Veteran readers of AID will remember that it was originally co-authored by Bill Scannell. Our first article came out in the October 1999 Issue and was entitled “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Drywall.” Although Bill is now too busy to contribute, he’s still a regular reader and often critiques my writing. His remarks are usually terse and to the point, as can be witnessed in his most recent e-mail, “Your prose is leaning more technical and less hyperbole.”

It should be noted that when Bill and I started writing together, he was already an experienced writer, and I was the neophyte. Although I still wouldn’t be able to define a hanging participle if a gun was pointed to my head, I like to think that after almost eight years of honing what little skill I have, and listening to Bill’s advice whenever he gives it, my writing has morphed from monosyllabic grade school level, to at least a second-year community college level … maybe not … how about just being readable? That being said, I am taking Bill’s advice this month, enjoy.

Stories from the trenches

Everyone who grinds it out day after day in the construction trenches, has at least one story of “stupidity unbecoming a human.” Some stories have tragic endings, while others generate belly laughs for years to come. Some stories are not funny unless you personally witness the event, like the time one of my co-workers walked off the end of a scaffold while boxing a ceiling … And yes, you must wait the mandatory two minutes to make sure the person is OK before laughing is allowed.

There is a direct correlation between the degree of risk for bodily harm and how funny something is.

Time can also take the edge off an extremely dangerous accident that was not funny when it happened. My friend Roy laid in a basement with broken bones for nearly a day before someone rescued him when the stairwell he was working in collapsed. Thankfully he was rescued. His injuries were not fatal and enough time has passed that we can now laugh about it.

When I was coming up in the trades in the ‘70s, many construction sites were not as regulated as they are now. It was not an unusual sight to see workers shooting nail guns at each other during break.

It is also a fact that many a Friday afternoon spawned whole chapters of “stupidity unbecoming a human” stories while entire crews sprawled across pickup tailgates and planks tossing back a few. A small fortune could be made if a viable method was found that could reclaim the aluminum cans buried in the backfill around some jobs. If you worked in construction during this era, you undoubtedly have a few similar memories of such behavior.

Downside to the Upside

Thankfully most companies now have strict policies forbidding such behavior. The upside is that job sites are now a safer place to work. The downside is you will not have as many “remember when” stories at your disposal.

The following story is a bricklayer’s accident report that supposedly appeared in a newsletter for the Australian equivalent of the Workers Compensation Board. I have my doubts as to the validity of the events. Either way, fact or fiction, what you are about to read is an example of world-class stupidity unbecoming a human, and wicked funny.

Dear Sir,

I am writing in response to your request for additional information in Block 3 of the accident report form. I put “poor planning” as the cause of my accident. You asked for a fuller explanation and I trust the following details will be sufficient.

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a new six-story building. When I completed my work, I found that I had some bricks left over which, when weighed later, were found to be slightly in excess of 500 pounds.

Rather than carry the bricks down by hand I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley, which was attached to the side of the building on the sixth floor. Securing the rope at ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out, then loaded the bricks into it. Then I went down and untied the rope, holding tightly to ensure a slow descent of the bricks. You will note in Block 11 of the accident report form that I weigh 135 pounds.

Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rapid rate up the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel, which was now proceeding downward at an equally impressive speed. This explains the fractured skull, minor abrasions and the broken collar bone, as listed in section 3 of the accident report form. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley.

Fortunately, by this time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope, in spite of beginning to experience pain. At approximately the same time however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel.

Now devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel weighed approximately 50 pounds. I refer you again to my weight.

As you can imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles, broken tooth and several lacerations of my legs and lower body.

Here my luck began to change slightly. The encounter with the barrel seemed to slow me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell into the pile of bricks, and fortunately only three vertebrae were cracked.

I am sorry to report however, as I lay there on the pile of bricks, in pain and unable to move, I again lost my composure and presence of mind and let go of the rope. I lay there and watched the empty barrel begin its journey back onto me. This explains the two broken legs.

I hope this answers your inquiry.

Kind Regards,


I hope you got a kick out of that; if not, blame Bill. Remember: If you’re knuckles deep, don’t let go.