Friday, August 18, 2006

A Cold Death

It was 1978 and we were building Crimson Towers, a 40 story office building in downtown NYC. It was one of those raw, cold, cloudy snowy days. We were working on the 20 th deck. The salamander propane heaters were firing away, but with the way the wind was blowing at that level nothing could keep us warm.

It was an ordinary day in all other ways. I was making the changes to what are called “As Built” drawings. I used a little wooden table that the large drawings just managed to fit on. On this day we were working with the plumbers. They would do their piping and I would keep track of everything by marking the changes on the drawings. The engineering inspector was Jimmy W.

Jimmy was the kind of a guy you liked one minute and disliked the other. Jimmy watched over all the work for the city. He was a real chop breaker, but he was always the first one to put his hand in his pocket and buy coffee or breakfast for everyone. And if he ran into us after work at the local bar, he would buy us all a beer. The next day he would break your chops like crazy. Jimmy was very over weight. He was 5’ 6” and weighed at least 275 pounds. His diet consisted of fried this and fried that. Jimmy never met a fried food he didn’t like. And Jimmy never missed a desert. And smoke, all day long Jimmy smoked. Never a day went by that we didn’t tease Jimmy about the short life he was going to have.

Jimmy would watch over all of us like we were his little kids. And Jimmy always yelled, do this, do its wrong do it this way and on and on. Every day he yelled and every morning he bought the coffee for all of us and after work he bought the beer. He was truly the kind of guy you always had trouble figuring out. Accept you knew that under all that screaming and yelling there was a guy that cared about what he did, and he did it very well.

This afternoon was ordinary. Why does it seem that so many tragedies start out as just plain ordinary days? This one did.

I was once again marking up the drawings. The plumbers were working on the piping and other related work. And, as usual, Jimmy was yelling. Suddenly Sal heard a funny scream, he was sure one of the guys was fooling around, we all looked around and could see nothing out of the ordinary, come on we joked to each other…”Who’s screwing around?”. After awhile it was obvious to all of us…Where was Jimmy?

Sal looked around…I ran over to the elevator was unfinished but had a wooden barrier around it. In one small area the barricade was smashed as if something or someone went through it, as I looked at it and motioned to the rest of the guys to come over, the call came in over the radio. Jimmy had fallen through the barrier and down the elevator shaft. He fall 200 feet to his death.

The next morning as we reported to the job…Jimmy wasn’t there waiting with the coffee for us or with any of his wise cracks. We all learned two things that morning.

One, Jimmy was good…very good at what he did and two, Jimmy will be missed….And boy was Jimmy missed.