LAYING IT ON THICK


If you ever get the opportunity to help a friend lay concrete, do it. There are two reasons for this. First, you get the opportunity to learn first hand how to do it. Laying concrete is a highly skilled undertaking wrought with complications. It is an ancient art that takes skill to accomplish correctly.

Second, in the hands of amateurs, laying concrete is synonymous with catastrophe. If you enjoy a good catastrophe as much as I, you cannot afford decline up such an opportunity.

The other day my friend Tom phoned to ask me to help him build a concrete patio and carport. He offered to pay me by offering all the chili I could eat and all the beer I could drink.

Clearly, the offer was too good to pass up. It wasn’t the chili, though. It was the anticipation of a household Armageddon. Tom had the knack for taking a bad situation and making it worse. I recall several of his exciting engineering feats. Once we stacked lumber in the rafters of his garage. The idea was to make room to store more lumber. After several minutes of stacking, I heard the rafters groaning.

“That’s OK,” Tom said. “Wood always creaks.”

“You’re the engineer,” I said.

We stacked more wood as the creaking got louder. “Jeez,” said Tom. “This creaking is starting to worry me now”

As he said this, the rafters buckled demolishing the garage. We barely escaped from the rubble with our lives – commodities that were of no value as we faced the wrath of Tom’s wife.

I recalled this and other exciting events with fondness. “I’ll be right over,” I said.

For those who don’t know, laying concrete involves chemistry. It turns wet concrete to hard cement – a substance that lasts millennia. Time is the critical factor. One must complete the job before the stuff hardens.

Several of us waited to start the calamity. There were several jobs to do, and we all took turns doing each one. We were earnest. We all wanted to learn. I will illustrate the process by describing the variety of jobs.

1. The Foreman

This position involves darting about in a random fashion yelling incoherent phrases at the rest of the crew. Tom assumed this role as he was the easiest to upset.

2. The Truck Driver

The truck driver delivers the mix and pulls a lever to deposit it into wheelbarrows at the ready. His responsibilities include maintaining a straight face throughout the operation.

3. Wheelbarrow Operators

These workers transport the concrete to the levellers. Although each load weighs as much as a Buick, the hardest part is avoiding dumping the whole business on the foreman. The foreman is always under foot. The operators try to bury the levellers.

4. The Vibrator Operator

The vibrator is an electrical device that resembles a large cucumber. You plug it in and it hums. When you put it in a frame with wet concrete, the large particles settle and the surface gets a peculiar glow. Aside from fielding obscene and immature comments, the operator’s greatest challenge is digging the thing from the hardened concrete in the last form.

5. Levellers

Levellers are responsible for levelling the heaps of concrete deposited by the wheelbarrow operators. They do this by wiggling large planks held flush with the forms. They also use trowels to smooth the vibrated concrete so it doesn’t resemble ocean surf.

6. Last Wheelbarrow Dumper

When the job is completed, before the vibrator is missed, there is an engineering problem. It is the last wheelbarrow of concrete. There is a federal law stating there must be one wheelbarrow left over, and it hardens quickly. We created a rock garden as a monument to the do-it-yourselfer.

7. Initialler.

Every member of the crew initialled the completed project for posterity in a secret place. Everyone, that is, except the foreman. His mark is left by digging the vibrator out of the last form with a sledge hammer. He left it there. This is why there are workers and foremen.

You can’t trust the foreman to do anything right.

Mike Broderick is an Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he finds employment for people with physical disabilities. Part of this work means affiliation with the Vancouver Board of Trade where he is a member of the Ambassador Club, the Burnaby Board of Trade where he is a member of the Labour Task Force, the Tri Cities Chamber of Commerce where he is an active member of the 10X10 initiative, and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce. He also does some work as a field Archaeologist. He is also a fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to alive magazine, and the proprietor of The Réésuméé Doctor in Port Coquitlam. You can reach him at home at michael_broderick@telus.net or at michaelb@neilsquire.ca.

If you’re looking for a change, start with a resume makeover at competitive rates

When he is not doing all this he lives in Port Coquitlam with his partner Cecelia

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