After dropping out of UMass in the spring semester during the nationwide college strike sparked by the tragic killings at Kent State, I claimed for years that I was still on strike though, in truth, my G.I. Bill had expired. So I needed a job. I had done work in the previous summer with a gang of students painting dorm rooms for work-study wages. Even if I had finished my English degree I could not have done better in the job market so I hired out to a painting contractor as a brush-hand.

Thibault & Sons did exterior painting all over the valley and I found the outside work to be agreeable and mentally undemanding. I was schooled by the crew chief, Eddie, in the finer techniques of brushwork, (Long strokes! Draw the paint out! Don't go dabbing it on!) and the strategies of setup. (Sunnyside in the morning! Shady in the afternoon! You start at the top and work down to fix your drips!)

Eddie was a quintessential codger. Short in stature and speech with a gravelly voice and a dismissive tone he'd bark all day, "Look! You left ladder marks where it was propped! Yer 'sposed to hop your ladder to the side and paint 'em before you come down!" He was about 60 with few teeth -- probably the result of early lead-based oil paint though he was contemptuous of the new water-based latex.

"Crap, pure crap!"

"It's a lot easier to cleanup, Eddie."

"Aww, you kids don't know nothing! Look, you left a skipper on the cornish!"

"You mean cornice?"

"I mean cornish! Now get a ladder up there and paint it!"