Jim Furlong: Variation on a Theme

I have mentioned before that I am fascinated by work. Most people are. I saw a construction fence in Boston once that had viewing holes cut in the wood. A sign said: ‘Sidewalk Superintendents.’ 

In other words the holes were cut there so people could stop and watch the construction. That was a long time ago. There are now probably insurance issues and you can no longer do things like that. It’s like clinging on to the backs of trucks in the winter in St. John’s. It is a great memory but absolutely out of the question in 2019.

 Spectator sport

To the subject of work; earlier this summer I watched a roofing crew in Ottawa shingle a big multi-roofed and complex home. That particular day the temperature had to be 30 degrees or more. The sun was high and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and there the roofers were with safety harnesses on crawling around the gables of the house like monkeys. It was all brutally hot the way Ottawa can be in the summer and you could smell the tar from across the street. The workers drank water by the gallon but they kept on working. 

I watched them from a nearby veranda where I was sitting and felt so badly for them I kind of hid behind a pillar a bit so they wouldn’t have to look at me using their labour as a kind of spectator sport.

Now all of that kept flooding back over me because last week somebody said working in television must be a hard job. I had to pinch myself to keep from laughing because it isn’t hard at all. ‘Challenging’ might be a better word. Television is many things in work terms but hard isn’t one of them. 

I reference again now a story I told before about singer Waylon Jennings. Somebody offered the suggestion to him that being on the road all the time must be hard. He countered by saying that working on an assembly line was hard and working construction was hard and standing at a 7-11 checkout for seven hours a day was hard but playing music for people and travelling around in a bus and drinking a few beers was easy. 

Working hard

I worked in a fish plant on a production line. I already told you about that. I also did some pick and shovel. I did that long enough so that I know I didn’t want to ever do pick and shovel again. Working hard in the summer sun with a foreman who was French Canadian in a white hard hat watching my every move. 

The roofers in Ottawa worked incredibly quickly. There was no standing around and precious few moments of idle time. At noon they stopped and sat around the site; most eating from old fashioned lunch pails. It seemed mostly sandwiches and Gatorade. The lunch break was no more than half an hour. 

Yesterday was hot in St. John’s. I thought about the roofers working hard all day and coming back in the next morning… to do it all again… 

NTV’s Jim Furlong can be reached by emailing: [email protected]

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