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Posts Tagged ‘Barbie’

Every industry has them, legendary men who by courage, brilliance, or brute strength and determination have been immortalized by their feats. It’s rare that those excelling at mediocrity are given such acclaim.

Things play out differently in the field of construction; an individual can make a name by being a great job site superintendent, a golden armed welder, a superior fitter, or being strong as an ox. We also reserve notoriety for those individuals that drink too much, or posses a physical male attribute that would make a Barbie doll blush. Even stupidity is awarded with it’s own form of distinction. The tales of these men are passed down from journeymen to apprentice, year after year, in the downtown high-rise projects, in power plants and oil refineries.

Ray became one of those legends. The trades were a male dominated field, even more so when Ray was in his prime. I knew him as an old timer, someone over 55 back then. He was old school, which meant he was outspoken, opinionated and short fused. Women in the trade? Not on your life. He was the stereotypical construction worker with a stay at home wife. Her duty was to him, keeping a clean house, getting his dinner on the table when he came home from work, a lunch packed for him each morning, while he ate a  breakfast prepared by her. A real charmer as my wife would say.

Our day started on the site at 6:45 a.m. coveralls and hard hat on, with tools in hand by 7:00. A typical crew was made up of eight men, six journeymen, and two apprentices,  supervised by a crew foreman, I was one of the apprentices. Ray was my journeymen, we were installing baseboard radiation on the third floor of a 12 story building, when I say we, I meant Ray.

“Gut Damn cub! Can’t do anything right. Gimme dat damn ting!”

Ray had the patience of a badger at a gopher hole. No one could do anything right, and after learning about the new hire in the other crew it was even worse.  A new apprentice had been hired for the basement crew and when Ray found out it was a woman he hit the roof.

I resisted the temptation to throw the flaming acetylene torch at him, instead I carefully shut it off and handed it to him.

“Vot da hell did you shut it off for? Now hand me dat striker”!

It wouldn’t have mattered, if I had handed it to him lit he would have been pissed about that too. Ray was just a grumpy bastard, and everyone on the crew knew it. He was sort of a testing ground for new apprentices, and the last six months had been like… like a return to Munich Germany, June 1940, if you get my drift.

I handed Ray the flint striker; with a quick squeeze a shower of sparks exploded from its steel pan, followed by a burst of yellow orange flame. A small adjustment cleared the soot as the flame went from orange, to yellow, to blue as he introduce more oxygen. He was a competent journeymen, but his impatience with his team made him a difficult man to work with.

We worked on the copper fin tube, moving our way down the wall hanging the tube in the brackets and soldering the tube together as we progressed along. My job was to clean the tube with sand cloth, flux the tube, clean a copper coupling, flux that as well, and hand them to Ray. In six months I had cleaned 6000′ of fin tube and 600 copper couplings, I had used about 2 pounds of flux and was on my 10th fluxing brush. In that time I had soldered about 10 couplings, Ray didn’t think I was ready. Sometimes I would daydream; thinking of ways to accidentally start his thread bare coveralls on fire, or to drop a 24″ pipe wrench off the top of an eight foot ladder on to his grey haired and balding head.

“Hey! Vat are you doingk? It’s break time”.

My image of Ray sprawled out on the concrete floor, the 24″ pipe wrench laying next to his head vanished into thin air. It was 9:30 break. For the next 15 minutes I wouldn’t have to worry about doing something wrong.

At break the crew gathered for coffee, and some kind of light snack. A cookie, or doughnut, just enough sugar and caffeine to get you through the remainder of the morning, until the next break at 12:00.

Rays' steel cornucopia.

Ray’s wife was famous for packing a great lunch box, fresh fruit pie or brownies, roast beef sandwiches with dill pickles, and some kind of dessert, and always two cloth napkins, one for the lap; a fork and spoon plated silver or stainless were wrapped in the other. The crew always looked in Ray’s direction to see what he pulled forth from the steel cornucopia.

Today it was fresh cherry pie. Ray had this ritual, first the cloth napkin was laid in his lap, next the Tupperware pie shaped container, the lid pulled back, and then the unwrapping of the flatware. We waited, and waited, there was no flat ware. Ray pulled out a tin foil wrapped sandwich, a pickle wrapped in cellophane, then a second Tupperware container, it looked like  chocolate pudding. Suddenly there was huffing, and puffing and gruffing, follwed by cursing.

“Gut damn voman, can’t even pack my lunch box right. Vhere is da fork und da spoon! How in da hell am I sposed to eat dis vit no fork!”

In the trades when opportunity knocks, the inspired act quickly. Tim was one of those inspirational kind of men. Grasping at the moment he struck.

“Ray! What the hell? Did your old lady forget your silverware? That’s some shit man, I wouldn’t let my old lady get away with that!”

Like coyotes closing in on a lamb in the pasture, two other journeymen joined in.

“Yeah Ray! What the fuck, I would give her some shit about that tonight when you get home”!

Ray was pissed, indignant about the inconvenience and embarrassment she had put him through. By lunch time he was fuming having to fashion a eating utensil from the tin foil sandwich wrapping  in order to eat his chocolate pudding. The second round of encouragement from the crew did not help the situation.

That afternoon with his wrath focused on the missing fork and spoon, I managed to take over the soldering duties, with his wife on his shit list I could do no wrong.

The next day was Friday, it’s generally an easy day as everyone has payday and the weekend on their mind. Ray was back to his old self, fretting that he may have to redo all the soldier joints that I did, if they leaked. I was back to cleaning fin tube and fittings, and day dreaming about Rays unfortunate demise. By 9:30 I was ready for a break from mister sunshine.

We went down to the second floor for break. I had forgotten about the fork and spoon incident, and so had Ray. The crew each pouring their coffee, casually glanced in Ray’s direction. Ray opened the his steel lunch box, on top a neatly folded napkin, placed with love. Ray removed the napkin, his face contorted like some one had his finger clamped in a vise. The crew leaned forward trying to get a look at what the woman of valor had packed today.

Forks? You want forks?

“Vhat ta fuk is dis”?! Vier is my food!

Ray lift the lunch box and dumped out the contents, it was nothing but forks and spoons. There must have been service for 8.

Tim was the first to speak.

‘Yeah Ray, looks like you told her!

Several other journeymen chimed in.

“Way to go Ray”! So what’s for lunch”!

It was the first time I saw him smile.

“Aahh Fuk you guys”.

Legendary, it doesn’t always carry a metal.

Talk  to you later.

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