How I get through my day?
I am a cryogenic technician with a specialty gas company; handling the gas is not the only danger I can fall victim too. I install carbon dioxide and nitrogen blend gas systems for breweries, dry cleaners, restaurants and pubs; they use my gas to push beer and wine, wash clothes, and carbonate soda. Today is a day I dread.
Today I have to face the beast: it’s not the 275lbs six feet tall by two feet wide stainless–steel liquid carbon dioxide tank I will wheel on a seventy-five pound dolly; it’s the stairs I have to take them down. Once I pass the first step there is no turning back, the tank and dolly are too heavy for me to lift them back up if I notice a problem too late. I am committed. Each step I drop down they make a horrible clatter, the pinging of steel on steel, the thud of the wheels hitting the next step, and the crackling of cartilage in my body. Each time the tank is lowered every muscle I have has tightened: my forearms maintain a death grip, my shoulders, neck, upper and lower back strain to balance the weight, as each knee must bear the 565 pounds (the tank, the dolly and me). My chest is too clenched to breath as the dolly crests each step and drops to the next. All the way to the bottom.
I am part of the working class; I am blue collar.
I live in a blue-collar world that contains distinguished, yet invisible people, which have accomplished remarkable feats of psychological and emotional perseverance. If you ask, they will say, “I’m just doing my job.” I admire the steel worker of the past that walked the narrow steel beams, without safety harnesses, building the skyscrapers business people use today. I marvel at the accomplishments that have been built by the hand, I enjoy blue-collar art.
I like my job, each day I leave the shop I set out to learn something new, meet new people, or tackle new challenges. Working with my hands gives me great satisfaction. Some of the things I have built will last the test of time. As each day falls away in a blurred cadence, with work, kids, and writing; I am reminded of how little time is left. Gray whiskers have begun popping out of my chin, and the sun has begun its decent on my life.
I see old men that are crippled by a life of labor; that can’t be me, despite my enjoyment. Two months ago, I lay on a sterile bed drifting to sleep in a cold steely room with four figures hovering over me waiting to cut me open; this was the second time I have seen the inside of this room. I made a decision that day to commit myself to sharing my experiences with you; I hope it’s my salvation.
There are times I am asked to complete a task that is at the edge of my physical ability; of what I think I can do. The question every blue-collar worker asks is should I do it? It’s not a happy challenge with a hopeful outcome; if I don’t succeed I fail – and fail means injury or possibly death. If I do it with blind luck and succeed I feel successful, it’s a hollow feeling, one only to myself; it’s what’s expected. But what if I don’t?
NO? Then my world collapses in; I am labeled as cream-puff, not a worthy member of the club. The white collar, the business owner, the feeble or the weak; that are not blue collar, believe I belong to an imaginary club where I will never say no, but be happy with any decision others make. I hear the voices of no. The Boss-man says, “What do you mean you can’t?” The salesman says, “I told them you could, why can’t you?” The customer says, “I was told you could”; every one is speaking for me. How do they know what I can do? Do they think I’m some kind of superhero. It’s in my job description to accomplish the feats most men cannot handle. I willingly do so because it is part of my job, despite the threat of replacement that looms over my head.
We are called upon to go to work when it is needed; when the winter wind bites the face, and the frost has locked unused doors, a roofer is called to traverse the slopes of a damaged roof. Roofers’ trade their labor for a monetary amount while putting their life in the balance. We have many understood yet undesired potential exchanges for the food for our table; for some it could be their life.
We all work, some are in charge of progress and others are tasked with the build; once papers are initiated the workers begin. The worker, wedged between self-preservation and self-confidence, is forced to accept any challenge a salesman agrees to by paper. We are at the mercy of those who wheel the pen: the suits, the skirts, the plain clothed, that demand the near impossible from corporations large and small. This world can’t turn without the sellers and the hustlers, both honorable and the slick, nor can it turn without the builders.
The logger, the farmer, the steel workers, firefighter and police, the high-rise window washer, the driver, the construction worker, the electrician and many more… all carry heavy risk while “in the office”.
We are subjected to risk evevery day; the smoke, the dust, the noise, the heights
and depths, the tragic things that can cross our path at any speed. We are always in harms way, exposed to slips and falls, cuts and bruises, sprains and tares, infection and disease, the short-term and the long-term effects of what we do. I, along with my fellow workers weather by choice, obligation, need or fear, are members of the club. People say, “it’s your job” – and it is.
When you call on someone to complete a task you can’t or won’t do yourself, or when you leave your home, work, or classroom, and see a worker on the road, or on a scaffolding, or on a roof, building tomorrow or sustaining the present; acknowledge the sacrifice, commitment, and exchange for income each man or woman makes for the progress of this great nation.
Every working person makes a contribution to society, and most of us are here because we love it. But for me at my age, the days are getting shorter and it’s time for me to adjust and find something new; it may also be time for you to adjust.
Thanks for reading,