June 13, 2010: That Construction Worker in Union Square

[When the student is ready the teacher appears.]

The other day I was walking through Union Square feeling sad about my rapidly declining father, when a construction worker, singing “Hey, Jude” really, really badly, made me laugh out loud. Because he was so genuinely off-key but so equally genuinely into what he was singing, I took full advantage of my little old white-haired lady status by joining in. And (I am so glad none of my daughters were with me; they would have been mortified), I  waved my arms around in a futile, I-wish-this-were-a-Technicolor musical moment, vainly trying to encourage other Union Square pedestrians to join in.

“Take a sad song and make it better,” indeed!

A little background: For what feels like decades but has really only been a couple of years, Somerville Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares and half a block from my house, has been under construction. Which has meant endless tie-ups, ear-shattering noise, sometimes, and ongoing daily annoyance. (Good thing I mostly walk or take public transportation.) So my attitude towards the guys in hardhats has been a little like someone living under occupation.( A little, I said. Okay?): When are you going to leave? When can I get my normal life back?

So that one of those construction workers should, by his guileless, horrible singing—he was loud, too!—crack me up, was a huge gift.

So what did this teacher in a hardhat teach me?

I heard his goofy, open-hearted song and thought: He hates this noisy, sweaty, sometimes dangerous, sometimes stultifyingly boring job. That’s why he’s singing. To get through it.

We don’t sing aloud, do we. Unlike those Technicolor musicals, we don’t burst into song. But that construction worker didn’t care. He sang, anyway. Even though he was terrible. So he taught me something about ART. Even badly done art. You do it because you can’t NOT do it.

The next time I wake up at 4:00 AM panicky because I’m scared  no one will love the book I’m writing, I’m going to remember that guy.

Bonus: My enormous relief to laugh showed me the depth of my sadness. (I don’t do sad very well.)

Good to know. And why I was so ready to laugh.

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  1. Oh Patricia, you sound so much like you. I love it. This is the first time I have been to your site and clicked on your blog, and I am thrilled. I want to come back again and again. I love hearing about your experience and feeling how much each of our experiences and lives is different. We are not exactly neighbors but pretty close. My #83 bus to Central Square takes me along Somerville Avenue and I have heard mostly complaints: So slow, so long, so much, so, so. Great to see you last night. I can now go back to the blog, right?

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