Vice Grip

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“Ah man,” my dad said when he saw one of the bolts had been stripped to a chunky round circle on the front tire of my bike. After getting a flat tire earlier that morning, my older brother Scott and I tried unsuccessfully to get the wheel off using a pair of vice grips.

“You’re going to have to wait till dad gets home,” Scott said handing me the vice grips and leaving me sitting on the front lawn with my bike. I continued to try to get the bolt off by myself but I couldn’t do it. When my Dad got home I told him about the flat and how Scott and I tried to get the tire off but couldn’t. He told me to bring it out back to the picnic table and that he would get the tools.

“Five eights Ralphie,” he said selecting a wrench from the tool box. He pulled the bike close to him and started saying how lucky I was that it wasn’t the back tire. That if the back tire needed to come off we had to deal with the chain, and there’s a little link in the chain and you had to find the link and pull it apart in order to take the tire off… Then he saw the bolt and stopped. “If he has told us kids once he is told us kids 1 million times, (I am quoting) that you should never use vice grips…”

Fortunately, I was the youngest of four and had the luxury of a father who had yelled enough at the other three kids and instead, seeing my little lip quiver because I thought I was in trouble, he pulled me close and explained that vice grips should only be used if things were already broken.
“Ralphie,” he said pulling me tighter and pointing to the mangled bolt. “Once you use vice grips on a bolt it’s ruined. Now you’re going to need a new bolt and I don’t think we have any.” My lip started to quiver again at the prospect of not being able to fix my bike, but my Dad just shrugged. “Hard lesson to learn,” he said.

I think about those vice grips, and that poor mangled bolt on the front tire of my bike, every time I overhear a manager yelling at an employee or find a write up in employee file but not an in-service. I always want to pull the manager aside and tell them about the vice grips and how, like vice grips on a bolt, harsh words and write ups have a way of damaging the employee. “Don’t use write ups and harsh words before you try talking, redirecting and most of all, in servicing,” I want to say but I’m usually too late.

“I don’t know what I am going to do with that employee,” the manager says or, “Can you believe so and so just quit,” they say.

“I can,” I think; but I just shrug. It’s a hard lesson to learn.

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