No good deed goes unpunished

A carryover from the ‘history’ – last blog

“Hi!  Do you still want a sponsor for your trades class?”

“Yeah!  Great!  Let’s meet at the school tomorrow morning.”

And, with that, the die was cast.  I went to the Ladner High School the next morning and met Wayne, the teacher, and some of the 20 or so young men who were to form his class.  They were a pretty loose group.  Goofy, kinda, in a bunch o’ teenage boys kinda way. And they didn’t listen to their teacher very much at all.  I wasn’t overly impressed with anyone, really, but I wasn’t about to miss out on this window of tolerance and largess that Sally had offered.  I’d work with this motley crew.

“Before we start on this, Wayne, I should tell you that the building I am planning has a 900 sft footprint.  Zat too big?”

“Nah!  We have been doing 400 to 600 sft each year but going up isn’t a problem.  You know, we build it here at the school and then dismantle it for transport to your site.  Then I take the kids up for a week and we erect it on the foundation that you have already put in place.  Can that be done?”

“Yes and no.  The foundation is piers.  Legs.  Piles, if you will.  The site is a severe slope so the back side will be ready, concrete and solid but the front will be elevated on posts.  I figure the posts to be about 20 feet at the very front.  So, we’ll do it all except for the front two rows of posts.  About twelve or fourteen of them.  They will have to be done at the time.  Will that work?”

“Oh yeah.  No problem.  You also need to transport twenty or so people from the lower mainland, feed and house us for a week and then get us back home.  OK?”

“Yeah.  By the way, how far will the crew get in a week?  I can’t imagine getting to lock-up like you said.”

“We’ll get to lock-up.  Maybe even get the metal roof on.”

I had shown Wayne the pictures of the site.  I had shown him the inclined slope on which we were building by measuring it and then holding a yardstick at the proper angle.  He was not deterred.  We shook hands and I handed him the first few thousand of what was to be a $30,000 materials and shipping bill within a month or so.

Every week (Friday afternoon) I’d show up on the school grounds (with donuts and cokes) to get to know Wayne and the boys a bit better and to monitor their progress.  He had some good boys, some bad boys and some real screw-balls but they were doing good work and, within a few months, the floor was set and they were starting on the walls.

When May rolled around I made the necessary arrangements to haul everything (large flat bed truck on the ferry, transfer to barge and then the barge would deliver the materials to the site a week before the boys arrived.).  Sally and our friend, Perci, shopped and spent a fortune filling the larder of my neighbour’s place in anticipation of a marathon cooking, eating and cleaning exercise of military proportions.

I settled all accounts and we were now definitely ‘into’ the project in a big way.  It was not turning out to be any cheaper, however, than had I simply hired local people and bought the materials up here.  Actually, it was more expensive.  But cheaper was not our motive and, at the time, we didn’t know that there were local people available.  We felt as if we had ‘done good’ by the school and, anyway, it was the ‘kickstart’ the project needed and it was the kickstart we needed.  We were ‘on our way’ and there were no regrets.  Not yet, anyway.

Long story short: it rained torrentially for the first three of the six days (not the promised seven!) the boys were here.  No one could do a thing.  No blame.  Just circumstance.  Also the boys were not a team.  Some were phenomenal – about four of them.  About the same amount went and hid every morning to avoid work.  Wayne had way overestimated their ability and way underestimated the site difficulty.  Especially when wet.

After three days of basically wasting time, it was not looking good.  I was not pleased.  I told Wayne that he and some of the useless boys may as well go home early.  I’d finish myself with whoever wanted to stay and get it done.  I told him that I was not going to feed a bunch of nincompoops and listen to anymore vulgar, stupid nonsense.  He was apologetic and later told the boys what I had said.  They were appropriately embarrassed.

In the meantime, Sally and Percy were working like rented mules.  They literally pumped out food by the tub-full.  It was amazing.  The best part?  Sally and Percy are great cooks.  They made biscuits and pies and cakes and everything from scratch.  It was all delicious.  The boys had never eaten so well.  Even the bad boys fell all over themselves complimenting the cooks and being on their best behaviour around them.  What started out as an unruly bunch of foul-mouthed slackers quickly changed to a group of respectful, polite, helpful and even pleasant young men.

But now the weather was holding us back.  On day four, Wayne and some of the hardy boys showed up on site anyway.  And they worked like dynamos.  And, by mid-day all the boys were on site, working hard and getting soaked and muddy.  It was a wonder.  We got all the posts up and started on the floor.  The next day the floor was up and we had a start on the walls.  The third day the walls were up and that was all we had time for.  Lock-up?  Not even close.  Now what?

Still, when I saw the kids showing up on the second morning in still-wet clothes from the day before and some with dried mud in their hair, it was starting to feel OK.  When we were hauling walls up the hill with wet moss underfoot and kid after kid slipping with some of them continuing on down the hill, it was starting to feel like a team.  And, when we had the first floor up and the walls all around, well, it felt like a victory after all.

And by then, I had formed a few friendships amongst the boys.  And, to a kid, every single one of them would have traded their own mothers for Sally or Perci in a heartbeat.  They may have been rotten teenagers but they weren’t stupid!

More on that week later.

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