David Gianadda

When The Work Was Steel

Hashtag throw­back thurs­day. Listen, I want you to know some­thing about me that you might not know because isn’t that the real rea­son we throw it back on Thursdays? I have for­got­ten the rea­son we throw it back on Thursday. Namely because I am con­stant­ly throw­ing back, I throw it back on Sunday and Tuesday. I throw it back on Monday, but any­ways, I want to tell you some­thing about myself. dur­ing the four and half months of late spring and sum­mer after I grad­u­at­ed from high school and went to col­lege I worked in a steel plant. I start­ed out just doing labor, you know, what­ev­er they want­ed. Sweeping. Painting. I start­ed on the sec­ond shift and moved to the third pret­ty quick­ly. I would have lunch in the lunch room with some of the old timers. Guys who had worked at Bethlehem Steel or Republic for 18, 19 years. They had bat­tered lunch box­es and drank from ther­moses. They swore a lot and talked a lot of shit. They were relent­less to each oth­er and then they turned their wit on me. I most­ly kept my head down. Bit by bit they opened up some. Their lunch­es were packed lov­ing­ly by their wives and they appre­ci­at­ed it. You could tell by the way their eyes shined when they opened their box­es. This was the type of place where there was a giant fur­nace where they would process sheets of steel into coils, I think it was used in auto­mo­biles or office fur­ni­ture. It was a real­ly clean oper­a­tion, pro­cess­ing was dif­fer­ent than man­u­fac­tur­ing. Anyways. After a month of sweep­ing and paint­ing, I got put on the line, shad­ow­ing an old thin guy who worked the band­ing machine. He showed me how it all worked, told me what went on before and where the steel went after it left us. That type of thing. Sometimes we sat silent­ly in the rack­et of the machin­ery. I asked him one night about what he did before this, what he did in the oth­er plant he worked in before it closed. This is what I want to tell you about myself. I want to tell you what this old time steel­work­er told me in the mid­dle of the night in Buffalo, New York one sum­mer before I left Buffalo to go to college.

He said: Oh, jeez, you know, I worked in the chip shop, when the work was steel. When the blast fur­naces bil­lowed smoke that turned snow black. He said: the poured ingot molds don’t come out too per­fect, so a back need­ed to lean into a nine, ten pound ham­mer & chis­el to chip & smooth them until they come like they ought to be. He said: you work days, evenings, and mid­night. Swinging, you know, like 7 to 3, 3 to 11, & 11 to 7. I liked the mid­night, the big wheels wasn’t around then, you know the guys that don’t get dirty & well, I don’t know, just start­ing out every­body there weren’t talk­ers & every­body there weren’t open to you, you know. You might not last so what’s the point in get­ting to know you. You know, so you do what you do. Like any­thing. You find the ones that you could talk to, the ones you can joke and josh with, the ones that are drawn to you & the ones who’s easy and tough the same, and in the end they will be the ones that make the way for you & show you how it’s done.

That’s the one thing.

He said: the guy who showed me to chip the mold, real nice guy. We called him Squeege. Squeege says to me, you can do this work in two ways, you can just push & push hard on that ham­mer like all these galoots do or you can sharp­en your chis­el. Another thing, don’t cut no more than you can cut. You do it right if you are going to do it and if you do it right you ain’t going to be aching hard­er than nobody else. A day’s work won’t hurt at all.

This is what he said to me over the machin­ery, in the mid­dle of the night, before I left Buffalo, and what I want you to know about me. He said: Eventually, I come to call myself a pret­ty good chip­per. They come down to the shop, the big boss and them and says, I got this for you to do and that for you to do and the oth­er to do, & that made me hap­py. I fig­ured I must be able to do it, like maybe I was one of the good chip­pers & maybe I come out like I ought to.


David Gianadda’s sto­ries and poems have appeared in Midwest Quarterly, ArtVoice, Opium Magazine, Eyeshot, and Surgery of Modern Warfare. He is orig­i­nal­ly from Buffalo, New York, and lives with his wife, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Emily Stoker, and their two dogs in Texas.