The year was 1982.
It was my first real job.
I was 18.
Hanging out on the avenue doing nothing. Sleeping late. Staying out late. Going to bed when people were waking up to go to work. Sliding down the path of destruction.
A few of my friends were graduating from high school and heading to college. Some were stepping out into the work world. Some like me, were unemployed.
As for me? I was still looking for answers. Wait a minute, I didn’t even have the questions. No roadmap of life in my possession. That is until my mother called her brother Tim and they “put me to work.”
The males in my family were Ironworkers (most of them anyway). My grandfather, Ray Corbett was the business agent for many years for Local 40. “Never miss a day of work,” was his advice. I was too stubborn to follow his sage advice.
My uncles and cousins were proud of their trade.
My skill on the iron wasn’t great to start. Things started slow but they quickly picked up as I worked with good people who took the time to teach me the trade. Joey Alba was the best. Knowledge is power. Andy Purcell was another gem.
As an apprentice, I was trying to find my way down at Battery Park. Climbing the steel isn’t for everyone, I was forced into the craft out of desperation; I had nowhere else to turn. It was my last resort; so I thought.
When I was twelve I came in contact with the iron for the first time.
It was a rainy Friday afternoon. Mom brought me over to New York (That’s what we called Manhattan). My father was on a job and she needed some money. She chased him around a lot. He made it hard on her. He always made her chase him for it.
Standing on the corner of 53rd and Lexington, I looked up as we came out of the subway. There was a guy straddling a beam about three floors up. He was tightening some bolts with a wrench.
As we stood there waiting for the light to turn green I glanced up and to my surprise, this guy with the steel hard-hat and tool belt waved to me.
I stood there memorized. I was hooked.
“Mom, I wanna be an Irownworker,” I recall telling her on the train headed back to Brooklyn.
Yesterday down by Battery Park, they topped out One World Trade Center.
Congratulations to all the Ironworkers on this job.