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Diary of a Drywaller: Chapter 6

One Summer Night – Capitola Pier, 1972. The full moon poured through what appeared to be a white hole in the starry night sky. A silhouette of two figures, my wife and I, stood leaning on the rail. Peering eyes followed our lines into the coastal waters.


Every night, for that month or as often as we could, we spent fishing. As I look back more than five decades, summer was the time I missed most during my adult life. There was something wonderful about the freedom that summers had afforded as a youth. I didn’t really know what I had until it was long gone.


To date, I still haven’t had an experience close to what childhood summers were like, providing a wonderful break, routinely sandwiched between each school year. However, as that particular month progressed, instead of summer sun and pure bliss, a shadow hung over me, a sense of impending doom that grew darker as the weeks passed.


Things had changed. I wasn’t a kid anymore. I was an adult (or becoming one), and I couldn’t escape the responsibilities that came along with it. Each passing day I had less and less money, and the need to replenish my dwindling cash supply grew more desperate.


Yes, that month was unforgettable. It was full of fond memories and lessons learned. I needed a job to replace the one I had in order to resume my apprenticeship. What would I do next?


In the last chapter, I closed with this sentence. “In an instant, it was the day I quit, the month I’ll never forget and the lie that came true.” We’ve covered the day I quit and the month that followed it; now I need to explain what I mean by the lie that came true.


San Jose, California – about a month later. I sat at the kitchen table in our tiny two bedroom apartment thumbing my way through the phone book, stopping at the letter D in search of drywall contractors. I didn’t really want to do drywall. My experience thus far in the construction industry had been a disappointment.


Time would ultimately teach me that what I “want” doesn’t much matter. It matters, but one can’t allow it to be the main driver in decision-making. We must do what needs done, like it or not. Too often we hear folks whining about what they want or don’t want and or like or don’t like. I stood at one such crossroad, and little did I know but my future and the future of my family, both born and unborn, was hanging in the balance.


The truth was, I didn’t have a better option than drywall. The union apprenticeship and ultimately becoming a journeyman was the best choice, no matter how much I disliked it. No one knew at the time, including myself, that four years later I would be a licensed contractor. That remained to be seen and was dependent on what I was willing or unwilling to do.


I don’t remember the details or the exact sequence of events, but I do know that I called Northwestern Drywall. Whoever gave me a brief interview over the phone, I can’t say. “Do you know how to top and skim?” The answer was no, but I replied with a prompt and unwavering, full throated and resounding “yes.”


For those unfamiliar with the drywall vernacular in northern California during that era, the question was in essence, “Do you know how to use Ames tools and your hand tools to do a first and second coat? As I said, the answer was no. However, I was hired on that basis. My employment, as well as my newfound relationship with my employer, was based on a lie. Not good, nor recommended!


It was with fear and trepidation that I arrived for my first day of work. Tools were issued and I set out to try to fake my way forward. I didn’t know what else to do so I got set up as best I could and attempted to do much of what I had only seen done by others in the past. Break time and lunch were spent running (literally) back and forth to where the journeymen were working and asking questions and watching them briefly as they resumed work.


I was the first one to arrive and the last to leave the job site each day. Little did I know at the time, but they were on to me. They figured out fast that I had no idea what I was doing. Apparently they saw enough evidence in my attitude and approach to continue my employment. But, in order to find out just exactly how that lie came true, I’ll need a bit more of your time.

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

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