I was young and working in a new world with new people who came from different backgrounds and even different parts of the world.
A morning came when I was no longer fit for my life in a suit, which I changed by trading in my tie and briefcase for a blue collar life with a different level of understanding.
In which case, I learned and understood without any shadow of a doubt that life is life and work is work. I came to the realization that everyone has a boss and that no one comes to work for the food and friends, at least not for the most part.
I chose to walk away from the ideas of me being the top earner and salesman in an industry that was both disloyal and dying. I was tired of the highbrow abusiveness. I was tired of the mean spirited cut-throats who’d smile while stealing your commissions. I was tired of the outrage and lies by some who I’d sworn were good to me, until they weren’t. I was angry and hateful of those who I had to be nice to. These are the people who everyone hates at the job; so much so that you’d snarl or curse beneath your breath whenever their names were mentioned.
Rather than allow my income to be sales based, I chose to make a switch to something where my salary was performance based. In some cases, I resigned my dreams of partnerships and work trips on airplanes to factories overseas.
I gave up the idea of me being the great businessman, tourist who vacations in Greece or know-it-all versions of people who I’d seen on a regular basis at work. To hell with them and their manicured nails, a visit to the country club and/or and cleaner living because they never have to get their hands dirty.
I took this example of life and rid the pictures of my mind of me in an office or sitting behind a desk. Instead, I transferred this idea into a blue collar view.
No more meetings. No more sales calls. No more receptionists or assistants who blocked me from my goals and no more getting ripped off by fellow salespeople; no more broken promises and no more “overseas” knockoffs of my original designs just to save money. No more factory dilemmas or garment industry glitches. No more designers and production managers who lie through smiles and never return your phone calls.
This meant that I wouldn’t be used at a capacity like this to advance a design or sales driven entity. No, instead, I chose a physical result – to see my work in front of me, to build or repair with my hands; to monetize my efforts and gain the protection and solidarity of a unionized field with benefits, annuities, pensions, sick time, vacation and, of course, an under-estimated earning potential.
I traded my W-2 tax forms and saw that I was misinformed about the skilled labor trades. I was doing well. I was learning and earning better than when I was a salesman.
Of course, I started where everyone starts. At the bottom. I was an apprentice or a “helper” as we were called. I fetched tools. I cleaned up after my mechanics. I did the grunt work, breaking into walls, opening up structural columns in commercial office buildings, fetching what was needed and along the way, earning a living.
I learned to swing wrenches. I learned to repair plumbing systems and how to diagnose electrical problems. I learned to familiarize myself with heating and cooling equipment and from here I educated myself, both in a classroom and in a real-life setting.
There was a big job that was finalized by a large contractor who rebuilt more than 50,000 sq. ft. of commercial office space. If I recall, this was the entire ninth floor of a large building in New York City’s Eastside at Midtown
There were challenges with this job. There were schedule collisions and different trades people who could not get along. There was ductwork and plumbing work and, of course, there was electrical work and electrical pipe in the ceilings that clashed or “hit” into other piping in the ceilings.
Then of course, there were the workers who worked the job. There were those whose effort and sweat assembled the office and orchestrated the entire build-out from the first stages of construction all the way up to completion.
There was a laborer on the job who kept this all moving. He was the super’s right hand man and the one who helped organized work for the day. He was a good man. Dry sense of humor, but funny nonetheless. Safe to say that I called him my friend.
Safe to say that most people liked him. Except for some people, like one of the younger electricians who saw to it to pull practical jokes all the time.
The young electrician was quick with a snide remark and often came close to physical altercations. However, due to the young electricians family connection and since his name was well-known and connected to powers that be, the young man saw himself as untouchable. And maybe he was to some degree. (This is why everyone hates nepotism!)
The constriction went well for the most part and, in spite of some arguments, the jobsite was mainly a fun place to be.
We used to play poker at lunchtime. But, we had to limit the ante because people were getting pissed about their losses – and trust me, the last person you want holding your ladder is someone who you cleaned out at the last hand of a poker game.
It was the end of the job and the carpeting was the last step before the office space was prepped with cubicles and other equipment.
The laborer worked hard to keep the jobsite clean yet there were others who were slobs. They left their food and soda cans around. Then there was the electrician who by now, the laborer hated and so did everybody else.
The laborer monitors the job and helps with the scheduling. He makes sure the workspace is cleaned up at the end of the day and that all protection to the property is in good condition. This is not an easy position.
Finally, as the job came to an end, the laborer had just swept the entire floor, which was big, and then he was preparing the overtime moments for when the carpeting was to be installed during the evening ahead.
And there he was, the young electrician.
An arrogant prick. A wise ass and a baby at the same time. He was a name dropper; a person who talked about who he knew, just to keep people on their toes and yes – no one liked him and yes, everyone at the jobsite was sick of him. Everyone wanted to kick him down a flight of stairs but no one could do it. At least, not yet.
The electrician was on a ladder. On top of the ladder was a small box with small parts and wire nuts and electrical fittings for electrical piping.
The electrician spilled his box from the top of the ladder when moving the ladder from one spot to another.
He was laughing because after the floor had just been swept clean and the electrical parts fell to the floor and some of the pieces rolled away. This was funny to him
The electrician laughed from the bottom step on the ladder. “Oops,” he said. “Looks like you’ll have to sweep that up too.”
The laborer was not a big man by any means. However, his hands were hard as stone. He was strong and perhaps not seen as “tough” per-se; but then again, the electrician was nothing more than a wise-ass kid or “punk” is what most people called him.
The laborer was tired and weary. He was frustrated with all the that happened throughout the day and here’s this guy, a young prick, having a laugh at the laborer’s expense.
This is when I saw how no matter who you are or who your family is, eventually, nepotism ends and reality begins.
The laborer was perhaps a few inches above five feet tall. The electrician was tall, skinny and lanky and much closer to six feet.
The laborer approached the ladder where the electrician stood doing minor repairs to the lights in the celling. He placed his broom against the freshly painted wall. Then he turned his attention to the electrician. The laborer stepped forward, reached up and then he wrapped his right hand around the electrician’s throat. He pulled the young electrician off of the ladder and then BAM! He slammed the electrician into the wall.
The look of fear on the kid’s face was phenomenal and no one was breaking this up. No one objected and, for the first time; this young man was about to learn that no one cared who his uncle was anymore.
What the laborer said stuck with me.
With his hand tight around the neck of the young electrician he said:
In my life, I have three takes.
I take my time
I take my breaks
And I take no shit!
Now, grab a broom and clean it up your fucking self.
He didn’t yell. He didn’t snarl. Instead, the laborer spoke with a calm voice of authority.
Although I do not condone violence, I do think that lessons come and that in most cases (no differently from the lesson taught to the electrician) people learn how to behave after a moment when they’re humbled in front of everyone.
As for the laborer, he was not disciplined in any way. The electrician never worked for the company again and no one saw him around at any other jobs. My guess is he was humiliated. But who knows?
Maybe he learned a lesson