Brick by brick to the sky.


He’d started out as a brick hod carrier, Frag had, working his way up from the grunt labor of the laden, creaking wooden hod to the old-world artisan status of a bricklayer and along the way, reducing himself in name only to the fractional monosyllable “Frag” as he did. That seemed enough for him, or so he’d said. Because what he did was larger and more weighty than anything he was ever called.

You, college boy,” he fairly barked in a gravelly smoker’s bass that typically ended in a hawk and a spit. “You ain’t nothing now ‘cept dog-hauling a hod for journeyman Frag.” He liked to refer to himself in the third person, and me as College Boy, reluctant hourly summer help, just some kind of cardboard thin cutout of a not-Frag, not perilously balancing a hod on the fourth floor, open girder structure as he had in an old-world, long lost tradesman reality.

And he was right–about that but even more: soaring buildings took shape on blue-lined white paper derived from computer-assisted draftsmen in thin ties and nine-to-five safety free of an unbalanced hod laden with the real heft of mortar and sand, the reality of what they designed, brought to life by the wiry tough, nut-hard muscle of Frag. And to a lesser degree, gofer College Boy me. Bound to the ground, all of them, till Frag gave them flight, story by grunting story.

The sweat equity, dirty fingernails payout of the endless hods Frags and lesser College Boys wrestled–you didn’t “carry” a hod, you balanced it–commanded the dreamscape of architecture and sweatless design to life on a gruntscape of muscle and brick placed just so, line to certain line, mortar scrape by deft, artistic bricklay and tap, brick by a thousand bricks, up into the sky.

I can never forget the achy weariness of burning college boy sinew, sun-baked of dry labor days and even after work, crazy beer-fueled joyrides balancing atop, for no sensible reason, Frag’s battleship-sized beater Pontiac as he’d fishtail and rage through a dirt-clodded, unpaved construction site. Why? Because Frag was bigger than all that, larger than anything they could design and he could build, that he orchestrated brick by brick with his callused hands and college boy’s dog-like, tongue-hanging dragging labor. Real work is only what you do with your hands, where your bring paper and promise to life. To flight.

Power control is key to airspeed.

Not so labor-coarse are the hands today resting atop the thrust levers harnessing a straining draft horse team bucking fifty-thousand pounds of jet thrust. Stand hard on the brakes and haw the team to roaring life, needing to know, to feel it, read it, personally. Sure, there are a thousand lines of computer code flowing through electric sinews monitoring the ungodly torrent of fire and fuel, metal and power slung under wide swept sleek wings howling against the brakes but no matter: journeyman Frag knows it ain’t right till it feels right, looks true as a plumb line to a tradesman’s eye for “right,” for launching more than a towering design, yet no more than that in the play out of someone else’s grand plan in the sky.

To my right College Boy, jet edition, eyes me warily as I hold it all in my tight-handed, set jaw grasp, squint-eyeing what we’ve built to be sure, to know it’s true. Hah. Stand on the roof, college boy, and hang on. We’re going to fly, make it soar, like never before or again.

Live it, fly it with me: cvr w white borderThese 25 short essays in the best tradition of JetHead put YOU in the cockpit and at the controls of the jet.

Some you’ve read here, many have yet to appear and the last essay, unpublished and several years in the writing,  I consider to be my best writing effort yet.

Own a piece of JetHead, from Amazon Books and also on Kindle.

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8 Responses to “Brick by brick to the sky.”

  1. […] attendant, the life of an airline pilot. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

  2. peggywillenberg Says:

    My own “college boy hod carrier” (AKA my husband) had a similar experience with his career. He always remembered those bricks and the heavy mortar he carried on his summer job and ended up with a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a law degree. And all those young associates always watched him warily as he showed them how to be the master of the courtroom.

    Good one, Chris.

  3. Yes! I hauled 2x4s and plywood up the hill for a Union construction crew in Tarrytown…and the practical jokes began with minor NSFW and escalated to filling a convertible with concrete. “So kid, you’re trying? You sure are…trying me, you wimp”. I *remember* in my bones being so utterly bone-wasted that I could only stand and sway by day’s end. Once having gassed up my van, I watched in utter passive exhaustion as a car cruised at 5 MPH across the station and ran into a pole 10′ away…and its drunk driver staggered out cursing. If he’d come at me, I couldn’t have moved out of the way. I loved the trades, worked up to a self-taught Master Electrician’s license…but eventually went back for an M.S.C.S. and a secure job at IBM. Wasn’t that a joke.
    “Let’s drink to the hard working people
    Let’s drink to the lowly of birth
    Raise your glass to the good and the evil
    Let’s drink to the salt of the earth”

  4. Kinda why I became a shipfitter, a man who builds and repairs all manner of things that float.

  5. Mr Manno – we’re trying to find an extremely generous pilot who paid for a hotel room for the night for the grieving parents of a British soldier killed in Afghanistan.

    I hope you won’t mind me posting this here but we’re having more difficulty than I thought we would in finding this guy, and hope that maybe he might be a reader of this blog.

    More details here

    (If inappropriate please delete, and best of luck with your book.)

  6. Just FYI. Putting up a post Monday featuring your books as a great gift idea.

  7. […] down for a Jethead essay  sample. (And while there, glide around to see what pilots think about […]

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