscrewing these bridges for me?" Yes, I think. Yes, I would mind very much. However, entirely of their own accord, my back straightens and my fingers pry splinters out of my bruised knees as I stand up. My mind races as I desperately try to think of just one good excuse for why I can't take care of the bridges now. I fail.
I walk across the theater towards Eileen, the technical director. I glance at the guys working around me and wonder if they have any idea that I am about to tarnish the good name of every female techie in the world. Eileen slaps an electric screwdriver into my hand. She walks away, abandoning me to face this wooden monstrosity alone on the battlefield. This is it, I think. They will discover my secret, and these men will never let me forget my ignorance. I can handle running a crew quite easily. The excitement and power of stage-managing thrills me. I love painting sets almost to the point of obsession. But power tools are different. They are evil, scary aliens. I don't want to ask for help.
I glance around the theater to see if I can just mimic someone else. Everyone is busy with other jobs. Doug is removing a huge panel from behind the set. He stands on the radiator and carries most of the weight of the flat on his chest, leaving his hands free. Show off. Heath took over my job of tearing up the stage and works as if he's possessed by hyperactive demons. He looks like a cartoon; sweat and wood chips fly everywhere around him as he labors in a manic frenzy of energy. Oh Lord. Testosterone. Even Abe, who simply showed up with me at the strike and asked to work, now sits, happily pulling millions of staples from the flooring. Men. So easily entertained. There's no way I can ask these guys for help, and Eileen is nowhere in sight. I am alone in a room full of men, armed only with a screw gun--which I don't know how to use...
The lady in the seat across from me on the train casts worried glances in my direction as I chuckle to myself. I made such a big deal out of something so little. Only my pride prevented me from asking for help right away. I didn't give the guys the credit they deserved. After many frustrated attempts to remove the screws from the bridge, I finally admitted defeat and slunk into Eileen's office. She scolded me gently for not asking for help sooner and graciously showed me how to use the screwdriver. Now, before we start something new or use a new tool, everyone kindly asks if I need instructions. Not only do I learn new skills every time I walk into the theater, but I also work with the funniest, kindest, most intelligent people.
I stretch once more before settling down for my well-deserved nap. I pity the folks who choose air-conditioned cubicles. They don't know what they're missing.