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When ironworkers gather, you just don’t know who you’ll get. Or you do.

Wed., June 29

Dear Gene,

I was in the ironworker school today practicing the welding test to get 3/8” certified. I say “practice” since there was no way that I was going to test and embarrass myself. And I needed the practice. It amazed me that after just a month since my last week of school how my welding hand had gone. Accomplishing that steady hand is the bane of my existence.

I think I was able to get enough practice in today to be able to test well tomorrow. Who knows, ey? I’ve thought at one time or another that I nailed it (or welded it), and . . . bing, what I nailed were sweet and long splits and breaks along my root pass. Turns out, I’m good at splits and breaks, slag inclusions and overlaps. Now I need to become bad at them.

But I’ll make a hell of an ironworker and welder for Ironworkers Local Union #10 someday.

The morning at the school was good for me, in part, because some of my pals were doing makeup days—sort of tells you the caliber of person I hang out with. It was good, too, because yesterday I turned the last chapter of my second book into the editor at the University of Nebraska Press! I couldn’t help but feel fine after that.

Enough about me. Ilus was telling me about getting himself set up for substitute teaching. I think he will do well. He has a presence that can be teacherly and fatherly. It can also be intimidating if you screw the pooch.

I also want to tell you about how proud I was of our ironworkers last week. About 15 of us doing makeup days (me for missing school to tend to JCCC teaching). We went to SkillsUSA to help at the welding competition. It was a special group of guys. Everyone represented the union and our trade well. None of the boys were off chasing high school girls, sitting on their butts, or shirking work. I understand this has been a problem in the past.

It was really something to work with a bunch of guys who’s biggest transgression was fighting over who was going to pick up the last thing on the floor or do the last bit of work. I don’t know what Bill, Ilus, and Jesse thought, but as a beginner on my first time at Skills, I was really impressed and glad that our men could remember who we were and what we were doing. I think you would have been happy with the bunch.

So, Gene, I don’t just think of you when I happen into the welding booths. But as I was melting and pitting things today I thought it would be good to send thoughts and wishes. I have learned, in my old age, that these things matter most.


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