screw and tape it
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.
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.
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?
It will work this time (a sand haiku)–
A buried lift truck
Up to its axles spinning,
Not crazy at all.
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?