The ad says industrial painting. I’ve never
really painted, industrially or not. But I can hold a paintbrush as well as the
next guy, right? Anybody can paint, right? The industrial part I’ll figure out.
The ad says show up at the jobsite.
The jobsite is a chain link fence. Inside
the fence sits a water tower, and a guy on the hood of a Ford pickup.
“Here for the job?”
“Ever painted a water tower?”
I look up at all that metal in the sky and try
to hide the fear. The thing is really big. “I know how to paint,” I lie to him.
“Where’s your last job?”
This satisfies him. Then he says, “You climb a
“Sure.” I lie again, and look at him like what
idiot hasn’t climbed a water tower.
“Show me,” he says.
My head flies up to see where the top of it is,
face going white, but I march right over to the monstrosity like I’m Mr.
Watertower and grab the first steel rung like I own the thing. Start climbing
like it’s easy. And, wow, it is easy, and I grab one rung after the next and get
into the rhythm of ascending. It is
easy. I can do this. Heck, I can probably do this with a paintbrush in hand.
Nice day, too. I look up and the thing hides the sky like it’s a second moon
aimed at my head. Shit. Scary. But I keep climbing. Then I look down. Way down.
Shit. I can’t do this. I can’t keep climbing. I could die. If I slip or
stumble, I will die and won’t even
have enough time for life to flash before my eyes before splatting. Hands start
sweating.Harder to grab these rungs
with damp hands. Am I halfway yet? I keep climbing because if I stop it will be
worse. And if I do stop, what happens? Are they going to send a helicopter to
rescue some chickenshit college hippie from a water tower? I keep climbing. I
hate the entire water tower. Way above the treetops now. Keep climbing and
glancing out there without looking down and keep climbing some more. Then,
finally, a few more rungs, and I make it to the platform and, wow, it’s great
up here. Amazing, actually. I love standing up here. Strolling on the platform
is a luxury and gazing into the beyond is thrilling. Where’s the city? Atlanta
is just a few buildings, a little midget place, lost in an endless forest.
Maybe I could get a job up here . . .
But the guy never calls me back and anyway a few
days later there’s an ad for welder. I figure I can weld as well as the next
guy, or at least as well as the next guy who has never welded. So I call the
number. And the guy says, “Can you weld?” And I let him know that if I didn’t
know how to weld, why would I be calling? So he says “Come on in on Thursday at
Why did I tell the guy I can weld? How did I get
into a jam like this? I don’t even know a welder. All I know is it melts metal
to metal and you have to wear a funny helmet with a dark slot of window in it.
Then I remember, yeah, do I know a welder, an artist at Atlanta College of Art.
Her name is Wendy Shulman and she’s Jewish so I figure it’s okay to call her
up, as if it’s written in The Talmud that Jews must teach each other to weld.