Friday, August 06, 2010

Just When You're Having Fun

Well, I am just sad, sad, sad this evening. We heard today at work that our last full-time concrete finisher is leaving us. Work is so bad that they have had him driving a dump truck on our job, so he found another job with a competitor. Now, for reference, many of our finishers used to work for a couple of different companies at once because pouring concrete is not something that is always done every day. However, our company was once big enough to support probably a couple of dozen full-time finishers. Those days are long gone. He is going to stay with us long enough to finish pouring the sidewalks on the job I'm on now and then he's gone.

We were once so proud and such a good company. We were some of the highest paid carpenters in the biz and still are really. Everybody wanted to work for us. Now, we can't compete with all the others that work nothing but Hispanics for $16/ hour. We were a family. I've thought all day about so many of the guys I have been privileged to work with. Dal, Daddio, Jimmy, Dominecker, Anthony, Big Daddy, the Cobbster, Daddy Rabbit and all the others. Damn, we had some fun. Most of the stories I won't even write here 'cause I know I'd offend a lot of people but we loved working with each other. And we could work like hell; it was nothing to pour three, four hundred yards of concrete at time. That's 40 of the trucks filled to the brim. We had a helluva time at the railroad. The Cobbster was the boss there. At lunch we would all eat in the trailer and he would have us laughing so hard I thought we would fall out in the floor sometimes. He's retired now and I heard he had another 3 stints put in his heart this past week.
Jimmy was a labor foreman years ago. He's passed away now. We like to have gotten run over together trying to direct traffic in downtown Birmingham. Now, he was one of the most unattractive men I've ever known but he always used to brag about being, well, hung. I remember him popping off one day about having 12 inches. Dal busted out laughing. "Yeah, Jimmy, if you measure it like you measure a cat's tail; from the tip to your butthole." I know that's crude but they were so damn funny.

We would nail each other's tool belt down to the floors or bolt their toolboxes down. Or fill all the pockets up with sawdust or rocks. That's what you got for not wearing your tools. One time when I was just a little apprentice I was on the Cobbster's job. I was wrecking some forms and inadvertently chipped the edge of the concrete. Now, he was very particular about his concrete and he saw me do it. He pulled out his pocketknife and held it up to me. "I'll cut your throat if you ever chip my concrete again", he growled in all seriousness. Man, those were the days. He was also one of the most generous men I've ever known. He took good care of his men.

But we are all slipping away now. A few each week or every other. The company might stay around for a few more years but it will never be like it was. We used to hold around 350 carpenters. Now, we might have 25. It's hard to explain the camaraderie of construction unless you have experienced it. One minute you might be cussing someone toe to toe and the next laughing and carrying on. It's not faked though. I think it is as real as it gets. Lord, I'm going to miss these guys. I think I will be one of the next to go. I'm actually the highest paid carpenter on my job, even above the foremen, and in today's market, that ain't good. They got to cut those costs! Most of the guys are already looking for other work. I'll hang on as long as they will pay me but I think the time is drawing very near. Probably the end of this job will be it. Maybe not but it's not looking good. Hell, they even let our personnel manager go because we don't have any personnel left to manage.
The guy on the left above is Head, whom you have heard me speak of before. His head and his feet are about the same proportion, his feet being about a size 13. Thus, the nickname. His little boy turned 3 today. Bama is the guy on the right. He is our crane operator and a real sweet guy.

T-Dog, the guy in the middle, leaves tomorrow to go to a short term job in Tuscaloosa. When one of us leaves a job we always say, "See you on the next one". I told him I would like to say that but wasn't sure there would be a next one. I taught half these boys welding as part of their apprenticeship training. They used to try to get me to go mud wrestling after class so they could win money by betting on me. They were sure I could put anyone down in my weight category. There's so many stories I can think of. They would always put me out when I set myself on fire welding but in the next breath be ragging me about eating tofu and shopping at Wal-Mart. Anthony and Head standing behind the Switchman acting like me (goofy) to try to distract me while I was talking to him. Of course, he could not see them but I could and they would be prissing around with their chests thrown out. I remember going to a company Christmas party and dancing with Hippy. Someone once described Hippies' dancing as a cross between buck dancing and a seizure. They were pretty damn accurate in that but we had a blast and to hear his tales of his younger days and his unfortunate encounters with some Texas Rangers will just make you sore from laughing. They don't call him Hippy for nothing.
This past two weeks I have woken up several times in pain in my joints and muscles. The work is getting to me more and more. I have to take pain meds more often. But I'll hold out as long as I can to work with these guys just a little longer. Hell, we might even go mud wrestling.

*Cock Robin


ErinFromIowa said...

This was some good writing. Simple as that.

Sissy said...

This made me sad too. What the hell is happening with our world? or maybe the question should be: Who is causing all this to happen?

They may take your job, Girl, but they can't take your home; not as is happening to millions. So see how smart your are? Hang in there for when we lose one way, something comes along to level life once again...I hope.
Yes, this is good writing. You always do good writing.

edifice rex said...

Hey Erin! thanks! well, I guess it really came from the heart.

Hey Sissy! thank you! yes, i feel very fortunate that I own all of my place and don't have to worry about stuff as some do.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

You care, Annie, and that what makes your posts honest and from the heart - simple as that. And yu make all of us care too about these people and yourself. You did these men proud and all seem like a great group to know and work with. Happy mud wrestling.

edifice rex said...

Hey Beatrice! thanks: I appreciate that.

Mo said...

It weren't that long ago when construction jobs were living wage careers. That ain't so anymore around here.

Don't understand why it's OK to pay someone who doesn't speak English less than I was making 20 years ago. Seems wrong to me.

Sure is hard to compete when you pay a fair wage, pay taxes, licensing, bonding and insurance.

Quality doesn't seem to have much value anymore either. I was on a job yesterday and the(non-english speaking) roofers were slapping it on quick. Near the ridge the courses were literally 3" off from side to side. Looked like hell (to me) but hey, they work cheap...

What's the saying?
Cheap, fast and good - pick two.

Jenn said...

Yes. The times, they are a-changing.

With all your experience, there ought to be work for you out there. It's the pay cut that hurts.

I'm there, too. I can't charge but the rates from a decade ago. Anything more and my competition eats me.

Are there options for you at the trade schools? I'd bet you are an excellent teacher.

Floridacracker said...

THAT was an excellent post, even though it's probably one you wish you didn't have reason to write.

edifice rex said...

Hey Mo! 3 inches!!!?? good lord, that's awful. but I know what you mean. that's one reason we have stuck with our company so long, is because we have always been known for doing good quality work; it's why we make good money. But it seems people don't want that any more. Like you say, they want cheap and fast, just like everything else in our society.

Hey Jenn! well, I don't know what kind of certification I'd have to have to teach in a trade school. I've thought about teaching welding on my own lots of times. i get a lot of people ask me to teach them. I'll find work, something always works out.

Hey FC! thanks but yeah you're right, i wish it had never come to this.

Jen said...

So sorry to hear that the work is slowing down. I too have done construction work and I love it but my field of work(instrumentation)has slowed wayyyyyyyy down forcing me to take a low wage job. Ive met some life long friends on the job sites and have had lots of fun. I can relate to the camaraderie of your coworkers on the job. Thanks fer sharing yer stories. It sure brings back good memories. ~Jen

Woody said...

Annie..This is a very well written post. There is so much that has changed with our work in the last few years. Not much of it good. There was a time that I really enjoyed going to work. When we used to actually DO what we were hired to do. It seems now we are forced to do more with less in the name of productivity, when in reality we are working stupider under management that couldn't wipe their own ass unless there was a video involved.

I'm just saying..

edifice rex said...

Hey Jen! yeah, it is all just so sad and what is worse is that a lot of it could have en prevented had our office done a better job with client relations. They lost us a bunch of long time customers when they bought the old man out.

Hey Woody! thanks man. Oh, stupid management! I know exactly what you mean. They say they are trying to make it where we no longer have superintendents but let project managers run the job. That will be the day I pack my tools and go to the house.

Loretta said...

Good post! This is happening everywhere, with all jobs. My husband has been a trucker for 38 years. Things have been so bad for the last 3 years we are barely holding on! Rates are down, fuel is up, Mexican drivers are driving for half what we can...the list goes on and on. I wish I knew where it was going to stop.

edifice rex said...

Hey Loretta! Oh, I'm sorry to hear that ya'll are having such a hard time of it but you are right, it's everywhere. I don't know where it's going to stop either but I hope it stops soon!

dan said...

You, Kiddo are an awesome writer. Very real. Just got out of hosp and found I will be crippled for a long time. Bored, I looked up people who like Stevie Ray Vaughn just for fun, saw the Diana statue pic. You know thats in the Guggenheim? any way had that tattooed on my back a long time ago. (I'm old.) I like the same movies and books Sometime when your depressed, (I noticed you get that way occasionally) check out my blog wait till your down.It will cheer you up. I don't correspond much but I found your blog worth reading. Http:// I know I'll be reading yours till I get to go back to work if ever.