New York Harbor, 1885. Only 20 years after the Civil War. New York was the epicenter of the world.
Bubs McFee had traveled all the way from Maryland to be here, hoping to get hired as part of the auxiliary metal-working crew that would help assemble the world’s most famous statue.
Competition was stiff. Everyone wanted this job.
A big-bellied foreman surveyed the long line of hopeful young laborers, sizing them up like an infantry. When the foreman’s eyes landed on Bubs he laughed.
“God sakes, son,” said the foreman. “You don’t look old enough to shave. You sure you’re in the right place?”
The other applicants laughed.
“What are you, twelve?” said the foreman.
Bubs said nothing.
At age 23, Bubs looked like he was an adolescent. But he had worked the steel girders on exactly 28 buildings and three truss bridges in Pittsburgh. Bubs had been laying rivets since his fourteenth birthday. He could climb anything, lift twice his weight, and swing a nine-pound hammer so hard you’d feel its impact from three states away.
“Your mama know you’re here?” said
the foreman, whose belly jiggled with laughter.
This got another laugh from the group. But Bubs did not break a smile. He merely stared at the foreman.
The foreman looked at his clipboard. “Bubs, huh? That your real name?”
“Well, Bubs, you have any idea how many beamwalkers die each year on my clock? Have you ever laid a rivet in your life? Can you even lift a hammer with that puny arm you got?”
The foreman shook his head. “You’re naturally gabby, aren't you?”
Bubs took the Fifth.
The foreman squinted and leaned in. “Well, I think you’re a liar. I don’t think you’ve ever worked with iron in your life. I don’t think you’d know a rivet from your own butt.”
The foreman held up a hammer.…