Embarrassing family incidents while working with drywall.

When you find yourself spending a lot of time with someone, whether by choice or occupation, the challenge that presents itself is how to keep it fresh. As we continue in our quest for the admiration (or at least tolerance) of our readership and new ideas to fill this space, almost every topic that can be discussed has been … ad nauseam. Serious topics such as the economy, religion, in-laws, world events and breakfast meats have been covered to the point of redundancy. The bizarre, the sick and the silly: all things considered.

As some of you have noticed, we’ve managed to take verbal swipes at virtually everyone and everything including ourselves. The only ones we’ve spared have been our families.

Which led us to the following challenge: Present the other with a humorous story that not only involves drywall, but also a family member. More specifically, a family member must have been shamed, and if possible, emotionally scarred by the incident.

Some may have shied away from such an undertaking due to family loyalty. Not us. If embarrassment is good enough for us, it’s good enough for our kin. The following is the result of this contest.

I walk the line

Kevin recalls a development in which he was working one unusually frigid fall. He and his crew were toiling for an unreasonably demanding builder. (More than likely, all of you have worked for someone just like this.) If this builder can get you to do a house in two days when he is in a real bind going to settlement, not only don’t you get thanked, but the two-day house is now expected FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY. If you work a Sunday or a holiday to make up the slack from some other trade, it is now the norm.

You all know this builder. Picture this: It’s Friday, about 11 in the morning. The crew is just finishing up sanding and touching up a house. The propane tank ran out of gas the previous night, so the ambient temperature in the house is just above freezing.

Such was the case on this fine morning. As the sun breaks through the clouds, a beam of sunlight crosses Kevin’s path. As he exhales, he is fascinated by the diamond-like sparkles in his breath. The combination of drywall dust and steam creates a surreal pre-emphysema mist.

The only thing on all their minds on this morning is going out and getting a steaming cup of coffee to wrap their cracked, frozen fingers around. About this time, Kevin’s favorite builder emerges from his toasty vehicle and saunters into the house, informing him that the sample unit in the next phase of the development needs to be finished by the following Monday. “You’d better start right away,” says he. When questioned about the lack of a driveable road to move materials to this phase (which was about a half-mile from an access road), this picture of humanity answers, “Wassa the problem? You walka, you carry.” While biting his tongue to the point of drawing blood, Kevin says, “no problem.”

Spending the next half-hour loading tools into the trucks, plans are made for the exciting weekend that awaits them. There are three choices in the way one may walk to this job. First, through red clay mud. Second, across ballast rock that would snap your ankle like a twig. Third, a balancing act of negotiating the top of a newly poured curb. Balancing act it was.

So, like a string of Camels in the desert, they proceed to empty the contents of two pickups one armload at a time. Kevin seems to remember it was the last trip. His partner Rich, as usual, was fearlessly leading the way. Brother-in-law Nick was valiantly holding down the middle position, carrying an open-top toolbox in each hand. The contents of these boxes were spare auto-taper parts, knives, pans—all those little parts you really need to have with you every day. While following about 10 paces behind, Kevin notices Nick starting to list to one side. In what appeared to be slow motion, Kevin watched in awe as Nick performed a headfirst dive into the reddest, nastiest mud you could ever imagine. This dive would have gotten Greg Louganis all 9.9s. All Kevin could see was poor Nick’s feet sticking straight up out of the mud like Wile E. Coyote.

To his credit, Nick never let go of the toolboxes. As a result, he was surrounded by a veritable cornucopia of drywall tools. Looking back on it, Kevin is reasonably sure that they waited the appropriate length of time to make sure there was no permanent or serious damage done before falling off the curb themselves with fits of uncontrollable laughter. Nick’s words can still be heard as he stood up out of the mire surrounding him. His face contorted in a mixture of pain, rage and embarrassment, you could almost read his brain formulating the words to come, as he stammered, “I’m ……. I’m ….. so ……. so ………… embarrassed.”

Words well chosen.

Man in black

Bill tells of a spec house in which he had foolishly invested and was behind schedule (surprise).

During a mini housing boom in the mid 1980s, help was hard to find and interest rates were rising fast, so most of the drywall was hung by Bill and his equally inept cousin, Paul.

After several digits had been lacerated to the bone in a 16-plus-hour day, the board was finally hung in a manner that would require only about 40 coats and five-grit sandpaper to a smooth wall finish. But it was done. And that, of course, was cause for celebration.

Since the house was a two-hour drive from their homes, it made sense to spend the night. One slice of pizza and one case of beer later, it was determined that the residual insulation and plastic would suffice as bedding. And so it was. On this cold and rainy evening in this shell of a house, the exposed face of the Fiberglas offered perverse comfort.

Around 2 o’clock in the morning, the hops had worked their magic and Bill sought relief. In the interest of letting Paul sleep, he tiptoed out the front door and into the rain. After taking care of business, he turned to go back inside. But the door was locked.

Determined not to wake his cohort, he went through the bulkhead door and made his way in the pitch dark through the basement and up the stairs, with only a slight bump of his shin trying to find the bottom tread. Slowly and quietly he climbed the stairs. The door creaked open.

Maybe it was the bump at the bottom of the stairs, but at some point, Paul had risen to hear footsteps on the stairs of this middle-of-nowhere construction site at 2:00 a.m. Believing that Bill was still asleep on the floor, Paul watched as a shadowy figure emerged, wet and shaking through the cellar door. Paul uttered the first scream, which frightened Bill to the point of screaming himself, which in turn frightened Paul even further. Suffice to say that the ensuing howling would have put a Girl Scout camp ghost story telling contest to shame. The next day of work was lost for their inability to recover from the fetal position.

So remember friends, drywall: It’s not just a job, it’s an occasionally embarrassing moment. But it’s still … your life.