Friday, June 12, 2020

So it is about 1980. I am 26 fresh out of Umass super academic but ready for earthier occupations. Masonry. The Annecharicos, Italian 2nd generation masons, they learned it in Italian but their accent was pure Sandisfied, Mass. Well, I was a kid but we worked shoulder to shoulder building stone walls, brick paths, pouring foundations. We used homemade forms for the foundations, 3/4” plywood, steel dogs and cleats and the fuckers were heavy. Which was my department, slight as I was. Lugging those forms up out and down into the cellar hole. I tended 2 masons, Rudy and Charley, laying brick chimney two storey house with an 8 pitch roof. Brick clamps and buckets of mortar, ladders, old school. Mixing in a wheelbarrow mixing in a 1/2 bag mixer. I was not a slave, I was into it. We scoffed at unions. I carried 12” blocks off the back of the pick-up when we knew that the union would not let 1 man even lay a block that size himself. But we worked for rich people in the woods and we didn’t mind. Like I say I was a small guy but I brought 5 sandwiches to work lined up on edge in my lunchbox every day plus a thermos of coffee and a quart of club soda, plus all the hose water I could drink.

So at end of day, depending on where we were working, that is, if we passed a package store on the way home, and in those days Sandisfield had 5 package stores counting bars, now there is 1 (if it is still open), we would buy a 6 pack of beer and split it. Sometimes stop at Daffer’s on the way. Daffer was a brother-in-law of Rudy and Charley and had been mob tied. Had once spent 3 years in Rudy’s barn without coming out once for fear of getting whacked. Anyway he wound up with a small bar in Sandisfied.  Not all the clients at Daffers were as civilized as we were. There was Dewey Plank, peg leg with a nail in the end of the peg, had a nose like a hand grenade spray painted red and pissed at the base of his own bar stool. Could drink a 6 pack of Budweiser between the New Boston Store and Daffer’s going the speed limit driving. Sometimes too we would stop at the Silverbrook Cafe. Got thrown out sometimes too for Rudy’s mouth. We even got thrown out of Ely’s Pizza once in Great Barrington once for supposedly creating a disturbance. Ed Ely used to paint regular tennis balls fluorescent yellow lined up in aluminum rain gutters on his porch with spray paint to sell to tennis pros he thought. He sparred with Rocky Graziano when Rocky was trying to quit drinking and fight again too when Charly Annecharico had his cellar hole decked over but no walls framed yet. They put ropes up to keep him from falling off the deck and barred him from Daffer’s, which was a 2 mile walk. But it didn’t work from what I heard. But Ed Ely was tough, although a little punch drunk . I remember him best when I was working at Carr Hardware and Ed would walk in, he’s in his 70’s,  a little stunned looking but still ripped in the abs, with a snarled wad of copper tubing in his hand that had been soldered together over the decades or maybe centuries with limestone dripping off it and no regular angle to any of the joints at all and ask me if I “had one of these on the shelf”.

Ok, point of the story. We are working for the Goodnow Estate, regular customers of Annecharico Mason Contractors and it is winter and we are digging a foundation by hand under a colonial house. Pick and shovel, wheelbarrow out to the footing area and then shovel it again into a backhoe bucket. And it is cold. And the backhoe was homemade and mounted on the back of a White’s dump truck. We’d take turns one guy pick one guy shovel and 3rd wheel it out, then rotate, different guy pick etc.The Goodnows did not want their lawn disturbed. The depth of the cellar was not specified, so Rudy had us dig it just deep enough so he would not bump his own head and Charly was the same height. I was a few inches taller so my forehead was covered with knots from hitting my head on the joists for most of the winter. And Charley Pease was a few inches taller than me, imagine. Got so when I hit my head they would not even look up just say sorry.

But we were tight. There was one night I fell in love and it didn’t work out so well and eventually got to work on time in the morning without sleeping and with a biblical hangover. Threw up while shoveling, everyone paused momentarily in reverence like moment of silence, I got back to shoveling and we were bonded and the day was long.

But then another day, bitter cold and the wind even bit in through the sheltered crawlspace where we were digging. End of day and Toad, the caretaker, (never understood his nickname
“Toad”, smart raconteur looked like John Wayne matinee idol), charming huge and good natured, fired up a small wood stove and brought out a bottle of hard cider. Flask of grappa followed, winds blew outside and we hunkered and warmed the shivers out and told stories and lies both bent down in the crawlspace. Well after the cider and the grappa and the other talk came  the talk of the Fucking Jews and the Fucking Niggers in Great Barrington and I had no where to shrink into. I had idolized those guys for their senses of humor, their ease with dealing with geologic mounds of earth, understanding of hydraulics, diesel motors, quarter sawing hemlock and oak logs, laying bricks and blocks straight, pouring concrete slabs flat with the drains on the low points and keeping your corners plumb and advising me in matters of love and sex. Life has never been quite the same. It has not changed.

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