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Monday, Mar. 27, 2006
Ugh. Ouch. The very bones of mine carcass doth ache today.

It isn’t hard to get me to do work. Not really. Manual labor for a carpenter is very much a part of the game. You know that going in. A lead carpenter tends to not have to do quite so much of it, since by definition there is a sense of hierarchy there, and a helper or two somewhere nearby to do the more mundane stuff.

But it doesn’t always quite work out that way.

On Friday the boss (of me) tossed me an assignment, a mission. I’ve taken to calling him the Tall Dog although there is nothing canine about him, he is quite the tall fellow, and the Alpha Dog of the pack so to speak.

“Got a quick one for ye, Outfoxed,” he said. “A one day hitter. Run out to Suffolk and install one room. Finish up that whole job for us and pack all our stuff out. Been out there for months and they’re itchin’ to get us outta there. Lil’ Bobby will help ye.”

Now it should be known that the Tall Dog is behind on his field work. The shop can pump out a fair amount of cabinets every day but it’s all for naught if the guys out in the field can’t get it installed in a timely manner. It’s the reason he advertised for help in the first place, and the cause for my employment. It stands to reason that my first few weeks here will be full of firefighting assignments like this.

Also, a ‘one day hitter’ implies something simple. A handful of cabinets, a lot of standing around with the superintendent and assorted hangers-on, tales of job long ago flowing past our lips like cheap wine on a lazy Friday afternoon.

Fridays in construction are like that. It’s the wind up day. Afternoons are relaxed and cheerful. If problems arise they’re usually waved off until Monday, or Saturday at worst. The whole aura is one of grins and winks because come Friday night, the whole industry goes out and gets loaded. It’s a necessary thing to do, we need conversation material for the week to come.

Come Friday morning, I pulled up to the Suffolk site and Lil’ Bobby dropped the door to the hauling trailer and I audibly sucked wind through my teeth. For inside the trailer there was a veritable house worth of cabinets. 23 boxes, to be exact. And they all had to go on the 2nd floor. He and I were, at the time, outside in the street.

“Well now,” I mused. “There’s a days labor. Pretty fair One Day Hitter, there.”

Lil’ Bobby, all 5 foot nothing of him, was fearful. “They want us to put this stuff in there in one day? You’re kiddin’ me, right? The Tall Dog said that?”

“Yup, ‘fraid so. Oh, and he wants all the company stuff out, too. What you got, a saw or two and some scraps?”

Lil’ Bobby blanched. “Sheeyat, we got a whole room fulla stuff! Take most of the day just to clear it all out!”

I nodded. I’m supposed to be the leader, the calm yet efficient force. I toed a cabinet, jerked a thumb toward the building, tapped an imaginary bat against my steel toed shoes and stepped up to the plate. “Best get to it, now then.”

The fortunate thing was that Lil’ Bobby might be short of stature but he is a working machine. Cabinets came a-flying out of the trailer, up the sidewalk and into an elevator. I rounded up my cart full of tools and wheeled them upstairs, donned battle gear and twirled the hammer into its holder like a six-gun into a holster.

It was one of those sort of days where the hardest thing to do was to purge the mind of any notion that this wouldn’t happen. 23 cabinets in a day isn’t impossible at all. Stu and I used to routinely set that many before the mid-morning break. On a couple of occasions our crack crew of 4 set as many as 80 in a day. That’s what a well coordinated team will do, and think little of it.

But this wasn’t a team. Not yet. I hadn’t had the chance to break in Lil’ Bobby, to teach him the subtleties, the placement of hands and the shifting of weight, the exact moment to hand me something without my having to ask, to know what my low-pitched grunt might mean while tossing a 100 pound cabinet on the wall.

And besides, he was busy hauling stuff. This was gonna be a solo act.

The base cabinets went in fast, and the countertops plopped down on top of them. But between setting 10 bases and 3 tops, shooing away interested bystanders and tracking down the super to confirm a couple of things it was already 11 o’clock. I got Lil’ Bobby to help me with the first wall cabinet, torqueing it this way and that until it was level to the world then shooting it to the wall with 4 deadly screws.

After that, it was all me. I removed the doors from the wall cabinets, hoisted them aloft to set against their neighbor while balancing them on one knee with a foot on the countertop, shifting them on the wall ever so slightly until they aligned perfectly with everything then screwing them together. It’s a delicate dance, 100 pounds worth of box having to be tamed with fingertips and a screw gun, a heavy toolbag strung around hips and sweat running down your face and landing in a puddle inside the cabinet. Repeat 12 times.

It’s one of the reasons I never joined a fitness club, you know?

3:30 pm Friday. The boxes are hung. There’s doors to be put back on. Backsplashes to be set and caulked in. A tremendous mess of sawdust and wrapping to be bagged. Door handles to be put on. The whole completed assembly to be adjusted and cleaned with a foul smelling chemical. Tools to be packed away and toted to the waiting truck.

I walked, at 5 pm.

That, dear readers, is what you call my usual day.

And if I can get my back realigned and my legs unkinked, I’ll get to do it again today.

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