So there’s a lot of construction in the South Loop. More all the time. Buildings being built to the south of me on State; buildings to the north of me on Wabash.
So far, none of what I like about my view is being adversely affected, so I just get to watch the coolest TV show out my window on the 16th floor all the time. I love the enormous cranes. I love the mini-elevators as they go up and down the sides of the steel beam skeleton. I love to watch the projects as they go up because I love that it’s even possible to build these things. I can’t even manage a gingerbread house. I imagine all kinds of things as I watch the people working on the buildings. Most of the time, there’s action. Seven days a week, from really early morning until the sun goes down. But some days, and it could be a Monday or a Thursday or a Saturday — there’s nothing. Not a soul on any of the still-raw floors of the 20 or 25 story mid-rise.
This change in the TV show never fails to stir my imagination.
And now, the second-ever fictional story I have ever written, composed right here, for you, this morning. I hardly need point out that I know exactly nothing about construction sites, how buildings are made, or the pecking order of the men and women who build them. If it were a real story, I’d look all that up, I promise. But I don’t write fiction, so it’s okay. My favorite bluff is the one about “strut work,” by the way. Strut work!? I kill me.
Out of Site — Chapter One
“Jimmy!” the supervisor roared through the tiny window and pounded the top of her makeshift desk. “Jimmy, get your Red Sox-south-side-hot-dog-eatin’ butt in here in the next four seconds or I’ll tell that concrete truck to let ‘er rip in your front yard!”
Jimmy threw down his cigarette and scrambled up the ramp. The double-wide trailer that served as the site office was so tight, he would be literally face-to-face with Nancy. He sucked air in through his teeth and pushed the door open.
Nancy’s hard hats were tossed around the room amongst Connie’s Pizza boxes and balled-up lunch bags from Petterino’s and Five Guys. She brandished her notepad at Jimmy then flung it him. “Why do I have the lead developer’s boss calling me and telling me to tell the guys not to come in today? Why might that be, Jimmy? Why might that voicemail be on my phone? I hate voicemail, Jimmy. I really, really hate voicemail.” Nancy’s face was red and a vein was pulsing in her neck. It was pretty gross.
“Nance,” Jimmy started —
“Oh, it’s Malinowski to you today, buster. Mrs. Malinowski.” Jimmy started to stammer out an apology but she cut him off with one of her classic contradictory Nancy orders: “Shut up! Talk!”
“Mrs. Malinowski, Super told me yesterday it might happen but to wait to let you know until we heard from Stan. He was supposed to find you before you left yesterday but I guess —”
“You’re good at guessing, Jimbo,” Nancy said, and she grabbed a toothpick from a box on her desk and bit down on it so hard she winced. She quit smoking a year ago and so far no relapse; on this job, she was hanging by a thread. “You wanna ‘guess’ what this means? Why don’t you ‘guess’ what 14 hours of lost work on this hunk of metal and concrete is gonna cost?”
Jimmy’s eyes got big. “Mrs. Malinowski, please, I can’t lose this job. I’ve got —”
Nancy laughed so hard her toothpick flew out of her mouth. “Who’s getting fired? I’m not firing you, Jimmy. Geez, get a grip.” Nancy rubbed forehead and jabbed another toothpick into her mouth. “It’s gonna set us back a week.”
“A week?” Jimmy asked. “Why a whole week? Stan’s got other guys.”
“Stan’s a dead man, for one thing,” Nancy said, “so I’d advise you to not say his name to me right now. We weren’t gonna get the scaffolding repaired until tomorrow and tomorrow’s Friday. Anderson Electric doesn’t work weekends and we’ve got strut work through Thursday, so I can’t get Stan and the boys back till the last week of the month. What an absolute clusterf —” Nancy stopped. She was trying to quit cursing, too. Her two-year-old was picking up everything these days and her mother-in-law would not appreciate construction-site vocabulary imprinting itself on her adorable granddaughter.
“Jimmy, just get ahold of John and you two start making calls, okay? Tell the guys not to come in. Tell ’em to drink a couple beers, take their wife on a date for God’s sakes. Lord knows the girls are missing the sons-of—”
“I’ll get John,” Jimmy said, cutting Nance off mid-curse so that she didn’t have to do it herself. She was a really good boss, as overworked as everyone else. As he turned to leave, he had a thought.
“Nance — um, Mrs. Malinowski? If we move strut work to Wednesday and work 5:30 to sundown, we could shift scaffolding to Saturday. Sundown is later than it was a month ago and the weather’ll be out of the thirties next week. We could grab some of the guys from Acme. I know the Indiana crews aren’t your favorite but they work pretty fast.” Jimmy paused, calculating. “It could work.”
Nance stared hard at the contractor in front of her, fidgeting with a buckle on his oil-stained Carhartts. This was the longest Jimmy had held down a site gig. But he was busting his you-know-what and she had come to rely on the kid, precisely because of moments like this. He was smart and he cared. Nance didn’t take that for granted.
After doing a little calculating of her own, she nodded. “Maybe. Yeah, maybe that would work.” She pulled her phone out of her jacket pocket. “Okay. I’ll call Acme, see what they say. But still get John and tell the guys it’s their lucky day. Tell ’em to enjoy it while they’ve got it. Next week’s gonna be a long one.”
Jimmy nodded and went out the door. As he headed down the ramp, Nance yelled out the window: “Tell ’em to take their wives on a damn date!”
Grinning, Jimmy shouted back: “Yo, Nance! Don’t you mean a ‘darn’ date?”
“It’s Mrs. Malinowski!!”