Al was a brick-throwing machine.
On my best days I put together 30, maybe 35 packages of brick. Al’s numbers ran into the 50s and 60s. This was piecework, remember, so Al was pulling down some bucks.
Like me, Al played ball. We bonded over that, our affection for Kenny and his jokes, and our contempt of Chet. And lust for Sally.
I liked to get the loading box next to Al’s, because I couldn’t help but try to compete with him. That pushed me. And that meant that I made more money than I would if I picked a slacker location to load brick. They say that if you ever want to get really good at something then you should practice against someone you know you never will beat. I would never load as many brick as Al. But I know for damn sure I loaded more than I ever would have if he had not been around. Maybe that makes sense to you. If it doesn’t, let’s not worry about it. I’ll never be able to explain it any better than I already have.
Chet mostly left Al alone. This was an era when little white pricks like Chet would not fuck with an intimidating black man like Al. I say intimidating because I’m sure he was that to Chet. To me, and everyone else who worked at the Brickyard, Al was just a really good guy who quietly worked his ass off and put everyone else to shame.
Al’s ability was really on display when we had to load some odd-size brick. The lion’s share of our time was spent throwing those small perforated facing brick. Every now and then, however, there would be an order for a brick three times that size and oddly shaped. We struggled to keep pace with these alien loads. You spend 99 percent of your time handling something of one size, and the other 1 percent on some weird ungainly size, and you’re going to slow down some. Unless you’re Al. No matter what size, weight or shape the brick, Al churned away and threw more brick than any two of the rest of us combined.
We were not exactly in awe of Al but it was close. All of us were shocked — and scared shitless — when that thing killed him.