screw and tape it


Cut-perfect-print it. Let’s move on!

These are the kind of things you hear on a job site, a real-world job site…if you can hear anything at all.

There are a lot of moving parts at the place where we’ve been working. It’s a little distracting, but that’s to be expected when our little timber-framed bridge is spanning the gulf between a brand new inn and spa. The bridge is right there in the middle, a hand-wrought and humble little epicenter amid all the impending swank.

I’m not a hard-hat sort of guy–never really worked at a site like this before. It’s old hat to some of you, but a real epiphany for me.


I once worked at a place where we used real materials and cut them with hand-tools while pretending to be of a different place and time. Now I’m working at a place where “pretend” materials are meant to look real on a site where time and place are all too real. Funny how things work out.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed:

You don’t make eye contact with other workers very much. Everyone has work to do; everyone has a deadline. No fooling around, No horseplay. Heyhowareya.

April here. I’m gonna be wicked friggin windy. Like errrday windy. It  doesn’t matter that it’s 45 and calm in the parking lot below. I’m April and I’m fickle as hell. Oh, and you’re on high ground between two large buildings? I’m blowing the sand, the wide boards you’re trying to carry, and what’s left of your lunch.  That’s your bag o chips over there on the 9-hole. I’m April and I’m going to slowly drive you scooters.

You look around you at the very earth you stand on–it’s all fill, moved from one place to another to make the site conform to an architect’s (and owner’s) vision. Pre-existing landscape be damned. We don’t give a rat’s ass about what the glaciers left behind. We are humans. We move hills and we make it happen.


Not phallic. Not phallic at all. Party on Wayne.

This newly made landscape, this intermediate step between vision and reality, is a bit of a hellish place. Sand and other debris is being whipped around like some surreal ballet, and every dancer wears steel-toed shoes (recommended) and hard hats. What it lacks in grace (there is certain grace to it all, the choreography of so many moving parts) it makes up in noise and wind and motion. You leave work and you take shit home IN YOUR EYES.

The sound itself is a general din of lifts, saws, concrete deliveries, and drills ad infinitum. It’s fatiguing, if you let it into your head. Put your ears on or tune it out–your choice.

Job-site Detritus & General Din:  Good band names?


Listen–having a job is a good thing. Having paying work which feeds families and takes care of the bills is great. Thanks Captain Obvious! It’s just that working on a site like this makes me REALLY appreciate and respect the carpenters, the drywallers and plasterers, the general laborers, the guys who stand in a 3′ by 6′  box on the end of a 50′ boom applying and scraping and plastering styrofoam from 7am to 6pm every day. These guys are legit. These guys are for real. These guys earn every penny of what they are being paid. I have never seen such hard workers. They work on a site and in a place which most people would find soul-crushing. And though I cannot understand conversations or songs which occasionally float down from their perch, it’s a pleasant thing to hear something organic, joyful and human when the machines have paused for a moment.


Have I mentioned the wind? And the sand?

Oh, here’s a tip for newbies: Slide the lever all the way to the left  in the porta potties when in use. That green plastic door flying open while you’re taking care of business is no way to meet the electrician who’s been working on the adjacent building. Heyhowareya!

Those rubber/fabric gloves that you can get cheapo at the box stores make excellent prophylactics for your block plane. You know, the gloves that you SHOULDN’T NEED in April, a week before the running of the Boston Marathon.

My Boston accent really gets rolling on a site like this. I drop the shit out of my Rs and say Heyhowareya to a few I see going between the bridge and the plastic outhouse. Heyhowareya isn’t anything more than an acknowledgment of another human’s existence. It’s not an invitation to talk about your most recent hernia. Or a cat. It’s not meant to be replied to with anything other than hey, hi, or heyhowareya. We’re all on schedule. We’ve all got a boatload to do. These things I have learned.

It needn’t be mentioned, but we are not exactly the demographic for whom this bridge–and the spa and inn–is being built. That really stands out sometimes. Occasionally, a pair of Dockers will be leading around a tour of VIPS, interpreting the impending whimsy of the place. Not one of them, in the time I’ve been there, has even looked at me, or any of us workers–as they go about their very important ways. Our existence goes unnoticed. It is a casual, possibly studied, disregard of the “help”. Not gonna lie–that pisses me off. These are people working their asses off in the blowing sand and stupid cold for your future cucumber-eyed, mud-faced clients. Give them a nod. Acknowledge them, you self-important douches. And get the stories right about our bridge while you’re at it. It isn’t made from a recycled joli petit pont taken out of the south of France. We made it. The ones here in front of you. Fiction should not be the exclusive right of the well-heeled anway.


Guys working hard.

All that said, I’m a snob when it comes to materials. All of our crew are. We’ve been awfully fortunate to work regularly with real wood. The “beams” in the finished inn rooms are made of a styrofoam-type deal. I understand, in the “real” world, fake beams, fake stone, fake shingles are de riguer. It’s business as usual.  It’s just that the juxtaposition of the hewn oak and its cheaply produced, short-lived cousins is…jarring, even a little disturbing, to say the least.


Some cowboy will be running the big-ass lift, another will be riding the jackhammer, and I feel slightly…inadequate? pulling out my little bag chisel to do a little chamfering. Hey, at least I’m working REAL wood. I’ll just go back to my little bridge and mind my own business now.

I am planing a few edges on the bridge w/my Stanley. The familiar whoosh whoosh sound of plane on pine carries through the bridge during a rare quiet. I can’t help but wonder if the carpenters putting up the composite just over the way hear that, and look up instinctively, a vestigial response of woodworkers at the sound.


Try as I might, the 8 pennies always mix it up with the 10s in my tool belt. Throw in some woodscrews and a few 16s and it’s nail salad  for lunch, as Justin would say.

George, originally from Puerto Rico, drives 2 1/2 hours each morning to get to work by 7 am. His is a friendly face to see several times a day crossing our bridge. We talk about fishing the artificial pond at the site and wonder if artificial fish will go upstream to artificially spawn. You’d never know it  from his kindly demeanor, but George used to box in New York City. These days, though, he’s happy to live against his real pond with his real wife and daughter out in central Mass.

Smack talk, en espanol, is a joy to hear–especially when it’s not directed at me (as far as i can tell). Though I did hear the word “loco”used liberally.

I used my late mother’s Mary medallion as a flat head screwdriver today, lacking both a  flat head screwdriver and/or a quarter. I needed it to tighten the chip-breaker to the plane iron after sharpening. How does this affect my already slim chances of salvation?


Michael was interviewed by a Cape Cod NPR radio station the other day. It’s getting real up in here.

It will work this time (a sand haiku)–

A buried lift truck

Up to its axles spinning,

Not crazy at all. 





The Dinghys


You’re thinking of going to see The Dinghy’s in Cedarville, Mass this weekend, aren’t you? You know, at the BBC at 9pm this Saturday, April 19? You’ll see a lot of friendly faces there. Will we see yours?


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36 thoughts on “heyhowareya

  1. Marie Pelletier says:

    fabulous Rick–

  2. jackbaumgartner says:

    Thank you, Rick. You haven’t ceased to amaze me yet, I don’t expect you will. You almost had me- for a second- thinking back fondly to my hot tar, rubber and sheet metal days- almost. It makes me sad that the men who toil making so many things get so little dignity. Seems kind of backwards.

  3. pfollansbee says:

    Rick – quite timely. After having worked alongside you w real materials for many years, I find myself in the “wrong” environment right now too. we’ll compare notes someday soon. Nice writing you got here…I look forward to your next gig.

  4. John Wolf says:

    Hi Rick, two things concerning time warps and job sites: 1) Do not wear hobnail boots into a porta john or ye will surely slip and go down the hole, and 2) Go ahead and spend the money for a real hardhat instead of wearing your grandfather’s WWI tin hat. It has saved me from grief (and said clang!) several times, but it is heavy and the comments are pointed.

  5. Richard Law says:

    Mad those building sites eh? I once briefly worked for a heating and ventilation company – at a new school, we were ‘installing’ the hot air heating system. The views over Leeds were good of a Winter’s morning. and so were the dripping baps!
    I see there’s a goodly selection of Sam Smith’s at the BBC – Cheers! (Sam’s used to give me headache – probably through drinking a little too much. They brew it about 20 miles from here and all their owned pubs only sell SS branded stuff – right down to mixers (small sodas) and crisps (chips))

  6. billlattpa says:

    Great post. I was a field electrician for years (thankfully for my sake I’m in the office now) and can confirm most of what you said here. Job sites aren’t romantic places by any stretch-loud, dirty, dangerous, hot, cold, etc…Any person who thinks they are has never worked on one. Even worse are the little old ladies that stand 6 inches from you as you are trying to install a new ceiling fan-those moments made me long for a loud, dirty, hot row of stick frames.

  7. Hey Rick,
    Enjoyed the post. Best to Justin. Chris Anderson (aka fast eddy Winslow)

    • Rick says:

      Miss seeing you, Chris. Hope you’re still playing the pipes!

      • Hey Rick,
        Not doing as much as I’d like but still playing the pipes. Heck, I can even play more than three tunes now. Miss some of the gang at the old gig but sure you know how that goes. Keep up the posts and give my best to one and all.

  8. Tico Vogt says:

    I built the exhibit wall panels for the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs a couple decades back. The entire building, once a renowned bath hall, was under construction. One late, hot summer afternoon the museum director and board members walked around, taking note of progress while sipping white wine spritzers. They came into my work area. Hearing their merry voices I glanced up briefly, not expecting there would be any interaction but just to take a break from glue and sawdust. There were a couple of familiar visages but then a pair of incredibly beautiful eyes caught mine and, how should I say this, I was filled with light! The eyes were of the socialite Kitty Carlisle. She was telling me that she valued me and the work I was doing.

  9. Jen Durant says:

    The douches who are paying you may not appreciate you and the MLB crew Rick, but we do!!! We’re right beside you keeping up the fight for using real materials and working with real people!! Keep up the good work!! 🙂 – Jen

    • Rick says:

      Well put, Jenn. It’s a generalization on my part to speak so roundly about those “in charge”. I couldn’t do what they do. And it’s often, I imagine, a thankless thing to manage/run an operation like this. But simple human decency/courtesy goes a long way, I’m sayin.

  10. wordwitch123 says:

    Wonderful writing, Rick! You rock. Different fields, but my experience was so similar in the early weeks working for a courier company after that Place Where We Both Worked. You are so dead-on with “heyhowareya”! I well remember giving a detailed report on what I was doing over the 2-way radio (think “interpretation”) and being told, once I got my finger off the transmission button, to shut up. “Are you clear, 506?” I was asked. Still rocked back by the rudeness (was ANYONE EVER told to shut up at our old job?) I stammered, “Well, yes…”. “Then just say, ’506 clear’, and get off the radio. We’re all working here.” And working they (we) all were – I got that hang of that pretty fast! Another focused, taken-for-granted work group, deadline-driven and highly competent but mostly ignored by those of the upper-class echelon whom we served. Pre-9/11 we often weren’t even ID’d by security because we were “just couriers” (as opposed to what – real humans?). But as you say, a good, well-paying job counts for much, and we sure had a lot of fun in our observations, too!

  11. pine duBois says:

    Just in case you doubt–the river misses you, all!

  12. S-Jo says:

    I dig this Rick. Great stuff.

  13. Kirsten says:

    I’ve never commented on anybody’s blog yet (you might have noticed) but you outdid yourself, Rick! Great post!! I want to send it to all the people who live at the Pine Hills, and then some more!

  14. graemeu says:

    You’ve summed that all up nicely, good to be reminded how lucky I’ve been with my work in years past. There were times when the noisiest thing was a primus stove heating water and the only machinery the receding sound of the chopper that dropped us off or a distant rumble from a pinprick of a starlifter heading for the ice http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_Runway.
    As for the suits – well they just might be intimidated but better to be honest and show no interest than fake it.

    • Rick says:

      Very true, Graeme, thanks for saying. Uhm…being left on the ice? Have you written about these experiences? Can you forward a link if so? We’d love to hear more.

      • graemeu says:

        Damn, done it again, trying to be brief, put the link in because figured the reference to ‘ice’ might not make sense to a lot of folk. No, never made it to Mactown, too many dodgy teeth and aching joints to get a season down there now. Just a stuck memory of working in wilderness and those big planes overhead (a white speck at the tip of a flufffy lance) heading due South; they’re our equivalent of Canada geese, a harbinger of spring.
        By July I hope to have something sorted but for now I don’t have a blog or web-page my only online offering is this http://www.nzgeographic.co.nz/archives/issue-32/island-refuge and that I am afraid is the best part of the article.

    • Rick says:

      So if I’ve gleaned the article correctly, you spent a year as a lighthouse keeper/island caretaker surrounded by a rare creature known as the Tuatara, who is a descendant of both snakes and reptiles at a place which is, in essence, almost inaccessibly situated at the end of the Earth?

      How COOL!!

      • graemeu says:

        “Cool”: glad you think so, everyone should have a time when they live “a life less ordinary” such as you and your colleagues practicing a craft that died out 150 years ago. What a jaw dropper it must have been to tell people you were a carpenter in 17C Plimoth. I was the third “Yogi Bear” after the lighthouse went automatic and only got inside it once.
        At risk of being labeled a science nerd (I probably am) Toots were in their prime when snakes were thinking about going legless but they are both reptiles along with alligators and terrapins. What’s really cool about tuatara is that they have a rudimentary third eye in the top of their head and are pretty much the same model that dodged the big feet of dinosaurs.
        Oh, and because the access was ‘jump’ then climb I made my own IPA, those who new me before say I am “different”. There is always a catch.

  15. Linda Master says:

    First off hahaha! love this post.
    My replies:
    Pretend materials grrrr hate it and those who have no clue….this comment is to like the next 3 paragraphs and it would surely piss me off too….
    Fake pressboard crap…jarring???….head exploding….
    Nail salad and artificial fish- haha had me on the ground!
    And a big heartfelt thank you for the much needed laughs (I lost a fight w/a chain saw, ergo, I am not happy and I hurt)

    • Rick says:

      Right, Linda? You gotta believe that artificial fish w/ a side of nail salad would be great for one’s fake cholesterol levels! And sorry to hear about the chain saw fight. That’s scary and hope you’re good and on the mend. That helps me to put into perspective my crushed fingertip (don’t leave your digits between two, 5 quarter oak boards). Get well–you do great work– http://miraclechicken.blogspot.com/

  16. kwall732 says:

    General Din is a GREAT name for a band…There’s a little eye wash cup that might help with the sandy eyes. Lovely post.

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