Wednesday, June 04, 2014

NEED WORK NO HANDOUT by Mark Anthony Given


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Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
 -Thomas A. Edison
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          THERE WAS ALWAYS a group of Mexicans waiting at the gates or entrance of all the Home Depot's down south. There were about ten when I walked up there and seen the sign lying in the dirt with nice black block lettering, "NEED WORK NO HANDOUTS." That's all it said on about a 20x24 cardboard. Roofing trucks and Concrete crews would pull up, and groups of men would disappear. I had seen the sign the night before, before jumping in a brand new enclosed trailer and crashing until right before daylight and went across the street to a Waffle House and got some cardboard out of the trash (They separate the trash from recyclable cardboard) and made me a nice sign right there on the breakfast table. In less than twenty minutes of standing there everyone was gone but me. Shorts, construction boots, military haircut and a big Go Cup of black coffee. Traffic was bumper to bumper after Hurricane Katrina, and they stayed open 24 hours a day for the first few months, and there was only one way in and one way out, everyone had to go right by me coming and going. A stone throw from the biggest interstate interchange I-10 and Highway 49.
         ONE MONTH after hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, I hitch hiked from Montana to Mississippi because I knew there was plenty of work down there. It took nearly two weeks because I won't hitch hike at night, it is just too dangerous....Half an hour before dark I will find a spot usually next to a Wallmart Super Store or Truck Stop, but it really doesn’t matter. I quit worrying about where I will sleep tonight; with a little brains and good intention, that will take care of itself.
          FIRST WEEK OF OCTOBER isn't that hot, nights are cool, but sleeping on the ground anywhere down south takes a lot of balls; rattlesnakes, fire ants, 4" cockroaches, Moccasin's, Mosquitoes....it isn’t for everybody, and because there are so many other people sleeping outside/homeless people, it is a challenge. But I loved it! I didn't think it of being homeless one bit. In the Great North West you see folks hitch hiking, hiking frequently, they are not "homeless." I thought I was "camping out," and just surviving it was its own reward... I still do. I carried a full backpack with sleeping bag and lightweight tent, long johns, mosquito spray, oatmeal and sardines...extra socks and a Leatherman, fishing line, magnifying glass...one of the early foster homes I was in, the father was a Scout Master, and I was an Eagle Scout at 11 years old, and I practiced mastering different Knots while other kids my age were watching cartoons....
        TOP OF THE LINE everything: I scoured the thrift stores of the North West for; Patagonia, Columbia, Solomon hiking Boots, Oakley Thump's, North Face -20 sleeping bag, two sets of rain gear....I hold out for the best. I love the feeling of everywhere I went; I was totally self-contained not needing anything from anybody. There was a Hampton Inn right next door where I would spend my days off soaking in their Sauna and pool in the back. They never even knew I was there...
      OLD MAN in a pick-up truck in an oil field Driller's jumpsuit on, probably 65, pulls out of line up to me behind a gas station and leans out his window, spits tobacco on the ground and pulls forward a few more feet until we were parallel,
"You ever lay any Tile, boy?" 
"Oh, yeah, hell yeah," 
I told him. I'd bullshit my self into nearly any job if I thought I could do it and it wasn't too dangerous. I bull shitted my way into rough necking in the oil field. You show me how to do it, how to drive it, I can probably do it, and with a little practice master it..."Well, you want to come help me? We were on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but there was no mistaking his South Louisiana "Coonass," or "Cajun," severe accent. A really funny, rhythmic language and from my years in the oil field I knew these characters well. Loved to laugh and party, down to earth people everybody loves. 
"How much does it pay?" 
"What's your rate, you get paid by the hour?" 
"You got somewhere I can get cleaned up there? Where is it?" "I'm a few blocks from the beach in here in Gulf Port."
He said.
"Well look, I can help you do it, but I can't do it myself."
"No, I got the material I'm all ready to go. I'm just old, and I can't do all that."
"Ok," I said, so I'm the muscle, and you’re the brains?" 
"Right, right," 
He said. I told him what I told nearly everyone I worked for:
"Ok, well you’re the Boss, and I'm nothing."
"Yeah, that's right," they would usually reply.
"Well,” that makes you the Boss of Nothing!" 
That would usually break the ice...
"I get paid 12$ an hour, cash at the end of the day."
"I can do that, come on and get in, throw your pack in the back." 
        I wound up living in his beautiful nearly new motor home next to his house a few blocks off the beach under ancient oak trees for several months until wanderlust came and got me again. For twenty years everywhere I went I wanted to be somewhere else. Wanderlust is a disease of the Soul.
         NEARLY EVERY house in his neighborhood was damaged but not his, just minor wind damage and I rebuilt his parameter fence. He hooked me up and treated me right like old friends, even after I messed up the expensive eighteen-inch Travertine Ceramic Tile floor royally! I can still see me, his old wife holding a little wheezing Chiwawa dog in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and the old man apologizing for me, standing in the center of his living room easing the tiles around with our feet to obscure the nearly one inch gap between tile right dead center of the room! But I knew there was fixing this short of a big throw rug or a wrecking bar and a shovel. I wanted to laugh so badly, but I saved that for now as I write this. I told this story to lots of folks along the way. I told the Coonass I'm not any tile setter; they are like Electricians or Dry Waller's and they all specialize in what they do. I told you I could help "you" do it, I can't do it. He was trying to save money, how hard can it be kind of thing... He was actually very understanding about it and went to Radio Shack and got cable, crawled on his roof and run TV Cable from his house to the motor home that evening for me... I got dozens of stories like this...

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