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Kissing A Dead Man

Wait... what? That's right, I entitled this article "Kissing A Dead Man." I have done it and I am proud to say that I have done it. In fact, when people ask me...I tell them with a straight face that I have kissed a dead man. The fact that people ask me I if I have kissed a dead man may be rather odd, but the fact that they ask me and I answer them is even odder still.

But, as you know, there is a story behind this sort of thing. That's what I have been doing so far in this group of stories isn't it? Well, I guess I had better buck up and get going with this one, hadn't I? when somebody says something as bold as "I kissed a dead man," the story kind of demands to be told.

Years ago, when I first made management in the grocery business, I worked third shift. That meant that I worked from ten o'clock at night and didn't get off until seven o'clock the next morning. The nights were filled with a lot of hard work. My crew and I used to work like army ants trying to get the store back in order after a busy day of customers raping the shelves.

With customers out of the way, all sorts of non-grocery related work was also scheduled. The floors would need waxed and buffed. The freezer cases would need to be torn apart and cleaned. In the deli department, they would haul the grease traps out and dump them. generally, when closed, a store does all the nasty things they don't want a potential customer to see. Many of these things like maintenance and cleaning were done by outside contracted workers.

A store uses a ton of light bulbs. If you don't believe me, the next time you are shopping, take a look at the ceiling and the fixtures. There are literally thousands of lights; both fluorescent and incandescent. Most of these bulbs are hard to reach, either they are on the ceiling or they are in some out of the way place like a freezer case...and that means they need to be changed carefully.

The company I worked for decided that they could cut costs by hiring a company from outside to change the store's lighting. That means that over the space of a week's time, these guys would come in and change every single bulb that was in the store. From the huge 220 bulbs in the ceiling to the little tiny bulbs at the registers, these guys would slowly work their way across the store. The company also figured out that they could save some money on insurance by hiring a bonded electrical company rather than use their own workers to perform some of the more dangerous bulb changes.

On Monday, the first day they were supposed to work, the crew came in and I met each one of them individually, then I took their boss, a guy named Randy, around the store and explained what was expected. Things were going well, despite the fact that most of these guys were parolees and a few of them were going to be going back to prison. Randy laughed and told me in spite of all that, the crew was a good bunch of dudes.

Our walk and talk took quite some time. The store was 87,000 square feet, so there were many hidden places where light bulbs could be found. This store also was a "Plus" store. That meant that besides normal grocery store items, this store also had house wares, electronics, hardware, automotive, bedding and clothes. For the light bulb crew, that meant a lot of extra lights to change out. For me, that meant I was going to have to keep an extra sharp eye out for thieves.

The light bulb guys got started. They began at one side of the store and slowly changed light bulbs each night, getting closer to the grocery side of the store as the week progressed. On Thursday night, they had made it into the produce department and were now changing the really big light fixtures there. These bulbs were 220-volt halogens and they were designed to be wired directly into their own fuse box--at least that was how it was explained to me. I'm no electrician, so I am not entirely sure. Also, these lights were around 30 feet above the floor, so that meant the guys who were changing them had to use an electrical scissors lift to pluck them out, replace them, and then move on to the next fixture.

Because these things were so dangerous, there were two men on the top of the scissors lift. One guy would turn off the power to the fixture, the other guy would then take the old bulb out while wearing an insulated glove--those bulbs got incredibly hot. After they had replaced the bulb, they would steer around the various grocery items and drive the scissors lift to the next fixture.

On that Thursday, the crew started out in the produce department. Randy, the boss I had talked to the first night, was alone. For the whole first part of the week, he had been running the scissors lift with another guy by the name of Mark. Mark had called off on that Thursday night due to illness, so Randy thought he would do the scissors lift work alone. Big mistake.

For the first half of the night, he zipped around the produce, doing twice the work because he wasn't distracted. He got most of the produce done and was going to move over into the dried goods, but he had only five more bulbs in the back of the store to change out before he could do that. For some reason, he was rushing. I still, to this day, do not know what made him work so fast, I just know that it probably led to his death. See, Randy was alone, so he didn't have Mark there to remind him to turn off every electric box before trying to change out the bulb. On one of his last bulbs, he didn't turn that box off.

I didn't know it at the time, but when he did that, he shot 220 volts through his body and the scissors lift. This had the effect of cooking him literally inside out. He was dead the second he grabbed hold of that bulb, but it didn't seem that way.

Over on the other side of the store, I was building a display and doing my basic job duties, when one of the bulb crew guys came running up to me. "Call an ambulance man," he yelled. "Randy is electrocuting himself!" I dropped what I was doing and sped over to where I saw the scissors lift.

Something curious hits me now, twenty years after I saw all this happen. When you see somebody on television or in a movie get electrocuted their body jumps around and does a little dance. The movie makers are trying to show you how the body loses control when current zaps through the human body, but that didn't happen to Randy. When I came around the corner, I came upon an odd scene that I was not, nor ever would be prepared for. The scissors lift was motionless and its engine or batteries were making a crazy whining sound. Thirty feet above us, Randy was still standing. His teeth were gritted and his hand was frozen to the light bulb fixture. Aside from the whining sound, everything looked normal albeit frozen in time. For all the world, he was just standing there working and somebody decided to snap a picture of him...

One of my stock crew guys gave a start and tried to reach out and hit the scissors lift emergency release lever. I grabbed him and hauled him back, I didn't need two people frozen to that lift and getting fried. I looked around for something to fix the problem.

When tragedy or catastrophe occurs, people will tell you that life slows down. They see things in slow motion during car accidents. They can feel the air blowing past them like a soft breeze when they fall off a roof. Things like that. For me, during those minutes after the discovery of Randy being shocked, things were not like that at all. My mind kicked into high gear. To this day, I don't understand how I became the way I did, but I sized up the situation and began snapping orders to the fellows standing and gawking around me.

You, go get some of the winter coats over there on that rack.

You, call 9-1-1 then go wait by the door to let the paramedics into the building.

You, go get that box, we are going to need to elevate his feet.

You, go get me that mop out of that mop bucket, I need the wooden handle.

I said all these things in the brief span of about three seconds. As if kissed by Prince Charming, the boys on the crew woke from their seeming slumber and leapt into action. To their credit, they all performed their tasks without any grumbling at the young kid barking orders and they did them incredibly fast. I guess they realized the gravity of the situation and knew that speed was God here.

Once everything was assembled, I took the mop handle and used the wooden stick to pop the emergency release lever on the scissors lift. The machine became like a boned fish and dropped down with a clang. Because it had come down so fast, the momentum of the fall made the whole thing topple over with another clang and clatter. Metal dug into the floor tiles causing chunks of them to go flying into the nearby vegetable racks. Randy tumbled out of the machine and rolled to a position flat on his back. His hands were by his side and he looked like he was sleeping.

The boys covered him in coats and elevated his feet. Another guy on the crew named Andy got down by Randy's face and used his fingers to check his pulse and breath. Randy had neither. We prepared to give him CPR. I checked his mouth and throat for blockage while Andy used his fingers to find where Randy's sternum was. One of the light bulb crew guys ran up and told us that the ambulance was on the way.

I had never done CPR for real. I was as nervous about this as I would be if I had to get up on stage and give a speech. Once I was sure his throat and mouth weren't blocked, I eased my head down to start breathing for him. Since this all happened a while ago, I have taken many CPR courses and I tell them flat out before we get started that it is one of the creepiest things you will ever perform.

So I bent down and I did Randy's breathing for him. At first, his body would give little shakes and at one point he tried to talk. I gave him CPR for twenty minutes until the paramedics came and started setting up. One look from the main paramedic and he said "Get up, that guy is dead...he was dead the second he touched that light fixture." I was crushed.

But he tried to talk...he was moving! I told the paramedic. He shook his head and told me that sometimes when a person gets electrocuted, there are still little bits of signal floating around the body. These signals can come out in funny or odd ways. Randy's signals chose to escape as nonsense words and a few flicks of his wrists. No, the paramedic told me, he was dead and he had probably been cooked inside out by the massive charge that went through his body.

After the paramedics had arrived, I got up and got my boys back to work. I then went to the office and called my boss. He wasn't very happy, but he was understanding and decided that he was going to come in to take charge of the fallout that was sure to happen as the young day got older. The light bulb crew used the phone and called their own boss. He was going to come in as well.

The day ended and I went home at seven in the morning to my empty apartment. I was very shaken up by what had happened. Finally, around 2:00 p.m. I called the store to see if there was any news. My boss told me that yes, Randy was dead and that he would take care of anything that needed attention. I should just take that night off and get calmed down.

The funeral was held three days later. It wasn't much of an affair, Randy had been cremated and his wife didn't even show up to the proceedings. Later, I visited her just to see if there was anything she needed or wanted. She was kind of angry with me. I couldn't understand why. She let me in her shitty apartment and told me to sit down on the sofa. She explained to me that Randy dying had been the best thing to ever happen to her or her kids.

What? I asked, incredulous.

Yeah, she said. Randy was a wife beater and had hit her the very night that he had died. The abuse had been going on for years and she had been thinking of taking the kids and running, she just never seemed to have the guts to do it. Now, Randy had made it so that she wouldn't have to make such a choice...he had killed himself through his own negligence. Also, a few months later, the electrical company settled out of court with her and she had received a large sum of money from them. She had won...

And I had kissed a dead man.