The second semester of my freshman year of college had come to a close, and the time arrived to begin the dreaded summer break employment search. During my high school off-seasons, I had mastered the arts of newspaper delivery, chicken frying, and even public park maintenance. Since I was now in college, I would pursue a more sophisticated endeavor.
My belongings were jammed into the car, and I headed to my parents’ house for the summer sabbatical. Upon arrival, I unloaded my goods and proceeded to stuff my gullet in customary Italian fashion. After dinner, I was prepared to inquire on the status of employment possibilities.
“Do they need anybody down at the community pool to save drowning girls?” I asked my father.
“Are you kidding me? Those jobs are filled years in advance,” he said.
“I really had my heart set on being involved in the pool business; are you sure I can’t get in?”
“I do know someone in the pool racket. Let me give him a call,” my father replied.
The next morning my father and I took a ride to Melrose Park to meet the owners of the Universal Pool Company. The small brownstone office building was strangely reminiscent of the Italian social club utilized by the Godfather and his pals when they were not killing people. Two middle-aged men sat at a desk eating a deep dish Chicago style pizza while perusing the morning paper. “These guys can’t be that square; they eat pizza for breakfast,” I thought to myself.
“Son, this is Joe Panteleano,” my father said. A small dark haired man of affable countenance poked his head from behind the sports page.
“Care for some pizza, kid?”
“No thanks, sir. I have already had breakfast,” I said.
“Meet Fat Vince,” Joe said.
Although Vince was seated, I estimated that he must have weighed close to four hundred pounds based on his massive torso. Vince put down the cuisine section of the Chicago Tribune and said, “You can just call me ‘Fat’ for short.”
“Nice to meet you Mr. Fat.”
“Tomorrow, Nick the Greek will pick you up at 6:30 in the morning,” Joe said. ” We’re starting a job in Oak Brook and we can use your help.” .
“I’ll be ready sir,” I responded.
Nick the Greek arrived at 6:30am prompt, and I headed off to my first day on the job. As I seated myself on the passenger side of Nick’s beat up Chevy Impala, I couldn’t help but notice that both Nick and his car reeked of stale beer.
“We’re going to make a pit stop before we get to the site,” Nick said.
“Fine by me,” I replied.
Nick applied his brakes as we approached a tavern and several empty beer cans slid out from underneath the seat. “Don’t mind them dead puppies,” Nick said.
We entered the dusky, wooden floored pub and found several patrons of the establishment seated at the bar, barely visible through the ubiquitous cloud of smoke that filled the room. “Good morning Nick,” the barkeep said. “The usual?”
Nick nodded his head in approval, and the barkeep served up a shot of whiskey and a beer. Nick picked up the whiskey, shot it down, and then pounded the beer. His eyes rolled to the back of his head like a great white shark about to maul a seal. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” Nick declared.
The weather was unusually balmy for the first week in June. The bank temperature gage already registered eight-five degrees and the forecast high for the day was expected to be close to one hundred. Nick parked his mobile saloon in front of a fancy ranch home, and we made our way to the back of the house. The hole for the pool had already been excavated, and the cement truck was beginning to shoot wet concrete into it.
“You’re late,” the foreman screamed at Nick. “Time is money. Now get down in that hole and get going.”
“Get ripped asshole,” Nick said as he handed me a pair of boots and a shovel. “Get in the hole and throw the concrete up to the side so that I can pack it with the trowel, kid.” Standing knee deep in wet cement, I began tossing the wet concrete up to Nick as fast as I could. I now understood why the man had arms like steel bands as I watched him pack and smooth the concrete in a masterful artisan’s manner.
By lunchtime I was totally exhausted. I climbed from the pit along with the other two men on the crew, completely saturated in sweat. “Let’s go have a burger and a few beers,” Nick said. I looked at Nick in an incredulous manner, and proceeded to drag myself to the car with the others.
“Hey, you mind if I burn one?” my long haired co-worker asked me.
“I don’t care if you set yourself on fire.”
After consuming several burgers and a twelve pack of Old Style, we returned to the site. The heat and humidity turned up a notch and had turned the hole into “Hades.” I climbed in and resumed throwing the concrete up to Nick and quickly became lightheaded.
From a supine position, I examined a kaleidoscope of blue sky and white clouds and wondered if I was in heaven. As I slowly sank into the cement, I wondered where all the bikini clad girls had gone. My inner peace was shattered as Nick’s ugly mug suddenly appeared. “Hey, get that kid out of there before he becomes a permanent fixture in the pool!”
The next day I drove up to the Universal Pool office to hand in my resignation to Mr. Panteleano.
“Good morning Joe,” I said. “I don’t think I’m cut out for this pool construction business, so I’m going to have to quit.”
“That’s too bad, kid. Sorry it didn’t work out,” Joe said.
“I hear you do a pretty good Jimmy Hoffa imitation,” Mr. Fat laughed.
“That’s what they tell me.”
“I understand you mentioned something about girls in bikinis before you passed out. Mr. Fat runs a place where girls work in bikinis all day long serving drinks. Perhaps you would like to work in his club,” Joe said.
“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”