photo: Dan Cook AFTERWORD At the Foot of the Pole BY JAMES HOGGARD took the summer job to make a lot of money, and by my gradu ate student standards I did. In three months I raked in more than my assistantship paid all year. I had no sense of prestige on the line, and it didn’t bother me at all that, in the realism of conversation, my title was “grunt.” My job for the Texas Electric Service Company was to haul insulators, nuts and bolts, and tools and parts up a rope to the linemen who, their crampons dug into the creosoted utility poles, leaned back against their leather braces as they strung or repaired line, changed out insulators, and fixed or replaced transformers. What they found easy, I found hard. I don’t think I ever did get the hang of twisting wire sheaths around guywires. I was also belligerent to their politics, but in other ways I was prepared to enjoy their company, hot as the summer sun was. I found out, too, that they were more than a cut above what the previous generation of linemen had been noted for: going from bar to bar after work and fighting. Nearing retirement, the foreman, a big man with rattlesnake eyes, was from the earlier generation, but he had obviously settled down, though the other ones on the crew told me he’d really been a pistol. I never heard him say much except for something racist one day. Stiffly contained and laconic, he seemed to have no taste for stories or jokes, whereas the younger mem bers of the crew were full of both. I never felt I got to know the fore man. He stayed to me an alien though imposing presence. But no lightning flashed in his eyes. After I’d been on the job for several weeks, we and other crews changed our eight o’clock start ing time to six. The permanent workers and the manage ment above us were in favor of us escap ing the late afternoon heat. I didn’t care much about the shift in schedule, after having gotten through several years of intense two-a-day football practices fol lowed by windsprints in August. I was, however, sensing more and more a hot air of separation between the others on the crew and me. I had always had good peripheral vision, but even if I hadn’t, I think I’d have noticed some obliquely belligerent glances turned my way near the end of lunch the first week. For 10/8/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29
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