The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

splendid perfection

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

These gentlemen were observed recently, consumed by their labors fulfilling the Real Estate Industrial Complex’s dream of maximizing the urban density and population of Astoria.

As you can see, one of the fellows on this scaffold is leaning into his work, stretching his arm and twisting his spine in a manner which OSHA inspectors would likely disapprove of. The two men, and what would appear to be buckets of ready mix cement, are perched on a pedestal of three boards that are supported by the steel structure. Certain past occupations, jobs held when one was a younger and more vital narrator, demanded clamboring onto similar scaffolds and I can report that they are shaky albeit stable structures.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even a small vibration, such as dropping a tool or merely the action of shifting weight from one foot to the other, will make these temporary and quite modular structures quiver and rattle.

Climbing up is simple, but descent leads to uncertainty and doubt when the towering temporary structure begins to rattle and groan. They are pretty safe, however, unless something or something drops from the platform. That can be messy.

I’ve always been a bit too prissy for this sort of work, not physically strong enough for the demands of such occupation, but my Dad wasn’t. The Old Man was forced to do a lot of stupid things at work, and more than once he would suddenly appear in the family home, back in the Flatlands, covered in blood and displaying torn clothing. All he would say would be “go get your mother,” followed by “go tell your Aunt to call your Uncle at work and tell him to take us at Maimonides (hospital.) Didn’t happen often, but when Pop came home at 11:30 a.m., either somebody fell of the scaffold or he did.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Never quite clear why the Old Man always had my Uncle drive him from the Flatlands to Borough Park for emergency repairs, but this would happen whenever he fell off a ladder or ran afoul of some mechanized tool. Once, he even had a pail of Lye splash into his face and he was blind for a few months. It wasn’t all the time, of course, but often enough. Dad wasn’t in a Union, and those injuries of his just kind of came with the chaotic environment of the work place. Such bad familial fortune made me keenly aware of the dangerous world inhabited by the “Working Guys,” and it shreds me when I see two laborers working like this. One of their kids is likely going to be told “go get your mother.”

That shape is the outline of a demolished house.

These guys are three stories over where the sidewalk should be and working without a wire. One of my neighbors is a Union guy and he sets up safety cones when unloading groceries from his car.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Excesses and corrupt practices in the world of Organized Labor are many, and varied, but here’s where the Union guys shine. First thing any of them do at work is put on a hard hat, goggles, and work shoes. They also would never, ever, do this without tying themselves off to a harness. Likely, they would insist on the use of some sort of specialized machine to raise and lower a work platform, and demand to use “best practice” techniques in completing the work- not because they want it to be expensive but because they want to do it right.

They wouldn’t be reaching out over a three story drop and splashing concrete around like Jackson Pollock. Not without a guy from the bucket winchers regional, 2 guys from the trowelers local 6, somebody to hold a caution sign, a crew from platform handlers national, and a few carpenters.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 10, 2013 at 12:55 am

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