Brick upon brick, upon brick; each placed with care. One man mixes the mud, a gray mush of cement, sand and water. He mixes with an over-sized hoe with two big holes in it. Pushing the mud back and forth in a shallow trough with straight sides and curves ends. He mixes until the cement and sand and water take on the texture of wet mashed potatoes and then he dumps shovel fulls onto a small square of plywood board. And he starts a new mixture of cement, sand and water. The shade of gray tells him the mix of sand and cement is right. The texture tells him he added the proper amount of water. Another man, short, with the bulky legs of a weight lifter picks up the hod, the plywood board, he carries it like a waiter taking meals to a table, and trots to the wall, he sets the mud next to the master; the one who sets the brick into the wall. When the wall is short he trots and jokes and whistles, later as the wall moves higher and higher the climb will take all his breath and challenge his legs to become even stronger. With each trip the hod carrier feels the strength of life in his legs and arms and lungs; his work is a celebration. The bricklayer takes a single brick and butters it with the cement and sets it into the place it will rest for the next hundred years. Just the right amount of the gray mud squeezes out the edges, he taps one high corner with the handle of his trowel and moves to the next brick, the brick he set before no longer exists and the next brick gets none of this thought, one brick properly coated with mud and set is his entire world. He checks the height, he checks for level, he checks plumb, all in a quick glance. A successful brick gets a quick tap with his tool in the center; failure gets a tap on a corner or a nudge with his thumb on a side but there is no time given for personal praise or to adore the work, not until the red brick wall has grown three or four feet, then it is time to stand and stretch, to scream once, and punch the hod carrier on his muscled arm. Now he sees the wall for the first time, hundreds of clay bricks, straight up, and straight from side to side, straight across. His art. The bricklayer is, of all people, the most amazed and, of all people, the most pleased.
I run my hand along a half-inch line of mortar that runs from one corner of the building to the next. A few of the corners are chipped. One brick dips an eighth of an inch and surrounded by so much perfection it’s plain that men created this wall. Days of sweat, nudged by a loving wife in darkness just before the earth turns toward the sun, coming home too tired to eat, a hot shower followed by a cold drink, almost sleeping – the smells of dinner keeping him awake and then, full of simple, basic food, falling into a deep sleep in a soft bed only to be nudged into another day. My fingers touch the life left here.