THE IMMIGRANTS

Francesco Amato glanced down from his perch 60 stories above the streets of New York City. As he ate lunch, he talked casually to his friend, Giuseppe, who sat across from him about four feet away. Francesco lit a Camel cigarette, tossed the box of matches to Giuseppe and both men lounged on their beds of steel. Keeping his eyes open to maintain his balance on the 18 inch wide metal plank, Francesco took a long drag on his cigarette. Then the whistle blew; lunchtime was over. 

Giuseppe pitched the matches back to Francesco. They rose to their feet, now old pros at this daily death-defying balancing act. Just then a gust of wind came out of nowhere, scooped up the wrappings from lunch and swirled them about before they slowly drifted out of sight. Both men held on to a nearby vertical beam until the wind stilled.

Looking below at the large wind flag, the men saw that it was still white .. safe conditions. Yellow meant proceed with caution while red indicated dangerous work environments. The crew worked throughout the year, but if a red flag was up, no one climbed the beams. 

There were no harnesses to prevent a deadly fall, no safety nets should someone slip ..  nothing to protect them, save them. All they had to help them scale the beams were ropes dangling from above, good balance and guts. 

Calmness restored, the men strapped on their tool belts containing welder’s gloves, hammers and tongs. A rudimentary pulley system was used to hoist the beams and buckets filled with iron rivets in white hot coals. Using their tongs, the men removed rivets from the coals, inserted them into pre-drilled holes in the beams and hammered them into place. After every hole was filled, the men climbed up to the next level and repeated the process. 

When the end-of-work whistle blew, Giuseppe stretched for the rope to begin the long, slow descent to solid ground. Suddenly he lost his footing and slid off the beam. Francesco yelled out in horror “No, Giuseppe, no!!” as he tried in vain to grab his friend’s arm. The crew watched in stunned disbelief as Giuseppe tumbled down, his screams echoing throughout the beams. 

Francesco sat slumped over, unable to move, silently crying as a single mournful thought invaded his mind: he didn’t even know Giuseppe’s last name. 

NAR © 2018

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