Hard Work Can Kill You
My Father was a Highrise construction worker. An unsafe profession that paid well but took a toll on the body and mind. When I was 8 or 9, he fell three stories off a building and broke his back. He should have spent the rest of his life paralyzed. Instead, he was back to work within two months. A couple of years after that, he witnessed a beheading on the job. He was never quite the same after that.
One summer, I reckon I was sixteen or so, I was invited to take a summer job working a bank building on Young Circle in Hollywood, Florida. I was at the time, always thin, but I was strong like an ox and recklessly fearless.
On my first day on the job, I was given a talking to by the Foremen and my Father. The foremen looked dubiously at the kid in front of him, long hair, low cut hip hugger jeans-wearing some random concert tee-shirt. He began.
Foreman: “You need to be strong in this job. We can’t have anyone to baby, Will’s son, or not. Now see if you can pick up one of those sheets of plywood and bring it over here.”
They were clad with fiberglass, an inch thick, and weighed about 50ish pounds. I grabbed two and walked them over.
Me: “There you go.”
Satisfied with my show, the foremen went on to describe the job. Before he began, my Pop interjected.
Father: “If you tell your mother any of this, you are done. Nothing! Not a word!”
With this ominous warning, the foreman began,
Foreman: “Look, kid, it’s important to be careful on this job site. Lots of men get hurt here, and I don’t want you to be one of them. Your father got blown off the building, and if he didn’t have a safety line, he would have gone splat. A man was carrying a glass sheet that broke, cut him from shoulder to knee. One hundred twenty stitches set him right. We’ve had more accidents on this job than most men see in a dozen jobs.”
Me: “Gotcha. Don’t bust my ass. Don’t die. Keep quiet.”
They weren’t kidding about the carnage
In the first week or so, I learned the ropes and got to witness more than a few accidents. Some of them were nasty. One incident I can never unsee was a guy using a box cutter knife to cut some rubber or something. He held the material down and pulled the knife toward his hand.
I think he misjudged how sharp the knife was because when it got to his hand, it kept going. His hand was split open from finger web to palm. I put a tourniquet on him, and the “accident siren” went off.
That damn thing was going off all the time.
Working the roof was hell.
We were close to the beach, and upon the top floor, the wind was pretty intense. Everyone soaked in sweat from the heat. Top floor work was hellish.
One day I was tethered to the building handing down these large plywood sheets to a guy on a scaffold. We were framing out the lower floor walls. My anchor rope was 20 feet long (so I could get to the pile of wood), attached to my safety harness. I was using a rig of cable to help support the 4 x 8 sheet of wood as I lowered it down.
Most of the morning was without incident until someone got careless. I was standing on the roof edge, rope rig in place, ready to kneel. Little did I know, but some asshole was carrying a 12 foot 4×4 on his shoulder behind me. For whatever reason, he swung it around and knocked me face-first off of the roof. Now I don’t remember a thing after this, but I was filled in on what happened later.
I flew out about 6 feet, missing the scaffold my partner was using (had I hit him, he would have fallen too). Holding on to the rope rig as hard as I could as the tether played out, tightened and slammed me into a column on the floor below. I was or almost was unconscious, the rope rig somehow got snared on my hand and boot, and the plywood didn’t drop on the group of workers on the ground.
I was battered and bruised with a couple of cracked ribs, but relatively unscathed. My “cred” when up hugely though, by not losing the wood and being “tough.”
There is no way you could get hurt
Ribs taped up, they put me on light duty work, sweeping, emptying rubbish bins, sorting nails and such. I couldn’t get hurt, the foreman assured me, even thinking this is an invitation for fate to fuck you up, in my opinion.
A couple of days after the “incident,” my father (who was in charge of the columns and shoring and I were talking about my next job; ironically checking each jack on each floor for slippage and safety nails.
The contraption pictured is a shoring jack. While the real concrete columns cure and harden, each floor will have dozens of these to help support the building. The angle things holding the Jack-up are supposed to have a safety nail driven in them to keep the shoring from accidentally collapsing. The rig was made of 4×4 wood and weighed a ton.
I rested my hand where you see the arrow, and my Pop leaned against the other side. I hadn’t even started the “job,” The job was being explained to me when Fate saw the opportunity, and since THIS jack didn’t have the safety nails in place, the top 4×4 slid down to the small wood where my hand was. The noise was a cracking, squishing sound. The funny thing about getting badly damaged, initially; there is no pain. My Pop grabbed the jack before it could fall and do any further damage, and we looked to free my hand. After further review, this was a bad idea when a decent amount of blood started oozing from my the side of my hand.
That damn accident siren
The siren sounded, and someone called the paramedics. I stood there with a now swelling and painful hand. Men clustered around me, and I couldn’t cry or scream or do anything “unmanly” as this was the age of “toxic masculinity” and real men “sucked it up.” I stood silently and waited. A brigade of firefighters and medics showed up. A big production commenced as they cut away the area crushing my hand, wrapped it up, and with backboard and neck brace, in place we departed. An ambulance ride and a day in the hospital left me with a broken wrist, compression fractures, and something called compartment syndrome, which required several long cuts along my hand. I was sent home with pain killers and a prognosis of two months of recovery.
The best summer ever
An on-the-job accident meant that I would get paid regardless of work. I got a few hundred bucks each week (for nothing) and spent the summer at the beach, drinking, fornicating, and generally having a blast. In hindsight, this was the start of my “rough patch.” More on that later.
God, though, must have been pissed off because fate had set its evil eye on my penis. (to be continued)