Construction Workers Are Assholes and so Am I

A few months ago, I was at Tacos El Sol, my favorite grammatically incorrect taco truck, the slogan of which I’m forever tempted to vandalize by writing a large, proper ‘D’ in front of the ‘El’ in blood-red Sharpie marker, but refrain from doing so when I remember that they are a kind, struggling food stand. I was already late to work, waiting for my steak burrito, when, emerging from around the backside of the vehicular business was a construction worker, his jeans and work boots blasted gray and brown with dried cement and dirt. The man looked to be a foreman. As he walked, he moved his arms as though he were a body builder, or a policeman wearing a utility belt equipped with a flashlight, handcuffs, and a gun. But he was neither – his arms were just taking up more room than necessary. He looked cocky and pissed off in his orange hardhat, as though he had just fucked some girl he didn’t care about beneath the tailpipe of Tacos El Sol, and was beefing up his affect, flaunting his plume to whomever he encountered. The taco truck employees, friendly as they are, were already taking longer than I’m used to, and just as I began biting my bottom lip as hard as I could, six or seven other construction workers came around the back end of Tacos El Sol, jostling one another and hawking loogies, which they spit on the sidewalk for passers-by to step in.

As I continued to wait, annoyed that I was late to the office I didn’t particularly want to go to in the first place, annoyed by the machismo energy given off by these construction workers, I watched one of the younger of the entourage order his food.

“Yeah, gimme a beef quesadilla,” (qway-suh-dill-uh) he said, his inflection rising in a manner that suggested the employees at Tacos El Sol were inconveniencing him by taking his order. His buddies – who were spread out across the sidewalk, which forced pedestrians to walk in the busy street to get around them – gave guttural chuckles upon hearing his order and repeated the word quesadilla, celebrating his mispronunciation, celebrating how boorish and irritating they were.

I finally got my burrito, but only after all the construction workers were given their food first. I have to assume the majority of them called in ahead of time and were in fact ahead of me in line, but, oddly enough, I wanted them to unjustly get their food first. I wanted them to cut me in line. And I still do. On the one hand, life is so much easier when people live up to their stereotypes, so one can just dismiss them and get ones’ own work done. On the other hand, I need to be pissed off. I need to thank these men, these construction workers, for being loud, racist, and repulsive, for giving me an outlet for my predisposed rage. Furthermore, like the bees which pollinate the plants that keep us alive and healthy, construction workers provide us with safety and security by building offices, hotels, and houses. But bees also sting – perhaps construction workers have earned the right to irritate and intimidate, to stave off threats so they can keep working, keep the civilized world thriving. Besides, what have I built recently, aside from sentences, paragraphs, and credit card debt?

Writing may be hard work, too, but I don’t suppose knowing the difference between lay and lie, or bitching about construction workers’ mispronunciation of quesadilla, or knowing that Tacos El Sol should actually be called Tacos Del Sol, is going to provide heat, electricity, running water, or a roof over anyone’s head. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop correcting you when you talk about how much “further” you can skip stones across Lake Coeur d’Alene than I. But still, I promise I’ll make an effort to shut up from time to time. After all, I fuck up my grammar, too, language changes, and if it didn’t, I would still be saying “Thou art wrong,” when thou, in fact, may be right.

21 Comments

  • I’ve often wondered about the worth of my skills — earned through 12 years in the higher ed world — when it would come to various post-apocalyptic scenarios. Those very construction workers, complete with their racist tendencies, would join hunters and farmers as the kings of the post-post-modern world, while I would starve on my writing and teaching in a few weeks’ time (er, given my gut, perhaps a few months’). Certainly they will not want to trade fruits of their labors for information regarding the discrete meanings of “your” and “you’re….”

    • Sam Edmonds says:

      Oh, I don’t know, Andy – I realize geography and cartography are different from one another, but surely you’d have the upper hand in map making, right? After all, I suspect a lot of landmarks would be rubble beneath our feet, and we’d need to find our way around!

    • Shanti says:

      Andrew, that’s why you need a construction worker as a partner. You be the teacher who fills the new school post-apocalypse. ;) I will still be a duck farmer who knows the difference between “your” and “you’re”. ;)

  • Chris Cullen says:

    Awesome post! Hysterical!

  • We’ve been soliciting bids for a major kitchen remodeling project for the last few weeks. I’m quickly finding out that the MFA was wasted money and I should have learned how to wield a hammer better instead. A lot of these guys are charging $70-$85/hr.

    Thank you for making me feel better about my lack of construction skills and therefore much lower hourly wage. :-)

  • Danielle says:

    Never leave bark, Sam.

  • Mary Harper says:

    I loved your post….or tirade…however you would classify it. I, like you, cringe when I hear people speak like they slept through the entire 3rd grade (but will admit my own mistakes, I’m in no way perfect when it comes to grammar)……but without those construction workers having their mouths stuffed with burritos, who would yell obscenities at ladies passing by? Or leave their trash, DNA and whatever else all over the side walks and gutters so we can over pay city workers to clean it all up? Lets face it, I help sick and elderly people all day and get paid pennies compared to our hard working, spitting, swearing and generally gross fellow Americans just trying to make a dollar. Unfortunately more dollars than me, and none of theirs goes back to the government for all those student loans you know none of them have. My dollars that in turn get used to pay those city workers to clean up their mess instead of actually educating our country. Vicious cycle. ggrrrrrrrr. My blood pressure is rising. I want my money back. The end.

    • Shanti says:

      It is a construction worker, Mary, who has helped me go to writer’s conferences and who nursed me back to health this past year after I had an aneurysm. And a construction worker who has helped me rescue and care for ducks and donate money to animal sanctuaries and rescues. He is using his skills, for free, to help build an outdoor kitchen for a community art project in the area. He thinks people who litter are dumb asses, he speaks up for women who are subjected to sexism, and supports gay rights. He toils in the hot sun all day on his hands and knees finishing concrete, or in the mud and rain. He’s fallen off a steep roof and suffered back injuries, yet he keeps working. After working all day outside pouring concrete, he goes to a restaurant and cooks food and serves people, doing their dishes and making sure they’re happy. He’s too busy working hard, so I share the latest “news” with him since I’m the reader/writer. He also does all the cooking in our household. He does dishes, too. Wait, there’s more: he also raised his twin girls, changed their diapers, fed them, etc., as a single parent. I don’t think it matters if someone is a construction worker, doctor, lawyer, psychopath, laundry worker, or what–people of every class and vocation are capable of spitting, littering, and sexual harassment.

      • Shanti says:

        Let me clarify, I don’t say any of the above with a disgruntled tone. People think that when I respond in writing, but I say it all with a smile. :) I’ve felt my blood begin to boil over things before, too, but then I realize there are exceptions and we are all individuals, though stereotypes are, definitely, sad.

      • Melissa says:

        Thanks for the great response, Shanti. I had a similar reaction to this response, though without the same personal angle you have. Thanks for articulating what I hadn’t yet attempted to formulate!

      • Sam Edmonds says:

        Whoa – awesome reply, Shanti! Truth be told, I have some dear friends who are construction workers; I neglected to include this fact in my post, as I was satisfied with the delicate balance between pointing the power drill at myself and standing by my stalwart views, and, as a writer, I’m sure you know how that works. I think the main issue I have with construction workers concerns group mentality. I realize any and all groups of like-minded people, when together, become this sort of indestructible force, whose actions are often made with little regard to those not part of the group. Hell, I’m sure we’ve – the MFAers – pissed off all sorts of people when we’re out at the bar with Spatz after class, cackling about indirect objects, or whatever. I guess I have this weird thing against construction workers (and cops); they’re the sorts of people who are better at most things than I, and, were we still in high school, would never hesitate to remind me of that fact. Maybe I should see a shrink. Either way, thanks for reading, and great response! :)

    • Shanti says:

      F.Y.I. Alright Concrete’s owned and operated by a man who works in the field, alongside his employees, and has a master’s degree in mathematics.

  • Shanti says:

    Hey now, not all construction workers are racist. Unfortunately, most of them do hawk loogies all over. That is disgusting. I’m a fine one to talk, though, because last week I posted something on FB, an article about some Neo-Nazis being construction workers.

    Great article, Sam. Enjoyed.

  • mildly amused says:

    Butthurt?

  • Dave says:

    Construction workers get a bad wrap, they work there tails off all day and get zero respect from anyone, including the people they work for. They are constantly being put down by there bosses, companies, people they are doing the work for. They have zero job security and worry that everyday will be the last. Then when they get off work they get dirty looks from people because they might not be dressed in slacks and a collored shirt. The money might be decent but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. it’s no wonder most are angry and many alcoholics. I know from experience, if had to do it all over again and know what I know now I would have never stepped foot on a construction site. Just food for thought and only my experience.

  • Chris says:

    As a contractor myself i will say that we all have attitudes…. wake up 5:00 every morning work 7 am to 5 pm 20 minute lunch. Tons of heavy calorie dense foods. No one is under 190 pounds on oir crew and we are all very fast with good endurance. We do this shit 50 hours a week for 750.00 a wk jist to live in a shitty apartment and pay basic bills car. Hands beat to shit beer and cigs and tv at night time. Rinse repeat. No sport car. No dress suit no 3500.00 a week paycheck. No big 6500 sq foot house with a different model level women everynight. Is what it is….

  • Matt Ray says:

    Look man, this was posted years ago and i’m just reading it, but you are an ass. Also, half of the commenters are asses. I am a pipefitter for refineries and chemical plants and i know the difference between “your and you’re” and “there, they’re, and their,” and i’ve read books (believe it or not) such as, Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and “Oil!” to name a few. And- as my father was born in brazil, but i was born in florida and my mother is European- am multi-cultural. Therefore, its pretty offensive and steriotypical of you to write this ignorant piece deriding all construction workers as ignorant racists. In fact, it is blatant proof that you, in fact, are ignorant. I will say this, that many in the construction fields look down on people who work in air conditioned and heated offices 5 or 6 days week and complain about their jobs, when we endure all of the extremes of the weather- even eating our lunches in them- often for 10 to 12 hour days, and many times 7 days a week for months while exerting what strength we have until we are exhausted only to start again before the sun rises the next day. While people who start work at 8 a.m. look at us like we are animals or something less when our jobs also require an accumulation of knowledge that is only gained by experience and learning as any other profession. Many people in my field are ignorant rednecks and in Louisiana, “Coon-Asses”. But to lump us into one group in a public shaming based on one group of people at a food truck is a shameful and ignorant misinterpretation of an entire section of the workforce, therefore I deem you an uninformed fool, despite my horrible punctuation. Your office would be a tent without our hard work and, literally, our blood, sweat, physical and emotional exhaustion, and-in some cases our deaths. So you are welcome, bigot. :)

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