Wednesday, April 20, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 110: The $4.17 Sermon

The $4.17 Sermon
Friday, April 20, 1979

On this drizzly day a great big truck pulling a tractor-driven drilling rig shows up at my building site.  They're costing me $400 per hour.  The quiet hillside becomes a bedlam of growling engine, chewing tractor treads, smelly diesel exhaust - and then the powerful grind of the drill. 

For the foundation we need 11 holes, 12" in diameter, extending to whatever depth the soil engineer - at $100 per hour - decides we need to go.  The engineer in white hard hat studies the clay and rocks as the steel blade screws them out of the hillside.  Eleven feet deep for this hole, 13 feet for the next.  We never strike bedrock - often in La Honda bedrock is 30 or 50 feet down, and not all that solid anyway - but the engineer decides that a dozen feet of "skin friction" will support the piers.  (Nowadays, standards are higher.) 

This is to be my house. 

At one point, a pile of dirt needs to be moved.  The only construction machinery on this hillside is the blue-painted drilling rig.  It's a task for a man with a shovel.  Me.  I start digging.

The rig operator is a young white man wearing a yellow hard hat and a T shirt that says MALCOLM DRILLING.  He leans out of the rig and sneers, "Where's your Mexican?"

Shit, that's ugly.  I'm familiar with bigotry - I grew up in southern Maryland - but this kind of casual gratuitous racist insult always seems to catch me by surprise. 

I glare at the rig operator.  Surprised, he glares back.  Muscles twitch.  Bystanders - the truck driver, the engineer - watch expectantly.  It's one of those hair-trigger moments.  And it passes.  We've got jobs to do.

At $500 per hour, I'm not going to take the time - and the futility - of engaging in a teach-in on the subject of Brotherhood.  Best estimate: a 30 second glare.  Which cost me $4.17 at the going rate.

Nothing is changed.  Or maybe, ever so slightly, something has.  The operator makes no more comments.

We move on.

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