(The following is a true story from my youth, which takes place in the late 1960’s)
I had been working for a temp agency down on Canal St. in Manhattan for about a month when I was sent out with Neil Gregory to unload a truck just a few blocks uptown. It was a big truck, containing about two thousand un-palletized boxes of now-forgotten goods, each weighing between twenty and thirty pounds. The owner of the small factory told us we had all day to do the job. A third man had been sent for, but he never showed up.
Before getting to the job site Neil and I had spoken little more to each other than to say “I’m Neil’, “I’m Brian”. But we hit it right off as we tackled that truck. We set down a couple of wooden pallets, threw a few boxes on them, and quickly agreed upon a stacking pattern. We filled them up, jacked them over in a line along the far wall and, with room now to stand in the truck, I got up and started throwing boxes, angling them just right so that Neil could make an easy catch, put the box into position, and turn around to catch the next one, which was in the air before he turned.
A few more pallets into the truck and we had room enough to set up steel rollers on two low piers of boxes. We worked fast and furiously, yet always in total self-control, now and then giving each other an appreciative look. We hadn’t said we were going to “work like Hell”, but we both sort of just fell right onto it. It was hot and our shirts were becoming darker by the minute. About halfway into the unlit cavern (we didn’t want lights, they created too much heat—to Hell with safety rules) Neil said, “Let’s switch”. I said, “Okay”, and that was our break.
Then boxes were zooming out of the gloom at me, the rollers joining in the act with their hard-spinning sound of tambourines. It was exhilarating to jack a full pallet into place, then rush back with a new pallet to catch up again with the steady flow. Back and forth, grab, swing, set; grab, swing, and set again, maintaining focus and tensely determined effort, not allowing one single action that didn’t serve the purpose of putting the contents of that truck on the dock.
Then, all of a sudden, we were done. I went and found a clock. It stood at eleven. We had finished the job in three hours. We looked at each other and laughed out, “So much for a full day’s pay!”
We walked over to the factory office to give the boss the news. He looked at us in amazement and went out and looked at our long neat rows of boxes. Then he turned to us while saying, “Last week it took three men seven hours to unload that truck. Tell you what, I’m going to sign your tickets for eight hours each, and I’m going to ask your agency to send you two back here next week, if you’re available.” He shook our hands with a hard, respectful grip, and we left, elate with eight hours pay for four hours work.
In the next few weeks Neil and I were sent out together on many other jobs— moving furniture in the Bronx, or from one floor to another in a mid-town skyscraper, working assembly lines for coffee makers and bottling companies, hand-trucking five hundred pound bales of cloth in the garment district, unloading burlap bags of sawdust in Brooklyn, plus a few other odd jobs. Everywhere we worked, singly, or as a two-man team, we moved with a glad efficiency and speed. We didn’t always get a quick reward for a job well done, but we often did. And more and more people were promising to ask just for us in the future.
It was during this time that we began to acquire a reputation among our fellow temps. We were starting to hear things like, “Don’t go out on a job with those guys; man, they kill the job”, or “Work with those job killers and you won’t get a full day’s pay”. The men who made statements such as these liked to “stretch the job out”, making a four-hour job last eight, or even for another day, in some cases. They had no idea of the payment of pride which comes to a man when he is concerned only with doing his most efficient best. The word “competent” was not in their vocabulary. And when jobs were scarce, they sat all day in the agency waiting room wondering why Neil and I had been called out on a job, but not them.
The bosses, managers and owners who asked especially for us, knew.
We didn’t kill a job; we made it live.