Stories, Autobiographical, Interesting, Plaut, Asthma,
At 6:00 A.M. three days after high school graduation, I ride my bike to the corner of Field Street and Maple. Jeb, the one-armed man who runs the cement mixer, will tell me what to do. I walk over and say hello. He gives me a hod, a V-shaped metal tool closed at one end, which sits atop along thick handle. He tells me it is my job to make sure that the bricklayers don’t run out of bricks or mortar. There are two bricklayers. Wayne, he is the boss, and Dan. We are building a two-story apartment house and working on the second floor. I load my hod with eighteen bricks. That is 108 pounds. I put it on my shoulder, climb up the ladder and walk the scaffolding to where Dan is working. Then I set the bricks down in neat stack and go for another load. I bring that one to Wayne. After that I go down for a hod of mortar.
Part of my job is to carry cement bags from a big flatbed truck and stack them in a pile. Someone on the truck grabs a bag and lowers it onto my shoulder. One 94-pound bag is easy. Two bags is harder; I’d carry them in my arms. And one day, just to see if I could do it, I carry three bags at once – that’s 282 pounds.
It is not easy to keep these two bricklayers supplied. Each of them is laying 75 bricks an hour. But this is a good job for me — $1.50 an hour, ten hours a day, five or six days a week. Big money. Minimum wage is 65 cents an hour and I am getting strong.
Sometimes Wayne goes off to another job and things slow down. I spend some time talking with Jeb. He is about 35 and has a weathered face. “I really like this job,” I say. Jeb answers, “You like it because it feels good to you and you know you can quit whenever you want. If I had two arms, you wouldn’t find me working here.”
We work hard and the building is going up real nice. The four of us all work together. Wayne wants it to go up faster. He asks me and Dan to come in on Saturday, even though he can’t come in until afternoon. I mix the mortar and to carry the hod. I am happy. Dan is happy too. Dan is drinking beer. It helps them work. We work hard.
We work fast for several hours, putting up the north wall of the building. Wayne comes by and looks at us funny. “You are damn fools,” he says. “You forgot the windows.” We tear down the wall and start over.