The Construction Guy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
True stories of life as construction worker. Reimagined from the perspective of a central character. Character struggles with the hardships of his job and a life he desperately wants to change. Written as journal entries, often hilarious, sometimes dark and brooding. Offers an insightful look into the world of a true blue collar worker.

Submitted: March 30, 2015

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Submitted: March 30, 2015

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The Construction Guy

By Daniel Hancharyk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In the modern world, the stupid are cocksure, while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

-Bertrand Russell

 

 

Entry 1.

 

If you don’t work in construction, you don’t understand.  You won’t understand, and there’s no way you ever could.  Whether you sit in an office, putting pen to paper, dieing of carpal tunnel and too much commuting, whether you work in a school, commandeering oversized and underattentive classes of children, looking that bratty child’s bitch mother in the eye through a mask of compassion and professionalism, whether you work in a restaurant waiting tables, a second class citizen validated by random charitable donations, it is nothing like where I work.

 

I am a construction worker, a builder of concrete structures, a skilled labourer, a rough carpenter.  It is out of necessity, not desire, that I toil, and exist, trapped between two mental states, two layers of reality in which, on one hand, I persist in reliability and consistency, and on the other hand sustain inner turmoil and introspective conflict.  The result is that I float, in a paradoxical state of funk.  I long profusely for change, purpose, inspiration, direction and focus; for something better.  To pursue my dreams, to be an artist, to reach for the proverbial stars.  But to do so would mean a direct challenge, a conflict with the network of defense mechanisms and the rigid confines installed in my daily routine, that keep me tethered to my life of moderate comfort and predictability.  Above all else, I need that mediocre but reliable cheque every two weeks, for without that, I would have nothing.  So I cling to my morning coffee, and search the daily horoscopes for meaning, and strap on the heavy leather boots and dusty coveralls in the effort to make the best of it. 

 

You see, I don’t want to be a construction worker.  It is possibly the last thing I want to be.  But there’s no way out.  I’m trapped.  And so here I stay.

 

Entry 2

 

I take the bus to work, every morning at 5:50am, and in the afternoon I take it back home.  I used to drive a car, but between gas prices, insurance, and maintenance, I found public transit to be the more economical, not to mention environmentally conscientious, choice.

 

Actually, I lost my license driving drunk one too many times, so now I am trying to save up to pay off all the fines, penalties and impound fees I incurred as a result of being busted.  So it will be sometime before I can drive again, and I am forced to commute via public transit.

 

Each ride on the bus represents a new adventure in human interaction.  One morning on the bus I held a conversation with a fellow bus rider, also a construction worker, who was having a particularly upsetting morning.  Although, being an ironworker as he was, I imagine that just getting up in the morning was upsetting for him.  I could tell he was an ironworker because he had boarded the bus, already equipped with all of his work gear, including rain gear, hard hat, high-visibility vest, wire spool and linesman pliers.  Behind him trailed a length of steel “tie” wire, which had unraveled from its spool, inadvertently scratching and snagging nearly everyone in the vicinity of his path.  He had scarred leathery hands and smelled like an extinguished cigarette and day-old rain.  He looked unkempt in a general way, like one who lived a hard life every waking moment, out of necessity.

 

When I’m on the bus, I have a strong tendency to comply with the unspoken, and collective, rule of contact; where a passenger must attempt to avoid any type of contact, including eye contact, at any cost without crossing into the boundaries of utter rudeness.  However, to my disappointment, but not shock, my newly aquired travel companion does not adhere to any such code of conduct, nor does he seem to even be aware of the existence of anything like it.  As such, he almost immediately engaged in a one sided conversation with me.  I looked around, as if to assume he must be directing his attention elsewhere, and to see if anyone else was available to provide an audience.  No one was.  He started out talking about the weather; a meaningful topic to those of us who spend the entirety of our 8-10 hour day in the elements.  We could look forward to another day of relentless rain, he mentioned, a bleak, soggy and dark day, exactly as the previous four had been.  No chance of escape from the cold, the wet, and the chills.  It would mean spoiled cigarettes and runny noses, a day of miserable cold buried in a long week of endless toil and saturating discomfort.  This prospect seemed to awaken from deep within  him some sort of desperate and repressed rage, and the conversation quickly turned.

 

A dark cloud seemed to gather above the man in the crowded morning bus, and the air became violent.  He was talking about bike lanes, and traffic, and the ills of public transit, and suddenly about taxes, and how taxes were killing him.  As he continued, his level of anxiety escalated, to the point of furious frustration, practically yelling that the average guy was being fucking robbed, and that the money they were stealing from him was just going to the faggot parades and goddamn junkies and welfare recipients down on Hastings street.  This behavior was not any kind of shock to me in any way, as I have grown accustomed to it occurring around me daily at work.  I almost find it comical at times, the amount of ignorance my contemporaries display.  This time, however, there was nothing remotely humorous about the demeanor of this maladjusted ironworker, and he got a strange look in his eyes.  I noticed his voice hush slightly, but increase in intensity. 

 

“It makes me so fucking mad, what they’re doing, man.  I’d like to go down to goddamn city hall with my fuckin’ hammer, start bustin’ some fucking skulls open, ya know?  Every one of those fucking cocksuckers…just bash their fucking skulls in!  FUCKING COCKSUCKERS MAN!!!”

 

Although still not really alarmed in any way, due to the regularity of this kind of shit in my everyday work life, I became very uncomfortable.  Fuck’s sake, man, we’re supposed to be carefully avoiding eye contact right now, and you throw this at me?  This is not a person who responds to subtle hints either, so no amount of averting eye contact, being curt, or appearing bored and uncomfortably annoyed would send the message.  People were staring, not that he noticed, and many had the look of alarm and/or disgust.  But what could I do?  i was the victim here, but was being wrongfully mistaken as an accomplice.  I had to say something.

 

“Alright buddy,” I interrupted, “I gotta go, this is my stop.  Good luck with that.”

 

“Yeah thanks, eh,” he responded with a toothless grin.  As I picked up my bag and exited the bus, he called after me, “Hey take ‘er easy bro.. and if she’s easy, take ‘er twice!”

 

Entry 3

 

There are many aspects of working in the trades that would make most average people uncomfortable.  This is well known, that construction involves such hardships as intense physical labour, harsh weather conditions, a certain amount of danger, and a certain amount of intolerance in the environment.  But what most fail to realize is, that it goes way beyond that.  It’s a different world in here, a different reality.  It’s not bad weather conditions, it’s being up to and beyond forty stories above street level, hanging off the edge of a shaky scaffold, nothing separating you from the pavement but the cold, wet grip on the steel frames you’re hanging onto, and the wind threatens to push you over and the rain pelts you relentlessly, soaking you to the bone, to the goddamn soul.  It’s not the strain of back-breaking labour, it’s the constant mental burden of a whole crew of guys who think they’re one half a rung up the hierarchal ladder than you, and who intend to step on you in their hurry to pass you on their way up.  And it’s not the danger, it’s spending the majority of your waking hours in a hateful environment of misery and bitterness, of temper tantrums and pissing contests and racist jokes and misdirected and perverse sexual energy.  Christ, I’m a vegetarian; try telling that to a room full of sweat-stained dudes who think vegetarianism is some hippie bullshit for fags.  Imagine yourself in that situation, and now you’ll be halfway ready for the abuse to begin…

 

Entry 4

 

I’m at work today, and like many days, somewhere between coffee and lunch, I find myself having to shit.  There’s no nice way to say it, no euphemism that will soften the impact of talking about the deed.  Especially not in this industry, where potpourri, air fresheners, hand towels and even flushable toilets, simply doesn’t exist on site.  It’s just the porta-potty, the elements, and you, which means in the summer it’s like a fecal sauna in there, while the winter makes your “go” cold, and clammy.  Either way it’s a miserable experience that most try to avoid at all costs.

 

So I’m at work, struggling away in the wet and the cold, and nature calls and I can’t ignore it.  So I drop my tool belt, all 40 sopping pounds of it.  I make my way to the uninviting cold of the blue and white plastic box that is our shitter, de-layering as I go a (I’ve got about 4 layers of clothing on, including rain gear).  The gripping aroma of ammonia greets me before I even open the door, and I cringe, but there are no other options.  I open the door and step in…  The first thing I see, written at eye level in big, bold letters, are the words “YOU ARE GAY” with a lovely illustration of a big cock accompanying it.  Lower down, and only slightly less obvious, some clever soul has written “Fuck niggers”, just to show how smart and funny he could be.  I cringe again, but it’s still not the most offensive thing I see.  The vandalized wall includes the phrase “Rob eats baby dicks”, referring to our hated foreman Rob, who just had a baby boy.

 

Few things in life could be considered more disgusting than the multi-coloured mound of shit I see before me, which is practically overflowing out over the seat.  I can’t even sit, so I hover over the seat, the smell of ammonia overpowering me, choking me.  I want to get this over with as soon as possible; I’d rather be out in the rain, freezing.  As I squat and wait for this horror to end, my eyes wander over the various scribblings, the cigarette butts, the water condensation that clings like liquid fungus to every surface, the crumpled up wads of wet newspapers… and finally, the toilet paper dispenser, which is empty, which means I’m fucked.  There’s no toilet paper.. THERE’S NO FUCKING TOILET PAPER!!!!  I feel a desperate rage rising up inside me.  I don’t know what to do.  In a panic, I rip up the cardboard roll into small pieces and carefully scrape what I can off my… self.  I stop to contemplate suicide.  I consider quitting my job, right then and there.  I start to feel tears well up.  I curse and vow to make somebody pay for this.  Only one thing left to do now; I reach up and tear the sleeve off my t-shirt.  Once more I cringe, and try to get this mess over with.  It’s 8am.  Only seven more hours to go, how much worse could this day get?

 

You have to laugh about the utter unpleasantness of the things you are forced to deal with in this job.  You have to let all the burdens roll right off your back, or they’ll crush you.  You have to stop to reflect as to whether you are simply a failure in life, stuck in a job you hate but can’t leave, the hopes and dreams you harbored only a few short years ago all but forgotten.  You have to stop to realize that every man that has come before you, every man whose sweat and blood and guts have gone into the buildings we live in, they have all had these feelings, they have all endured these hardships, they have all been there.  And you don’t know whether they all deserve your respect or contempt, and you don’t know if you can take it anymore.  But such is life.  You can think of a dozen clichés that describe your lot in life.  So you “keep on keeping on”; you stick to what you know.  You “grin and bear it”, but you never do what you really want because your dreams seem so far away.

 

You take a shit, but you don’t hope for toilet paper.  You struggle to find a way to cope, to carry on.  You become more and more calloused.  Then as you wonder if things will be this way forever, you find yourself simply wishing for the end.

 

Entry 5

 

We sometimes have a lot of laughs at work.  Spending so much time labouring and braving the elements lends itself to an environment where tensions are always stretched thin.  Testosterone levels are through the roof at all times, as there will be anywhere from10 to 40 or more men working in close proximity to each other, coming from all walks of life including in large part the “seedier” side. We spend a lot of time together, often in dangerous situations and stressful scenarios.  It gets a little gnarly, but laughter relieves the tension and builds camaraderie, so we take the laughs whenever we can. 

Things can get pretty silly sometimes, guys goofing around, getting crazy a little bit, and weird a LOT.  With no public ears within range, the conversations get pretty lewd, very raunchy, sometimes more than a little weird and generally perverse.  Consider this sample joke that was written on the porta-potty wall:

Q.What did the cannibal do after he dumped his girlfriend?

A.Wiped his ass

…and another:

Q.What words does a girl NOT want to hear while giving Willie Nelson a blowjob?

A.I’m not Willie Nelson!

 

Sometimes the laughs and gags come harder, more aggressively.  Some guys go to great lengths to push the joking and tomfoolery to excruciating limits, dropping bad jokes and obscene comments like toxic farts in confined spaces.  Sometimes the laughter doesn’t stop until long after anything is funny.

 

My partner thinks it’s absolutely hilarious to get me all worked up about things, so he persistently engages me (or entices me) into these stupid arguments that are completely non-sensical and based on ignorance.  Do you know how often I hear that algebra is completely irrelevant bullshit that never actually occurs in real life?  This coming from a so-called “carpenter” whose trade is fundamentally based on Pythagoras’ theorem.  How many times I have to hear about useless random facts that are cited from the indisputable authority of TV documentaries, which of course are the world’s paramount source of information.  And did you know that reality TV is absolutely real?  Nothing fictional or made-up there.  For the first time in history, one can finally believe everything one sees on TV, because apparently that shit can’t be faked.  Classic rock is the only “real” music.  Smoking marijuana is actually good for you in every way.  School was the biggest waste of time ever. 

 

I work with assholes.  And it’s funny to them.

 

The number one things that bonds each one of us to each other is the fact that we’re all in this together, like it or not.  We may not care for each other, or even like each other, or understand each other, or even want to occupy the same space as one another.  But at the end of the day, there we are, together.  Not everyone makes it.  We work together through situations where we get so close, you can literally feel the sweaty heat coming off the back of the guy whose got your life in his hands, operating the tools and equipment that could do so much damage should he fail or falter.  It gets tough, and it’s a lot to handle, for everyone.  Even when you want to murder the guy next to you, you still have to be responsible for his safety and well-being.  And so you laugh together, and groan together, and toil together, and there we are at the end of the day, together.

 

Entry 6

 

I was off work for a couple days recently, as I was dealing with a painful infection and was in no shape to work.  These were not banked sick days; they were not paid for.  In construction, if you miss days, you miss out on pay.  It’s a double-whammy.  The days that I missed happened to follow a long weekend, however, which automatically arouses and initiates rumors and rumblings amongst the rest of the crew as to the exact nature of your absence.  It’s just too coincidental for the suspicious nature of a group that doesn’t generally get paid leaves or even regular vacation time.

 

So I walked onto the site, with expectations of being on the receiving end of much ridicule and harassment.  My fellow employees didn’t disappoint, of course.  The first person to greet me was my work partner, who happened to be talking to our foreman.  They both say “hi”, too enthusiastically I think, as if they’re surprised to see me, and I respond flatly with a shortened, if not exasperated, “Morning”.  I stop to talk to them both, as I must in order to find out what’s on the agenda for the day.  Not even thirty seconds go by before another crew member passes by.

 

“How’s the yeast infection man?” he casually inquires, without even looking back or stopping to hear my answer.  I shut my eyes and swallow my pride, but I can feel my partner and foreman snickering.  I had not gone into detail about the nature of my ailment to anyone from work, and in fact had been fairly careful to avoid mentioning anything specifically in order to avoid embarrassment and misunderstanding.  The reason for this is that I had been down and out with an infection of the kidneys, which had come from an infection of the bladder, which was a result of a urinary tract infection.  And to a typical construction worker’s ears, that translates into two simple facts:  1.  I obviously have a defective and inferior penis.  2.  I have the same thing that their girlfriend had once.  It’s an invitation to torment and ridicule, and therefore I hadn’t let anyone other than the site superintendent in on my little secret.  But they all seemed ot know anyway.. it was almost as if they could sense it the way a predator can smell fear. 

 

Another member of my crew walks by, and shoots me a sly and cruel sneer.

“How’s your pussy feeling today, bitch?  Get all the sand out after your little vacation?”

 

It’s feeling great guys.  Thanks for the concern.  I’m so glad to be back.

 

Entry 7

 

Every day I think about quitting my job.  Every day I question whether I still have a soul or not.  There is always something to complain about, and always someone complaining.  Every one of us plays the role.  When there is nothing to complain about we make generic complaints as a joke.  My personal favorite is when the sun shows its elusive face to complain that it’s too hot. 

 

I still dream of a better life, but it’s almost as though I’ve forgotten how to love the things that once inspired and motivated me to dream.  All I know is that I hate construction.  I could never fully succumb to the pure mundane reality of getting up at an earlier-than-should-be-allowed-by-law hour, making your lunch the night before, drinking coffee only from a thermos, going to bed early and not being able to sleep in past 7am on weekends, wearing coveralls and wool socks every single day, never having a conversation about politics that didn’t involve the legalization of pot, and the watching of, and discussion of, the local sports team as the extent of my cultural musings.  I simply never wish to become “that guy”; the construction guy, the one who fits everybody’s stereotype.  Grizzled and loud.  Simple and hard.  Intellectually handicapped.  Predicable and inflexible.  It just seems so utterly boring, and unglamorous.

 

I’ve all but let go of the fantasies I could once see played out in my mind’s eye, the visions of playing music famously, and scoring big in the NHL, and winning large with supernormally attractive women, of being an artist, an intellectual, a star.  I used to think I would be somebody famous, somebody who mattered.  Instead I get treated like just another idiot among idiots, and I have become utterly mediocre and devoid of any inspiration.

 

Every day I question whether I can continue on this path.  Every day I get home from work and wallow in my own self-pity.  Every day I grow to hate myself more while I sit stagnant and wait for a salvation that never comes.  I do nothing, while my heart blackens with dreamless contempt.  But what the fuck, I still have bills to pay, and I need money for weekend binge drinking and recreational drug use, so I get back on that stupid fucking horse (or is the horse getting on me??) and do it all over again every single day.  I get up, grab my coffee and wait for the bus, dreading every minute.  I carry on, and life laughs at me.

 

Entry 8

 

One of the great challenges of working in construction is maintaining a positive outlook and not succumbing to the constant and unflinching negativity that looms over every one of us like the relentless rain clouds in the sky above.  The work itself is, of course, very hard, the hours are usually long, and the conditions are unforgiving.  It can be like living in a country western song every goddamn day.  But that’s not what kills your spirit.  It’s the negativity, that crushes you and strangles you, and grows in you like a cancerous tumor, until it cripples and consumes you, and you’ve given yourself to it like an addiction.  That darkness, that negative outlook, that persistent anger, it lurks constantly among the shadows, and once one person gives in to it that darkness will spread like murder.

 

The reality in construction is that the money is comparatively good at entry level positions, so it attracts a lot of men, who need neither education, literacy, people skills, or any familiarity with modern technology to get a half decent paycheck every two weeks.  In construction they don’t judge you for being young and stupid, for having no teeth, or for being a convicted felon.  To be a labourer in construction, the only requirement is that you show up, and any idiot can pick up a shovel and trade their blood and sweat for up to $20 bucks an hour, as much as an accomplished chef in an upscale restaurant.  It’s a no-brainer… and for those who are able to advance up the hierarchical ladder, one can make a very respectable living and be the envy of all the younger, poorer idiots that you get to boss around all day.  But for most, the young and the poor, the old and stubborn, that opportunity never fully comes, and before long you start to grow old and fall into that role of the everyman where you work too hard for too little and life just becomes hard, and long, without much really to look forward to except a lifetime of hard work, day in, day out, and probably (according to your demographic) a lot of debt to go with it.  This reality is perpetually looming, ensuring that one must constantly walk that fine line, the border of sanity and insanity, the difference from happiness to contempt. 

 

As in many walks of life, once you are in, you may never get out (with much).

 

This knowledge, coupled with the physicality of the work, the testosterone it produces, the harshness of the elements, and the disconnection from the general public, makes for a very volatile environment; where negativity spreads like disease in a rat’s nest.

 

There is no escape…

 

Entry 9

 

Fuck this shit, seriously.  Fuck everyone.  I hate this and I quit.  Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!  Fuck it, I’m so done…

 

Entry 10

 

I get up in the morning before almost anyone else.  My alarm sounds at 5:30am, but the ritual of getting up begins much earlier.  Usually I awaken at around 3:00, then 4:15 and then 4:45, each time rolling over half asleep to reach for my cell phone (which doubles as my alarm clock) and see the time, wondering while the alarm is not blaring.  Upon realizing that it is not yet time to wake up, I close my eyes, desperately hoping for that gentle current to whisk me away again for as long as possible before I have to face the cold of the morning.  When the alarm finally does sound, I hit the “snooze” button (more than once) to postpone the actual act of getting up until the last possible minute.  I’ve never been a “morning’ person really, and getting up at 5:30am every morning is something I will never fully get used to.  It is only with an elaborate and lengthy ritual that I am able to do it day after day.

 

This morning I get up feeling tired, as usual, and old.  I feel like every movement is a chore, leaving me short of breath like some old wrinkled and forgotten balloon, deflating with every fragile moment.  I’m not even in my thirties…

 

I know I need to exercise more often, which seems a bit absurd considering the physical nature of my job.  Like would I really want to go hit the Stairmaster after walking up and down multiple flights of stairs, multiple times per day?  I think not, but I could use the extra cardio to offset the smoking, more strength conditioning to offset the drinking, and stretching/meditation to offset the silent rage that burns constantly inside me like some metaphysical acid reflux.  I burn a large amount of calories each day, but don’t exercise body and soul; I sustain tension like some perverted yoga stance, static and inanimate, until the day is over and I go home and unwind on the couch in front of the TV and just sit there, not moving, not blinking, not doing a god damn thing, retreating from the day for as long as possible.  The couch is my friend, my lover, the one I long for and commit to.  And it’s come to this…

 

Entry 11

 

I’m not a happy person.  I get angry a lot.  I feel bitter toward the world.  I consider most people of the general population to be stupid and annoying.  I am almost always frustrated.  I react emotionally to every little thing.  I feel like life is not fair…

 

But I know what it is.  I know why!  It’s because, if you want to be really honest about it, I am just a very average person.  In abilities, achievement and ambition, I am nothing more than the mean, the average.  The best I could ever even hope to be is about the middle of the pack.  No matter how hard I try, I’ll never really rise above the rest.  It’s not much to be cheerful about…

 

Entry 12

 

Sometimes, we have women on site, working alongside us men.  This may seem like a strange and perhaps shocking statement, but the fact is that it is still pretty rare to have women on site on a daily basis.  You can make your own assumptions about the various implications this has on everyone.  Essentially, the result is that everyone reacts in a predictable manner, falling into stereotypes like the great crashing trees of a dying forest, with all the progressive finesse of a metaphorical chainsaw.  Honestly, when people say that stereotypes are often earned, this is what they mean.  The toothless old sleazeballs bring their creepy charm, the typical chauvinists (the vast majority) talk about how they would fuck the tits off her and rip her a new asshole, but only when she’s out of earshot, the middle aged foreman with a daughter her age is all smiles and sweetness, even flirtatious when she’s around, but after she leaves he turns to you and tells you to suck your own dick and why the fuck are you taking so long.  What is that called… oxymoron? 

 

“Let’s go princess,” he bellows, veins seemingly ready to burst beneath the skin of his neck.  “What’s the fucking hold-up?  I got mother-fucking concrete coming!!!  Get those panels up, nail those bulkheads, get your fucking thumb outta your ass ya little cocksucker!!”

 

While the homo-erotic imagery that this little discourse evokes is, at least, titillating, I swear we are in a time warp that goes back fifty years.

 

So…

 

There’s this girl on site with us at the moment.  She’s in her early 20s, and has the body to prove it.  And though by my normal standards she isn’t exactly a real looker, I am finding myself distracted by her presence.  She wears these tight yoga pants, low-cut tops, perfume, and even mascara.  I don’t know, maybe she’s a waitress by night and doesn’t bother to change before coming into work in the morning.  Or maybe she doesn’t notice that everyone else is wearing fucking overalls and sweatshirts.  Or perhaps she is fully aware that she works on a large site full of strong and simple men, most of whose eyes turn every time that push-up bra bounces by.  She definitely doesn’t strike me as the feminist type...

 

Or maybe I’m the Neanderthal in this situation now.  Am I the one who is really being judgmental and ignorant? After all I have no evidence to suggest that she is doing anything other than working hard like everyone else.  I have no concrete reason to believe that she engages with anyone on site any way other than professionally.  Maybe I’m being a little presumptuous about how everyone is acting around me, choosing not to notice my own actions…

 

The scent of perfume finds my nose, my eyes dart laterally, cautiously (as not to be detected), lustily finding those pushed-up breasts, then the curve of the cut of those tight fitting pants.  She walks by me; her eyes don’t meet mine.  I smile at her, she doesn’t even glance my way.  She’s just going about her business, doing her job, expecting that I’m doing the same.  I feel cheated.  I want her to notice me.  I get a little pissed off.

 

“Fucking dumb bitch,” I mutter, and get back to work.

 

Entry 13

 

The culture that exists in construction is made up of a real variety of people.  That may seem a bit of an odd statement, given the seemingly narrow scope of individuals that typically fall under the rafters of the building industry. The fact is, people from a variety of different walks find their way here, people with varying degrees of intelligence, skill, tolerance, experience and cultural diversity.  I’ve met men in construction who are shockingly bright, able to design and build and comprehend complex structures and ideas that others of us (humans) can only take for granted.  I’ve worked alongside guys who could manipulate tools and materials in such a way that greatness seemed to spring from their hands effortlessly, and their demonstrations of pure skill and understanding made you want to smile, and stand up cheer.  I’ve known some who could speak multiple languages, others who traveled the world.  I’ve seen those who’ve seen it all, and I’ve worked with them, sweated with them, ate beside them, bled beside them, stood next to them from the break of day and into the night.  They are my other family, and like the ones I love, I didn’t choose them, nor them me, yet here we all are together day in day out.  Some of us hate others of us, or understand others of us.  There are those among us who don’t fit in regular society, those who are crazy, stupid, antisocial, violent and mean.  I’ve known criminals, murderers, gangsters and thieves. 

 

This one day at work I walk past two labourers, sweeping and shoveling debris into garbage bins as they talk.  One is muscle bound and dark skinned, and scoops up bits of broken concrete, rusty nails, discarded danger tape and wooden off cuts with the stiff aggressive movement of a pit bull on stereroids.  The other one is a fat, heavily tattooed white guy, sweatily pushing a broom at a lazy pace.  I catch bits of their conversation as I gather material for the work that I’m doing elsewhere.

 

“…Yeah, I was in there for almost six months, fuckin’ sucked man,” says the fat one.  He mentions a few names, presumably of fellow inmates.

 

“Yeah you know some of those guys, man?  Yeah I was in there with ‘em.  I got pinched with some heroin, a bunch of rock, and a couple balls of yay, all prepackaged up of course.  But I was lucky man, I had David Watson as my lawyer.  All the ol’ boys use him, he’s the fuckin’ best.  He’s the reason I only got six months man, I’da been fucked without him.”

 

They talk more, exchange prison stories and ingenuine laughs, working hard but somehow hardly working.  They discuss each other’s plans for how they are respectively planning to get fucked up on the weekend, and one tells the other, not too subtly mind you, that he has some killer weed for sale and that they can sample some at lunch break.

 

I exit the scene with a stack of lumber in my arms.  This is who I work with, this is who I spend my days with, this is my other family, that I didn’t choose but still have to live with.  This is what we do.

 

Entry 14

 

One of the things that bothers me most about my job is that it makes you dirty in a way that most jobs never could.  Not that I mind getting dirty; you cant work In construction without being willing to get a little mud in your eye and grime on your hands.  Still I dislike how it makes you dirty to the point where it saturates your very lifestyle and identity.  Infinite amounts of dirt, sweat, sawdust, silica dust, form oil, petroleum grease, spit, cigarette smoke and diesel exhaust permeate my daily existence.  Wearing wool socks and heavy leather workboots can only make your feet smell one way, and it isn’t a good way.  Similarly, wearing rubber and neoprene work gloves for eight or more hours daily can produce an odour that resembles sour vinegar that can’t be removed from your hands for hours, just like your old hockey gloves did.  The smell of silica dust, a carcinogenic by-product of concrete drilling, grinding, and chipping, has an asphyxiating  affect that is not putrid, but nonetheless repugnant.  And the dust covers everything and hangs in the air like a thick, choking fog.  All these working together to make life rancidly miserable.

 

I admit, I’m a little sensitive about personal odour.  Ever since my grade seven best friend told me I smelled like “number two” when I came back from the bathroom one time, I’m self conscious as hell that I smell disgusting.  I mean even though I can’t do anything about it, it does bother me, and I feel like it makes me lesser in a way.  I feel like it’s something that keeps us separate and alienates us from all the “normals”.  I am instantly distinguishable as a construction worker when I am in public on a workday.  I notice people noticing me, avoiding me, when I get onto the bus every day after work.  They instantly identify me as someone who trades their heart and soul for measly amounts of dollars, who has to get dirty to do their job, and I recognize their disapproving glances at my dirty, dusty, disheveled appearance and gaggingly odorous constitution.  I feel sorry for the people I sit next to on the bus, who inch away, trying to keep as much space between us as possible.  I now know what homeless people and degenerates feel like when they get too close to normal people on the bus…

 

Going other places in public after work can be worse.  What if I have to go to an appointment at the bank, or pick up groceries from the store?  What happens if I should cross paths with the woman of my dreams and I get this one shot at true happiness?  Not much when you look and smell like a scruffy wet dog.  No matter what I do, after work in my state of filth, I feel like a second rate person.

 

It’s a small part of my day.  But it’s a big part of my life.

 

Entry 15

 

Today was a shit day.  In fact, the last couple of days have been shit.  Things have gone wrong; production has been down.  Worse, the quality of the product we’ve been turning out is gone down the shitter completely.  A bad start to the week, and the weather’s turned to shit to boot.

 

I’m definitely feeling myself making a shift now.  I have somehow begun the slow transition from “stupid young guy” to “company man”.  I am slowly settling into a position of career oriented perspective, where my concerns

Are geared toward

Are more likely to include

Are a significant reflection of company policies, along with the establishment of my career sustenance and leverage…

 

Yet part of me still wants to be a young punk and not give a fuck.  I don’t remember why, but somehow I still have a wild desire to wreak havoc in my own life, to reject a normal life, to refuse to settle down.  So I come in hung over once in a while.  I play hookey randomly, on occasion.  I’m tardy.  I’m inconsistent.  I lose my temper.  I get caught up in all the fucking shit, despite my greatest desire being to avoid and float over all of the shit.

 

I start to judge people (and their worth) based on their effectiveness, usefulness, and ability to fit in with the “good ones”.  I suddenly seem to have no time to wonder uneasily whether I am actually becoming one of “them”…

 

Entry 16

 

Today is Friday, but it’s a shit day.  I don’t exactly know why – I can’t place it – I just have this ominous feeling.  ENNUI.  Yeah, that’s it, whatever that means.  A problem at work. No big deal, dealt with it… or let my partner deal with it is more like it.  Pay day, thank god, but it just isn’t quite enough somehow.  As if it ever is…

 

At home, I feel lazy, I feel tired, I feel drained.  I’m so glad it’s Friday, but at the same time, I have nothing to look forward to.  Such a pathetic lamentation the story of my life is.  A rat race.  A cluster fuck.

 

Some time passes.  I am alone, a little drunk, a little stoned.  Aimless, restless, listless, I begin to stew in my own anger and self-loathing.  I can’t decide whether to start slamming whiskey or just go to sleep.  I can’t decide whether to stay in and watch a movie, go out and try to get laid, or simply slit my fucking wrists.  I pause to consider.  I envision blood running down my forearms; I can almost feel the violence of the slashing action, but I can’t imagine, or won’t, the pain that such a ripping of skin and flesh would incur.

 

I jerk off, reasoning that it may help to relieve some tension.  It simply leaves me feeling dissatisfied.  Very rushed, aggressive, and uninspired.  Plus now I feel pathetic.  I can’t even satisfy myself!  I’m too lame to do anything but sit at home alone and get drunk and jerk off on a Friday night.  Why is it that masturbation is such a glorified, sexy endeavor when women talk about (or do it on the internet), but it’s not so hot when a dude does it?

 

In my indecision I inadvertently start surfing the net, wafting through the time killing, intellect-numbing media, sifting through praline photos and high fructose links of random brain candy.  I begin to wonder, what is worse, your brain on drugs, or your brain on the internet?  I feel myself regressing intellectually, so I take another drink.  Might as well start on the whiskey.

 

Well beyond the critical point of no return, I realize I’ve gotten too drunk, so I resign to turn on the TV.  I can’t decide what to watch; it’s all just a big digital mess anyway.  Looks like I’m staying in to watch a movie after all…

 

Entry 17

 

I have a problem with people.  All around me, they rush around and plow and plunder and sow and seed and waste and want and leave me behind in a maddened daze/fuming mess.  The masses rush by in their furious rat race, and I fail to conceive of a scenario where I could even start to fit in with them, but that’s a familiar song.  Thus I am left behind to wonder if I’ve failed utterly, or conversely, managed to break free; and who makes up the rules anyway, for they seem to constantly change.

 

The problem evolves from here.  I can’t keep up, and I grow to resent the whole (rat) race.  Sitting, fermenting, I can no longer remember happiness, but I float along.  I don’t try to move forward, because I am feeling overwhelmed from just trying to keep from being trampled, which is exhausting.  The real irony, at the end of the day, is that I am just so deeply bored that I inadvertently invent ways to sabotage my own life.  Am I not better than this?  Do I not deserve more?  Meh… I guess not.

 

I grow bitter.  I hate my fellow man.  All around me I look and think to myself how fucking stupid people are.  I left sarcasm behind years ago, now I just full-out hate.  I left alcoholism and drug addiction behind as well; they could not poison my mind and corrupt my heart because this raging anger possessed me completely.  This anger that grows..

 

The fucking slow driver in front of me, making me late on my morning commute

The moron at the coffee shop who wastes so many valuable seconds smiling and chatting instead of making my coffee and bagel

The fucking sheep waiting like idiots for the bus

All the blinking cell phone screens and the unblinking, hunched over people who can’t put them down

The jerk offs with their suits and fucking office jobs

The entrepreneur who makes an easy million while I slave away for peanuts

The fucking parasite homeless guy who asks me for change every day on that street corner

“Get a job!!”  I think, reassuring myself subconsciously that I am so much better.  Like getting a job could bring any sort of betterment.

 

Everyone I work with, I hate.  All the friends I no longer have, I resent.  Until it makes no sense, and I alone am miserable.  Until all I have to cling to is this anger, and darkness, this familiar path, this fucking job.  Until life has passed me by and I am finished.

 

Entry 18

 

Often times on the construction site, as with many other industries, there arises animosity amongst the workers, and workplace drama and politics ensues.  Guys try to leverage themselves against others to further their own interests, whether for egocentric reasons or otherwise, and soon there’s rivalries, alliances and every other underlying sociological phenomenon you can remember from reality TV.  The larger the crew, the more dramatic the effect becomes, until the culture reaches a point where there is reason to believe everybody is “talking shit” about everybody else, and no one is immune.  Turn the corner and there’s someone talking about what a stupid sack of donkey shit his coworker is, and round and round it goes. 

 

In a situation like this, the proverbial “shit” really flies around, covering all.  It is then that a nasty, vicious side of human nature begins to creep in and infect like a bubbling festering rash of soul sucking malady and emotional muck.  For most, avoiding the maelstrom of melodrama gets pretty hard, as emotions heat up and egos pound their metaphorical chests.  People’s egos are at stake, peoples’ reputations are at stake, and in some cases even people’s jobs can come to be at stake.  It is not unheard of for tensions to run so high that arguments, threats, and physical violence (as in fist fights and stranglings)  result.  This in turn can lead to people quitting, and getting fired.

 

Their will always be those people who cause trouble, stir the pot, spread their cancer, and clash with others.  There will always be drama of some kind, and with testosterone levels as high as they inevitably are, it’s just something you have to learn to live with.  In our world, it’s to the teeth.  You can’t let some jackoff fuck with your bread and butter; it’s your ass or his.  Guys are gonna scream and yell, utter threats, talk shit, and have little cliques that are gonna push you out.  So there you are.  Push back motherfucker.

 

So there was this one occasion, I made a mistake.  I fucked up.  Normally, I pride myself in my work and consider myself to be a cut above the rest.  I think I’m smarter than most dudes, and I play it up too cause I’m not that fast, which I would otherwise take flak for as most value speed over quality or accuracy.  But on this one occasion, I installed two cast-in-place doorframes backwards.  Yeah, not so smart.  I have my excuses; the foreman was screaming at me, as was the lead hand, to hurry the fuck up.  They rushed me, and I got rattled.  I didn’t double-check my partner’s work, whose job it was to assemble the respective door packages before installation.  An unfortunate mistake, literally set in stone (well concrete), and costly, to the tune of thousands of dollars and several man hours.  The grievous error of my ways did not cost me my job, but it didn’t take long before it felt the affect of it.  I was bumped from my position on the “core team” which is a pretty enviable position, and dumped onto the table stripping crew, which is just straight, dumb labour.  Bumped and dumped!  But that’s not all, the worst part was that suddenly no one was talking to me.  The foreman ignored my presence.  The lead hand shunned me; and around the corners and out of earshot, I could almost distinguish visibly the hunks of bullshit flying from the mouths of the other crew members, gossiping like old hens, at my expense.  I could see them all, talking softly to each other, laughing and shaking their heads, smiling about something; and I knew it was all about me ‘cause I seem to be the only one not in on the joke.

 

Now normally, my approach to dealing with problematic people is to crassly yell that they should go fuck themselves with a sharp stick, for if there is tension, I feel it best to raise it to a critical level straight off the hop.  But this time wasn’t like that; there was no confrontation, no direct aggressor, nobody said anything, but there was something unspoken but universally acknowledged buzzing around like a fly just out of swatting range.  I just kept wishing that someone would at least approach me, and have the decency to openly criticize and belittle me face to face, just to give me the chance to defend myself, to attack someone else, to end the silent accusations.  How long would I have to endure this outcast scenario?  I longed for things just to go back to the way they were before.  But it was months before anything changed.

 

Human nature is inevitable in its ability and preoccupation with puncturing the bubbles of society and flushing out the scapegoats.  But what of the real culprits…  Does it even matter who they are?  I think not.  The real loser is the one who takes the blame, despite who’s really at fault; the guy who carelessly forgets to be the first to throw his workmate under the bus.  Did anyone else stop to think that I’m the victim here?  A victim of society, of human nature and its ugliness, of the tragic tendency of mankind to destroy its own?

 

It’s getting harder for me.  The older I get, the longer I stay in this rut of a career, this catastrophic environment just wears on me and I want to give up.

 

What is wrong with me?

 

Entry 19

 

Something that has always intrigued me, or at least amused me, about the people I work with is the contradictions that abound in personality types, ideologies, and everyday actions.  People never cease to surprise, in good ways and bad, and the moment you think you know just what somebody is all about, they’ll do something to make you laugh, or cuss, or shake your head in disbelief, or occasionally to stop and give your head a shake, and wonder just who knows what anyway.  We have some amazing specimens in this gig, I can assure you.

 

Generally speaking, the construction industry is known to consist of men (women are still a minority at best) who are somewhat rough around the edges, tough and rugged, more adept with their hands than articulations, and well versed in the areas of common sense and work ethic.  The construction type is thought to be the man who is more prone to drink beer and talk sports than to take in a local production of musical theatre; the type of man who is more likely to grunt than to opine on the physiological and spiritual benefits of a good cry or yoga session.  Nobody expects to find a group of philosophers and poet laureates on a construction site, and it follows that the majority of construction workers are more akin to what we may euphemistically refer to as “old school”.  Now one might make the suggestion that this means the group would therefore tend to be unbending, conservative, hard as nails and non-contemporary.  Of course, such a suggestion would be a wild, if not vulgar, understatement.  Make no mistake, RACISM is alive and well here.  BIGOTRY and HOMOPHOBIA are alive and well here.  BULLYING, THREATS, AGGRESSION and HARASSMENT are still just a fact of life, and all types of political incorrectness and inappropriate language are most definitely alive and well here.  Christ, if you thought that only teenage boys go around telling everyone about their exaggerated dick size, you’d be drastically wrong.  The fact is, there are grown men with families and shit who still feel the need to “intimidate” others with their phallic overcompensation. 

 

Sometimes I feel like I’m in some kind of a time warp, like when you go to the bowling alley and the décor hasn’t changed since the ‘80s and neither has the music, or when you go to an auto repair shop and there are old pictures of bikini girls with feathered hair and hi-tops, still clinging to the faded walls.

 

I remember being a labourer, a novice, an entry level worker, the least skilled and experienced of the crew, the “low end of the scrotum pole”.  All the guys with more experience, more seniority, more clout, would scream, yell, and abuse me, as was their right given that I was a greenhorn.  “Where the fuck’s the new guy?  Where’s my new little BITCH?  Hey, doughhead, you call this done?  Are you fucking shitting me!?!  You haven’t finished chipping down all this concrete, and there’s still a shit-load of garbage to clean up, and I told you to clean up those 2x4s and stack them over there LIKE A FUCKING HOUR AGO!!!”

 

At this point, he’s shaking with anger, and yelling loudly enough to be heard over all the banging hammers, buzzing power tools and rumbling machinery.  But it continues, “You fucking useless, dickless waste of time.  You don’t just do half your job and then walk away!  When you fuck your boyfriend, do you stick half your dick in, or do you get right in there and finish the fucking job?  Now get fucking moving and hurry the fuck up!!

 

As he storms away, I think to myself that there are two things I can take away from this encounter:  the first being that if I am not able to perform to the expectations of my “superiors”, then that somehow makes me a homosexual, and therefore useless.  Secondly, the individual I am taking orders from clearly HATES me and would like to make my life as miserable as his.

 

Obviously, the implication here is that this guy calling me derogatory things is simply a homophobe, among other things, and I am troubled by it.  But it is just so commonplace here that I have to learn to somehow pick my battles.  My mind recoils; I’m not even gay, why am feeling harassed and abused?  With my mind flushed with questions of social justice and ethical obligations, I head to the shitter for a pee break.  I walk in and see no less than four separate depictions of penises, drawn on the blue plastic wall.  There are no sketches of tits, or asses or vaginas.  Just cock, balls, and more cock.  This is odd considering the people I am surrounded by…

 

As I return to my task, another worker taunts me, “Hey sweetheart, you finished there yet?  You know you can come clean up my mess aaaaaaany time,” he sneers as he grabs his crotch and licks his lips.  For a second, I see an image of his stupid face grimacing over me in twisted ecstasy as I choke on his sickeningly hot jizz.  Then I wonder how it must feel to actually BE gay and have to put up with this kind of shit for no reason other than other people’s insecurities.  I lament my existence a little more, until this guy named Chad walks up behind me, slapping me on the ass.  “How’s it going handsome?  You don’t get an ab workout like this for free anywhere else, do ya?  ‘Cept when you’re BANGING of course, right?  Hahaha..”  He walks away, with a little wink and a genuine smile.

 

As I stand there, utterly confused and coincidentally hating life, the carpenter who chewed me up and spit me out only minutes prior, walks past me.  However, there’s no acknowledgement of what (so) recently transpired.  It’s like he’s a completely different person.  “C’mon bud,” he says, putting his arm around my shoulders, “it’s lunch time, take a break.  Get yerself outta the rain for a half hour and get some food in ya.”

 

Like he’s my best friend now.

Like he gives a fuck.

 

Maybe I just won’t come back after lunch.

 

Entry 20

 

Just in case you think you had a bad day at work today, I’ve got a story for you.  Maybe your secretary made a scheduling error, or maybe your sever timed out and you couldn’t finish that email.  Maybe that table of construction workers that you had to serve bottles of Molson to for two hours didn’t leave as big a tip as you felt they should have.  Maybe you didn’t close the big sale with that customer you were with for like two hours, causing you to miss your window of opportunity to ask out that girl who works at the coffee shop next door and has been coming in to browse lately.  Whatever the fuck it is that makes you feel that your day wasn’t everything you’ve ever dreamed of, remember this:  it could be worse, you could be this guy…

 

I remember that it was a cold day, well not so much cold as wet and cold; where the cold saturates you, and seeps through all your layers of rubber, fleece, and wool ‘til the chills grip your bones and soak your soul with pure misery.  On this day of total drudgery, this young kid, still in his late teens, got a job and started as an ironworker, haulin’ rebar.  It’s one of the toughest physical jobs you could ever do and it takes a special kind of endurance to be able to suffer that wretched pain day in, day out.  But this little 130lb teenager signed up for it, and showed up, swearing and smoking like the rest of ‘em, learning with each passing day how to acquire that hardened, rusted steel look in his eyes.  And then one day he was gone.

 

Not many people really seemed to realize he was gone.  Nobody talked about him, nobody asked questions.  This is not unusual, however; iron workers come and go so frequently, some last less than a day.  The unusual part was that, shortly after the kid disappeared, the foreman who had been his supervisor was also gone.  So I asked around to find out what had happened, and got the story from one of their crew, a rail thin, sinewy dude who was short a few teeth and about a million brain cells.  He said, “Oh yeah, that fuckin’ young kid, man, Benny right?  Benny was his name.  Well, our foreman Chris didn’t really like him too much, eh, kept callin’ him Jew-boy and shit like that, eh.  So fuckin’ Chris takes this piece of steel tie-wire, right, and fuckin’ heats it up with his lighter ‘til the wire is like red fuckin’ hot, man, and then he says, ‘Hey Benny, how long d’ya think you can go with this wire wrapped around yer arm’, and Benny is all like, ‘Ya I can take that shit asshole!’  So Chris takes his pliers and fuckin’ wraps the wire fuckin’ tight around his forearm, man.  Benny goes ape-fuckin’-shit, screamin’ and CRYIN’ and shit, dude!  Ya, his arm was all fucked up; he had to go down to first aid and shit, make a report and shit.  Fuck, man!!”  He then laughed hysterically.  Everyone in the vicinity, who have all stopped to listen to the story, are now shaking their heads and laughing as well.

 

“Yeah, fuckin’ Benny though man,” the wirey rodman continues in broken English (despite English being his first language), “like what a fuckin’ moron though, eh.  I mean if yer that fuckin’ stupid, right?  You kinda deserve it.”

 

I ask what happened to the poor little fuck, Benny, and what the hell happened to Chris by the way?

 

“Aw, they sent chris away to a different fuckin’ site.  He’s out at our Surrey site now, man.  He got in shit ‘cuz he was callin’ the kid ‘Jew-boy’ and shit, the company gave him a one day suspension.”

 

So there you have it.  Sit in your warm safe workspace and take a sip of your shitty Folgers and write your email and remember that your job is really.  Not.  That.  Tough.

 

Entry 21

 

I do not get paid nearly enough for this.

I hate this fucking job.

I fucking quit.

 

Every single day of my life, I utter these words, sometimes under my breath, other times aloud, but to myself, and still others very loudly and accompanied by various objects being thrown across the site.  Actually, I’ve sort of gained some notoriety for throwing my hammer wildly into the air.  It’s like my signature move, people expect me to do it now.  I think some even try to piss me off on purpose to entice me into doing it.

 

One of the most common sentiments amongst us as hard labour lackies is the idea that ours is not a permanent gig.  It seems that every one of us, or most of us at least, think that there is something better out there, that we won’t be toiling away like this forever; that one day, when our chance comes, we will take that leap into a happier life where back-breaking labour and verbal abuse are not a part of our everyday existence.  There is always all this talk of “getting out of this shit”, meaning leaving construction for a better career.  The vast majority of us have this dream, but for most it is simply nothing more than that, a dream.

 

I think a common misconception amongst people outside the industry is that we construction guys all make really good honest cash.  Like we all drive big, new gas guzzling trucks, live in comfortable, clean suburban homes with two car garages, an RV and a boat in the driveway, leading simple middle class lives.  The real truth is that the entry level money is good, and attracts young guys who don’t necessarily have too many marketable skills or education.  It doesn’t take long either, if you show up on time and work hard, to get yourself into a better position, like a carpenter’s helper or apprentice, or even to get the opportunity t


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