A day in the life of a Maui construction worker
May 11, 2006
Construction is booming on the Valley Isle. Contractors are getting rich building, tearing down and remodeling condos and vacation rentals at light speed. In December I was offered a job remodeling condos. Hard up for some cash, I took the job and found out what it's really like being a Maui construction worker.
Did I mention I've never worked in construction before? Didn't seem to be a problem. In fact, "Can you swing a hammer?" seemed to be the only interview question when I started. I lied of course and told them I could. But my new boss C and his partner T said experience wasn't necessary and one of the best benefits would be learning all kinds of new stuff. The first thing I learned was how little I really knew.
My first gig as new guy on the crew was a remodel in Kihei. The plan was to gut a $500,000 condo, then turn it into a $1 million condo—new cabinets, granite countertops, hardwood floors, the whole nine.
Demolition was the first step in the remodeling process, and it was also the most fun. There's something both liberating and endlessly entertaining about taking a sledgehammer to the interior of someone's home.
Demo is the real nitty-gritty of construction. It's hot, dirty and dangerous. There are nails, splinters and sharp edges on nearly everything you touch and the air gets thick with dust and grime. In less than one week our four-man crew ripped out the entire interior of an 800 square-foot condo and loaded it in the back of a quarter-ton pickup, then into the Kahului landfill.
At first I was extremely tentative. Asked to take apart a bathroom, I started prying apart the sink and cabinets, apparently a little too gently for T's liking.
"It's a lot easier if you get the sink out of the way first," he said, grinning wide and wielding a giant sledgehammer. With a couple wild swings he smashed the porcelain into a million pieces, then turned and walked away laughing, a swath of destruction in his wake.
He was right. It was easier. But I cut myself pretty good picking up all the jagged pieces of porcelain.
By now I was learning that construction is hard work. But my tender hands, used to daintily typing on a laptop, soon grew calloused and strong.
Injuries are a reality in construction. While cutting a piece of sheetrock with a blade, C accidentally jabbed himself in the fleshy part of his left hand below the thumb. Blood spewed out and he ended up getting four stitches. But C's hardcore—he was back at work in less than an hour.
Shortly thereafter, he ripped open his stitches and began bleeding like a stuck pig. The job site started to look more like a murder scene, so we sent him home. That's when T told me about how C shot him in the thumb with a nail gun once. It was unintentional of course, but it must have hurt like hell.
Tales of nail gun mishaps circulated around the job. G, a friend of P asked, "What's this?" as he stood up leaving one palm flat on the floor. "It's P nailing himself to the floor," he explained. P elaborated, saying he indeed had fired a two-inch nail into his own hand, doing extensive damage, but luckily missing most of the important bones. Later, a plumber who came to help out in the bathrooms told a story about how he successfully nailed together all four of his fingers on one hand with one lucky shot.
Dangers like that aside, there's something very rewarding about working with your hands, building walls and installing all the fancy trimmings. There is a definite sense of pride and accomplishment when you stand back and look over the finished product and say, "I did that."
There's also a lot of fun in a little thing I discovered called elastomeric silicone adhesive, known in the industry as caulk. Pronounced "cock," this handy stuff patches holes, fills in seams and seals tile. A student and practitioner of the English language, I was delighted by the seemingly infinite innuendos and double entendres that came along with this product.
One day I thought it would be funny to walk into the hardware store and have some fun.
"Where do you keep your caulk?" I asked loudly and indignantly when I walked in.
"In my pants, where do you think?" the cashier instantly responded.
How unprofessional. MTW
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