Tuesday, July 10, 2018

heat wave. mailbag.

"It's a Dry Heat" 
Michael Sedano

Record-setting high temperatures sweep the nation. Here in Southern California the heat comes with the boon of dryness. A person can put in a full day’s work, or play, in this heat and come back tomorrow for more.

My dad loved cement work and taught me to appreciate the beauties of a 20 foot slab of freshly-laid cement. High school summers I put in many a slab by myself. Dig the earth and build a form. Mix 3:3:1 helpings of cement, sand, and gravel in a wheelbarrow with some water. Haul loads to the worksite and fill the form. Flatten the pour with a 2x4 then hand trowel to produce a level non-slip surface. At the end of a day I stand admiring the work with a Giselbertus hoc fecit satisfaction. Cement work lasts forever. The hundred degree day of hard physical labor makes the accomplishment all more satisfying.

Ever more satisfying hot work came from laboring in the soaking pits and the slabber at Kaiser Steel during college summers. Steel ingots heated to flaming yellow move through the mills shedding flat tiles of spongy iron and coal impurities. Hundreds of pounds of slag come off each two-ton ingot after it’s re-heated to malleability in the soaking pit before being crane-lifted to the conveyor feeding the slab mill, where the thousand-degree steel is flattened by monstrous mills in earthshaking showers of fire and thunder and slag.

Michael Sedano pulls in after a double shift at Kaiser Steel
The raceway underneath the roll line is an artificial river in a channel up to ten feet deep. Other sections of the roll line sit 18” above the cement floor before gaining depth. Here, laborers crawl on bellies shoveling until they can kneel. They shovel deeper into the raceway until they can crouch, shoveling further until they can work standing. Three workers in a line, relaying shovelsful to the guy behind.

Kaiser had the contract for the California Water Project and ran 24/7, except for the three turns the mill went down. For 24 hours the mill sat idle while the roll lines cooled from weeks of feeding 800ºC ingots to Hephaestus’ anvil.  For three turns the mill sits inactive, then at midnight, we laborers crawl into the race way, brandishing our shovels. We pull a double turn, midnight to four p.m., cleaned the raceways to bare cement.

Sixteen hours of shoveling slag in a hot stinky humid steel mill raceway has a way of making a person appreciate the value of a college education. My co-workers wouldn’t return to Isla Vista in the Fall. They were steel mill lifers, they would spend their working lives laboring at the end of a shovel, shoveling slag at minimum union wage.

I wasn’t a Lifer by any means, but I was a good soldier. So it goes. Thanks to riches accumulated at Kaiser I eased through completing a college degree and was in pursuit of an MA when my Uncle Sam “he said a-knock-knock, here I am,” as the song goes. And I went to the heat and humidity of the Korean DMZ.

I used to rue those Redlands times when foul weather forced me to shovel cement in energy-sapping heat and humidity for a few days. All you want to do is lie in the shade and read. Korean summer stays hot and humid all day and all night. Enervation or not, duty set hard labor before us, and summer gave us air so heavy it doesn’t circulate, it settles. The air is New York city in July, except here, when the breeze blows up the canyon it brings the penetrating smell of rice paddies fertilized with warm, fermenting human shit.

Summer rainstorms hit with relentless ferocity bringing emergencies and accidents, but bringing also respite from the day’s heat and humidity. Some storms, the rain doesn’t stop for days. Interest in the constant pounding of rain on the steel skins of the hootches rises only at the biggest squalls. The subtle rasp of water rushing down the exterior corrugations creates a white noise that puts people on edge. The steel skin vibrates from the rushing torrent. These storms regularly knock out our only communication line out of the valley.

"The River" normal water flow. In storms the channel fills with whitewater rearranging the streambed.

The storm abates enough that there’s good visibility. My partner and I drive up a few miles and head into the lush undergrowth lining the water’s edge. Humidity is glue to dirt and dust so when we find the wire our sweatbands are soaked and we're itching from scratches and crap down our necks. We trace the line to the next quarter mile splice, hook in and talk to the admin area but can't raise the mountain. The break is further up the line.

The likeliest place is the second ford. Big storms reliably wash out the road here, wreaking havoc downstream where the phone line crosses. Standing next to the roaring stream, there’s an unfamiliar percussion noise. A large boulder launches out of the whitewater and flies across the washed-out ford. The rock crashes into the stony bank with a krak! before returning to the submerged avalanche that rolls unseen downstream.

We find the broken line easily and report back to First Sergeant. We elect to wait out the surge. Mindful of man-killer stones that fly out of the flood at random times, we don’t treat ourselves to the cooling spray at the water’s edge.

Michael Sedano wearing helmet liner sweat band.
Was your city ever this hot? I’ve been hotter--glowing steel was hotter, that’s for dang sure. And if you’re in that heavy air east of the Pacific coast, I know how awful you feel. What I need right now is not air conditioning but a swimming pool filled with boys and girls and laughter and joy. Some shade and a cold glass of agua pura sin gas o con would be nice, too, to form new hot weather memories.

Be cool, gente.

New Mexico Middle School Students: Free Writer Workshops at NHCC

The History and Literary Arts division at Alburquerque's National Hispanic Cultural Center is ramping up for greater service to the local writer community. Today, Barelas, tomorrow the world! might be NHCC's clarion call as HLA gets up to speed as a cultural powerhouse again. Eventually NHCC will bring back the best thing it's ever achieved, the National Latino Writers Conference.

For more information on the upcoming workshops, click this link.

Register online at nmschoolforthearts.org (link).

Flash Fiction and Poetry
Wednesday July 11 and Thursday July 12, 10:30 am - 3:00 pm
Salon Ortega, NHCC

Performance by Student Participants
Thursday, July 12, 6 pm
Wells Fargo Auditorium, NHCC

A partnership between the NHCC and NM School for the Arts

More from NHCC • Deadline Approaches Call for Poets to Win Cash

Poets--deadline to apply, July 27, 2018. Contact Valerie Martínez at valerie.martinez@state.nm.us.

1 comment:

Antonio SolisGomez said...

what a wonderful story em, very descriptive and beautifully written