So what do you do?
Marianne's cousin, Suzanne, married Phil back in the early-Seventies when we were all young, dumb, irresponsible and absolutely bulletproof. Phil had come from
We moved Phil and Suzanne from their apartment in the borough of Queens to a house in upstate
I didn't know where we were going that day, so I asked Phil's crazy Irish brothers who had been up to see the new house.
"How far is it from here to there?"
One brother thought for a moment and then said, "I tink it's about a five-beer drive."
And the other brother said, "You tink so? I tink it's a six-beer drive."
And so it was. And I know how irresponsible all of this business sounds nowadays, but I'm telling the story and that's just the way it happened. Young and dumb.
As the years passed, children, mortgages and difficult times peeled away our bulletproofing. We all managed to stay alive, often in spite of ourselves, and each went his own way. I became a writer, and Phil kept building those towers in
At one point, Phil was teamed with a fitter who had been born in
Isn’t that just the best?
I was in
Trigen's 30 miles of steam pipes run under
The natural gas that Trigen uses to make the high-pressure steam comes all the way from
I looked out the window and I watched the steam puff from the pipe that connects to a flash tank somewhere in the hotel where I had slept, and I remembered a story Phil had told me a few years ago. He and his partner were working at
"Danny, they had this 12-inch flash line that stuck up out of the roof, and parts of it had corroded over the years. We had to change that line, but there was no way we could shut down all the tings that were flashing into that pipe. And no one was even sure where the valves were."
When you use high-pressure steam, you get condensate from the steam traps and that condensate is about the same temperature as the steam that's going into the equipment. Some of that extremely hot condensate flashes right back into steam when it leaves the trap, and that's where the flash tank comes it. It gives the flash steam a place to let loose without back-pressuring other traps. Flash steam is what you'll see coming from those pipes that stick out of the tops of big buildings.
"There was no place for a crane, Danny, so we had to rig scaffolding and hump these four, five-foot-long sections of 12-inch pipe up the scaffold and weld them in place while the steam was coming up from the hospital. It was tough."
"How much did each pipe section weigh?"
"About two-hundred and fifty pounds," he said.
"And you did this while the steam was coming out of the top of the pipe?"
"Yes, that was the worst part. And it was a very hot summer day. It was about a hundred-and-tirty degrees up there."
"But you got it done."
Phil shrugs and laughs. "We had no choice. That's the ting. We had to get it done."
Phil and I and the wives went to
"So what do you fellas do?" Phil asked.
"I'm a lawyer," the guy closest to Phil said. "And he's a chemical engineer. That guy over there is a real-estate appraiser. And he's a cop."
I hoisted my glass to them and said to the bridegroom, "Let's hope you won't need either the cop or the lawyer tonight." And we had a good laugh.
"What do you do?" the lawyer asked Phil.
"I'm a steamfitter in
"Steamfitter? What the hell is that?" The lawyer looked at his mates. "You guys ever hear of a steamfitter?" They all shook their heads. Even the engineer shook his head. And the real estate guy as well.
"What does a steamfitter do?" the young lawyer asked.
"I work on the pipes in the big buildings," Phil said.
"Interesting," the lawyer said. "You mean like the skyscrapers?"
"Yes, the pipes in the big buildings, like the places where you work. I put the pipes in there."
"No one ever thinks about stuff like that," the lawyer said.
"I tink about it all the time," Phil said, taking a pull on his beer.
"Interesting," the lawyer said, and turned back to his mates.
Phil looked at me and shrugged and we had a good long laugh about that – about how few people ever think about what fitters do every day, and make it all look so easy. Yeah, we had a good long laugh about that.
Here's to the unsung heroes.