The Dawning of the Same (The Construction Guy #4)

After realizing that my life was going no where, I decided to go back to school. Upon entering college I was shocked at the amount of work that I would have to do just to become a teacher. I settled on becoming a gym teacher because I liked sports and I figured that would be the one class every student wanted to go to. Besides, how hard could it be? Roll out a ball and play some games. Easy as could be.

I got shocked into the educational reality right away. Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology, theory, skills progressions, and all of the other stuff that came in droves. I was taught how to integrate writing into the gym. We learned that mathematics should be included in our lessons. The professors showed us the importance of bringing technology into the gym. This stuff was hard. All I really wanted to do was play dodgeball, but according to the professors, that ancient game of fun was the quickest ticket for physical education to find its way out of schools. They preached the gospel of respectability and the importance of being a part of the educational vision.

So on my first day I stood at the gates of a school that was going to experience the new PE and they would like it. As a construction guy I had worked some really awful jobs. Once the septic backed up into a basement we were framing. Oh, the smell. Another time we worked through the latest, hottest summer in history. Sometimes my fingers bled. My back ached. I was ready for the finer working life. Inside. Warm. Safe.

Just as I had been shocked at my professors insistence that PE was changing, so too would I be when I stood before the students and explained that they would be taking PE as an academic endeavor. Sure we would play games, but they would be responsible for analyzing the strategies behind the games, reflecting on their level of commitment, and actually changing for class. I may as well have been a vacant in Baltimore when Snoop and Chris got the 27-caliber nail gun because the boos and angst where enough to pierce whatever teacher preparation was protecting me. Of course I barked back and so set the foundation for what was to be a difficult start to the school year. We all survived and I wondered what I had done. At least with construction I did not have be personable.

The second year was a little better. I knew all of the things I had been taught to teach, lead-up games, progressions, word walls, scaffolding. I knew what the public perception of schools and PE were. And I knew that my colleagues had a very different view of the school experience than I did. They had seen the flip-flopping from year to year. They knew of the scheduling maze that sometimes led to PE classes being dumping grounds for students that were not succeeding in other areas. They were aware of school business stopping because the administrators had to deal with a parent’s complaint that her daughter had been laughed at too much during a cheerleading routine at halftime of last night’s basketball game. They had learned that whether they taught with the inspiration of a Kennedy or the sheer rugged determination of Patton that they would still just be PE teachers. So why not play dodgeball? The kids like it.

I wrestled with this logical apathy. Why had I spent all of that time in school to learn the best methods of instruction only to enter a profession that did not accept they new ways PE teachers were being trained. More and more I felt like the standards were not very high for PE unless there was an issue related to the budget. Then PE was too expensive and “what do they do in there anyway?” It was like the time I knew a the framing for a client’s powder room was off. Rather than fix the problem my boss ordered us to go ahead and put in the dry wall. When the plumbers arrived to put the sink in, it didn’t fit. The cut a hole in the drywall and left the job with kudos from the foreman. They saved some money and finished as scheduled without regard to doing what was right.

“Right on time and they’ll never know,” the foreman said.

Over the next two years things got better once I realized that I would not survive if I did not back off of the dream that professors have for physical education. I also struggled to balance my disappointment at the sell out I saw myself becoming. In one ear I could hear the trumpets of “relevance and rigor” and in the other I could hear the violins of a funeral procession. I really began to study PE and found that I could use the mission and objectives of the school to my advantage. Everything came together like that moment when a dodgeball is about to peg you and you slip it Matrix style as my principal discussed the need to improve standards across all subjects and to make achievement quantifiable. I knew this was my chance to make sure everything was measured right and I was damn sure I would make the sink fit. PE would matter because the kids would have to perform.

Game on…

Things Change (The Construction Guy #3)

When I finally got my car back from the cop’s brother, I was really surprised. The shop the guy owned decided to do a promotional video in the style of Pimp My Ride without telling me. I was cool with it, though, since my $100 dollar car got upgraded with new seats, new paint, really new everything. They did their video using an iPad and posted it right away to YouTube thinking they would be the next viral sensation. I thanked them and hit it hard down the road with everything my tricked out little Vega could muster. I was jacked at the power and knew it was time to make a statement.

With the Saturday sun setting, I got my darkest shades, baggiest pants, and hopped into my pimped up mobile to see some old friends. You see, I had a score to settle with the dudes at the grocery store who had turned me a couple of weeks ago for stealing my own car. As I got closer to the parking lot, I cranked my weld breaking speakers with some Ozomatli thinking my Mexican friends would be down with my Latin connection. I timed it perfectly for right when the singer announced, “Let me tell you a little thing about LA. WE LOVE IT!!!,” I was turning into the parking lot as the coolest gringo cholo I could be in a restored Vega. The base was thumping, the horns blaring, and the response…not what I expected. They laughed.

I thought this clan of intimidating souped up Japanese car riding Chicanos would have appreciated my not so subtle throw down. Instead, they thought I was an idiot.

But they loved my car…

We hung out for awhile and I learned that these guys had all been born in America. They were just as apple pie as I was. They all had jobs, degrees, and families that they cared for very much. They were a part of all the same things as me except for one thing, they weren’t too concerned with my background as a white man. They explained that they thought I was stealing the car and that was why they had called the cops. White guy stealing a car equals bad guy… They were looking out for the community and I looked like a bad dude.

Hmmm, the racial thoughts had turned against me. I had been profiled. That night in the parking lot I had a tungsten moment. With spanish guitar calming the air, I thought about these guys as role models. They were solid citizens. I was not. My life had been about “getting by” and I was very tired by the effort it took to live that way. My life in construction had been hard and after a week of trying to dig a hole in poured concrete and through loose rock around a footer at a Wal-Mart, I decided to tighten up. There would be no more picking trash cans for golf club bags or getting drunk after work. Gone were the days of sinking my money into nothing like old cars and bags of pork rinds. I needed to clean myself up, go back to school, and work in a career that would make a difference in the lives of people.

I would become a teacher. Besides, I went to school and did okay. How hard of job could teaching be?

So after having my cultural foundation dug out by these super cool guys, I headed home in my Vega under the auspices of hope and change. Too bad I was still too excited about my journey into a different life to remember that the speed limit is 25mph going to down the big hill into town. Once again, the lights of the law announced my violation of the accepted rules of the road. This time, though, I was guilty and ready to accept the consequences of my actions.

The officer approached my car and said, “Yo man, you’ve got to slow down. Could you step out of the car?”

I new the drill and was ready to go downtown, but this time would be different. The officer reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone.

“Dude, I can’t believe that it is you. You are the guy on the YouTube video. What they did to your car is craaaaaazzzzzy. Can I get a picture of you next to it?”

Having been on the wrong end of so many law enforcement encounters recently, I was quite confused. Somehow my life had been one of “almost” where being arrested was concerned. I still sported a clean record with no blemishes, but being paparazzied by a sworn officer of the law sealed the deal on my life changing momentum. I had better ride this for all it was worth, because who knows when things might change. I’m going to be a teacher.

“Sir, would you like the door open or closed?” I asked.

A Screwdriver and Some Wheels (The Construction Guy #2)

I was living large having just made a cool $500 dollars selling newly trashed golf bags. My philosophy, if you’ve got unexpected cash, waste it. So I started thinking about what would be an appropriate blow out of my newfound riches when the answer came blasting from the speakers in my van. The message was more party central than angelic, but its vibe hit me with the power of an evangelist bringing the healing power to my soul. “Can I get an amen for a $100 pick up truck?” preached Jimmy Buffet. His words brought a sense to my purpose of blowing my cash without any pause for responsibility.

“I’m gonna get me a car,” I said.

When I got home, I called some of my degenerate friends. One said his father had an old 1977 Vega in his garage that I could probably have for about a hundred bucks. He said it ran, but that there were some peculiar things about the car. He wasn’t kidding. It was orange, that Denver Broncos orange crush orange from the 70s. The interior was ragged out and the driver side window was busted. A family of chipmunks lived in the roof lining, but the car was unique. If I was driving this, everyone would be looking at me.

“You sure it runs?” I asked.

My boy’s father reached in his back pocket and pulled out a Phillip’s head screwdriver. “It’s been awhile, but let’s see what we’ve got.”

It was late in the day and nearly as hot as Friday when I got the golf bags. Where the spirit was barren Friday, today was alive in that fairy tale kind of way. Birds chirped, deer stood with their young, and a butterfly gently landed on the hood of the car. The old man got behind the wheel and with a turn of the screwdriver the bucolic setting was transformed into a storm of coughs, sputters, and blasts until finally the motor decided it had what it took. There was a bit of high pitched whine, but the old car was a gamer.

In more ways than one, it seemed.

Years ago the car had been stolen. Fortunately, it was returned, but the ignition had been busted and the only way to start the car was with the screwdriver. There wasn’t any money to repair it so the old man just drove it as it was. He had the title somewhere in the house, but he was leaving for work and would’t be home until the next day. If I wanted the car $100 dollars would do the trick.

I handed him a C-note, grabbed the rather long key, and took off down the road in a style all of my own.

But that was when my Vega nightmare was just getting started.

While originally hyped as the next great car, the Chevy Vega seems to have had some engine problems. There was something about seizing engines and what not. The sun had set, the one window that worked was down (there was no other window), and then the car started dancing. It wasn’t really a hip-hop dance, more of a salsa. There was a step forward, one back, a pull to the left. I had done salsa in gym class years ago, so I knew that this kind of gyrating by the car was probably not good. Leaving the dance floor was my best option, so I pulled into a grocery store parking lot. I parked away from the other cars, checked the oil, and found the car was really low. This is the life of $100 cars and off I went to get some oil.

It took a little longer than I had expected because this grocery store had a cafeteria inside. I grubbed…for free…since I paid with my golf bag money. See how I think?

The lot was empty except for a convention of low riders with tricked out Japanese imports. All of the cars were super clean and super pimped with spoilers and tinted windows. One guy had left his trunk open and the sounds of Mexico were entertaining these guys. I could care less where a person is from. People are good or bad based on the way they act, not where they are from or how they look. I also believe not everyone thinks that way, so when I was nearing a bunch of guys speaking Spanish while looking at me, I hoped they were an enlightened sort. I put my head down and headed for my car. They just stared.

Back to the business of getting hamster mobile back on the road. The first thing was the oil. Check. The next thing was a quick start. Not check. Before I sat down, I pulled out the key which was akin to drawing a sword from its scabbard. As I did this for some reason I looked back to the crew behind me and they were still giving me the evil eye. I felt like I better get out of there fast. But the car would not start. I giggled the wires. I pumped the accelerator. I hit the steering wheel. Nothing happened except the sweat built up on my forehead and the language from my mouth became less appropriate. I was lost in junk car land and full of paranoia that my life was nearing an end as the fancies of Mexican descent with Hondas and Toyotas as their rally wheels were going to extol a beating on me just because I wasn’t like them.

I hadn’t noticed the other two cars that joined their gang.

A couple of state troopers were talking to the auto club and they were all looking at me. Remember, I said people are people no matter their creed, but here I am a white guy being called out by dudes from Mexico to cops that coincidently happened to be African American. The test of my life philosophy was being tempted by the scurge of bigotry and given the course of my last couple of days, I was due for a downer. The officers strutted over to my car with a coolness that made the night’s air almost bearable. I found myself resigned to a beat down for I knew all of those years of abuse at the hands of ignorant racists was about to come back on me.

“Could you step out of the car, sir?” one of the officers asked. I got out fully expecting to take a night stick up side the head. When it didn’t happen I got totally lost in events. I remember pleading my innocence, but still ending up in the back of police car. I heard the policeman thanking the Mexican dudes for being so vigilant. Then I saw my limo carted off like some piece of evidence in a car theft ring.

And that’s just what the cops thought I had been part of, a car theft ring. When I explained my story to these rather intimidating protectors of the municipality they could not believe what they were hearing. Out in the hall I could hear them talking, “He expects us to believe that a shabby dressed white guy, sitting in a car with no driver’s side window, and a screwdriver for a key didn’t steal that car. C’mon….” Since my defense was working and wouldn’t be home until 10:00 the next morning the officers said I would have to stay with them until they could check out my story. I thought I would go Wei Bei again and ask if they could get me something to eat. Either I’m further up on the criminal food chain or these guys are just good people because they got me a Snickers and Dr. Pepper.

The next morning the officers were able to verify my story. My bud’s father brought all of the paper work to the police station and everything turned out alright. As I was leaving, the taller officer came over and told me about his brother’s shop where they could work on the car for pretty cheap. I took his bros number, my screwdriver from the officer, and set out to jimmy the ignition in of all places a police station parking lot. The motor turned and purred like it was just off the assembly line. I sat back in the peeling seats and I realized that my faith in people was correct. It’s not how you look. It’s who you are. I was ashamed at my paranoia and venture into the “pit of less diverse appreciation” for I knew that I was better than that.

Anyway, off to work.

In the Bag (The Construction Guy #1)

The summer heat had begun to fuse the crevices of my brain together. Each day was hotter than the next and let me tell you, putting up a fence in that kind of heat sucks. The lines of the links began create some kind of hallucinogenic wave and I really began to question my stamina for this job. Evidently, some kids had been riding their bikes off of a ledge that was about 15-feet off the ground behind this shopping mall. We were hired to put up a fence to keep the daring set from hurting themselves. Well, at least to keep the threat of a law suit to a minimum.

For three days we had been digging posts, stretching fence, and making the whole thing look just right. Now, at the end of my sanity and right behind a large box-sporting-goods-store, we were finishing up. The early evening sun was absent of life. It hung there with an oppression that took my will right away. As I looked around to make sure we were cleaned up and ready to go an oasis appeared before my eyes. Behind the sporting goods store, employees marched like ants towards a dumpster. Each was carrying two golf bags which were still wrapped in plastic. One by one to the count of ten they tossed them into the bin and dutifully walked back into the store. With the slamming of the door, they were gone.

Now, I don’t golf, but I know people like their bags. I’ve seen enough Storage Wars to know there is money out there to be made on stuff people don’t want.

“Yo, fellas, let’s get those bags and try to sell them,” I said to the crew.

There was some discussion as to the legality of taking the bags from the trash and ultimately, the guys were too tired to be bothered. I decided that I would come back after dark and get the bounty that rested in the rough.

Later that night, after the stores had closed, I went back to scene to see if the bags were still there. Sure enough, there were ten perfect golf bags still wrapped in plastic for the taking. I began loading them into my work van without paying any attention to the rest of the world. All I knew was that I was going to make some money. The mall security guard passed by and the lights on his little car were like fireworks celebrating my find. One last bag, a quick dust off, and I was on my way.

But this was only the beginning of my golfing nightmare.

About five miles down the round the fireworks went off again. Only this time, it was the state police. Maybe I was speeding, but when the officer asked me “to get out of the vehicle,” I knew something was up. The criminal checklist went off. Drinking? Nope. Drugs? Don’t do them. Rent? Paid. No fights, no accidents, what could it be? All I knew was that I needed to be polite, because if nothing else, police officers are a serious sort who must always be ready for the unexpected danger.

“Sir, could you open up your van?” the officer asked with the same oppressive air as the evening sun.

I opened it up and there were all my tools and the golf bags.

I’m not really sure how the rest of it went down. I know I pled my innocence, but somehow I still ended up in the back of the police car. Once we got to the station, I sat for hours before another solemn sounding officer took my statement. He said he would have to check my story in the morning and that I would have to stay with them until everything was worked out. Thankfully it would be Saturday and I was off. Then, in a move inspired by The Wire, I asked if the officers would be kind enough to get me something to eat. I guess that’s only for murders and television because I got nothing.

At 10:00 the next morning, another dower public servant entered the room. He explained that the store manager had confirmed that the bags had been thrown away. Since I had not committed a crime, I was free to go.

As I was leaving the suddenly perky policeman asked, “How much do you want for a bag?”

I thought for a moment about a fair price. “If you’ll smile, I’ll give it to you for free.”

He must not have thought it funny. I took all ten bags to the New Castle Farmer’s Market and drove away $500 dollars richer.