I’m no different from most people. I wake up and put my pants on one keg at a time the same as most. I work. I do my best to feed my family. I eat some and I do my best to laugh some. I have my share of faults and I have my positive side as well. Like most in this world, I spend too much time at work and I spend too much time wondering if there’s another way I could pull of my trick and figure out a better way towards financial relief. However, I’ve grown used to my daily life. I know which way to go —I mean, even if my mind shuts off, my body would take over in auto-pilot, and I would be just fine.
Throughout my daily grind, I swing wrenches and get my hands dirty. Much of my work is physical and this weighs on me. My knees hurt sometimes. My back hurts too. I swear age is not always a fair addition to our life, but so far, and with the exceptions of a few little aches, my day job is my day job and while it weighs on the joints; my night job is my night job, and this one weighs on my heart.
I am a recovery specialist for an opiate overdose program in North New Jersey. This means when I’m on call, a I am deployed to hospitals when a patient overdoses. Next, I arrive at whichever hospital I was directed towards and I interact with the client, try to make a connection, and try to guide them through a treatment process. I can say I’ve seen great things in this program. Can say I have seen lives change too; however, this puts me on the front lines of addiction. That means I’m in the blood and guts of a fight —and sometimes, the things I see are painful. The struggle with addiction is not a stranger to me. But, I do not claim to compare myself in any way, shape, or form. Instead, I do my best to listen and relate whenever possible. I refrain from judgement and I do not shame the client. I simply listen and ask open-ended questions with hopes that the client and I can arrive at some sort of agreement to make different choices. In some cases, I can say I’ve seen victory. In other cases, or during the worst of them like say, when the patient expires in the emergency room, —I can say I have seen the worst of addiction. I can say that I see the results of what happens. And it’s hard when the client is young. And it’s hard when the parents or family is there and they look at me for help.
Some nights, I cry. Sometimes, this kind of pain hurts more than my knees or my ankles after running around a commercial office building and repairing air conditioning , plumbing, and heating equipment.
Sometimes, I wonder about what I do at my day job and I try to think of way I could change this. But I go back to what I said nearly 20 years ago when I started as a local 94 Building Engineer. “This is only temporary until I figure out what I really want to do with my life.”
I laugh because I was young when I said this. I laugh when thinking about my first days on the job. I was a union man now. I worked with my hands. I built things and fixed things. This had value to me. However, not all interactions are kind ones. Over the years, I’ve learned to have an ear for different accents. I’ve learned how to understand those who speak English as a second or maybe even third language. And I’m fine with this (That is until someone butchers the lyrics to songs I grew up with. I draw the line when someone massacres a song from Led Zeppelin, which happened this morning)
Over the last 20 years, I’ve quit thousands of times. I’m sure there are days when I quit at least this many times. But, I show up the next morning and get through another day.
My partner once told me, “You should write a book about this place.”
He said, “You can’t make this stuff up,” and I have to agree.
I can’t make these stories up. They’re just too bizarre.
I’ve worked as a member of Local 94, or The International Organization of Operating Engineers for nearly 20 years now. I’ve seen the best mishaps and heard the best excuses. I’ve watched grown men become old, and seen old men retire with tears in their eyes. I am still the youngest in my crew, which has its share of benefits. However, being the youngest also has its share of faults
The men I work with are from another time. They’re from another age and different neighborhoods. And while they say may sound or appear sexist or chauvinistic, I can assure you it’s not intentional. This is just how they were raised. They use the words, honey, and dear. They call women sweetie and seem frozen in their blue-collar time warp that dates back before the self-entitled millennials.
I work with hard men that come from hard lives and grew up in tough times. At the same time, they have an incredible softness to them. They can be endearing and loyal, and above all else, they know how to laugh.
One of the kindest things a friend ever told me was, “Never be embarrassed that you ain’t one of the suits, Kid.”
“Be proud of who you are,” I was told.
“Don’t feed into that blue collar/white collar shit. Just be you, kid. Nobody else around here is trying to make a difference. We’re all here to collect a paycheck. But you kid, you have to keep your head straight because we see what you’re doing, and to guys like us, you make us proud!”
These words came from one of my partners. I’ve spent hours on tough jobs with him. I call him old and we laugh at each other’s jokes. He laughs at me. I laugh at him. But we both laugh because we both said the same thing. “I’ll just do this for now until I figure out what I want to do when I grow up.”
“Never be ashamed of who you are,” my partner told me, and pointing at my heart he explained, “Because what you got in hear, is better than what anyone else has got up there,” and he finished his explanation by pointing at my head.
“You got something, kid. Yu got something no one else has. And I’m proud of you.”
I never told my partner this, but it chokes me up whenever he says these things to me. And whenever I think about giving up, or giving in, he’s always there to say, “That ain’t happening!”
I’ve worked in both sides of Corporate America. I’ve sat with the suits and white collars but the loyalty was never there. On the corporate side, I was lost in numbers. I was buried by the savvy, and eager to fit, I watched as co-workers knifed each other’s backs for bigger accounts and better commission checks.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t problems on the blue collar side. We just don’t limit our arguments to board rooms or with memos and emails. I’ve found our meetings and complaints to be more deliberate, but often, they can be equally under-handed as any branch of the working world.
However, it’s impressive to watch someone work hard; straining with all their physical might, working with their hands to create something, or build, and yet, be so delicate with their loved ones and families.
Tough lives and tough jobs are not synonymous with a tough heart. In fact, I find those who work hard and those who work hardest as a form of dedication towards their family in whichever field it may be; they are often the softest at heart.
These are the people I work with. We run a commercial office building on the Eastside of Midtown Manhattan. We deal with the tenants and fix what they break. We fix the heat, the A/C, and plumbing calls. We lift heavy things and do heavy work.
We serve the tenants in our building. Some of them yell. They argue and complain. And the ones who yell often wonder why their problems still exist.
I’ve been yelled at . . .
I’ve been insulted and called uneducated. I was physically threatened and grabbed, and yes there is a definitive line between working classes. However, we see what most don’t see.
Working in ceilings and crawling through duct work, or under radiator covers, I’ve found pictures of men with their mistresses. I’ve walked in on bosses groping their secretaries as well as married men doing the unthinkable with other younger men in their office. (And no, I’ve never bribed anyone, but that thought did come to mind a few times)
I’ve seen the unsuspected steal, and I’ve watched them come to justice in front of their co-workers. I’ve seen powerful business men escorted in hand-cuffs with federal agents and they wonder what their home life will be like after the bankruptcy and if it’s true about places for white collar crimes.
I’ve learned that those who bark loudest bite least. I’ve learned those who claim to be, are often not. And just because someone believes they know something, doesn’t mean they know anything. And just because someone tells you you’re wrong, doesn’t mean they’re right
Sure, ugliness lives on both sides of the collar.
A drunk with money is no better than a drunk without it
Mean is mean
And ugly is ugly
A tenant in my building used to degrade the engineers when they came into her suite. She’d say, “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake…..and poisoned it.”
And she wasn’t kidding either. After shouting at my partner, he defended himself against the woman. He put her in her place.
“Oh yeah,” she charged. “Well you wouldn’t talk to me like that if my husband was still alive.”
Stealing a line from Abbot and Costello, my partner shot back, “Honey, you’re husband ain’t dead. He’s just hiding!”
I like my world but it’s sometimes rough around the edges. I like what but I don’t always want to do it.
It’s funny sometimes. Maybe next time, I’ll tell you about my friend who struggles with English and how his wife bought Compound W because she thought it was for stuffed noses. I’ll tell you about the way my friend burned his nostril with wart remover because his wife told him it was for sinus congestion, and then after the pain subsided…. He burned the other nostril
I laugh . . .
Some nights when I’m deployed to hospitals, I think about quitting. I think about giving in and I think about the political problems with what I do and how people are literally dying to addiction. I think about the ignorance I see. I think about the forgetfulness that there are other drug problems in this country that are aside from the opiate epidemic, but yet, somehow, we are easily led and distracted.
Last night, I went to a hospital to see a client that had overdosed three times in one month. I knew him too. Gratefully alive, it was hard to see the client like this. I started to think about what I do and why.
I was thinking about quitting . . .
Maybe I’m not cut out for this, know what I mean?
I heard from a mother who lost her son to an overdose. She thanked me for working with her over the last few weeks. Previously, she was thinking terrible thoughts and not doing the best of things. But she’s good today. And I’m proud of her for this
If I told her I was thinking about quitting, I’m sure she would be like my partner at work and say, “That ain’t happening!”
Still though, it would be nice to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Then again, where’s the fun in that?
God Bless you