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Jerry the Construction Worker

A few people were interested in my “character diary” process. I’m fascinated by people — in my opinion, there is no such thing as an ordinary person… just an ordinary-acting person. I’ve kept a character diary for years with profiles of people I know and meet. I’m not moving any of my old entries online, but I’ll keep my character observations on my blog from now on.

So, we were out on the construction site in the back of my house. For years, there has been an abandoned Victorian, a real hard-hat zone with the aging “DERELICT” notice on the door. Finally, someone bought it and is supposedly fixing it up into a commercial building. The parking lot in the back of my house, poached by several different valet parking services, just started getting dug up.

Di, Frog, and I stood next to the chain-link fence separating my property from theirs, watching the excavator dig up the concrete. There was only one worker, a thin, middle-aged man wearing the standard issue workboots, dusty blue thermal hoodie, and thick jeans. He’d pulled his hood up so I couldn’t see his face. What little I could make out was covered by a long, half-gray mustache and beard.

After he’d dug up the parking bumpers, he got out and started kicking through the leaves and trash for rebar. He didn’t glance once in our direction, though surely he knew we were there, watching. Maybe he was used to it — a lot of people like to watch deconstruction. I was waiting for a chance to wave to him, to acknowledge him. Di and I looked at each other and crossed over to him across the rubble.

“Hi,” she called out. He looked up and flashed his gloved palm in greeting, but did not stop. I wasn’t surprised — between the worn look and the beard, I was prepared for him to be unfriendly. Expected it, even. But Di didn’t. She walked right up to him, making him stop. “After you dig up the lot, what are you doing next?”

He shrugged. “Don’ know, we… haven’t seen the plans yet.” He spoke fluently but with an accent that I couldn’t make out. His muddy brown eyes kept looking around at the site as he was talking.

“How long do you think it will take?” asked Di.

“I really’ve no idea. We have the foundation to do,” he gestured to a stack of grungy wooden boxes with holes in them, “and the whole building after.”

“Well,” I said, “they’ve probably got to get it done before winter, right?”

The worker shrugged. “We work in winter. I go to a lot of different sites.”

I finally understood the reason he didn’t stop — he was simply in a hurry to get to the next site.

Di introduced us, including the dog that had gotten out and was charging around the machinery.

The worker finally smiled. “I’m Jerry.” Spoken in his accent, the name Jerry took on a different meaning for me. I’d always thought it was a name reserved for uncles, perhaps those who used to be jerks in middle school. I was glad to finally know him, as we would see each other a lot through the fence this summer.

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