Men at Work

Irina Echarry

The apartment building where I live.

They arrived full of enthusiasm, with the security that comes from having a firm grasp of the work that one does daily. These seven men were ready to get rid of the leaks in our apartment building for once and for all.

All of the residents received them cheerfully and with the hope that in a few days (like they told us in a meeting) we’d be leaving behind years of dampness in our walls, rusty exposed rebar, the ugly facade of our paint-flaked building and the remnants of several balconies about to collapse.

We decided to pool our resources to guarantee a little something to eat for the workers (their lunches depend on the kindness of residents at the places where they do repairs), so each apartment contributed something; like this, no one really takes a hit. Everything was well organized and off to a good start.

“Could it be?” my mother exclaimed when she saw that they’d rebuilt the railing that for years had threatened to collapse. That same concern had lingered with us during the two months the repair work lasted. It was as if we were expecting the same thing that happened the previous occasion.

This time was not without its problems though. The work was interrupted for different reasons: rain, disputes between the workers, shortages of materials (when it wasn’t the cement it was the gravel or the gas necessary for the torch to set the tar paper roofing sheets or problems with the torch itself), and so on.

It was the disputes that apparently cut into the crew’s “unity” with the residents. There were several days of anxiety when they didn’t show up (with a good part of the roof’s waterproofing still to be done).

In any case, the rumors grew and circulated: “I heard that the crew boss hit one of the workers with a monkey wrench,” “So-and-so quit because he preferred to be on another crew,” “Joe Blow just got out of prison,” etc. Things and attitudes had started to get nasty.

What’s more, when the men returned they didn’t feel the need to give any explanation for their absence, they only promised to complete the job.

What was certain was that the group’s number declined. For fifteen days there were only four men up on the roof – in the sun, struggling to finish what they had begun more than one month back. While up there they caught colds from the rain, had stomach problems and one of them ended up with sharp pains in his right knee.

But the residents of the building continued to be bothered with the men or they simply ignored them. They didn’t give them anything else – not even water. The “unity” between the two groups had broken down.

The crew is now from the building. They concluded the painting, removed the scaffolding and since then we haven’t seen a trace of them.

Still, a while back it rained but not a single drop made it inside my apartment, it only got a little damp in the corner of my bedroom. But in the following storm nothing like that happened again.

Even with this, the results are not completely flattering: It seems that people still don’t know how get along.

The roof.

No one even felt curious to find out how those guys had survived on the roof without food, without water or not even a pill for their pains.

My mother and I couldn’t remain relaxed while they were working up there for our well-being without being paid any attention. We therefore took responsibility for the lunches, which were sometimes better, other times worse.

It’s sad when human relations degenerate to that point. From the very beginning residents would admonish the workers with the attitude of “I know you’re stealing something,” but then they’d turn around and hire the men to do personal jobs inside their houses using the same materials allocated for the building’s roof and facade.

For their part, those on the crew didn’t feel obligated at any time to account for the good or poor quality of the work, the lack of materials, their absences, the “favors” they did for people in other buildings on the block (favors they carried out with the same cement or paint assigned to our building).

But the worst thing was people turning their backs on other human beings who — though up to their own funny business — were working to improve our lives.

One thought on “Men at Work

  • If this were the socialist future of the US–which it is not–, it would not be worth struggling for.

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