Bowen column: Meet grouchy people on their end of the brick wall

Published 9:00 am Saturday, March 20, 2021

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The truth is, some people are just flat hard to get along with. No, Coca-Cola Mike, stop it! You, too, Benny Williamson. You know good and well we’re not talking about the amazin’ blonde when we say that, and I’m a little surprised you even thought that. She’ll be disappointed, too, and probably won’t talk to me ‘til supper time because of it.

But it is true that some people seem to make a living being contrary, difficult, smug, ridiculous, or any number of other adjectives we could conjure up. So, today, we’re going to give a little “pep talk” on how to deal with these people.

In short, here it is: When people make walking a mile with them tough, volunteer to go the second mile.

Not that I’ve been that successful at that second mile walk, but I learned to at least try it as a young man.

Back in my young, bricklaying days, I worked once with a big, long-haired fella with a bad attitude. He was grouchy from the time he got out of his truck and climbed on the scaffold in the morning until he packed his tools up and climbed down to go home.

I made a point always to be as nice to him as I could and to greet him with a hearty “Good mornin’!” every day. Of course, at the age of 20, part of that kindness, I’m sure, was due to a healthy desire for self-preservation.

I never got a “good morning” back, maybe just a growl or a groan. And he did his half of the wall all day long, nothing more.

Bricklayers, you see, usually get on a long wall – each starting on different ends – and they lay brick until they meet in the middle. This fella, of course, was about the last guy you’d want to have to meet in the middle, or anywhere else, for that matter. Most of the time he would beat me to the middle and figure he’d done his half of the wall and would turn around and go back to his end and clean his trowel or joint up his work until I caught up.

That put me a step behind all day.  Occasionally, though, I’d beat him to the middle of the wall. You know we hesitated when we got there, thinking, “Ah, I’m goin’ to show him.” But, somehow, we dug down deep enough to find a way to keep laying brick until we met. Then I’d end up laying the “closure.”

The closure brick is that one brick nobody wants to lay.

It’s the last one when the two bricklayers meet in the middle of the wall. Having to lay that brick is one of the big disadvantages of being courteous and going ahead and meeting somebody over halfway. It’s the slowest brick to lay, and – if one of the bricklayers is off bond – you may have to adjust a few other bricks to make it fit.

Of all the times my grouchy buddy and I worked together, I don’t think he ever laid the closure.

If he beat me to the middle, he went back to the other end and piddled while I finished up.

If I beat him, I kept going until we met, and he always seemed to time it just right so that I’d be the one to lay the last brick. (Ah, you know people like that). Then he’d head back early to his end and get a head start on raising his line and getting ready for the next course. Consequently, even when I got ahead, I always managed to stay behind.

I don’t remember the fella’s name, and I don’t remember ever running into him again down the road.

I’d love to tell you that all that being nice to him made a difference in him, that one day I climbed up on the scaffold and he said,

“Good morning, kid!” with a pleasant tone to his voice, and added, “Come down here and get some of these donuts I brought cha.”

And I’d love to tell you that all that day he met me way past halfway and volunteered to lay that closure brick, and that occasionally when we met for the last brick that he’d say things like, “Hey, kid, how’re the wife and kids?”

But I don’t remember any of that ever happening. I do wonder if he has mellowed some, and if our being nice to him was something he appreciated down deep.

What I know, though, is this: In our lifetime, you and I will meet many a grouchy man in the middle of the brick wall in our day. When we do, it’s best to smile, lay the closure brick, and wish him and his family well. If you think about it, how do you think your writing friend here has gotten along so well with Coca-Cola Mike and his LaGrange buddy Benny Williamson fella through the years?