My wife has finally decided to organize all of those old photos that she has stored away on that sideboard. She buys albums often, with the promise that the pictures will go into them, so the pile includes several empty books too. Her efforts prompted by daughter to go and investigate this effort. She found one image that gave her pause. A picture of me at a former job (when I was working through college) was her favorite (for that moment). She brought it to me to show her find. It was a candid shot of me talking to another employee named Luis.
Luis and I were the de facto maintenance men of this business. No one else would do it, so the task fell upon us. One time, Luis and I were in a cramped, dark spot trying to fix a piece of equipment. Luis informed me that we did not have the tool for the repair. I had my tool bag, and I thought that I might have it, but I could not see how a part was to be removed. I asked Luis to describe the tool. Oh, that's easy he said. It goes down like this, over like this, around like this, and out like that. This description was accompanied by wild hand movements, and I had no clue. I asked him to provide a more descriptive picture. He repeated the same phrase, but the hand movements were more exaggerated. Giving up, we left the scene.
Some weeks later, Luis and I finished our shift at midnight, so we went out to eat and drink. Around two in the morning, I was driving him home. We were speaking amicably about music, when Luis drove his hand down between my legs. I turned to say that Luis, I am not like that, when his hand grasped a tool from a tray beneath the dashboard. This is it, this is it! Is what, I asked. THE tool he said. What? THE tool. I could not fathom this turn of events. What was he talking about. Frank, this is the tool that goes down like this, over like this, around like this, and out like that. All with the appropriate hand movements. The what, I asked again. He repeated himself followed by THE tool that we needed. I stopped the car, and looked at him. You mean to say this is the tool that we need to make the repair. Yes he said with pride. You mean a phillips head screwdriver? He looks at me with amazement. Is that what it is called? I have to remember that name. Luis, you mean that all of this time we needed a simple screwdriver to make the fix? You couldn't have just said a screwdriver? But Frank, this is THE tool. He holds it up like a torch to light our way. He solemnly says a phillips head screwdriver, emphasizing each syllable. I was flabbergasted. Now, I should explain that Luis had a disorder where certain items he could not recall, but he could tell you a song title along with which album it was from, the track number and side, year of release, and who played on it. For the remainder of the journey home, he held up the screwdriver. He placed it carefully on the seat when he got out of the car. He looked at me, and said remember to bring THE tool to work tomorrow, we would need it. The phillips head screwdriver.
I remembered this tale as I was speaking to an out of state caller. He had found me on the web, and had called to ask me about a problem that he was having. His description was not giving me a complete picture, so I am trying to explain to him my concerns as to possible reasons for his moisture problem. As I was going through my thoughts, it occurred to me that I was giving him an explanation that sounded like Luis' of the screwdriver: one that made perfect sense to me, but totally useless to him. I stopped to regroup my thoughts, and then I found the way to make him understand. He got it, so I was happy.
Sometimes, I have to consider that what I say might not be understood. I will never speak down to a client, but I do need to find the voice to speak to them in a clear way.