“Just tell me what’s goin’ on,” Tony said.
“I already tell you,” the electrician answered. He was Polish and his English was not good.
“Yeah? When?” Tony said.
“I send you email.”
“No, you didn’t. I guarantee you didn’t.”
Tony liked to get in your face. He had only one volume, loud, and now he was starting to twitch. Whenever he got angry his right shoulder went into spasm. Once it started he never backed down. The electrician looked over at me.
“I send it you, also.”
“Like I read my emails,” I said, trying to make a joke of it.
“This is fucked up job,” the electrician said. He turned and walked away.
“Yeah? How ‘bout I call your boss and tell him this is the last fucked up job he ever does for me?”
“I don’t care. This is fucked up job,” the man said over his shoulder.
Tony turned toward me. “You think this job is fucked up?”
“The communication hasn’t been good,” I said.
“From all of us.”
“Fuckin’ Polack, like he’s never wrong.”
The man stopped and turned around. He was still within earshot. “Who you call Polack? How if I call you big fat Wop?”
“Who you callin’ a Wop?” Tony yelled, charging across the floor. The electrician’s jaw tightened. I got in between them just in time, soft shouldered, head down, hands open and loose by my side.
“Com’on guys,” I said, “Nobody needs a lawsuit.”
I stood there, waiting for it.
“Nobody talks to me like that on my job,” Tony said, pointing his finger, twitching so hard his hand brushed my nose.
“No one call me Polack,” the electrician said. “You respect.”
I tried to stay soft. The other men had stopped working. Some were walking over and starting to circle; the rest stayed put, looking around, exchanging nods and glances. They were all Italian or Polish. Fernando, the Mexican laborer, stood by the stairwell holding his broom.
“Guys,” I said, “we’re talking about a god-damn light switch. Anybody else get how stupid this is?”
One of the older Italians looked down and smiled, shaking his head. Some of the others, those who had stood off, smiled as well. You could feel a shift come over the room.
“He apologize,” the electrician said.
There was a general grumble from everyone.
“I ain’t apologizin’ for nuthin’.”
At least now they were both talking to me.
“You went there first,” I said, looking at Tony.
He knew I was right. Another low moan came out of the crowd. Tony shifted his weight. A shudder went through his shoulder.
“OK,” he said, “fight’s over.” He turned and looked at the men. “Get back to work.”
I backed out from in between them.
“I’m sorry, OK?” he said to me.
I looked at the electrician.
“OK, but Tony?” the electrician said, just the hint of a smile showing by the corners of his mouth.
“I send that email.”
“I sure as hell hope so,” Tony said, walking away.
A single twitch ran up and out the top of his head.
published 3 April 2013