Jon dug manically, determined to sink the pole for our new mailbox before sunset. We had been preoccupied with building our new house and had neglected the chore of putting up a mailbox. For the past two weeks, our friendly country mailman had navigated the long, hilly driveway and set our mail on scaffolding or atop piles of lumber littering the lawn. But this was above and beyond his call of duty. Besides, it was time to put up a real mailbox and announce to all that we were part of the neighborhood.
"Isn't that deep enough?" I asked, looking into the pit Jon was digging.
"This pole is eight feet," he replied.
I looked down the road at the neighbor's mailbox pole. It stood about three feet high. "Why not cut it in half? The hole wouldn't have to be so deep."
"I don't feel like taking the time to saw this heavy pole," Jon grunted.
So instead he was digging a five-foot-deep hole. I contemplated this logic in silence.
"Did you read these little orange flags the phone company put up along the road?" I asked. There was no decipherable reply from Jon, just more grunts as he plunged in the posthole digger.
I bent down and squinted, reading a neon orange flag in the dimming light: "Caution: Buried cable. Contact Digger's Hotline before digging."
"Did you call the digger's hotline number?" I asked. "You don't want to hit a phone cable."
Jon paused for a breath, wiping the sweat from his eyes. "They'd have to be idiots if they buried the cable this close to the road," he remarked in disdain and plunged the posthole digger into the cavernous hole again. As it struck bottom, we heard a thud.
"Must be a tree root," said Jon, heaving the digger above his head with both hands and thrusting it down again. There was another thud.
Jon shone his flashlight into the deep hole. "Uh-oh," he said flatly. He looked over at me. "I think I hit the cable."
Jon had sliced right through a telephone line, severing communication to our house and the homes of several neighbors. He drove to town and called the phone company on a pay phone. They promised to repair it the next day.
"How much will this cost me?" Jon asked sheepishly.
"Well," drawled the guy at the phone company, "we use a backhoe to dig a hole big enough for a repairman to climb in and splice the cable. The backhoe alone is $100 an hour."
"Can we dig it ourselves?" asked Jon, horrified at the potential cost.
"I suppose," the phone man replied, "but make sure it's big enough."
That night I felt like a character in a low-budget horror film. By the light of the moon, Jon and I took turns digging a gravelike hole along Highway K.
As the moon rose, so did the walls of our hole. Neighbors slowed as they drove past, wondering if we were covering up a murder or engaging in a bizarre pagan ritual. My dreams of fitting smoothly into the neighborhood diminished with each shovelful. At midnight, Jon pronounced the hole large enough.
"Here's how you play it," he said over breakfast the next day. He was going to work, leaving me with the humiliating task of explaining to the repairman why we had ignored the flags.
"These phone guys are usually old, overweight men." Jon ignored my look of incredulity at this stereotypical comment. "If you just pretend that you dug the hole and play the ignorant woman, maybe wear those cute green shorts of yours, they'll probably feel sorry for you and won't charge us so much."
My jaw dropped. Was this the liberated, thoughtful man I had been married to for 20 years? Jon refused to meet my eyes, and the reality of the situation dawned on me.
"You're embarrassed," I chortled. "You, the master electrician, the house builder, the jack of all trades, are mortified that someone might find out that you knocked out telephone service for half the township."
"I'm late," he said and skedaddled.
Later that morning I held up my very short, green shorts. Shaking my head, I slipped on my frayed denim cutoffs instead. Flirting with the phone repairman to cover my spouse's mistake went completely against my grain. But I knew we couldn't afford a bill of a thousand dollars. Out the window, I glimpsed the white van of the telephone company.
As I walked down the drive, I felt nervous. I hadn't decided what tack to take. Flirting was out. The idea of playing stupid stuck in my craw. Maybe I could pretend we hadn't seen the caution flags. The problem was that there were 10 of them sticking up along the driveway.
Suddenly, a petite, attractive young blonde climbed out of the van, a tool belt strapped to her waist. No old guy followed her. We shook hands and pleasantly exchanged introductions.
"So, let me guess," she said. "Your husband ignored our flags and got a little carried away digging a posthole for your mailbox?"
I grinned. "You've seen this before?"
"Many times," she said.
In less than two hours, phone service was restored. We later got a bill for $400 - expensive, but not as costly as it could have been. The lessons my husband learned, however, were priceless: First, shed stereotypes - they are unfair, inaccurate, and unhelpful. Second, read signs, especially those in neon orange.
Now when I need to caution my husband and persuade him to think before he acts, I just whisper in his ear, "Digger's Hotline." It works like a charm.