*UPDATE- I just released this as my very first Kindle Vella story on Amazon. Future stories will be sampled on the blog and fully released either for the podcast or Kindle Vella.*
I have to break this topic up into Part A & B since it is longer than the 30 min max for the audio recording on Anchor. This is Part A of the discussion. When finished head over to Part B next to finish the discussion.
The topic for this episode. I am thinking back to when we used to booze it up on the jobsite. One of the things we all used to do regularly in construction, drinking on the job was as normal as working. When I was a first-year apprentice, I was sent out for beer for afternoon break. Nowadays, there is only an afternoon break if you work overtime. This was on the very first job in my construction career. I didn’t bat an eye and did exactly what was asked. As a fresh face, I know I should have found the request as odd. However, it didn’t take long to figure out that this was “normal”. An old timer would say to me to, “never trust a person who doesn’t drink”. I thought about what he said. It made sense at the time. If someone is not willing to get down and have a beer on the job with the crew, that person could very well snitch. I learned quickly that “snitches get stiches”. Twenty-five years ago or more, it felt like you were an odd ball if you didn’t drink. I knew of some co-workers who would work better after drinking all morning. On the other hand, I used to monitor some people’s level of drunkenness. I would not let a guy label wire pulls after about 11:00 AM each work day. I would take care of it for him and he would do other tasks. If I didn’t babysit him, we would end up ringing out a bunch of wires and wasting time. Mind you, I was an apprentice and he was making a hell of a lot more money than I was making.
It was the culture to look after people and help them avoid doing dumb stuff. I can’t count how many times my co-workers and I have babysat drunk co-workers. There were guys who left a beer can over each light fixture they wired. Under normal circumstances, it doesn’t take very long to enter a wire in the fixture and splice. This gives you an idea of how hammered these guys would get each day. There were guys who would dump the empties down a finished wall. I loved hearing stories about doing demo in a space years later. While the laborer was removing the wall, he was met with an avalanche of beer cans. It was quite normal to go to the bar as early as 11:30AM for lunch. It was also very common to not leave the bar to go back to work. In the trade, we called that a “nooner”. I cannot honestly say that I never did it in my career. I pulled that move with a journeyman back when I was an apprentice. I got a bad layoff, my first and only ever, two days before Christmas. I talked about that dilemma in detail in my book #ConstructionTales. I was so embarrassed about that situation at the time. I laugh at myself that I opened up enough to document it in my book. I did a few extended bar sessions, during the course of my career, when I wasn’t having to rush home to get my son from daycare.
I was on a girl’s private school job, back in 2002, where the entire crew would shape up in the job trailer and stick around till 6-7pm at night. We would watch our general foreman drive down the road for his doctor’s appointment. The general foreman was an absolute gentleman who was enduring cancer treatments. My crew sure as hell made sure to take advantage of the times where he left the job. Once his tail lights disappeared, we all gathered to drink a ton of beer. The acting foreman was a huge drunk who aided in the whole boozing sessions in the job trailer. It was like leaving a fox in charge of the hen house. No Bueno. Guys were doing cocaine on the duct work. That job was a lot of fun and absolutely out of control with the antics. That was a Turner Construction job where Turner was the general contractor. The super would scratch his head and wonder why the hell the entire crew stayed on the job in the trailer for hours instead of going home? We would often play tricks on each other. I need a podcast episode to talk about that job alone. I plan on writing about that jobsite in detail when I get my tail back to writing Construction Tales: Volume 2: My Illuminated Path Continues…
My favorite source of high/drunk co-worker stories come from a guy on the job nicknamed “Dirty Sanchez”. His name was similar to his nickname and his reckless behavior on the jobsite earned him the nickname. Dirty started out tipping back a fifth of vodka at lunch. We would sit in our car for lunch when the weather was decent. I would sometimes sleep in my car for lunch or heat my food in the trailer. You would see Dirty in his car drinking straight from the bottle. He would stumble back from the car, through the gates, and back onto the jobsite. Dirty then graduated to smoking weed during lunch. He would come back twisted after lunch. I remember roughing in MC flexible metallic cable with him. I would watch him like an expectant father. He was not allowed in or around live panels while he was “gooned up” after lunch. I would feel horrible, even if it is not remotely my fault, if the man got hurt during my watch. By this point, I was a relatively new journeywoman and Dirty was my partner sometimes. Some people have always said, over the years, that I am soothing to speak with and iron out issues. I have saved some marriages, over the years, by giving out some common-sense advice. At some point, Dirty shared that his girlfriend was pregnant and he was expecting his first child. Once he disclosed his impending family, I became more perplexed by his behavior. I realize that people react differently to stress. I have never believed, no matter how hard the circumstances, that the bottle was a solution to my problems. If anything, hitting the bottle each night makes your problems even worse.
Now, I have been dealing with a bunch of back problems for the past five years, so I totally get it. I have gone through a few procedures, doctors, physical therapy, pain and suffering, over the years just to solve the problem. I started using a bunch of Motrin so I could not go out of my mind with the pain. I have cut out the Motrin habit and now use Kratom & CBD as needed when I have pain. I also realized my recent pattern of drinking each night after work to numb the pain, extreme stiffness, and manage stress last year was no good. It was right around the beginning of the pandemic. Upon recognizing the weight gain from working from home and the drinking, I pulled back from the bottle and started walking at night. I recently underwent a procedure where my doctor injected anti-inflammatory fluid to some of the facet joints in my spine. I am having great luck with much less pain than a year ago. My point is, that you have to keep falling, wipe yourself off, and get back up on the horse, and try again. No matter how aggravating shit is, we have to keep coming up with solutions. Here, I think my boozing was a problem that I reigned in after recognizing the pattern. I cannot even imagine going a lot harder than that. Just when I think my issue is a problem, a co-worker of mine will trump it. Back when I was working on a deck job with Dirty, we would chat while working. What I have learned is that men on the job need someone to vent about their life. I took pride in being an ear and a voice of reason for many of my co-workers over the years. I am sure, if I felt comfortable, I would share parts of my life as well.
Somehow, Dirty disclosed that he received some drugs in liquid form in the mail from California. Prior to coming into the trade, I had no idea how many different types of drugs there are on the market. I grew up with an overbearing father who ended up sheltering me. My dad ruled with a tight fist and did not allow that in his house. I never even saw him or anyone else take a sip of alcohol. Going into the military at 17-years old was a rude awakening with the drinking! In all fairness, I have learned about drugs from working in construction. I had a co-worker approach me, when I was about 24-years old, with a small, white vial, with rice in the bottom of the vial, while we were working in a high school. I asked him, “what was that?” and he put it back in his pocket. He assumed that I “partied” and he was very wrong. He was also trying to offer drugs as a peace offering for being a dirt bag to me when I first came on the job. My co-worker later on explained that it was cocaine. This dude was bold as hell for having that on his person in a high school. About two-years later, I am on a ladder working with Dirty while he explains what is in his clear vial. I had never heard of angel dust!! He was highly amused by my questions and expressions of amazement and disbelief. Dirty explained that he would use an eye dropper and put the liquid on his blunts. He would then smoke the blunts at lunch and come back TWISTED!!! I was like what!?! You don’t need to be psychic to know that this will not end well for Dirty.
Despite Dirty’s reckless disregard for himself or his surroundings, the general foreman and the foreman, known on the job as the #1 & #2, did not discover his antics for a while. Almost our entire crew would go to a well-known dive bar near the job for lunch. In comes Dirty to join the crew for lunch. Toward the end of the lunch where we are going back to work, Dirty pulls out a blunt. He puts it to his mouth and swiftly lights it up at the bar. The entire group rushed to get him to put it away! We were not looking to get into trouble at a bar we all patronized on Fridays for lunch. We all kept watch on Dirty as he became more and more twisted on the job. One time after lunch, Dirty actually starts walking back to work with a Belvedere bottle in his hand. A group of us grabbed him and told him to put the bottle back in his car. The visual of him walking in a left and right slide to the side manner to the jobsite kicking up dirt and dust while holding the bottle by the neck. Dirty was squinting in the sun with his head tilted to the sky looking absolutely out of his mind!! It was around this time that Dirty’s task was a ¾” conduit run. He needed to use the stud punch to knock out one hole for each conduit. Dirty got distracted, staired out to the nearby parkway, and just started punching out a bunch of holes. By the time Dirty waked up from his stupor, he had a pile of one inch round pieces of metal at his feet and an entire section of metal stud gone!! His foreman showed up in the work area and yelled at Dirty. It must have been hard to not laugh at the mess! He told him, “I don’t know why the hell you did that but you better get a piece of bottom track and fix that ASAP!”
Once we finished roughing in some office sections and conduit runs, it was time for the wire pulls. When you are on long wire pulls, there is some down time. This work was easy for Dirty to lay low and avoid detection. Depending on where we were in the building, we would all keep an eye on him. Just when you think it was good low-key work for Dirty, he screws himself up. We must lubricate large bundles of wires prior and during the process of pulling in the wire into a conduit run. The easiest job sometimes is to give a co-worker the wire lubrication task. Depending on the level of difficulty, wire can be pulled by a group by hand or a machine is installed in the deck or wall and mechanically pulls the wire. We have used the hitch on a truck to pull wire when we are desperate for some help on at least one job that I remember. While lathering the wire with lubricant, some people want to use gloves and a rag and some opt to use their bare hands. When I was tasked with the lubricant job, I always preferred to use my bare hands. Of course, the temptation to make jokes while lubricating wire was way too high. I often engaged in dirty banter with my co-workers while in the middle of the task.
It was Dirty’s turn to manage the lube on the wire pull. Dirty did his usual routine of getting tuned up at lunch then working the afternoon high as hell. It was during one of these moments when Dirty decided to dig into the five-gallon lubricant bucket way past his elbows. Dirty went a bit further with the wire lubricant and was actually playing in it. He was hallucinating and saying that pretty butterflies were coming out the bucket and he was trying to catch them. Of course, this is when the #2 foreman stumbled upon his antics and raised hell! He grabbed the shop steward and discovered exactly how stoned Dirty was while working. Oh boy!! Dirty was immediately removed from the jobsite. The shop steward drove Dirty home since he was deemed unable to drive. The next day, we saw Dirty returning doing the “walk of shame”. Dirty came on the job to get his tools and collect his last paycheck and layoff. He actually got a drug related layoff that meant he needed rehab before returning to the bench and becoming available for work for another contractor. If I am not mistaken, I have heard that workers get a shot at rehab at least two times through our medical in the union. I have crossed paths with many co-workers who were in desperate need of an intervention. I know of one co-worker who I absolutely adored who could have used rehab. He used to religiously give me rides when I had car problems as an apprentice. They would make beer stops before the carpool ride and once the ride finished. He was in need of surgery and tried drying out on his own at home. He ended up dying due to a seizure, as a result of alcohol withdrawal, while at home. I found out about his plight after attending his funeral. He is indeed a person I miss and wish he had gotten help.
The bar scene was so engrained in our construction culture for many years, we used bars as references for jobsites. I remember, many times at lunch, trying to pound down as many beers and shots as possible before having to return to work. By the time I was on a jobsite around 2008, the general contractor was really trying to stop the drinking on the job. They actually tried to patrol the bars and catch different trade workers drinking. We managed to find this nearby low key eatery spot that served beer. It seemed like a place that would avoid detection. That only lasted for a short period of time. When anyone from management found it and walked in, we would immediately stop drinking. We were staring out the window watching the street to avoid anyone sneaking up on us. As soon as a white hat walked in, we would push all of the beer bottles to the center of the table to avoid getting busted. The manager, from the general contractor, would get frustrated and walk out. We would all split up and enter the jobsite from different directions to avoid detection. Sometimes, the general contractor had people as a checkpoint near the entrance gates looking for workers with booze on their breath. A couple guys were pinched and forced to go home for the day. The very next day, the same guys were back at the spot drinking beer. It didn’t stop them. They only learned how to be more strategic. Sometimes, they would call a co-worker in the building and ask them at what gate were the white hats trying to bust the lunch time drinkers. If there is a will, there is a relative!
Now it is time to pause for a moment. This concludes Part A on this topic. Head back in and look for Part B to finish the conversation. Thanks for stopping by and listening so far to the story.
Leslie M. Jasper
-Author & Host of the #VerballyDisastrous podcast now alive on many platforms that include: Acast, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Castbox, Deezer, Google Podcasts, I Heart Radio, Listen Notes, Overcast, Player FM, Pocket Casts, Pod Bean, Podchaser, Podcast Addict, Podcast Gang, Radio Public, Soundcloud, Soundtrap, Spotify, Stitcher, Tune In, and YouTube.
-The Audio Blog: Verbally Disastrous Podcast & Construction Tales Blog. Now available on: Acast, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Castbox, Deezer, Google Podcasts, I Heart Radio, Listen Notes, Overcast, Player FM, Pocket Casts, Pod Bean, Podchaser, Podcast Addict, Podcast Gang, Radio Public, Soundcloud, Spotify, Stitcher, and Tune In.
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