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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

HOM: BlockHead

I showed up at Glacier Concrete bright & early the next morning, sporting an old pair of boots and a new pair of leather gloves and a short sleeved shirt. The shirt and the gloves were mistakes. Jim Melick took me out and introduced me to the art of handling concrete blocks. He showed me a bunch of rusty metal racks, built like extra-thick triple-tiered sets of shelves about six feet high, six feet wide, and three feet deep. Each "shelf" held two 1/4" inch thick, 18"x20" steel plates and on each plate were two thirty-pound concrete blocks. He showed me a stack of wooden pallets, and then walked me through the procedure of transferring the blocks from the plates to the pallets. The blocks had actually been molded on the plates and were literally cemented down, so you had to break each block loose and then lay it on its side on the pallet, snugged up against adjoining blocks. Jim stressed two points -- they had to be stacked neatly in a certain pattern and all the little pebbles & debris that fell off the blocks had to be carefully swept off the pallet and again off of each layer. The concrete particles and such, if left under the blocks, would act like little ball bearings and allow the blocks to slide off the pallet when it was loaded or moved. Jim said that if I goofed the stacking and he lost a pallet of blocks because of it, it would cost me my job and a few teeth besides. (Later on I understood his reasoning, after he dumped a couple of pallets of badly stacked concrete blocks in the intersection at Main & Idaho. He had to reload them all by hand while the police directed traffic around him. Nope - tweren't me that was to blame!) So -- start at head height, use your fist to knock one of the front blocks loose, slide it off of the plate, turn and lay it on the pallet after making sure you'd brushed the crud off. Repeat for the second front block, then pry out the plate and stack it aside, then reach back in for one of the back two blocks, repeat for the next eight hours... Jim watched me for a while and then wandered off, just returning to haul off loaded pallets or replace empty racks with full ones. Arnold kept an eye on me from the office. By the end of the day, both arms were scratched raw from the rusty racks, the new gloves were in tatters, and my fingers were raw. I was rusty, dusty, dirty and sweat soaked. I walked into the office at quitting time & Arnold gave me a once-over, noting the blood, the sweat, and the smile I'd made a point of pasting on. I'd passed the test so I got the job... TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)