Sky Boys

from Chicago Reader 2012 Pure Fiction Issue

New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam by Charles C. Ebbets


Your first day on the job, the only thing they tell you is, “Don’t look down.” I haven’t met a sky boy yet who took that advice. You step onto one of those girders 50, 60, 70 stories up, and all you want to look at is your feet, to make sure there’s something solid underneath. Eighteen inches of unbendable steel and on either side of that, just gravity.

There were 11 of us sitting on an I beam, atop what would soon be the north wall of the 69th floor of the RCA Building. It wasn’t something we’d normally do, but a photographer from the Herald Tribune had shown up that morning to take pictures, and he wanted something out of this world. Fitzgerald gave me the responsibility of watching out for him, so I suggested he get a shot of a couple of us having our lunch on one of the border girders. Everyone volunteered to be in the picture. So there we sat, out on that beam like pigeons on a train trestle, bunched together ass cheek to ass cheek, and we were all looking down. You could see the whole city from our perch: the East River and Hudson on either side, Central Park behind us, and concrete stretching from one end of the horizon to the other. Off to the south rose the Empire State Building. I’d been on a rivet gang there, too, for the first 30 floors, before they pared down the teams and I found myself back selling apples for a while, by the cathedral at 110th and Amsterdam.

Read the full text of “Sky Boys” at The Chicago Reader.

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