I have worked as a building engineer and in the building trades for more than 16 years. Throughout my time, from the beginning until now; it is clear to me that there are different types of people in his world, each with their own background, and each with their own stories.
Like most, I began my journey as an apprentice, or “Helper,” as they call it. I started in my late 20’s and since I was younger than everyone else in the crew, I was called, “The kid.”
I was never called by my name—just, “Kid.”
“Hey kid, bring me that pipe wrench.”
“Hey kid, get this,” and “Hey kid, get that.”
And, “Come on, kid. Move your ass!”
In my early days as an apprentice, I swept and mopped the equipment rooms and shop floors. I painted machine rooms and steam rooms. I did the grunt work and I carried tools. In the beginning, I went out with a list to the store and I returned with a box of coffees and breakfast sandwiches. This is part of a helper’s job. This is why they call them low man—because the low man has the lowest part of the job with the lowest level of priority. The low man has the last say and the last pick at vacation time. That was me.
I was to hand tools to my engineer and assist him in every step. If my engineer needed something from the shop, I would run and get it. It was my job to cover the floor and protect the carpeting or floor tile before the engineers could work on their projects inside of office spaces.
If there was something nasty, or extremely dirty, it was my job to clean it. I cleaned drain snakes that went through and cleared the worst kinds of clogged drains. I have cleaned the bottoms of sewerage ejector pits—and rather than soil you with the details of what lay at the bottom of these pits, I will only mention that the smell would not leave my nose for several days.
Rather than stay at the underbelly of the industry, I decided to advance as quickly as possible. I chose to work my way up through the ranks. I went to school, paid attention on the job, and I earned my license to become an operating, refrigeration engineer.
There are many helpers that choose to stay at their level. I do not judge them for this. True, there is less money, but there is less responsibility and less headache. If something fails—it never falls on the helper and always on the engineer. True, the engineer yells at the helper, but the helper’s job, though nasty, is not as troublesome as the engineer on watch.
Throughout my years in the industry, I have gone through different crews and met different people. Some are more memorable than others—some are more bizarre—and some or less bizarre, but more so unlikable.
I worked the 10-6 shift at my first site. This was a day shift, which is not always easy to come by. Most start out working evenings like the 4-12 shift, or nights, like the 12-8. However, I knew high people in low places and they helped me slip through the early stages of my engineering career.
No, they were not low people in high places. They were quite literally “high” people in low places. They slipped me into a shift and I began earning at the top end of the helper’s scale, which is also unheard of for a beginner.
I worked in an old, pre-depression office that was competed in 1928. The building was a little more than 500,00sq.ft. Its heating and cooling systems were old and the electricity was DC.
DC stands for Direct Current, which means if it hits you . . . It keeps you, and being electrocuted with 550 volts was no different than riding the lightening in an electric chair. buildings have AC (Alternating Current) which is still dangerous, but the switches have changed. Starting up the old DC motors to large fan systems was frightening. The switches looked like they were out of a Frankenstein movie. The motors sparked with lightening-like bolts coming from a the back end where the juice turned the motor. And you could hear the electricity turning up and coming into speed
During my first shift, I met a man who I will rename as Boz
He had been working at my site for more than 20 years when I began. He was close to retirement and nowhere near interested in becoming a licensed engineer.
Boz is what they called, “A lifer.”
A lifer is content to be a helper. He (or she to be politically correct) receives little regard from management and minimal respect from his (or her) engineer.
Boz was okay with this. He had two children and a wife. His daughter was the oldest and his son was the youngest. Boz often spoke about his kids and his love for them. However, he seldom spoke about his wife, at least, not with the same affection.
Boz was a friendly man. He was happily uninvolved with anything important at work and comfortable with his own sense of humor. Boz worked the four to midnight shift.
His work orders were few and he spent most of his eight hours laughing with the nighttime cleaners and porter staff. Most of them were drunks and few spoke English. But everyone loved Boz . . .
Since my shift and his had a two-hour overlap, I used to sit with Boz and we talked about movies. We talked about the girls in the building.
Boz would call the pretty ones, “Honey-babies.”
He was older, so he referred to woman as “Dear,” or “Sweetheart.” He never said “Toots,” unless he was being aggressive or felt as if a woman in the office was being insulting.
We were on the blue collar side of the working world. To us, the white collar side was called the “Suit and Ties,” or “Suits,” for short.
Boz was not a fan of the suits. He smiled at them. He spoke politely with his old-world Brooklyn accent, but he cursed them often and he rarely cared if there were consequences
He was a proud Italian with Italian slang words for most of the people he knew. In truth, Boz was an overgrown child. He was a little more than slightly round at the stomach. His face was scrunched with a larger nose, a friendly smile, and his hairline receded back with only a few curly clumps at the top of his head. Boz wore glasses. He was short, but clown-like.
I enjoyed my two hours with him. He never asked for favors but he was willing to do anything for anybody—including me.
I once asked Boz about his time in the building.
Boz answered, “Yeah, I been here a long time, kid.”
I asked, “How long have you been working the 4-12 shift?”
“Since, I started,” he answered.
“Yep. I’ve been in this old building a long time, kid. Seen a lot of people work here. Seen a lot come and I seen a lot go.”
Boz only called me kid. I never heard him use my name once. Not even when he introduce me to people
He would say, This is The Kid,” and that was it.
“I wish you were around for my younger years though. I woulda shown ya how it gets done around here. We coulda grabbed us a few honey babies and brought them up to the roof. Know what I mean, kid?”
Boz loved younger women. He was a connoisseur of fine smut magazines and pornography. Name any famous porn movie and quite possibly, Boz had it. His locker was filled with deranged fetish pictures and cartoons. He was harmless, however, and to the best of my knowledge; Boz never strayed from his wife.
I asked him, “Boz, you have seniority, right?”
“Oh, sure,” he answered.
“So if you wanted to change your shift, you could. Right? I mean, if you wanted to work during the days, you could. Right?”
Boz’s dark and fuzzy eyebrows folded down. His face scrunched and the aged wrinkles around his eyes deepened with a confused look.
“But my wife works during the day,” he answered.
“I know. But if you wanted to work say, the 10-6 shift, you could do it, and then you would see your family more.”
“You mean, see my wife,” asked Boz in a surprised voice.
Then Boz let out a long, “Noooo.”
“He rolled his head to the right side of his shoulder and looked at me as if I were a stupid kid.
“You mean work the day shift?”
He laughed, “Kid, if I worked the day shift . . . that would mean I’d have to see my wife every day.”
He laughed and put his arm around my shoulder as if I told him the finniest joke ever.
“Work the day shift, he says. God, I love it. Kid, how else do you think I’ve been able to stay married for more than 25 years?”
Boz was a really funny man . . .
One of the engineers at our building threw a yearly barbeque at his house. He invited most of the engineers and only some of the cleaning staff. He was kind enough to invite me too.
“Are you gonna go, kid?” asked Boz.
“I guess so.”
“Good, Then I’ll go too.”
At the time, I was dating a young girl. I was younger, thinner, and perhaps, better looking. She was very pretty with a truly healthy body. She was far from smart; however, what she lacked in intellegence, she made up for in willingness and flexibility. My girl was noticed at the barbeque. One of the little kids called her a, “Woo-Woo girl,” because she wore a bathing suit which exposed many of her lovable features.
She spoke little and smiled often. I suppose I felt lucky to be with her. She never asked any questions. She never wanted to have any heavy conversations. She was strictly physical. And that was good . . .
While in the pool, I began to entertain and play with some of the kids. I threw them around and let them try to drown me. My girl watched from the side with adoring eyes, as if to believe that someday, I would make a great dad and that our relationship would last more than two weeks. She watched as I wrestled with the kids in the pool. And then . . . something changed. My girl’s smile turned confused.
I became aware of a big splash behind me. This was not the splash of a child jumping into the pool. This was a bigger splash. This was a splash of an adult.
When I turned to look, I was jumped by a mid-sized woman with a flabby chest nearly bursting from her bathing suit. She was pale-skinned, freckled, with yellow teeth, unkempt, and oddly-curled reddish hair that frizzed down passed her shoulders.
Her eyes were squinty as if she struggled to see because she usually wore glasses. Her rhythm of speech was slightly odd and her lips were white and chapped.
She jumped me and tried to drown me with the kids in the pool. Suddenly, my girl was not as happy. Her face changed instantly.
It was Boz’s wife. I never met her before, but yet, she wrapped around my body like a snake. Her legs wrapped around me with her saggy bosoms and oversized pink nipples, nearly falling out from the top of her outdated, turquoise bathing suit. And though I cannot be sure because my head was under water—I believe she screamed, “Ye-haw,” while squirming her body against mine and attempting to ride me like a horse.
I was not sure if she was socially awkward, or if she had special needs. I was not sure who she was because I had never seen this woman before. I was not sure if she was playing or she was rubbing herself on me with a sexual intent. I wanted her to stop, but I had to defend myself . . .
As my girl looked on, her adoring expression turned crossed and angry. After winning my freedom, I jumped out of the pool. I laughed my “Awkward moment,” laugh and grabbed a towel.
“Who the hell was that,” asked my girl.
“I don’t know.”
“She was all over you . . .”
My girl suspected that perhaps, in a weaker moment of my life, I chose to have sex with the woman who jumped me in the pool.
“She’s gross! Look at her.”
She accused. “Her pubic hair is pushing out the sides of her bathing suit!”
But I defended myself. “I don’t even know who she is.”
That’s when Boz walked up to me and said, “Now you know why I work the 4-12 for more than 20 years.”
Boz was a good man.
I still think about him sometimes.
Last I heard from him, Boz retired and his wife took up cooking.
“You should come to dinner,” he told me.
I gulped with a second of uncomfortable silence.
“Well, you know how it is. I’m a family man now, so I have to work a lot.”
Boz laughed. “That’s alright kid. I don’t blame ya . . . . my wife is fuckin crazy!”