His eyes were blue. Such an intense blue they gave me the creeps. Maybe that's what it was, the intensity rather than the color. Paired with a scraggly beard, the whole package reminded me too much of Charles Manson.
"Yeah, we should all get together one weekend...you, your boyfriend, me, my girlfriend." We were making our afternoon round to all of the welders, tallying weld counts at the construction site where we shared welder's helper duties.
"Sure, that would be fun," I told him, with no intention of ever doing such a thing. In all honesty, it wasn't just because he totally creeped me out. My boyfriend wasn't the type to double date with co-workers of mine, anyway. Heck, I could barely get him to go on a date with me.
But that's another story.
Blue Eyes (I can't remember his name) was just one of the characters I met in those two months I spent at the muddy, mosquito-infested construction site where my mother's boyfriend scored me a job. It was a good 'ole boy network back then...although I'm quickly realizing in my current job search that networking and knowing the "right" people is still a big asset.
Today I'm not sure whether I should bless R.L. for getting me that job, or curse him. I had dropped out of college, throwing away a full scholarship in chemical engineering, because I felt a dramatically desperate need to get a place of my own following my parents' divorce. My flaky 19-year-old brain had it all planned: I would get a job at one of the chemical plants where I could make enough to pay my rent and my own way through school. I didn't need that scholarship. Heck no. I could do it myself.
After spending days driving up and down the Houston Ship Channel, filling out one application after another, I was grateful for the welder's helper job. I think it paid a whopping $4 an hour - not huge money, but enough to get my own apartment. We worked four 10-hour days, receiving our brass tags in the morning and returning them to the brass shack when we left.
The mud and the mosquitoes and creepy Blue Eyes were bad enough, but the worst part of the job were the Port-a-Potties, nasty in every sense of the word, including the graffiti inside and out. Why do some guys love drawing penises?
If at any time during the day I needed to use the restroom, I went home 'sick'. Do you blame me? After all the road trips we've taken, Tom has a hard time believing I ever made it through a full ten-hour day.
On the up side, I had a crash course in character. There were some good people there. One welder in particular stands out, B.J. Johnson. I don't remember how I knew he was a good guy. Perhaps just through some conversations, probably the way he talked about his wife and kids or the way he treated me. He went on to work at a neighboring chemical plant with a friend of mine.
I was glad he got out of there, because, by contrast, many of the people I worked with were varying degrees of shady, enough so to help me see the kind of person I didn't want to be.
For instance, one of my foremen wanted me to smuggle stuff out of the tool room in my purse; the other one cooked alligator in the rod box for lunch - when hunting alligator was illegal. (It tastes like chicken, by the way. Hey, I never said I was perfect!)
A guy who worked in the warehouse always talked about being high on Vicodin - it was prescribed for a back injury, but I don't think at the doses he took them. I'm pretty sure he was selling them, too.
The only woman I remember working with had a gun in her purse and a butterfly tattooed on her décolletage, way before tattoos became mainstream. Her boyfriend was in the Bandidos. I can't remember her real name, but the welders called her Moo-Cow, because of her ample, um, décolletage.
Then there were the pot-smoking welders out in the weld-out yard, and the guys who would brag about cheating on their wives when they worked out of town and laughed about how they once chased a black man down the street, throwing glass bottles at him from their car.
(I had a few choice words for them about that. They didn't mention anything like it in front of me again.)
Also on the up side, I was hired by DuPont to help start up a brand new Syngas and Methanol plant because of my experience in and exposure to the construction site, even though it only lasted two months. (That's another "up" - it only lasted two months.) My gig at DuPont lasted thirteen years and three births; it paid for a couple of mortgages and helped with Tom's degree. (He had tuition assistance from the G.I. Bill.)
Maybe if R.L. hadn't pulled some strings to get me that job...if I hadn't been hired by DuPont...I would have given up and gone back to school. I probably wouldn't have I crossed paths with Blue Eyes and Moo Cow and B.J. and all of the others who made such a lasting impression on me, but I would be an engineer somewhere, maybe with more money in the bank than I have now.
But maybe I wouldn't have met Tom, had my babies, made those lifelong friends at DuPont, and learned how strong and smart I really am in ways I never could have imagined.
That's just too many "maybe's" to worry about. So I'll just say thank you, R.L., for helping me get to where I am, and who I am, now.
I'm participating in The Scintilla Project, where we share the stories who make us who we are. The prompt this week is: Tell a story set at your first job. While I had held other jobs before becoming a welder's helper, it was the one that provided independence.