October 14th, 2019
Stefan came to the house yesterday. I had gone shopping, and when I came home, I saw his red pick up truck sitting in the garage. The front was up on jacks, and Stefan was struggling to swap out an oil filter. I asked him how he was doing. He replied gruffly,
“Well, I’m try to get this piece of shit off, without getting oil all over the fucking floor, and it’s not going so well. I’m having a hard time here, so if you don’t mind…”
“I’m walking away.”
Stefan grunted as he turned a wrench, and mumbled, “Thank you.”
I went into the house, and I let the dogs out. I found Stefan’s mail (he has most of his snail mail delivered to our house). I put his mail aside, and then I pulled a large plastic container out of the refrigerator. It was full of food for Stefan. He’s been working ten hours a day, six days a week, and he generally hasn’t had time to cook.
I went back out to the garage. Stefan was adjusting the hood latch on his truck with a large, blunt object.
“Uh, so, what are you doing?”
Without looking up. Stefan replied, “I’m hitting something with a hammer. I’m good at this.”
As an Iron Worker, I bet he is good at that.
I mentioned, “Hey, there’s beer, if you want some.”
Stefan shook his head, “No thanks. I did some drinking last night, and I really don’t to have any beer. I opened the refrigerator this morning, saw a six pack, and shuddered.”
He finished fine tuning his latch, and he slammed the hood shut on the truck. He came into the house.
Shocky immediately jumped up on him, her tail wagging in a circle like an airplane propeller. The border collie/lab loves Stefan. He rubbed her neck and got her even more excited.
He gazed at her and said, “She looks good with a bit of a trim. Even with her hair combed out, she is still kind of fluffy.”
I pointed to the kitchen counter. “There is your mail and the stuff I cooked yesterday. The sauce isn’t as thick as I wanted it.”
Stefan picked up the container. “I’m sure it’s okay. I know you make good jambalaya. You always have the right ingredients.”
Stefan looked at me, and said, “Well, yesterday was fucking cold and windy. I spent the day 150 feet above the ground on the lift, measuring to see if the beams were straight. I had on four hoodies, and I was still cold.”
Stefan looked tired and windburned. He has been working on the Foxconn project, a monstrous factory being built on some land about twenty miles from where we live. Stefan is working way up high every day; sometimes bolting beams together, sometimes welding, sometimes doing other things. He is always working outside, except when it’s raining. It takes a lot out of him, and it’s only October. Just wait until winter arrives.
Stefan went on, “It’s almost time to pull out the bibs (overalls).”
Then he frowned and said, “But I don’t want to be the first guy wearing them.”
I nodded, “You don’t want to be the wimp.”
“Nope. Don’t need to catch shit for that.”
Stefan told me, “There is a new guy on the job. I mean I’m still a new guy, but this guy is really new. He’s been with us maybe for two weeks. I’ve been trying to give him some tips, like he should be wearing his tool belt all the time. Things like that.”
“How’s he doing?”
“He’s okay so far, but he hasn’t dealt much with the assholes. I mean, at the Foxconn site, they’re picky about who works there. Nobody with felony raps. That sort of thing. So, we don’t have any of the real assholes there. Wait till this newbie meets some of the guys on a rebar team.”
“They’re a little harsh.”
Stefan laughed. “I learned to give as good as I get. If somebody ripped on me, I turned it right around and threw it back at the guy. You got be quick with your responses.”
Stefan said, “Sometimes, we play the ‘rain game’. Do you know what that is?”
“No. Tell me.”
“It’s when the forecast calls for rain the next day, so you all go out drinking. You’re betting that the job gets rained out, and that you can sleep in. I’ve lost at that a few times.”
“Oh yeah, it does. I won last week. We went to the bar. I woke up in morning at five, thinking: ‘God, I don’t want to go to work’, and then the phone rang. They called us off. Yes!”
“What’s up for the rest of the day?”
“Beth is at my place. I think we’ll warm up the jambalaya.”
“It’s good with rice. Do you have any rice at home?”
“Yeah, I got rice. That will be good. I also got a couple rib eye steaks that have been in the freezer for too long. I think those will get grilled later today.”
“Sounds good. Get some rest.”
Stefan grabbed the food and the mail. “I’ll stop by to do some laundry later. Maybe not today, even though the basket is overflowing with clothes. If I can find even one piece of clean underwear, I’ll wait until tomorrow. See you!”
Stefan pulled out of the garage, and drove away.
Stefan is twenty-five. After he left, I thought back to when I was twenty-five. Back then, I was a helicopter pilot in Germany. I did much of my work way up high. I was dating Karin at the time. I was in the Army, hanging around other crude, testosterone-driven young men. I was doing dangerous work, and generally loving it. I drank a lot. I did many things that were, in retrospect, unwise.
I thought about Stefan. His life today is not all that different than mine was.