Sunday, July 09, 2006

Pouring concrete as Wagnerian opera

In this often-forgotten scene from Götterdämmerung, Siegfried (disguised as Gunther) warns Brünnhilde away from a freshly-screeded slab of concrete.

As you read what follows, here are the basic facts that shaped the better part of my just-passed Friday and Saturday and that you need to be mindful of in order to appreciate said weekend:

1) A 4-in.-thick slab covering 90 sq. ft. requires just over 1 cubic yard of concrete. The Popular Mechanics website's page on concrete gives the proportions for concrete mixtures here:

To make 1 cubic yard of concrete, you’d need seven 94-pound bags of cement, about 1/2 cubic yard of sand and just over 3/4 cubic yard of gravel. The amount of water you use depends on how wet the sand is. If it’s already moist, you’ll need about 4-1/2 gal. per bag of cement.

2) Four of us (well, let's say 3 1/2, seeing as my learning curve for working concrete began pretty much at the intersection of the x and y axes) spread 22 cubic yards of concrete on Friday and Saturday for two sidewalks and a 21'x40' slab in front of a garage. We fortunately didn't have to mix it all, as it was delivered in 3 cement mixers (two on Friday, one on Saturday). But having it delivered and poured all at once presented its own problems, the chief one being the getting it to look halfway decent before it set up so much that we couldn't do anything with it.

I am still trying to process what I experienced on those days; indeed, I considered just not posting at all about it for a few days. But this afternoon I came across this post by Fearful Syzygy over at his blog, Delights for the Ingenious, in which he provides a most unexpected answer to the question, "What do you do when you're in Europe for the summer and it's raining?" Obviously, pouring concrete wouldn't be an option that one would pursue (it's raining, after all), but to my mind it's only slightly less likely than what he chose to do. Anyway, reading his post kinda sorta inspired this one.

Ways in which pouring concrete resembles Der Ring des Nibelungen:

1) We spent about the same amount of time on this job--14 hours total--as it would take to watch a performance of the entire Ring Cycle.

2) We had no immolations, such as Brünhilde's on Siegfried's funeral pyre in Götterdämmerung, but on Friday Gracie, my in-laws' West Highlander terrier, got out of the house and almost fell into a just-poured 6-inch deep slab of concrete.

3) In a famous scene from Siegfried, the titular hero shatters Wotan's spear. My brother-in-law, who used to work with concrete for a living, at one point got frustrated with the consistency of the concrete we had received, how fast it was setting up, and the tools he was working with, and threw his trowel into a slab he had just been working on, shattering the work he had just accomplished.

4) Wagner wrote in German; though we spoke in English, the roots of much of the language used by some of my co-workers can be traced to good old medieval Germanic languages of various sorts. I'll spare you examples, leaving that up to your imagination and/or your recollection of George Carlin skits about words you're not supposed to say.

5) As near as I can recall, Wagner keeps his gods and humans too busy alternately fighting with and seducing each other to allow them much time for feasting; of course, though, they would have drunk German beer in their leisure hours. We drank beer with German names. My nomineee, by the way, for the domestic beer with the most Wagnerian-sounding name: Leinenkugel.

And that's pretty much the end of the similarities, at least with reference to this job. Opera--especially the Ring Cycle--always looks hard to me. Before Friday, I had no clue how hard everything about working with concrete was. And that brings me to something Winston of Nobody asked . . . said in his comments on my previous post:
I've watched the pros do it, and always wanted to be the finisher dude with the broom and get to make those swirly patterns.

I got to be the finisher dude part of the time, Winston. You'd rather sing in the church choir than be the finisher dude, I'm pretty sure. You can get only so fancy with a 4-foot-wide broom attached to a 15-foot handle. But then again, I was the learning-on-the-fly dude the entire two days, immersed in a kind of work that told me that, as much as I knew about hard, physical labor, this was nothing like what I knew. Just like, say, seeing Wagner after having just seen Gilbert & Sullivan.

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R. Sherman said...

Timely post, this. I spent the weekend discussing with the EMBLOS her desire to expand the patio and belief/faith/whatever that I had the ability to do this myself.

She about had me convinced.

Now, I think not.

Thanks you and


John B. said...

The key is having enough people with you to serve alternately as spreaders/smoothers/trowelers/broomers and as Greek chorus. Oh--and beer with German names.

fearful_syzygy said...