After I dropped Gavin off on that mid-May morning of my first day on the job, I navigated through South Beach to the MacArthur Causeway—the highway that would lead me west to the airport. Everywhere I looked I saw construction—old art deco hotels on South Beach being rehabbed, highway expansion, cranes towering over the landscape, erecting new condo towers. It was so cool to think that I was finally going to be a part of that, after four years studying the way buildings came together.
I pulled up in front of the double-wide construction trailer a few minutes before nine. I took a deep breath and checked myself in the mirror. I only owned one suit, and thought that would be too formal to wear for my first day on the job. But I’d put on a crisp white shirt, starched at the local laundry; my best dress slacks; and my black loafers, spit-shined that morning. I’d added a navy tie with the university logo.
I stepped out of the car and nearly got run over by a backhoe zooming across the parking lot. I stumbled against my car, and my legs suffered a rough spray of pebbles. The asshole driver never even apologized, just kept on going.
It was already nearly eighty degrees outside, so I hurried into the cool of the trailer. Walter’s pretty young secretary Estefani was on the phone, but she waved hello and pointed me to a hard plastic chair near her in the lobby. I sat there and fidgeted as she gave directions to a lost delivery guy.
Estefani was about my age, with coal-black hair pulled into a knot at the top of her head, tanned skin, and dark eyes with a lot of mascara. Her top was tight to her body, showing off her cleavage and her impressive assets. She didn’t do anything for me, but I figured that she was nice eye candy for the guys who worked on the site.
I was still sitting there when Camilo walked in. “Good afternoon,” he said, sneering. “You think this is the time you come to work?” His Spanish accent was so heavy it took some figuring to realize what he was saying.
He was wearing a sweat-stained T-shirt that advertised a brand of tractors, a pair of well-worn jeans, and shit-kicking cowboy boots. He had a raspy cigarette voice and, as I came to learn, a potty mouth that would make a sailor blush.
I sat back in my chair. “That’s what my offer letter said,” I said. “Nine o’clock.”
He barked out a short laugh. “We start work at seven, cabrón.
And we don’t wear no ties or sissy shoes. You gotta get yourself some boots and jeans.”
I stood up. Cabrón was one of those words with an innocent meaning—goat—but a lot of negative connotations, from coward to bastard to cuckold, depending on where in Latin America you were from. It was certainly not a nice thing to say to a new employee.
I had about six inches on him, even though he was wearing a hard hat. “I’m nobody’s cabrón, pendejo.”
Pendejo always means asshole. I was determined not to let anybody push me around at work, not after getting teased for years in high school as a pretty boy or a maricón—faggot—depending on the mood of my tormentors.
“Now, now, ladies, play nice.” We looked over to see Walter Loredo step out of the office behind Estefani. He looked a lot rougher than he had when he’d interviewed at FU—no Hugo Boss suit or Ferragamo loafers. Instead he wore a pair of pressed khakis and a dark green polo shirt with Loredo Construction
embroidered on the breast, and he hadn’t shaved in a day or two.
He was still killer handsome, though. Dark, wavy hair that curled over his brow, laughing green eyes, a generous mouth. Broad shoulders that tapered to a narrow waist. I forced myself not to stare.
“Sorry if I didn’t convey the dress code clearly,” Walter said. “Estefani can give you a couple of polo shirts. You don’t need to worry about looking as scruffy as Camilo, though you won’t get far on-site with those shoes. You must own a pair of boots.”
“I’ve got Docs,” I said. I had a worn pair of Doc Martens in brown leather that I’d snagged at a thrift shop a couple of years before.
“They’ll do starting tomorrow,” Walter said. “You’ll spend most of today in here. I want you to know the drawings before I send you out to do anything.”
I could handle reviewing plans. I’d spent years studying them, taking classes in estimating, project management, and on-site safety issues. And I hoped that would mean I’d be spending some time one-on-one with Walter. If I could only tame my rampaging dick, I’d be very happy.
“Camilo, I need you in here,” Walter said, nodding toward his office. “Estefani, get Manny set up in the conference room.”
Camilo went into Walter’s office with him, and Estefani stood up and looked at me. “You’re a medium, right?”
For a moment I thought she meant the kind who can see into other worlds. It was starting to look like this construction site was a whole other world from the one I was accustomed to. “Yeah, medium shirt,” I said.
She walked over to a storage cabinet and pulled out five dark green polos like Walter’s. “Don’t copy Camilo,” she said. “He has the fashion sense of a toad. I think every T-shirt he owns has the logo of some company on it. You can get by around here in a one of these and jeans or khakis.” She had the faintest trace of a Spanish accent, and I was sure that she was, like me, the child of immigrants. I pegged her as some kind of South American, from the color of her skin and the way she carried herself.
“Got it,” I said. I pulled my tie off and folded it up.
“The conference room’s over here.” She led me down a narrow hallway, past a couple of small offices—all of them empty—to another trailer connected by a doorway. It was a rectangular room with an oval table in the center and a cluster of rolling armchairs around it. A slanted table stood at one side, with shelves of oversized construction drawings beneath it. Estefani picked up a set of drawings attached to a long pole and set them on the plan desk.
“Oof, these are so heavy!” She wiped her hands on her very short skirt. “There’s water in the fridge over there. We order lunch at eleven thirty for the managers’ meeting at twelve. I have the menu at my desk.”
After she left I stripped off my starched white shirt and slipped on one of the polos. I used the narrow window as a mirror to make sure my hair was all right. Like Estefani, I was Hispanic, but my family hailed from Spain and had only made a pit stop in Cuba for a generation. When it’s tan, my skin is the color of light coffee, but if I’ve been inside for a long time I look as pale as a ghost. My hair is black and straight as a ruler.
My abuela and my tías
have always cooed over me, saying how pretty I am because I have long eyelashes and a delicate mouth. But being pretty isn’t always a good thing for a Cuban boy, especially one with a father who regularly spouts off about maricóns
I had been struggling to keep my sexuality a secret from my parents since I was fourteen. I worked hard at school and kept my interests to myself. I never put up a poster in my bedroom, never told my parents who my friends were or what books I read or what movies I watched. I was a good little Cuban boy.
Cuban parents like to keep their kids close, and it was a real fight to get my parents to let me accept the room in the dorm that came with my scholarship to FU. My mother cried for two days, as if I were dead, even though I was moving only a dozen miles away.
By going home every Sunday for dinner and answering every text my mother sent, I gradually got my parents accustomed to my living away from them. I never told them what kind of a frat the Three Lambs was, and they didn’t seem to care. I never invited them to visit me on campus.
When I got the chance to share the apartment with Gavin and Larry, I was sure they’d complain again. But strangely, they seemed okay with the idea as long as I still kept coming home.
I sat down at the plan desk, beginning with the first set of documents, detailing the site work. I had taken a class in infrastructure, so I was able to move quickly through the details of earthmoving, foundations, and laying down sewer, water, and electric conduits.
Adrian came in with a plumbing contractor as I was going through the documents. I nodded hello and stepped aside as they went over an MEP plan—mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. When they left, I went back to work.
I looked around, and Estefani was standing in the doorway. “You have to remember to order with me by eleven thirty, or you won’t have anything to eat during the meeting.”
She handed me the menu, and I chose a chicken Caesar salad. “You sure you want that?” she asked. “Most of the guys get sandwiches.”
I took the hint. I didn’t want to stand out on my first day. I looked at the menu again. I couldn’t order a meatball sub; what if I spilled something on my new shirt? “How about a burger?” I asked.
I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato and a side of fries.
“The meeting’s going to be in here,” she said as she left. “Noon.”
A few minutes before twelve, guys started coming into the conference room. I recognized Camilo and Adrian, but there were many I didn’t. We all sat at the big table, and Estefani came in carrying a cardboard box filled with wrapped packages. She put it down in the center of the table, and the guys converged on it like lions on a dead gazelle. I held back until there was a single burger left in the box.
“I was supposed to get fries,” I said. “Somebody got extra?”
No one said anything. No wonder they had all jumped on the food. “No prob,” I said. I sat down as Walter walked in, carrying his own lunch.
“We have a new assistant manager,” he said, as he sat down. “Everybody, meet Manny.”
Between mouthfuls, the other guys said hello.
“Be kind to him; it’s his first day on his first job.”
” one of the guys said. I knew that was Spanish for virgin.
“That’s not what your sister says,” I answered in Spanish, and the crowd guffawed. Adrian even slapped me on the back.
Walter went around the room as we ate, asking everyone for progress reports. I wanted to take notes, but I thought that would be too geeky, so I tried to remember as much as I could—which super was responsible for which part of the site, how the progress was going on excavation, on concrete formwork, on pours.
Walter was on top of everything on the site, lecturing the infrastructure manager about sloppy workmanship or challenging the site manager to meet his schedule, which had slipped due to heavy rains. Like most Miami Cubans, myself included, he switched effortlessly between English and Spanish. His deep baritone could purr or bark depending on his mood. When he purred, my dick tingled, and I shifted uncomfortably in my chair.
After lunch, he said, “Come with me, Manny. I’ll walk you around the site.” As he leaned close I got a whiff of his lemon cologne. When he put his arm around my shoulder, I felt a zing directly to my groin.
It was hot as a bitch out there on the flat plain, with no trees to offer shade. We were right under the flight plan for one of the major airport runways, though, so every few minutes we’d get a hell of a breeze blowing dust in our mouths, accompanied by the throaty roar of engines straining for lift.
I struggled to connect what I saw on-site with what I’d read about in the plans. Steel beams swung by, dangling in midair like huge, ungainly birds; roofers climbed the steel exoskeleton as if it were a jungle gym; and a concrete truck rumbled up, its mixer rotating slow as a giant snail.
“Follow me,” Walter said. He walked over to the site of the second warehouse, where concrete footings were being poured. A rusty chute came out of the back of the mixer, and an evil-smelling gray slurry rolled down the slope. A stocky workman with a yellow hard hat had the sides of the chute locked between his legs. He guided the slush into a trough on the ground between a palisade of wooden forms.
“What’s the difference between cement and concrete?” Walter asked me, raising his voice over the noise of the mixer.
“Concrete is made of cement, water, and an aggregate like sand or gravel,” I said.
“You ever stick your hand in it?”
I shook my head. I’d read about how to build concrete forms for building footers, but I’d never seen them in operation, and I was fascinated by the whole process, as well as weirdly turned on by the sexual implications of the giant phallus sticking out of the truck’s rectum, and the way the workman straddled the vibrating tube and controlled it with his massive thighs.
Walter walked up and plunged his hand into the lumpy gray mix. He brought his hand up, rubbing his fingers together. “This won’t pass the slump test,” he said. “Look how thin it is.”
He held his hand out to me. “Good concrete holds together more than this mierde
. You’ve got to get a feel for it. Here, stick your hand in.”
“Go ahead; there’s no alligators in there.”
I plunged my hand in.
“Feel it?” Walter asked. “Too thin.”
I nodded. “Feels thin to me.”
We rinsed our hands off at a pump next to the truck, and I followed Walter to the concrete super. Switching rapidly between English and Spanish, he told the super what was wrong with the mix and that he expected it to be changed pronto.
“Sí, Señor Loredo.” The super whistled at the guy controlling the chute and slid his hand across his neck. Then he walked off to talk to the truck driver.
I was sweating like crazy, water pooling under my arms and in crescent shapes under my pecs. Walter wasn’t showing any sweat, but when I stood next to him, his smell gave me a woody I had to turn away to conceal.
“Come on; let’s keep going,” he said, and he clapped his hand on my back. I thought that if anybody noticed my hard-on I’d die of embarrassment.
Everywhere we went, Walter introduced me and pointed out things I should know. The utilities for the third warehouse were going in underground, and the site for the fourth building was being graded. We were out there for an hour, and by the time we got back to the air-conditioned trailer, I felt like I’d taken a bath in warm water. Walter still looked cool and composed, though.
“I thought you were Cuban,” he said as we climbed the two steps into the trailer. “You should be better in the heat.”
“My family only made a pit stop in Cuba,” I said. “Not long enough to affect our DNA. My papi reminds us all the time that we’re really Spanish, from the mountains in Andalusia.”
“That explains your fair skin,” Walter said. “And I can hear some Castilian in your Spanish too.”
I hadn’t realized Walter was paying such close attention to me.
“Well, better get back to those plans,” he said. “I’ll have a list of projects for you to handle on the site first thing tomorrow.”
I returned to the conference room and picked up the plan review where I’d left off, basking in the glow of Walter Loredo’s approval.
A million challenges ran through my head as I worked—mastering all the technical material, learning which super was responsible for which scope of work, becoming one of the guys in what was shaping up to be a very macho environment. But the biggest problem of all was how I was going to work with Walter Loredo every day when I already had a massive crush on him.