Monday, October 29, 2007

Labor Tale

On days like that in July the air was so thick with water that it would collect on the brows of the landscaping workers along the side of the road. The buses rattled by them, throwing the musk of diesel into their already polluted pores.
'This fucking rain better come soon." Tom creeped out of the side of his mouth, carefuly not to make it seem to the foreman as though he was complaining.
The work came day to day, which was great for his usual routine: work for enough time to get the money to drink for a few days, and so on.
If you listened closely you could hear the tree's weep. Above their low weep, the grass (dry to its roots) was screaming. With every step across the dry tinder, the shrill cries of a hundred blades of grass begged for the water to leave the air and permeate the ground.
The other men didn't speak, most didn't even speak English, though Tom could sense a sincere distaste for his American work ethic. There were no union breaks to speak of, but Tom took them anyway.
Miguel, who spoke few words in English, drew his shovel from the dry, sandy soil and tapped Tom on the shoulder. He then used it to motion in the direction of the wide grey clouds in an imposing stance in the distance. It may as well have been a free meal or a bottle of gin. Tom was ecstatic.
Upon seeing the clouds he threw his mound of dirt and dried grass into the pile that had been accumulating all day. He tucked his cheap yellow hard hat under his arm.
"Fuck yeah, boys!" Tom turned, only to hear the foreman shout back even louder.
"See those clouds?" His voice was stern and masculine, but there were wavers of insecurity that led Tom to believe the foreman wasn't cut out for massive union gigs. "Double time! We have to lay this sod before that rain comes."
Tom's hopes dropped as a collective groan crept through the group like a classroom full of eighth graders.
"Too dry..." Miguel said under his breath. Tom nodded but accepted the orders regardless of the weather. The parched earth and Tom both needed piles of green.
The men continued to gather sweat, occasionally stopping to sip from water bottles or wet their hair at a hose. It didn't seem to do much; the humidity was so thick in the air that it congealed the water in thick beads to their hair and necks.
After digging out the necessary three inches of topsoil, they rolled out the sod. The freshly harvested grass was healthy and cool. The deep green rectangles laid sharply contrasting the yellow rags of brush that surrounded them. Tom could feel the soil under the sod heating and drying.
At five o'clock the foreman handed out the pay in cash. Ten fucking dollars an hour, Tom was recalculating the day's work as he thought:
I need a real fucking job.
He knew that he would never work at a "real" job, the last two spot he had he burned up the money on drinking and eventually got fired. He needed it day to day, helped him realize how little he could spend when he went to the bars. He always got enough money to buy cold beer after a hard day's work.
So, Tom took his eight-five dollars and sat on the curb at the bus stop. It usually took him about twenty five minutes to catch the bus after quitting time. He lit a cigarette and took in a drag. The feeling was nothing new, he was tiring of smoking, and in this heat it killed his lungs. A co-worker sat next to Tom.
"This fucking heat, huh?" The man took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow. "Name's Danny, yours?"
"Tom, smoke?" Tom held out his pack hesitantly, hoping Danny would take a cigarette and stop talking about the weather.
"Don't usually, but today was a hell of a day." Danny grabbed a smoke and lit it up. He had a southern twang in his voice, but something about his demeanor was distant from the day labor he was subjecting himself to. It sounded like he had seen the light and turned back.
"As long as the work keeps coming." Tom turned the conversation to labor, the more he thought about the weather the more he needed a drink.
"No way in hell that sod is going to take." Danny seemed sure.
"I don't know, crack a couple of inches down and that soil isn't so bad." Tom hoped the work he did over the course of the day wasn't for nothing.
"I guess we'll see in a couple of days." Danny stood and extinguished his cigarette against a telephone pole.
"I guess so." Tom responded slowly as he saw the 3 bus in the distance. He picked up his bag and flicked his cigarette into the brush.
All those clouds, he though, and not a fucking drop of rain. Tom boarded the bus and fell asleep when he got home. He woke up again at nine and the night was damp and dark. He hopped on the three to head back across town to the bar.
As the bus rolled past the landscaping that Tom had worked on all day, he noticed a group of firefighters putting out the last embers of a fire. A light from the fire truck shined down on the site. Patches of black had spread throughout the roadside. The sod was gone. The soil was scorched. The grass and trees were put out of their misery.

No comments: