by Bud Finlayson
Construction Intermission, New World and Friends
That summer of '73 was filled with no great adventures or romances, except for working in the big city of Houston. I'd landed a job from a neighbor and family friend, Mr. Allen, who owned a construction company in the city. My concerns were easily diverted from football, by commuting daily the 30 miles away from Richmond. I became exposed to new attitudes and ideas and I reveled in their novelty. During the two previous summers, hauling hay with teammates, the main topic of conversation was always football. Now, I worked beside men struggling to make ends meet and pacing themselves very slowly in order to endure the lifetime of manual labor that lay ahead of them. Idle conversation seemed to be the main tool to outlast the boredom that accompanied their lives.
The major topic was always women, and that was quickly broken down into sub-categories of ass, tits, and pussy. Any female, and I do stress any, that dared walk or drive within view of that building site was fair game. First they would ring out a chorus of yelps and howls and whistles, and then a definite lull would wash over the job as every shovel, trowel, saw, hammer and piece of machinery would pause simultaneously as each worker would lust after, fantasize, and dream of what sweet music they could make together. To me the howling was a joke but to them, it actually turned women on. Women were definitely nothing more than sex objects, and my co-workers truly believed that, making the whole aspect of female relationships so uncomplicated.
The second favorite topic was carrying on how sweet and easy life would be once they became rich. When they could lay down their tools and never worry about money again. They'd live in mansions, drive Cadillacs, and spend all day fishing in their new bass boats. And the best thing would be that there'd be no shortage of beautiful women to wait on them hand and foot. None doubted that it was just a matter of time before things would begin to turn their way and they could partake in the good life. For after all, they figured they could run a company just as good as Mr. Allen did for it didn't appear too difficult. He never even broke a sweat in his air-conditioned office, and there they were breaking their backs in the hot sun all day for next to nothing. It was hard to imagine them in executive roles, but those dreams kept them going, the way football had once sustained me.
After that they'd talk a lot about what a stuttering, bumbling, buffoon our job superintendent Jack was, and how best to avoid him. They were right, for he was a sawed off idiot, given too much authority, and no one respected him. Actually, we talked least about work, rather about how to avoid it. That seemed to be the main trick; to get that paycheck but to do the bare minimum of labor required. It showed lack of intelligence to do anything above and beyond the call of duty, unless you received over-time pay for it. It was a direct contradiction to what was preached in football, but I was beginning to see that the "gold bricking" attitude they lived by was very similar to what actually transpired in Lucky's football program.
Football did creep into my mind though, at times of great exhaustion like after swinging a pick for hours in the blistering sun. I would thrive as each swing into the caliche pavement was another opponent going down under my might. Each blow made me stronger. With my shirt stripped off, the flying dust and particles would stick to my body glistening with sweat. My co-workers doubted my sanity, "Slow down boy! You're getting paid by the hour! You'll get heat stroke! You ain't gonna' have no energy to fuck tonight!!" That was the difference between them and me. I would be back in school in a few months on my way to a more diversified life and they were stuck for the duration of their lives, right there. They couldn't burn themselves out too early and they had to lay on the bull-shit real thick to stay mentally sane.
There was one exception though and that was Sampson. He was a mountain of a full bearded black man who stood about 6'2", 270 pounds and manned the cement mixer that ran non-stop 8 hours a day. The two-story office buildings we were constructing had a stucco exterior and the plasterers required an uninterrupted flow of mortar all day long. I never saw anyone spell him as he stood in the direct sun never abandoning his post. He shoveled sand effortlessly into the mouth of the mixer, then would break 80 pound sacks of concrete like cracking eggs into a saucepan. Men with wheelbarrows would haul the mix away and Sampson would repeat the process.
His sweaty black skin would be powdered grayish-white from head to toe and a complaint was never heard from him. His countenance was always pleasant and he was rarely seen without a beaming smile. I never had reason to speak with him and he didn't have much time to talk, but I had to ask him one day how he endured. His smile grew even more enormous and his deep voice resounded, "You jes got to have de faith, Dats all you need, is de faith."
I wanted to believe Sampson wholeheartedly, but I was confused. Since my youth I'd enlisted the same faith to bolster me in my quest for football superiority. I beseeched God's help nightly in prayers but so far they'd gone unanswered. There did appear to be a power greater than his own that enabled Sampson, but the bull-slinging, backsliders that made up the rest of the crew made more practical sense to me. God was just some abstraction, no match against the true corruption in football. Maybe with Sampson's faith I could have made it work but I'd already tried every supplication I knew and nothing had been gained. I wanted to side with him but a sense of betrayal wouldn't allow me to. Sampson's faith must have been in something I knew nothing about.
A month into the summer David Allen, the boss's son came to work. Now Dave was what Coach Lucky would describe as "the wrong crowd." For starters, he didn't play football nor any other sport. He'd willingly refused to abide by Lamar's dress code by hiding a 6" ponytail under a wig and got caught. Therefore, like a few other radicals, he opted to attend school in Sharpstown, on the edge of Houston, where no dress code existed but tuition was charged. He was a known dope smoker and dealer with extensive connections. I'd known of Dave in school and from church but I was a strait-laced jock and had no reason to bother making his acquaintance. Then we worked together and from my disillusionment of the system and having my brain mellowed by marijuana, I was able to see Dave as merely a person. He was cautious around me at first, but once he saw I was different than he'd known me, he accepted me as I did him, and we became friends.
Soon we were stealing away to the buildings rooftop during lunch break to share a joint or two. Also, we'd ride to and from work together, getting high along the way to break the monotony of the crazed, congested freeway traffic and to shorten the 35 minute trip to seemingly an instant. I began to frequent Dave's house to get stoned and insulate myself from the world of football. Mr. Allen was what we called "cool" and allowed Dave to get high at home. It took some getting used to, having his dad come in, while we continued to smoke joints in his presence. Doubly strange was that he was my boss, and having him shake my hand and say he'd see me in the morning at work, as I'd take my leave, red eyed and buzzing. I didn't go to the field house too often, for most of my time was involved with going to and from work and I didn't get into Richmond and Rosenberg that much.
So, the summer carried on with me working and turning on. I learned to howl at women and understand some of the realities of making a living. I learned to navigate Houston freeway traffic and how to work without actually doing a whole lot. But most of all I learned that there was a world beyond that of football. Coach Lucky had preached long and hard that football was life, "Ya got to eat it, sleep it, and love it. If you're successful in football you'll be successful in life." None of my co-workers that summer regarded football much, they just knew that they had bills to pay and they were doing the work they had to, to earn a pay check. Football apparently was only a game to them.
Coach Lucky would definitely say I'd fallen in with the wrong crowd but I grew to greatly appreciate their simple philosophies and persistence at trying to conquer life's insurmountable odds, while being content with what each day would bring. My co-workers could not begin to understand my feeling of lack of self worth. I would probably fail to achieve my goals as a college or pro football player; as my hopes of high school greatness were pretty much dissolved. They figured I could only give it my best shot and if it weren't to be, then why torture myself with despair. At the end of summer I was changed in my thinking but deep down in a secluded corner of my tormented heart, a tiny flame still flickered for my love of football and I soon would be realizing a lifelong dream, to be a varsity member, if only for one season.
End of Chapter 16
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