An old SOB asked me to share a story he remembers from an afternoon we had spent at the Occidental. The story is told in my little book of short stories, REDNECK, the story is said to be true by my brother, and is one of my favourites. Here it is:
His older brother had told him a story about his father:
It was right before the big war. In Denver. The old man was a kind of contractor. He worked for himself. Built a lot of outdoor fireplace-barbecue pits for people who owned their own homes. Built them out of brick. Good ones too. He’d kept going all summer just building fireplaces. One guy would tell his friend while showing off his fireplace at a Sunday barbecue, “Yeah, got a good deal on this. Built by a private contractor. A real magician with bricks. Just tell him what you want and he builds it. Got to keep him supplied with Coors, but by God he does a good job for a reasonable price.” Kept the old man going all summer.
But the union didn’t like this scab activity. The old man had never bothered to join the union. In fact, he was damned well against the union. Didn’t like FDR either, for some reason. He was sure that Wilkie would beat him, but he was never in tune with times. He bought an Edsel in 1954 right before he shot himself.
Anyway, the union started bugging the old man. Asked him to join. Pointed out that he was ruining the American economy. Helping to destroy the carefully worked out balance between jobs and wages. Several times the business agent found the old man at work and decided he was going to get his initiation money and dues or put him out of action.
Bud was helping the old man on the two days that make up the story. They would leave early in the morning in the old Ford pickup piled high with used bricks, sacks of cement, sand, gravel, shovels, trowels, picks, levels, bologna sandwiches, and quart bottles of Coors. The old truck would jerk out of the yard after being frightened by the old man’s language into making at least one more foray out into the world of construction. They were building a fireplace in Englewood for some rich people who had a double garage and a patio. It was to be the old man’s biggest job. A main barbecue area, a warming oven, a place for small fires in case the kids wanted to roast some wieners and a tall chimney to keep the smoke out of the hose on windy Colorado days. It was about half finished when the business agent drove up.
“Did you ever pay your fees, Les?”
“No, not yet.”
“Well, we can’t have this goddamned scabbing going on anymore.”
“Just building a fireplace. Gotta eat.”
“You could eat better, damn it, if you’d pay your dues like the rest of the guys.”
“See a lot of them out of work. Don’t make much sense to pay dues and then not work.”
“It’s bastards like you that keep the rest of the men out of work.”
“Free country isn’t it?”
“Tell you what. I’m coming back tomorrow with a couple of friends. You better have the fifty bucks.”
“I’ll be here. Working on this job. Should finish tomorrow.
Bud and the old man cleaned up the bricks and sand. The owner wanted the place cleaned up every day so that it looked like no work was going on at all. Didn’t want his yard cluttered he had said when they started. While they cleaned up the old man usually drank a quart of Coors to wash down the dust of bricklaying. Bud did most of this work as the old man leaned on the running board watching him and drinking his beer.
“What’s the guy mean, dad, ‘he’ll be back tomorrow with a couple of friends’?”
“Just bullshitting. Trying to scare fifty out of us, I guess.”
“Us.” The word sounded good. Bud said it made him feel equal. And proud. And he raked down the area around the fireplace with new strength.
Sure enough. The business agent and a couple of friends were back the next day. And they meant business.
“Mornin’ – see you made it.”
“Les, the fifty? Do you have it?”
“Told you yesterday; don’t intend to pay it. Can’t see any reason.”
Let’s be reasonable. I’ve told you why; it’s in your own interest. Now if you are still determined to be a scab we’re here to talk some sense into your head. Just pay up and sign the forms and we’ll be on our way.”
The two discussion leaders moved from the side of the car toward the old man. The B.A. stood his ground by the side of his car holding the forms in his left hand. It was going to take some discussion to change the old man’s mind.
Suddenly one struck out with an overhand right. Les ducked the blow and caught the guy in the gut with a short hard right which doubled him over. Grabbing him with both hands behind the head he pulled him down hard into his knee.
Just as the first guy went down the second landed a hard jab on the old man’s nose. He went down. The B.A. dropped the forms which fluttered away in the Colorado breeze. He ran to join in. Bud had to do something. His dad was on the ground. He grabbed the B.A. around the neck from behind and pulled him down on top of him holding on with all his young strength.
“That’s my dad,” he shouted in the B.A.’s ear as he held him in a choke hold and felt the fury of anger mixed with fear.
No one in the neighborhood heard the sounds of the fight except two small boys who peeked out of the next door window with wide eyes as if they were watching a Saturday matinee fight between Gene Autrey and some outlaws.
Just as the old man finished off the second guy he saw the B.A. break free from Bud’s hold by hitting him in the stomach with his elbow.
He should not have done that.
Les was in a rage. He grabbed the B.A. and knocked him against the garage. Picked him up and knocked him against the garage again and again.
Finally, Bud stopped him. “Dad, it’s over. Dad, please, it’s over.”
“Yeah, I guess it is at that. Better finish the job.”
He took the three guys and put them in the fireplace. Then he put In the last row of bricks and with concrete placed the grill on top.
It was the old man’s biggest job.
- SOB = student of Bob
- click on the picture below to access a poem about my old man
- Buy a copy of REDNECK