And it was a surprise. But it makes sense. I had become a problem.
On the surface, my trees were the problem. I have replanted far too often over the first three weeks of the season. This frustrates me, it frustrates Kayla, and it hurts both of our incomes. It can be attributable to my learning to plant in Alberta, where the tree quality is less important. It can be attributable to my attitude and ambition - I am always seeking to plant more trees and earn more money and will take every short-cut imaginable to achieve this.
Yesterday I was given a big peice of land and a warning that I had to sign, concerning my poor trees. I signed it and made a sarcastic remark to Kayla about this being a really nice way to start a shift. I remember thinking that I was performing the scapegoat role for Kayla's discontent. You see, Kayla has six planters, and makes 15% of what they plant every day. This means that she earns less than we do on average; unless she is able to plant trees herself. Kayla has been unable to do this thus far for a combination of reasons, most having to do with her relative 'greenness' on the job. She is a first year foreman. She resents having to check our trees, for it cuts into the time that she could be using to make money by planting.
The notice was a formal warning, and I presumed it was a just a threat. I thought that management was just trying to appease Kayla and bully me a little into feeling like I was on thin ice. Regardless, I was careful to plant good trees all day, and was happy to have a big piece of land for the first time all year. I was checked in the morning by the company checker. That is, the checker from the logging company that pays the planting company. He was happy with me trees. I wasn't surprised. I felt good.
At three o'clock Kayla came into my land and rummaged around for a little while. I didn’t see her because I was in a secluded pocket in the back of the piece. She was waiting for me at the cache when I came out. She looked anxious. ‘Hey,’ I said, throwing my shovel to the ground and picking up my water bottle to drink from. ‘Do you want good news or bad news?’ she asked me. I looked at her and lowered my chin. ‘Good News.’ ‘The good news is that I will allow you to fix your piece.’ I silently measured the implications of this remark. ‘Are you joking?’ I said. ‘I just walked through your piece and found open holes, at least 25% of your trees.’ She was acting challenging and dissapointed. ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me.’ I said. ‘You know I don’t like to do this’ She said. ‘You have got to be fucking kidding me,’ I said.
I don’t remember much of what was said after that. I kept it together, on the surface, until she left, then walked into my land. I threw my shovel repeatedly, as hard as I could and in no particular direction. I swore at the top of my lungs. It was a full-blown tantrum as I had not released since grade school. Everyone on the block could hear. It was shameful, animal shit, and I regret it. I walked my land, inspecting my trees for one hour and a half in an absolute state. My mind was whirring. The trees didn’t look bad to me, or at least not so bad as to warrant this. ‘This is injustice. Kayla is checking me too hard. It’s not my fault.’
I had had enough. I began to prepare a pitch to my supervisor. It was to go something like this: "Hey Jason, I know Kayla is frustrated with this job, and I am certainly frustrated with this also. There is a problem between us. I don't think she is seeing my trees with clear eyes anymore. I believe that I have become a symbol of her difficulties, and that she will never be able to trust me to just plant. Therefore, she will always resent having to be my boss.
"Perhaps I am a bit of a higher maintenance planter - I am also a fast planter who will work his ass off every single day. That is why I think Kayla should trade me to another crew: a bigger crew, where the person checking me will care also about my numbers and will have something to gain from my speed. What Kayla needs is a slow planter who has perfect trees: I am not that planter. Therefore, it would be best for both of us for me to move to another crew."
My solution seemed perfect. Surely he would capitulate to such a reasonable request. The ride home was really quiet. After dinner, I approached Kayla first, to tell her about my plan, thinking that she too would think this the best course of action. I wanted to get her on board before we went to Jason. I asked to speak to her alone and she said ‘give me fifteen minutes.’ I went back to my tent, sat down, and opened a beer.
On my way back to find Kayla, I was stopped by Jason. He asked me to come have a seat with him, and we walked over to a picnic table away from the hubbub of camp. Kayla came over to join us. I was in trouble.
He began by asking me what the problem was with my trees. I said I wasn't convinced they were bad. I said Kayla's complaints were 'contentious:’ I was unsure as to whether she was a good judge of the quality of my trees. This seemed reasonable to me, but it was scoffed at. Sensing I was in trouble, I quickly maneuvered into my pitch, asking him for a spot on another crew. He refused. I was surprised. I thought if I had another crew boss I wouldn't have quality problems, and he made a point of rejecting the notion that there is any subjective bias in assessing tree quality. Thinking he was bullshitting, or tooting a well established falsehood, I pretended to agree. I was expecting another round of light disciplining, and then he said: 'I think we've got to let you go.'
I asked him for second chance, and he held out the warning I had signed earlier in the day; held it out over a picnic table and firmly patted it down saying that this was my second chance. He told me to pack a lunch tomorrow and plan on heading into town in the morning.
I shook his hand and went and sat on a hill and drank two beers. Then I went to say goodbye to my crew, who I have grown close to. I slept poorly, thinking myself completely lost; unsure whether I would be able to find another job; too poor to head back to New York. I woke and packed up. Jason drove me to the Greyhound station in Williams Lake, and we had a conversation about paintball. I dropped off my bags in a big locker and he said bye without looking directly at me.
I waited at a restaurant for the library to open, and when it did, I started compiling phone numbers. I thought of the irony of being removed from a place you don't even like.
I started making phone calls.