Regarding Lucky Pliers

I was an apprentice in my second
or third year of the program.
It was a Saturday and I almost ran late for work
probably due to overabundant revelry.
I'd left my tools at home in the blur.
He gave me an old pair of Channellocks--
Model 420, missing the rubber grips
with a noble patina adorning the steel.
"These were mine when I was like you."
We completed whatever miserable task
we'd been summoned on a weekend to achieve
and I added that tool to my roster.

There were many days like that
back then; not the hangover--
that's increased with the decade.
Skills were imparted, jokes were shared
bonds were formed with men
I knew, admired, and came to love.
My father had stopped talking to me
due to his own vicious demons.
Seven years without a dad
will mess with a boy in his twenties.
I was grateful to be part of a fraternal organization;
perhaps more grateful than most
since family is something I've had to build as well.

I started carrying those pliers routinely
even though the teeth were worn
and gripping pipe was tedious.
No matter where I was
or what feat I was attempting
I'd always have that man
who took me under his wing
right there in my back left pocket
ready to answer any mental question I'd ask.
What would he do?
It was a token of appreciation
for the blessing of a brotherhood
bestowed upon me at an age when needed most.

Years went by.
I got out of my time, became a journeyman
learned when to figure it out on my own
and when to ask someone
with more burn scars on his arms.
The previous owner of those 420s got sick.
I was working four hours away
at a nuclear power plant on an allegedly Great Lake
when I got the news
that he needed an organ transplant
or would die.
Our traveling crew went out for dinner that night
and word of his illness was mentioned.
"No one would shed a tear if he croaked,"
someone flippantly said.
I put my fork down and calmly corrected him.
The procedure was performed.
That father figure from my early adulthood recovered.
I stopped lending those Channellocks out
to people who didn't bring their own.
"Read our contract," I'd say.
Things mean more to those who have the least.

On one job a kid I managed to teach
ripped the blue grips from his own
to make them match mine.
Circles are full.
Circles are round.
Circles are more than the ends of the pipes.

You can break my stones wide open
for something you know nothing about.
You can draw your pictures
mock my values
tell me I'm pathetic
for holding tight to what matters.
The pity is for you, my friend.
You've missed the point of unions.
We both get paid the same somehow
but I've had more to gain.

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