Now, the manner of November in Minnesota is on this wise: you awake at five o’clock and in two hours you are at work. It is still dark out. You pull the vehicle up close to the jobsite and leave it running with the headlights on. This allows you to see the vapour of your breath as you attempt to set up tools and extension cords. You have five layers of clothing on, not counting your jacket. Your gloves render you utterly void of dextrous ability, yet somehow fail to prevent your fingers from getting numb.
At ten-thirty, there is a break. It is still dark out. The lowest man on the totem pole is sent to the nearest gas station to get a snack for everyone. He is inevitably a fellow of extremely poor taste, and usually brings back a 12-pack of Mountain Dew and a box of cheap, white powdery donuts. We stand around and eat them in front of the headlights, watching our vapourous breath curl up and vanish away, robbing our bodies of precious heat.
At eleven o’clock, the sun rises. There is a lot of mad dashing about, as everyone scrambles to make the best use of the limited sunlight. Measurements are called out. Power tools are fired up. Small tools, such as chalklines, pencils and screwdrivers, are scatted hither and yon all over the jobsite. Neatly stacked piles of lumber are reduced to discombobulated and clumsy piles, all lengths and sizes mixed together. Sawdust accumulates rapidly.
At twelve thirty, a late lunch is taken. When everyone returns, they are full, lethargic, and not inclined to labour or quick action. But as the cold air works its magic, everyone is soon moving quickly again in order to stay warm.
At two o’clock, the sun sets. Extension cords and air hoses lie in a great confused net that may wander through two stories and parts of the roof system. In the failing light, the carpenters struggle to maintain the illusion that they are making reasonable progress. At two thirty, the headlights are turned back on as dark sets in again.
Punctually at three o’clock, a crisis occurs. It usually involves either a large mistake being discovered that requires immediate fixing in preparation for tomorrow’s work, an early delivery of either trusses or shingles (both of which require immediate placement while the boom truck is still on hand), or complications involving large amounts of freshly poured concrete. There is a lot of hollering while the crisis is in progress. The vehicles are running, the power tools are still going full tilt, and it’s hard to hear what anyone’s saying. And of course it’s hard to see in the dark, and four out of five men have lost their tape measures. A large amount of quick, spur-of-the-moment tool “borrowing” takes place.
The crisis lasts until four-thirty or five, except twice a month when it may go as late as eight in the evening. But on normal days, the men stop at four-thirty, wind up the hoses and scare up whatever missing tools they can find. As the skill saws and compressors are turned off, the wind can be heard moaning through the trees as everything is packed up. We can hear each other too, although usually everyone is quiet by this point. We head home for dinner. It has been a good day, unless it has rained or snowed, in which case our tools are ruined, and will require care & maintenance after dinner in the garage.
“It is a sign of mediocrity when you demonstrate gratitude with moderation.”
—Roberto Benigni (1952– ), in Newsweek