Me and My Uncle

Zarathruster By Zarathruster, 14th Mar 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Relationships

This story is a non fictional account of my experience as a 15 year old construction laborer on Elliott Key off the coast of Homestead, Fl.

Me and My Uncle

Me and My Uncle
The island job was my first experience in manual labor on a construction site, I was 15. My cousin Bruce would pick me up every morning at 5:30 and drive us to my uncle Jim's house to ride to work with him. Bruce was preparing for medical school and seemed to just put up with the insanity to get a paycheck. The trip from North Miami to Homestead took about an hour each morning. From Homestead, we would take a boat to the job site on Elliot Key, where we were building a pavilion on the island.
From Jimmy's house, we would pick up his friend Bill around 6am. Each morning began and ended in the same manner. Jimmy would go into Bills house and drink a 2 oz shot of whiskey, I joined him on a couple of occasions, then learned that drinking in the morning was not for me. From there, Jim and Bill would stop at a convenience store and buy a six pack of 16 oz Budweiser's for the ride to Homestead. The beer was almost finished as we stopped to pick up Alex near the toll booth on the interstate. Each morning, Jimmy would criticize the way Alex, (a black man), looked, (monkey, ape and other select racial slurs), then smile and greet him as he got into the car. Jimmy was perfectly civil to Alex on the way home also, then repeat his offensive litany after we dropped him off. The drive from picking up Alex to Homestead was about a half an hour. When we got near the marina, Jimmy would stop and get a case of beer and several bags of ice for the day.

Upon arriving at the boat ramp, Bill and Jim were typically 3/4 drunk and ready for work. The mornings usually began with a lot of shouting and general arguments about who was doing what and who had various equipment for the job. I had to consciously hold myself back from laughing because it was truly crazy. I usually got yelled at for not tying off the boat properly or for loading supplies incorrectly. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters and laborers were all aboard each morning, anywhere from 8-10 people per day were on that boat. Jimmy claimed himself to be the 'Captain'- and let everyone know it..It was a nice ride to work every morning, aside from the general insanity.

The job site was hectic and frenzied. Since it was on an island, everything had to be remembered for each trip. The beer, ice and tools - in that order- were hauled off the boat and carried to the pavilion we were building. The job site was actually two sites, the pavilion and a concrete structure of some type down a path separated from the main area. My job was to pick up all the used boards and debris and haul it around and to dig holes and move dirt. It was unbearably hot. the mosquitoes were thick and the work was hard. We had army issue insect repellent and used it daily. The electricians smoked weed. Rocky, the plumber , brought his own beer - Piels Light in the can. Rocky had a son named Junior, whom Jimmy termed "..big as a house and dumb as a box of rocks..." According to Jimmy, Junior like to drive the front loader because it made him feel important. He got it stuck in the mud twice and was summarily yelled at by Rocky and Jimmy. Junior was an endless topic of ridicule and amusement for Jimmy who seemed to live to insult him. Juniors life long ambition was to " jet planes.." this really got Jimmy going - he wanted to fly jet planes yet he couldn't drive a front loader.

The typical day started off with cool breezes and ended with searing heat. Everyone took a 15 minute break at 10 am and and 3pm and we finished at 4:30. It was so hot that conversation was minimal. Once, during lunch, Jimmy seemed to enjoy repeating himself over and over about "...the fucking onions for the hot dogs. Then it was the fucking mustard, over and over , the fucking onions and the fucking mustard! Luckily we had the fucking onions and the fucking mustard. By lunch, the beer was well hit into and a general fog and laziness seemed to settle over everyone. Decisions seemed to be made slower and there was less shouting but more grumbling and general negativity. Jimmy's diatribes and rants really pissed people off at times. He almost got into a fight with Charlie Moon, one of the electricians on the job site. Jim seemed to enjoy teasing him about his sidekick apprentice, Richard who he said was a burnout and not worth a damn. He also berated him for his name, 'Moon' and the shape of his head "..It looks like a fucking moon..!!" Jimmy would endlessly repeat it. Jim's friend and drinking partner, Bill, would occasionally lapse into crying jags while working. Bill would be hammering away, then all of a sudden start crying. The crying didn't interfere with his work, it was just weird. I later found out that Bills' wife died and he was still getting over it.

My big confrontation with Uncle Jim came during the afternoon of a scorching summer day. I was spreading concrete with a rake for a section of patio. Jimmy commanded me to "..spread it proper.. don't make love to it boy- spread it around!" He must have noticed I was getting upset because he kept on and escalated. Each comment was louder and more aggressive. He was building in intensity and thinking I was getting upset. I wasn't, I was just bewildered as to why he was so pissed. I wasn't old enough to realize that he was drunk out of his mind and this is the type of behavior that lends itself to that. Uncle Jim then stepped it up a notch and said "'re thinking of swinging that shovel at me not aren't you boy..!!!!" He then repeated "..Go ahead, swing it..!! I just backed up and stared at him. I threw the rake down and walked away. Jimmy was screaming at me as I left the scene, "'re a cherry boy!!..that's why you didn't swing it at's cause you're a fucking cherry...boy...!!!" I told him to fuck off and went to the other side of the job site. The whole thing was forgotten about and we carried on like nothing happened.

Jimmy got stranger and stranger as my tenure with him continued. A couple of times we took the boat to the mainland for lunch and he told me he once quit drinking for ten years then just started back again.
He said he had it all under control and didn't have a problem. The reasoning went something like this.."I only drink beer, for the most part, I don't drink whiskey like I used too, only in the morning and the afternoons and its just a shot or two.." At this time in my life , it seemed normal to me, Jimmy just liked to drink. After all, he never had a DUI, never been arrested for drinking and he was up and working every day. I later learned that he was what is known as "functioning" alcoholic. I even attended an AA meeting with him once. He was super critical of everyone in the meeting before we went and afterward. He wouldn't speak in the meeting however he encouraged me to "..get up there and tell your story like the rest of the drunks.."I told him that he needed to, I didn't have anything to say. His response was "You won't catch me up there, that's a bunch of bullshit". Uncle Jim once asked my cousin Bruce if he thought he was an alcoholic. Bruce hesitated, then said, " yes, I think you are.." Jimmy's standard response was "..bullshit.. I aint no fucking alcoholic." He was in complete and total denial - everyone else had a problem- not him.

Every day ended the same. We would drop everyone off and stop at Chi's food store on the way home for a cold Heineken. Jimmy appreciated the fact that they were very cold. Uncle Jim did have a good idea for an invention though. He proposed a blinking sign that would sit in the rear window of the car that could be programmed what to say. He said that you could have a keyboard on the dash and type messages to drivers as you passed them. The message would blink and they would then understand how you really felt about their driving skills. His favorite message would be "asshole",- blinking in the rear window as you passed. ..I thought he was on to something....

Uncle Jim was an intelligent person, he just couldn't get past the drinking.When sober, he was fun to be around and was a good family man. He had a quick mind and was pretty smart. He liked to have fun - maybe a little too much. I didn't see him much as his health deteriorated. His liver just stopped working. He was 54.


Alcohol Abuse, Alcohol Addiction, Construction Sites, Working With Family

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Internationally Acclaimed Writer of Satire and Human Interest

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