Chapter Five

Unskilled Omaha

After paying rent and the several days of my (perhaps a bit unwise) street punk feeding program, what was left of the two hundred bucks I’d gotten from Fred was down to practically nothing by the time I showed up on the job site. The guy who’d hired me hadn’t said much, but I knew it would be hard work. The kind of work that burns up calories real fast. 

I would have to eat up the last of my supplies just to make it to payday.

Fortunately, I’d discovered an even more efficient way to deliver those much-needed calories to my hard working young body, than the usual SOS fair. Potatoes were cheaper and more filling than bread, and the local Safeway had a thing called “Boil a Bag” that provided me with a variety of meat and gravy-like toppings for only twenty-nine cents per meal. Almost as cheap as cream of mushroom soup and a lot heartier. 

It was quite a stroke of luck to have seen that job listing. I’d been checking everything I could find as well as I could, but my dingy little basement dungeon of a room had no phone, so I had to use more of my precious cash to call prospective employers. I was also quite lucky that the guy who hired me, never even asked for my (non-existent) ID. He didn’t seem to want to know much about me, and said I got the job after a very short (and un-memorable) conversation.

And all they told me, was that they did (and I was going to do) large-scale industrial roofing. I never knew the company’s name. I didn’t care. They were going to pay me $5.25 an hour (WAY above the minimum wage) and they wanted me to start right away.

Perhaps I should have guessed that I was once again in the presence of yet another form of predatory scammer, and that once again, I was about to become a part of yet another scam.


Ok, so it might be a little unfair to lump everyone in that company into the same category as the master manipulator George Heaton and that special kid of liar Fred Berdine. After all, they did give me the job. And that got me enough money to keep my shitty little basement room in midtown Omaha, and keep feeding myself.

Needless to say, I certainly was relieved. Winter was here and it was getting cold. Now… being cold was something the Minnesotan in me would have never worried (and certainly never complained) about, but being cold AND hungry really REALLY sucked. 

It also REALLY sucks to be a scab but of course I didn’t know yet that I was one. I doubt I even knew what a scab was. I might have heard the term, but I didn’t have a clue as to what that meant. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway though. Once again, I jumped at the chance. Once again, I was glad to be anywhere but here. Only this time, the “here” I wanted to be away from, was not a place. It was my jobless, moneyless situation.

But even if I had known exactly what a scab was and what that meant, I was glad to get any chance at all to make the money I needed. I was getting desperate. Even with my new plan to make the supplies last, I was bound to run out. I knew I was going to get hungry before I got paid. Despite that one time I got help from “Crazy Allen”. 


As it happened, the job-site I was first told to go to, had nothing to do with the company’s union difficulties for which I was ultimately hired. On this job, we were to put the roof on a big, brand-new and modern office building. I was told that it was for Control Data, but I can find no record of this online. I can find no recored online that Control Data ever had any facility at all in Omaha (much less a large new building like this one) so it was probably a lie.

Something to tell any new scab-in-training. I never did learn the true nature and scale of this company and what they were up to. 

I learned a few things about industrial roofing though. We were using the latest materials of the time. A PVC membrane is rolled out over layers of decking material and insulation. All seams (including those around vents and pipes protruding from the surface) are sealed with either heat or a solvent, depending on the specific material being used. We were using a membrane called Sika Sarnafil that is sealed with solvent.

After everything is sealed, the flat areas of the roof are covered with a layer of rocks to hold it all in place. As an unskilled laborer, my primary job was to carry the rolls of membrane and spread the layer of rocks. It’s grueling work. The rolls of membrane weigh well over a hundred pounds each and the rocks are shoveled from huge, motorized wheelbarrows and raked until evenly distributed over the surface of the entire roof.

As a scab, I was no doubt the lowest of the low in general, but I think I got my boss’s attention. He must have recognized that I was no dummy, and that I was a good worker. He often stopped me from the doing menial jobs and started showing me the more difficult, more skilled work of cutting and sealing the material. For this and other reasons (I will mention later) I now think that I was also being considered as a more permanent worker. 

We finished the roof in about two weeks and I got my paycheck. It was a real company paycheck and although I can’t remember the name that appeared at the top, my adult self is quite sure that was probably a lie too. My adult self is quite sure there were more lies and scams going on here than I could ever know. 

My adult self is quite sure that I was now part of a truly big time scam.