No Country for Old Men

It’s day three of my new job, helping a contractor with a house remodel. In that time the work has become progressively more difficult, while the weather has become progressively warmer. Today we’re trying to finish up some heavy demolition, tearing out a two-story fireplace – lots of brick and cinder block to break apart, throw into a wheelbarrow and trundle up a hill to a waiting trailer. This after busting up a six-inch slab of concrete, which met the same fate. The work isn’t easy. Nor is it my chosen profession – let’s just say I doubt I’ll be adding it to my LinkedIn profile.

We moved to Colorado, specifically Fort Collins, about five years ago, escaping the Rust Belt at the bottom of the real estate meltdown. My wife had an opportunity to make the move with her firm and we jumped at it. I worked in television at the time, as the Executive Producer of a morning news show in Grand Rapids. And radio (and marketing) before that. I’d never had trouble finding work in the past, so we didn’t give it a second thought.

But now that I’m 50-something, it appears they’ve changed the hiring rules. Either that or word is out that I’m carrying the Ebola virus. After several years of looking but not finding anything, followed by a brief stint stocking grocery store shelves overnight (another job that won’t grace my LinkedIn page), I was hooked up with ‘Bob the builder’ by one of my wife’s co-workers. He was in desperate need of a warm body and I, like Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman, had nowhere else to go.

The last two days were cloudy and cool, but today the sun came out and shone from that perfect blue sky that is so prevalent around here. And while I always considered myself to be in decent shape, such a notion was dispelled some time ago. Now the Gods are simply driving home that point. By ten o’clock I am wilting in the heat – the deodorant I slathered on with such hope earlier this morning has long since forsaken me. By noon I am completely out of gas.

My nemesis this day is the 18-inch wide plank that serves as a ramp into the trailer where I’m to dump all the fireplace rubble. Having already muscled the wheelbarrow up out of the backyard, I’m winded and unsteady, and negotiating this incline becomes more treacherous with every load. As I was shown, the preferred method is to get a bit of a running start and just glide up the ramp with a few confident strides. But confidence is supplanted by exhaustion as my legs turn to rubber, leaving me wobbling like a drunk on a balance beam.

Eventually, inevitably, I lose control and spill a couple of loads onto the driveway. After that I simply avoid the ramp, push my wheelbarrow to the edge of the trailer and toss the broken stone and bricks in by hand. Bob is not amused but accepts the fact – grudgingly – that the extra 30 or so seconds it takes me to empty the wheelbarrow this way is still quicker than collecting scattered chunks of broken masonry up off the pavement. And it gives my legs ever so slight a respite.

Lunch, finally, and the chance to sit. How I’ll make it through the afternoon is anyone’s guess. Bob’s not much of a talker, so I polish off my sandwich and apple in silence, while a line from an old Simon and Garfunkel song plays over and over in my head…I’d rather be a hammer than a nail. Irony? Sarcasm? I’m too tired to give a shit. A quick check of my phone provides mute testament to my ongoing persona non grata status in the current job-market – no voice messages, emails or texts despite perhaps half a dozen outstanding applications. As it has been for almost five years.

So I dust off my hat and head back to my Sisyphean task, pushing another load of brick and concrete up the hill under that indifferent, perfect blue Colorado sky.

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9 thoughts on “No Country for Old Men

  1. A lot younger me found himself working as a laborer in a steel foundry. I qualified by passing the thermometer test. If you were warm they hired you. Gauging by the workforce, it is surprising how many people can pass that test.

    I had only one goal for myself – survive. It is like any physical or mental skill, success comes with stubbornness.

    • This is one of those jobs where it would help to be “a lot younger me.” Kind of ironic…I used to say, whenever I was complaining about work, “Well, at least I’m not bustin’ rocks.” Now here I am, bustin’ rocks…

  2. Well, if it’s any comfort, I started my first poem on the back of a piece of used 80 grit, and it included the phrase “the Sisyphean poet.”

    As for the heat, you have all my sympathy. I started my own boat-varnishing business here on the Gulf coast 25 years ago for a multitude of reasons, and have been at it ever since. Now, at 68, I think occasionally that I might like a more civilized job, like greeter at Walmart, but I’ve gotten good at what I do and enjoy it, too. So there’s that.

    It’s a shame you haven’t found something in your field. I have a good friend who was a producer at the PBS station in Lansing. I’ll drop her an email and see if she has any buddies in your area. She’s worked with nearly everyone in the business, so it might be that she does. There aren’t any guarantees, of course, but it’s clearly a who-do-you-know world.

    • I appreciate all the help I can get. It is indeed a who-you-know world, and most of my acquaintances are back in Michigan as well. I’ve made several overtures to the local NPR station, and send some writings to Colorado Public Radio, but so far no luck (other than the occasional piece printed in the Denver Post…FOC, of course).

      Glad to have you along for the ride.

  3. Damn. Labor jobs are so arduous. I can’t even fathom.

    It’s interesting to me, how common this age discrimination thing is. There’s a woman blogger who wrote about it quite a bit this spring. Deborah…Several people mentioned it today…My FIL, fathers of friends — I mean, these are intelligent, skilled people, quite capable of most jobs. They get laid-off in some downsize thing, generally. Trimming the fat salaries.
    As I wrote, I had been planning to work this fall. As I looked at jobs for others, (I have time) I began to see how complicated it was going to be. I had always easily attained jobs before I chose to stay home. Everyone hires fresh-faced enthusiastic young women who are educated and attractive plus single and childless. But now I am 42, and I kept hearing how hard it was to ‘get back in the workforce’. There are message boards about it, for pity’s sake. Women far more educated and experienced than I am, with no one willing to hire them for positions they’re qualified for. I so relate to your not giving it a second thought, of course you could find work. That was my thought as well. I’ve worked before, I’m capable, I’ll work.
    And seriously, I had never planned to be a woman of leisure, particularly not with an empty nest, which is spot-on with age 50 for me.
    I think there’s a lot of career change mid-life, just like being a kid right out of college — it’s like you have to know someone to give you an ‘in’.
    I did. That’s all there was to it. I’m not a networker, I’m not a people-person, I just happened to be qualified and the guy knows me 20-some years. Not a friend, mind you, but someone who knows I’m not a ninny. That’s what it takes. I happen to be slightly overqualified, but then, things have changed. There’s software for it now. There’s White-Out you don’t hafta blow on! So there’s a learning curve. The last three jobs I got, I got because I knew someone. I really think that’s what it takes. Where you worked before, no one saw you as an older guy, they just saw you as competent and capable, but to strangers…
    I really could rant longer. I could. I edited my post drastically, lol! Let me just say, I hope you find something that uses your abilities, I hope it falls into your lap, and I hope you blog about it.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Pingback: The Grapes of Wrath – Reboot | Lies Jack Kerouac told Me

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