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It’s hot…I need a pool

Hey, Stinky,

I trust things are going well. No news, I told V yesterday, is either good news or very, very bad news. Since I can’t think of anything you wouldn’t tell me (except stuff about relationships), you must be doing all right. If not, just tell me and we’ll do the best we can to figure it out.

I haven’t received your paycheck to deposit into your account for you.

I have been working iron the last few weeks. Since the fire to write has returned, and it’s obvious that ironwork is getting to be a young man’s job, and it will be a while before I get work up on the iron instead of carrying the iron, I’ve decided to devote the summer to being as best an ironworker as I can, then, when school starts, devote my time and energy to getting that book and dissertation completed.

But I’ve developed real issues with overheating, a strange and not-so-good-feeling phenomenon. I’ve found that in conditions of high humidity and little or no wind, I get sopped with sweat, as nothing is evaporating. When the evaporation isn’t going fast enough to cool me off, I sweat even more and more, until I’m “LLLIT-r’ly” dripping. My heart starts to race. My motor skills slow down but so does my thinking. I keep saying to myself, “just this much farther…I have to speed up…Just a little faster…Just keep up..Etc.” (Sometimes I actually say, etc. To myself. Not etcetera, but etc., pronounced, “ets.”) I get slow and muddled, dizzy, and, then, in the extreme, I get shivers and shakes. Only then do I understand I’m dehydrating or overheating or whatnot.

It sucks. It hasn’t been high heat that got me. I worked several days in the median of Interstate 435. The temp was in the upper-90s and well close to 100 where we were. I spent the entire day carrying iron the length of the 1,400 feet of the median barrier we were building. And that’s not cheap stuff. When you hit one of those barriers they really, really want you to stop. Lots and lots of rebar–eight-foot #6 shepherd hooks every five inches. Point is, I did it, liked it, and didn’t have a problem.

High humidity, however, tears me up. The days I’ve been most affected in the last weeks were cool days, 68-75 degrees. On Friday, we started at 6 a.m. on a bridgedeck. The idea was to get the heavy lifting completed by noon so we could spend the after-lunch part of the day bent over tying it all up. But at 8 a.m. I turned around to the foreman and said, “That’s it, boss. I got twenty minutes left before I become completely useless to you.”

It’s embarrassing, really. In that heat-affected state of mind, I get mad at myself for being a wimp. I feel like I have to apologize for myself. I get really down. After all, I’m in good shape, have the will and the strength to do the work, and am stretched out now to stay bent over tying for 20-30 ties (quite a lot for as slow as I tie). Even then, I rest my back by putting my hands on my knees and only fully stand up after two or three sets of 20-30 ties.

Only after I get my head straight do I realize how serious this thing is. Redlining like that ain’t good. It wears me out. On Friday, for instance, I came home and slept for five hours, 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. I woke only once, about two hours into that nap, and my skin was still hot to the touch, as if I had a fever.

I don’t get it. I eat right, drink water like a damn desert (but never pee), and consume tons of bananas, Gatorade, and salt pills. I’ve lost something like 12 pounds since getting on the iron again. My at-rest heart-rate is 55 and my respirations are something like eight to 11 a minute. Relaxed, I’m a pretty relaxed guy.

Fortunately, I work for Malco. The crew coordinator and part-owner of the company was a rebar man for something like 20 years before he took over that position. He’s a very sympathetic guy and understands that, at 43, he would have problems being on the bridge. Give your best, he says. Don’t exceed your limitations, that’s not what we’re about at Malco, he says. We have a place for everyone.

After last Friday and the couple of days before, when we were on a bridge outside of Osceola, MO–where is was also cool, humid, and no wind–he’s set me off bridgedecks to do other work. This week, for instance, we have more median barrier to build staring Wednesday. He says he has enough stuff like that to keep me busy for the rest of the summer.

Plus, the foremen at Malco are good guys. Tough and hard-working, they get that the work is tough. Most know that we work hard, bust ass, do our best. When we don’t we don’t work. No reason to be jackwads.

(I say “all” foremen. Sure, a couple are real yellers and screamers, but generally they are good guys before and after the clock. There’s really only one whose name won’t emerge from these fingertips. He’s an insecure dick whose always trying to prove how manly he is–an almost-sure indicator of a dandy behind the wire reel and pliers. I want to tell him, “It’s all right, dude. We all have a range of possibilities. Take care of those soft insides. You don’t have to be gay to have hobbies, such as flower arrangement, painting, or writing poems. Just acknowledge the feminine and the path to enlightenment will reveal itself.” With loudmouth buttwaters like him, I listen, follow directions, and let the abuse roll off. Ducks feathers are what they are just for this reason.)

I can only think that something changed when I fell out so hard on the 71-at-150 Highway bridge last June (2009), or, maybe, when I nearly fell out in a box culvert the year before (working in four inches of water–with frogs–88 degrees, 90 percent humidity, no wind). I never really got up from the incident last summer, however. I had heat trouble the rest of the year.

Cold. I love it. I’ve never had a problem with cold, even when it’s kick-ass cold. No frostbite, overly cold ears or nose. Warm hands (cold heart?). I’ve done rebar and structural work when it was five and ten degrees all week. As a matter of fact, I worry most about being overdressed and getting sweated, which would mean chills and real body cold when we slow down and wait for the crane to place more iron.

I’m seeing that sadist doctor of mine tomorrow, Tuesday, to see if the heat’s exposing some undiagnosed heart thing, a murmur, septum hole, valve defect, clogged arteries…something. I’m a flawed picture of health–about 15 pounds overweight still, but strong with good stamina, low cholesterol, good lipids, normal blood sugar, etc. She’ll tell me to stay out of the heat. I’ll think, “Duh. Now, do the job you’re trained for and see if there’s a real issue other than age, wimpy chumpness, or god’s will. If not, then I’ll stay out of the heat.”

I’m looking at the end of my ironworker days if I don’t figure this thing out. That’s tough. It’s means a lot to me. But only in the last weeks I’ve begun to understand how much baggage I have with regard to ironwork. I like the work. I love being a union member, working with my hands, and being an anonymous pack-mule on the job. The people I work with are interesting, even if some are insecure cruel cracker bullies. But I have to work through this identity stuff, my insecurities.

I hope I hope all is well for you. Despite the whiney aspects of this note, it’s really an exciting time. Let me hear of you soon.


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