Amazing Journey: 6.2

A Nickname Born In Fertilizer


I’ve got a good job

And I’m newly born 

~The Who

The nearly 17 years of employment I had at 4500 13th Court in Kenosha, Wisconsin provided me with an abundance of thought-provoking tales. Some are fascinating, while others are a bit humorous and others bordering on the bizarre.

I assure you, most will leave you shaking your head. I know they did for me.

Not only did it provide me with numerous stories, it also hung a nickname on me that would stay with me long after I completed my career there. That’s right, over forty years later; people still refer to me as “Puddles.”

Here is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on how I acquired this rather unique sobriquet. Please keep in mind that Koos is responsible. It was a sultry June day at Koos. Although I had been working there for a week or two, I was still learning the ropes. 40-pound bags of Ortho’s 28-4-8 were the fertilizer du jour.

My job was to stack these bright orange bags off a conveyor belt onto a pallet in a specific pattern. The finished pallet of bags would weigh a ton. 2000 gloriously heavy pounds. By the way, did I mention that this ton of fun would be completed in less than 5 minutes? Please don’t feel too sorry for me, I had a partner stacking with me at the end of that miserable conveyor belt.

Barring any difficulties, it would spit out 12 to 15 tons of lawn food every hour. Every hot, sticky unpleasant hour.There were two other guys at the other end of that godforsaken conveyor belt. They filled and sealed the bags. It was also their responsibility to keep track of how many bags and pallets we put out. We had been working for about an hour and it was beginning to become more humid and muggy. The sweltering atmosphere must have been what woke our supervisor, Larry Hall, up from his nap. Rubbing the sleepy from his eyes, he stumbled over to our area and asked for our “count.”

Virgil Tucker, the bagger, made up an amount and Larry staggered away satisfied. After he was out of earshot, Harry Leipzig, the sealer, slapped Virgil on the back of the head and told him to make up a proper tally sheet, complete with all of our names.

Virgil quickly scribbled down his name and Harry’s as bagger and sealer. He then looked up from the sheet and stared at my stacking partner and me. It should be noted that Virgil had a bit of a problem, namely hard drugs.

He didn’t know who we were. He was lucky he remembered his own name. So he improvised and gave us nicknames.

That’s when the nickname “Puddles” was conceived. My actual name, Paul Vagnoni, wasn’t even remotely considered. Never let it be said that drug altered minds can’t perform well under pressure.

Still peering intently, he wrote down “Slim” for my partner. That actually made sense, Ryan Babic, “Slim’s” actual name, was about 6’5” and was lucky if he tipped the scales at 150 pounds.

I wondered what Virgil would put down for me. I was a shade over 6 feet tall and quite a bit more ticks than 150 pounds. Okay, a whole lot of ticks more.Virgil gawked at me a little longer, whispered something to Harry and broke into a huge grin of rotting teeth. He then proudly announced, “You’re Puddles” and wrote it on the sheet.

Mopping my moist brow, I boldly asked, “Puddles?” Henry promptly spoke up and said that it was because I was sweating so profusely there were puddles of sweat forming all around me.

Feeling a tad clammy and maybe even somewhat sticky, I had that not “so fresh” feeling and was in no position to argue. I was officially christened Puddles. The name has stuck with me ever since.

Great. Now I am Puddles. Couldn’t I just be me? What happened to good old Paul Vagnoni? That’s all I ever wanted to be. But, I guess it wasn’t meant to be on this amazing journey.