Willie Haugen was a tall blond kid, just started to work at Freedman’s Tool and Machine. The only work he knew up to that point was the farm. And a year at trade school was not enough to educate him about the rigors and hazing a new employee must endure to finally work his way into the pecking order.
No one could doubt his willingness and initiative to work hard. In addition there was a certain innocence Willie possed that left him open to the veterans who thought by virtue of their long years of service made them humorously wise. There were many inside jokes to which Willie was not privy.
Willie watched and listened carefully as Lester Mueller trained him to operate a lathe. Lester was attempting to move the tailstock that not even Willie in his youth and strength could budge.
“You’re doing just fine,” Lester said. “You’re really catching on.”
“I’m trying my best,” Willie said shoving and grunting to move the tailstock. “There’s a lot to learn.”
“We can’t move the tailstock unless you go to the tool crib and get me an flangiprop,” Lester said. “Just go over there and get one. You’ll know it when you see it.”
Willie looked at him for a moment. “What did you call it?”
“A flangiprop,” Lester said. “If ya don’t know how to use one of them you’ll never be a class A machinist.”
“Sure,” Willie said. “I’ll go get the flangiprop.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask where it’s at,” Lester said as Willie moved away.
Willie knew Lester was making sport of him. As he stepped into the tool crib he looked back at Lester and noticed he already had several other old timers gathered telling them the joke he just pulled on Willie.
Later Willie returned with five foot pry bar.
“Is that you’re flangiprop,” Lester snickered.
“Yeah,” Willie said. “What’s so funny? That’s what you wanted wasn’t it?”
Lester slapped his knee. “There’s no such thing as a flangiprop!”
“I don’t get it,” Willie said. “Flangiprop is a Norwegian word for pry bar. My grandpa was Norwegian and was always telling me, (Willie spoke with a Norwegian accent) ‘Willie go ‘n’ fetch de flangiprop. I can’t get de wagon out of da rut.”
“You’re kidding me? Lester said. “Flangiprop is a Norwegian word?”
“It is also a curse word in Norwegian,” Willie said. “Gustab meaten flangiprop gar de frupin.”
“What does that mean?” Lest asked.
“I’m sorry,” Willie said. “But I would not wish that on anyone’s mother and I won’t say it in English.”
“I understand, Willie,” Lester said. “I’ll be careful from now on when I use the word around you.”
“Oh, flangiprop is fine,” Willie said. “Just don’t use it the other way unless you’re ready to fight. Just be careful how you use it around old timers from Norway. Always say first, ‘With no disrespect made to your mother, get me the flangiprop.’ Or you can shorten it my saying, Freepenfruter flangiprop.’ Now say it so you get it right.”
“Freepenfruter flangiprop,” Lester said.
“Are you sure you’re not Norwegian?” Willie said. “You got it right on the first try.”
“No,” Lester said. “I’m German.”
“Ah,” Willie said. “That’s why it came so easy to you. If you were Italian, English, or French I’d know right away.”
“Thanks a lot, Willie,” Lester said. “I go to a bar where a lot of Norwegian’s hang out. I’ll watch what I say.”
“Your’re kidding me,” Willie said. “You go to Olav’s?”
“Yes,” Lester smiled.
“Have you ever heard them sing the song that ends with ‘and the Norwegian’s are all good-for-nothing flangiprops?” Willie said.
“No,” Lester said. “That’s really a song?”
“Oh, well, Norwegians never sing that around non Norwegians,” Willie said. “It’s an old Norwegian drinking song. All you have to do is sing out ‘and the Norwegian’s are all good-for-nothing flangiprops.’ It‘s a testament to Norwegians virility and stubbornness. It‘s a song of honor. It shows respect. Depending on the occasion and mood Norwegians will either cry, laugh, or drink more.”
“I didn’t know that,” Lester said.
“Next time you’re at Olav’s just sing out, ‘and the Norwegian’s are all good-for-nothing flangiprops,’” Willie said.
The next Monday morning Lester came to work with a black eye.
“Oh,” Willie said. “I forgot to call Olav’s and tell them a slav menneske named Lester was coming in.”
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