My Irish concrete-mason friend Seamus Malarkey died of cancer the end of last week.
With recent years I had lost touch with him. But over time I had recommended him in with a few clients in our business network. Word would get back to me on occasion that Seamus was still beating around to drum up business. A recent discussion with another friend in common had my hopes up that I would get to see Seamus in the near future. I had said, “Tell Seamus I said hello.”
Instead I got the call this morning that his cancer had spread to his brain and he could go no farther.
Seamus was always a wiry guy, all bone and muscle. Another friend that I called after I got the bad news this morning said that he had seen Seamus about a month ago. That he looked like the wind could blow him over. The church where I had recommended him in for work loved him and they were all excited that he would replace their sidewalk this year. Odd how folks can get emotional about their sidewalks, but I think it depends a whole lot on the human relationships.
Seamus always brought with him good stories that would make everyone laugh. He also brought back for us on a trip home to Ireland a very nice bottle of his father’s poteen. That was good stuff that took a few years of delicate sips to empty out the bottle. And there was the Christmas he went to the Irish butcher in Queens and we had more meat, pig knuckles and tripe and such that my wife, Irish-German, certainly appreciated. More meat than we quite knew what to do with.
One time I sent Seamus a business letter and it freaked him out so much that he hurried up his concrete pour that was scheduled for that day and rushed right into my office to find out what was wrong. It was a simple letter. There was nothing at all wrong other than Seamus thought to get a letter must mean there was an emergency. He may not have been able to read, though I never checked him on that. When you know an impish genius you think twice to fault them for what they never got to an opportunity to learn.
His office was his briefcase; I always admired him for it despite that with such a meager outfit he always seemed to be in a rush to keep up. When he would set that ratty case down on the table and open it up there would be a cloud of concrete dust whisked up into the room.
If you have ever had to pour concrete, and I mean as in do it yourself, it is backbreaking work. Concrete is not forgiving, it is an insistent mistress that likes to get harder than a F$@%$!^@. Once the truck starts to let the mass out there is absolutely no turn back. Concrete does what concrete does and concrete-masons have to be on top of it –- in full game mode -- otherwise they end up with a real stiff mess of ugly gray rock crap that they need to clean up. When concrete goes down like a sweet love it is beauty in motion. There are mechanics that push concrete all day long day after day, year after year.
We had a client owned a building over on 54th Street near to the United Nations and Seamus as our subcontractor was there to replace a few squares of sidewalk. My job that day was to sit in our double-parked truck and watch it while my partner was inside at a meeting with the owner of the building.
Keep in mind that people in New York walk all over everything, and as much as Seamus might try they would walk right through where he worked. He had to take up existing sidewalk which meant that he busted it up with a sledge (and I mean a sledge, not a powered chipping hammer). For this grunt work he had with him a young strong fellow, Irish, shirtless as to be expected, to do the heavy work. Seamus never lacked for muscle, and the studs he brought with him you would never see twice. Obviously they knew a bit about standing on sidewalks, and day work, and sidewalk work.
Seamus had his small dump truck there, a well-used contraption and as they busted up the concrete they loaded the chunks into the back of the truck.
This went along fine until an ambulance showed up, sirens loud blaring and lights flashing. It was obvious to Seamus that his dump truck was in the way. So he left off the concrete busting and jumped into the truck. There was no other place to park it so he had to drive around the block until the ambulance was done.
So here we had Seamus driving around the block, and I mean driving around the block in a very congested and busy area of Manhattan, not an easy feat even in a small car. And the young buck kept at busting up the concrete that he now piled up in the street... because, it had to be taken out because, well... the concrete truck was on the way.
The EMT folks nonchalantly walked through the construction zone as if they were traversing river rap on a kayak holiday.
Eventually they brought someone out of the building entrance on a stretcher.
The usual pedestrians walked through the construction site... there was nobody available to stop them. I don’t think it ever occurred to Seamus that he would be doing the roundy-round as sort of an unwilling NASCAR dump truck urban-paddy routine.
I got out of our truck and did what I could to keep civilians out of the mess. Then the ambulance sped away with Seamus who came up the block, gunned his engine... and then the city bus pulled into the free space.
Seamus never once screamed, yelled, or acted as if anything was out-of-the-ordinary.
Eventually the bus moved and Seamus recaptured his needed street territory. He was just in time for the concrete truck to show up.
Now, these Irish, as skinny and wiry as they come when they fill up a wheelbarrow they fill it to the top... no sense to waste a good push I suppose. Beside that he was paying for the muscle by the cash hour. With this sort of ambition the concrete spills out a bit before the load up is complete. It is a manly act.
This was such a case in hand that the barrow got fully bloated and on the second time around the tire went flat. From there on Seamus and his helper worked with shovels to move the concrete. Fortunate for them they were only had to replace a few odd squares.
My partner finished his meeting and we left.
Seamus never complained about that day.
He did complain about the day that one of the younger project managers in the company thought it would hurry up the sidewalk for the fancy hotel customer and so he ordered hydraulic cement delivered to the job. Hydraulic cement sets very quick. Blink twice and it will set. It was a small job and when Seamus mixed the concrete up in his mixer it set up before he could get finished with the mix part, let alone the placement. He had to buy a new mixer for that.
The last time I talked with Seamus I joked with him how I was going to get him a large brick job and that it had to be done with fast setting brick. He always laughed and said, “As long as you warn me I’ll make sure to bring my fast setting trowel!”
Rest in peace, my friend.