Monday, February 8, 2021

Time in Hard Labor


Today's blog post is inspired by another blog post, written by my friend and NY's busiest freelance copywriter George Tannenbaum. It's the not very glamorous tale of his early manual working days and time he earned a living as a roofer. 

The work is hot, sweaty and a few rungs up the ladder from indentured servitude. In other words, It's the work American kids no longer want to do, hence the sustenance of a large class of underpaid immigrant labor. You can read his piece here.

I have my own similar tale. Pictured above is the house I grew up in. It looks a lot different now. Cleaner. Bigger (note the addition on the right). And better landscaped.

The house sits on a small plateau, in the middle of a hill that runs, from the top, where Cherry Lane School sits and a swampy area down by Lorna Lane. As such, it tended to gather water whenever there was rain or melting snow. That water found its way into the bottom floor of our modest split level ranch house.

This sent my father, a first time homeowner, into Defcon 5. 

One well established handyman from Suffern, NY estimated the repair to cost upwards of 5 thousand dollars. In the late 1960's, that was shit ton of money. It was also money he did not have. Nor, as it turns out and contrary to the many canards about my people, did any of our ner' do well relatives, who were also eating ketchup sandwiches and wearing grocery store-bought sneakers long past their prime.

My father, who long ago taught me, "if you're gonna do a job you gotta do it right" yielded to his default position, "if you're gonna do a job and can't afford to have it done right, pick up a Time Life book on waterproofing your basement and put your grumpy pre-teen sons to work."

While the old man was absorbing the tenets of good solid waterproofing, my brother and I were handed a wheelbarrow, and two sturdy spades capable of penetrating the dirt in appropriately named Rockland County and told to produce a 4 foot deep trench around 3/4 of our house. 

He paid us 10 cents a barrel. It should be noted that 7 year olds working in China were making 12 cents for an equal amount of labor.

Just thinking about it gives me night sweats. Night sweats about about my pre-pubescent spring and summer sweats.

As if that were not a tough enough challenge for two kids who spent their formative years in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, my incredibly resourceful father built a rectangular screening device from some old 2X4's and some industrial grade chicken wire. 

He showed us how to place the removed dirt on top of the screen to sift out all the rocks and such, leaving a wheel barrow full of pristine, top soil, which we hauled to the backyard for my mother's vegetable garden.

When the trench was sufficiently dug out, we painted the exposed cement foundation with some smelly, sticky, tarry substance, which my father thought was beautiful. We laid perforated drainage pipe around the perimeter of the house. Returned the rocks back to their homes. Complemented by new heavy duty 1' inch gravel. And topped it all off with the excess soil from the garden.

The project took more than 7 months. 

And far from being the end of my father's journey into home improvement it was just the beginning. He scooped up the entire Time Life Series of books. Acquired every power tool under under the Sears Roebuck sun. And he built bookshelves. Room additions. Even a Finnish sauna in the master bathroom.

Of course, when I say He, I mean We, as in the collective. 

"Hand me the router."

"Start sanding this down."

"Fire up the grinder."

When the moat around the house was all done, my brother and I walked away with about 87 dollars a piece. I also learned that if I didn't want to live my life as a ditch digger, I'd better stay in school so I could   get a better station in life. 

A  job in advertising. 

1 comment:

queenblogalina said...

Good to remember, especially when sitting while a client rewrites one's carefully researched and written copy in order for it to not make sense.