It was windy and an ugly dust was blowing all over them. I could barely see the men as they scrapped, shoveled, wheelbarrowed and threw the ugly, dusty mess over into the chute. Down into a large bin. The dust was everywhere and I didn’t have to be in it (I would be soon enough) to see that it was toxic.
It was like that the entire first week on this job. For all of us scabs.
The smell of that dusty toxic mess seemed to stay with us long after we got back to the motel room. The worst part were the chemical burns. Every day, we’d get back and check out the redness around our eyes and mouths. Dark red goggle and mask-shaped lines. My wrists above my obviously inadequate gloves were constantly itching, as was the line around my waist and a spot on the back of my neck. Any place that was exposed, even a little.
That first week we worked from dawn to dusk. Tearing off the old pitch and tar roof of every flat-roofed building of the Osawatomie State Hospital complex. The dusty mess. The itchy, burning skin and the nervous anxiety were all toxic. On top of the constant physical discomfort, there was a constant sense of urgency that affected everyone.
For reasons that we’d all find out (at least in part) near the end of our second week, everyone was under a HUGE amount of pressure to get this job done as quickly as possible. Each morning, we had to get up before dawn and get back to it. Fast! No doubt our foreman thought it lucky that McDonalds had opened their first drive-thru window just a few years earlier so we could all get breakfast on the way. Without anyone leaving the truck.
I imagined him shoving an Egg McMuffin into his mouth as he drove (as the guy driving our truck did) and thinking… “Dang this is good! and so convenient. What will they think of next?”
Our foreman was basically a good man, but I can see now that he was trapped in a toxic situation too. He was a likable guy. Always trying to make shitty things seem a little less shitty than they were. Each morning he seemed to be mustering everything he had to put a positive spin on all this. He tried the cheerleader, the football coach, the politician… anything to get us going.
None of that mattered though.
We were all going to do the job, the way we were already doing it anyway. This crew was not a team. We were barely a crew. Everyone had their own motivations for what he was doing here, and no one was sharing. No one was looking for a common cause to bring it all together in some big “RAH RAH! GO TEAM!” Bullshit.
Oh there was bullshit, and there were connections made. It just had nothing to do with anyone helping anyone other than themselves. The social effects of all this was the part that I see now as the most toxic element of this environment.
My natural good guy tendencies went a long way here, but only insomuch as it became my primary survival skill. Everyone seemed to like me but since they all had their own way of distracting themselves from the ubiquitous toxic forces. Forces we were all needing to get away from… my good guy-ness was about as useful our foreman’s motivational strategies.
I didn’t get to “know” any of these guys. I distract myself by doing what I’d been doing the most of, since leaving my home town.
On the other hand the guys distracted themselves at the strip club, every, single night. Those two scary-looking guys went off to do whatever it was that they did (no way I was trying to find out what that was). The college guy stayed in the room reading (I tried connecting with him but he was not interested). That one “old guy” (he was maybe fifty-years-old) just went to bed. Meanwhile, I went out and did what worked for me.
I had no idea how this would later help me deal with a different toxic situation back in Omaha, but I’ll get to that story sometime after I finish this one which will now have to be…
To be contiinued…