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Friday, Sept. 02, 2005
Back home today, Thursday on the road was a series of mini-frustrations that, if nothing else, convinced me that I was indeed working. Construction is, after all, the solving of frustrations. Much like most other work. Wouldn’t be called work if it wasn’t.

Stopped at the 24 hour gas station at 6 am yesterday and saw (oooh!) that their gas price was $2.79 a gallon. Reasoned, having heard that it was at least $3 back home in Swampland, that I would just go ahead and fill up the front tank. And lo, a tanker truck was filling at the time.

“Can’t let anybody pump no gas while the tanker’s here,” drawled the sleepy attendant to my query. “Lessen, of course, you want premium. Got all kindsa premium. Yep.”

Well I wasn’t about to hand around and watch the gas flow, so I bolted. Around 11, I poked my way back to the station and, surprise, it was $3.05 a gallon.

Bastards. And no, I didn’t buy gas. Just the principle of the thing, I tell ye.

Had a little moment of half-in-the-bagism last entry, talking about helping the Nawlins area. Doesn’t make it any less true. I read one blogger expressing the same frustration about the initial rescue efforts down there. Several thousand Cajuns with boats, tools, big trucks, backwoods savvy folks with ties to the area and the authorities wouldn’t let them in to help out. To pull their neighbors out of a jam.

I wonder why this current crisis is attracting so much consensus by committee when a little more action, a little more kick-ass is in order. I guarantee you that not one soul who is stranded down there, thirsty and hungry and sitting in the cesspool cares one whit whether they’re helped by somebody with credentials and the proper insurance or somebody named Orwin Thibadeaux in a 16 foot jon-boat with a couple gallons of clean water, some bologna sammiches and a twelve pack of cold beer.

So goes the continuity of thinking in America. Money and regulation before compassion and common sense. Get in line folks, join the herd.

I was at that point of the job Thursday where, knowing I was gonna pull out regardless, I was actually pretty happy. Happy doesn’t usually work too well on a jobsite, you want a mule with blinders stoicism so that you can plow through the work at hand, set yourself a pace and stick to it.

The electrician noticed, of course, as I bopped around early in the day.

“Comin’ back tomorrow, Woodpecker?”

I smiled. “Can’t do it, Spark. Runnin’ out of stuff to do, and besides, I ain’t getting’ stuck up here on a Friday before Labor Day and have to deal with that traffic. You know the drill.”

“Uh. Yeah, I reckon you’re right. But I tell ye sumthin’ you don’t know.”

“What’s that?”

He pointed towards the helmet perched on his head. “It’s hardhat Thursday. You got yours?” I hadn’t seen him wear so much as a baseball hat to date.

“Hardhat Thursday. What the hell is hardhat Thursday?”

“Well shoot, you oughta know. Come Thursday the contractor sends down a coupla suits to look the job over and make noise about the schedule, piss everybody off. But the big thing is the hardhats. If you ain’t wearing, they get all kindsa antsy. Suppose to wear ‘em all the time, like the sign sez.”

There was indeed a sign at the entrance to the site, there always is. Hardhat Area! Construction Site! Keep Out! Replete with yellow caution tape and a handy translation into Spanish.

Now, I hate hardhats, always have. My normal time on a job is spent when danger from falling debris, pipes or immigrant laborers with poor balance skills is long passed, and a firm ceiling is in place. The biggest airborne danger might come from a flying apple at lunchtime. They’re hot, they pinch the head or wind up falling off anyway when I’m pirouetting my way around a ladder with a nail gun and three handfuls of wood trim.

But contractors are cowed by the wonderful folks from Workers Comp. “Wear the hardhats,” they say. “No excuses. Wear ‘em or we‘ll jack your rates for being idiots.”

Plus, a lot of it is a holdover from the preliminary days on the job, where the macho wore the hardhats as a badge, a sort of “We’re the ironworkers and we wear helmets” bravado, and no doubt an ironworker needs one. But a painter, a wallpaper hanger, a trim carpenter? Pshaw. They’re about as necessary as steak sauce at your Saturday crab pickin’.

“Hardhat Thursday,” I mused to the electrician. “Well, at least you made a holiday out of it. What are they gonna do if they catch me without one, send me home?”

Sparky was dubious. “Dang, I dunno. Might.”

“Well wouldn’t THAT be a pity.”

But I’m a team player sort of guy, and when the super came by with a similar nervous request, I went and got the damned hardhat from the truck, where it rests in solitude for just such occasions. And sure enough, the suits showed up not long thereafter, sparkling white hardhats with company logos shaming my filthy one with many scratches from having been skidded across many a concrete floor. Flung in disgust plenty of times, I assure you.

Eventually, the dynamic pair of construction execs strolled into my lair, strewn far and wide with lumber and sawdust and saws perched on stands. I was cutting door trim at a brisk pace, humping it to one room or another, hitting the stepladder and sticking it in place.

Like most construction suits, regardless of their past involvement in the trenches, their minds were clouded with the heady rush of being in charge, of wearing crisp clothes and a shiny hardhat, of going out to the jobsite and mingling with “the boys“. I was in that world for a long while. It tends to play not very well with the boys. Or girls, as the case may be.

I was blowing through the room with two sticks of trim, a flopping toolbag and a chin dribbling sweat and, in their suitley way, they were IN the way. Like right in my glide path and not moving. I didn’t like that overmuch.

“Beg pardon fellas. I’m not holding you up or anything, am I?”

“Eh?”, they replied, in a ‘It speaks!’ sort of way.

“I mean, I’m not troubling your space bubble here with my trim and my hardhat or anything am I?”

They babbled. Holding up the worker bee is a real no-no in this world. “Oh, gosh no, sorry . . .” and they scattered like chaff before an onrushing, if portly and sweating wind.

I couldn’t shake ‘em, which is unusual. Normally when you get testy with good cause, the suits will flee the area not to be seen again. But these two stood around, murmuring about progress and flow charts and change orders and god knows whatall.

They obviously needed a refresher course in Outfoxed OldTime Construction Etiquette. A class administered , and faithfully taught, by yours truly. I didn’t invent it, but by golly I’ll damn sure enforce it.

First to happen was the compressor, which normally only kicks on with a mild roar when air is used for a few minutes, but a stealthy loosening of the petcock valve tends to make it run on, and on, and it’s a fairly quiet unit as compressors go, but annoying after extended play. Next was the chop saw, and a quick spin of the miter handle directed the sawdust in a pretty arc toward the suits. Did you know that if you’re careful, you can grind the wood sideways for even more spray?

Then it was the banging of the 24 oz., a casual glance might make it seem like I was adjusting a two part wood template but the careful eye would find only mindless hammering in a whack whack whack . . . . WHACK! pattern.

But the coup de grace, unscheduled but beautifully executed, was the air hose laying in a big puddle of filthy sprinkler waste-water in the middle of the hallway. I don’t know why it happened to be sitting there, but it damn sure needed to be moved. And moving it with a sharp lasso-like snap, as two pair of Gucci’s just happened to be passing by . . .

Let me say this. They discovered their powers of flight. And left the area, where they had little business anyway, at a rate which could only be described as rapid.

I gave them a minute to flee, and tossed the hardhat on top of a pile of off-cuts. Worked in pleasant silence for a couple hours.

The superintendent happened to stroll through after a time, an older lad who favors Budweiser shirts and hasn’t seen a dentist in an interminable time. “How’s it going Outfoxed”?

“Going? Everything’s just ducky, chief. Y’all doin’ okay?”

“Uh-huh. Suits walked through, said the trim looks good. They say anything to you?” He said this with more than a casual tone, and a sideways look to me.

“Nope. Didn’t have much of nothin’ to offer, truth be told. Left kinda quick.”

The super sighed. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You didn’t hurt ‘em much, did ye?”

He and I are of one mind, even though he is on one side of the picture and I on another. He’s been in the battles. Knows the history. In another world, he and I might even be co-workers with the same title, the same knowledge. Driving company trucks and directing worker traffic. Wearing shiny hardhats.

But not today.

“Naw, hurt ‘em? Why, that wouldn’t be right, would it?”

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