“Ya know one o them crazy motherfuckers actually jumped in there last time?”
“Pay attention kid! You actually might learn something.” The guy “training” me spits his cigarette on the ground and walks closer.
“That’s what I’m doing.” I say under my breath. I’m holding it of course. Last thing I need is to inhale these toxic fumes when I’m this close to the scary thing. I continue lowering another large chunk of cold tar into the steaming tank of the kettle. Holding my breath also helps me to focus. All of my attention must be on that chunk. This asshole is not helping at all.
“Careful!” the guy says… again. And again, just when I need to focus most. It would help if he didn’t talk when I’m doing this. It would help if he didn’t talk at all. He should just go and leave me to it.
“I got it here now man. You know, you don’t have to stick around and watch me anymore.” I turn to face him as the top of the big chunk I just put in slowly disappears below the surface of the hot tar. I grab the steel rob he’s leaning against and start turning back to the kettle, but the guy keep his hold on it. He quickly rolls up one sleeve and shoves his forearm in my face.
“You see this kid?” This kind of thing actually happens every day on a kettle. You’ll get something like it too… actually, soon enough.”
Yea the same scar he showed me a few hours ago is still there. Yea it looks like it was a bad burn. Yea, I saw it first time. Yea I’m being careful.
“Actually?” I say to myself. If I’d wanted to be the smart ass, I would have said it aloud. This guy says “actually” in almost every sentence. Sometimes he actually says actually more than once in actually every sentence… actually. The college guy is always making smart-assed remarks about it.
The college guy is the asshole.
The nice guy in me says nothing. He’s just doing his job and the foreman assigned him to train me on the kettle. It’s a great opportunity for him to get a little break from the grueling work up on the roof. But running the kettle is nerve-wracking and this guy is in charge of me and I can see that talking calms him.
“Damn!” I’m not feigning the exclamation. This guy’s burn scar is quite gnarly. Having seen it before didn’t lessen it’s visual impact on me now. Besides, last time I only saw it from a distance. A significant part of this guys forearm muscle is just gone and the area around it is hairless and has a strange, stretched out look to it.
“That really must have hurt bad.” I take the rod and turn back to my work. I need to poke this chunk and all the others I’d just put in before it. Break them up a bit more so they’ll melt quickly and evenly.
“You don’t know the half of it kid.” The guy says (I notice he didn’t say actually this time) “Once the hot tar is on you and burning, you can’t do anything but get it under cold water as fast a possible. That’ll freeze the surface and keep it from spreading out, but between the tar and your skin, it’s still burning… actually.”
I grunt supportively and continue working. I lift another carton of tar off the pallet and set it up. They weigh a hundred pounds each. This is the main part of this job and I’ve already gone through the process so many times I can’t remember. Tearing off the the carton’s heavy paper cover with my gloved hands, I then take a small axe and chop the large cake into three chunks. To try and put it in all at once would be courting disaster.
To be continued…