Visiting a Worksite

Bruce "The Boss" Springsteen often writes his songs about people driving in their cars, and I do that too in my stories, and that's pretty much the only similarity between us.

And yesterday, as I was driving in my car, I had to slow down for some tree-trimmers in the road. They were signaling for cars to wait as their coworker cut down a large limb overhanging the street, and I watched through my windshield as the two waved their arms and craned their necks skyward, studying the rustling up above to see when they might need to dodge.

This was on the way home from work, and pretty late in the day to be trimming trees. They were probably trying to get done before dark so they wouldn't have to come back this morning. I've never trimmed trees like that before, but it looked to me like they had a lot left to do. With one guy still up there and branches strewn all across the yard, they probably weren't going to get home until well after nightfall, perhaps finishing up by the light of their truck's headlights.

Both the workers on the ground were muscular and tattooed, shirtless of course, not as tan as roofers but still pretty dark, and with the taut, smooth look of zero-body-fat you only see in exercise commercials. Neither seemed even mildly aware of his partial nudity in the street, having had an entire summer to get used to going shirtless.

I sat in my car and waited for the limb to fall.

Once it hit the pavement, both men dragged it off into the yard, each waving us past with his free hand. I pressed on the accelerator and rolled on toward the stoplight, waiting now to turn south toward home.


When I got home, I grabbed a beer and flipped through the mail. We got a credit card statement and some offers to refinance the mortgage. There was a finance charge and a late fee on the credit card bill, saying they'd received last month's payment two days late. Since it was only two days, and the fees were outrageous, and I always pay in full every month, I called the customer service hotline and asked them to remove it, and they did.

I'm not sure if the tree trimmers could get a late fee credited to their accounts. While I waited on hold I thought about that, realizing that whoever answered on the other end at Mastercard would probably be sympathetic to a nice, pleasant-sounding, educated voice, which I can do pretty easily. My background is in pleasant, civil interactions.

A friend of mine, who's generally pretty broke, recently told me about his car loan, which was 13%. It reminded me of an article I'd read about lenders gouging minorities and people with low incomes, particularly automotive lenders. I doubt my friend read the article, because he doesn't really read articles like that.

My couch was soft beneath me as I sat down and hung up the phone, and the rug under my feet was soft as well. I looked up at the lamps in the corner and appraised the light coming from them. It, too, was soft. I took a drink from my beer bottle and looked down at my stomach.


Later we watched Sullivan's Travels on the big-screen downstairs. It was slow in parts, with a lot of fast talking and staging that seemed more appropriate to a play than a movie, but still a great film. All about "A Hollywood director, tired of churning out comedies, [who] decides to write a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, he hits the road as a hobo. On his journey he finds the lovely Veronica Lake and more trouble than he ever dreamed of."

When it was over, I thought back on the tree trimmers and my secret idea to become one. "Maybe that's what I need to do," I had thought to myself at the stoplight. "Get a real job, and do honest work... no more of this pansy copywriting stuff. I've always liked climbing trees."

It was a ridiculous idea. I wouldn't last two days as an arborist - the sunburn alone would require hospitalization. And that's if they didn't club me over the head with a pole saw just for having gotten a degree in philosophy. Or I'd say something goofy and get myself ostracized from the crew even further.

What's a lot more likely is that I'll eventually get a tree-trimming service as a client, and I'll write an advertising campaign for these rugged guys. I'll visit a worksite, and everyone will be nice to me, because they'll know I was hired by the company owner, and after half an hour I'll go get a glass of water in an air-conditioned trailer. I'll be "The Boss," and not the beloved, bandanna-d voice of the common man. Just the college-educated white-collar dweeb around whom you have to watch what you say.

I'm not saying I would trade, either. I'm just saying that even if I wanted to, I couldn't, no more than those guys could say the right thing in a meeting and land themselves a salaried position at a desk job.

Maybe one day I'll write something that will make those guys smile. Perhaps I'll do an ad or something that gives one of them something to think about as he scales trunks and dodges branches, or a story that he thinks tells it like it is. Maybe.

One thing's certain, though: it sure would be nice to have that body.


Thomas said...

Good story bro, I smiled. I feel the same way sometimes. I guess that's why I work on stuff myself. Isn't that a token towards being a bandanna-d average joe?

Anonymous said...

Amazing post. Well done, love.

Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

I saw an art director once with his shirt off at the "Y," with his subtly defined muscles, messy dark hair, and love handles he couldn't work off no matter how many crunches he did and thought: That's a dream worth chasing.