Diary of a Drywaller: Chapter 7

Doug Bellamy / July 2018

Poway, California, 1978

Now the sign has always read
You’d be a fool to go ahead
But you know you’ve always gone
The day has always brought the dawn
Sunny skies have slipped away
The moon’s still following the day
I’m still here and I still say
Though time has aged this painter’s brush
What I do is what I must.

That poetic excerpt below was written on the living room floor at my girlfriend’s house, after my business was gone, but before I even realized it. “What business?” one might ask. “And what girlfriend”? My first among a few, on both counts and some tough lessons learned in the process. Listen up and learn a few of the pitfalls of success—too much too fast and self-deception.
This tiny excerpt of a much longer poem serves as ample introduction to a terrible and shameful period. If you are tagging along on this journey, bear in mind that we have jumped several years forward—not to worry, we will lapse back into the storyline. I haven’t forgotten about the lie that came true. I still owe you an explanation.
For the moment, just consider this period “young, successful and indestructible” (or so it seemed), but there was plenty of destruction around the bend, though not within eyeshot at the time.
Thus far I have said nothing about the poet. That ghost has not commented in these writings but has been ever-present since childhood, peeking his head in and out now and then. You will no doubt hear more from him later.
Can you hear the invincible arrogance of my frame of mind? Shortly thereafter I found myself reaching up to tie my shoelaces. More about that episode, later.
Let’s get back to the lie that came true, and my apprenticeship in 1973 and 1974.
Sure enough, my new employers were patiently bearing with me. I was able to cobble together what I knew and didn’t know well enough to not only complete my apprenticeship with Northwestern Drywall but also become a foreman just before I earned the official title of journeyman.
My promotion would have been cause for celebration, but on the very day it happened, all of the journeymen packed up their tools and left the job, filled with resentment. They weren’t about to listen to some kid, barely 21 years old who wasn’t even technically a journeyman.
That wouldn’t be the last time I dealt with a similar reaction as I continued to ascend in my newfound profession, but it was the only time that I recall telling a lie—a lie that came true.
With the help of my boss and the taping superintendent, we got a crew together, and they provided plenty of support to the fledgling foreman—namely me.
Dealing with the workforce was a-w-k-w-a-r-d. I had barely learned the trade and I was thrust into a position of authority, and oftentimes I was dealing with people who were older and more experienced. I got a lot of this “you’re not the boss of me” stuff. However, I had developed an ambitious and reliable work ethic that made my employer sit up and take notice. They watched me turn from a liar into a taper.
One of the first things that I learned in my newfound position was to be decisive, not provide people with too many options, clarify my expectations and not dilly-dally around playing guessing games about who should do what or, for that matter, who wanted to do what. Management is not a popularity contest. You have two options: manage subordinates, or you will be managed by them. I found that out the hard way.
Just in case any of you get the mistaken impression that you can lie your way to the top. Not! Case in point, I tried it one other time and failed miserably. During the latter part of my apprenticeship I got a side job. It was the thing everyone was doing and making serious money, playing illegal contractor. Thinking back, this was probably the beginning of my life as a business owner. But as I said, I wasn’t one. Not yet, anyway.
However, I wasn’t really well-versed in a few aspects of the trade that were essential to completing the remodel. Funny thing about working on peoples’ walls: People can pretty particular, and the trial-and-error approach doesn’t go over too well. I got kicked off the job and didn’t collect a dime. I felt horrible, on several levels. Two steps forward, one step back.

Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. Contact him at doug@altadrywall.com.