The wife and I were catching lunch at a pizza restaurant that runs a good noontime special: a couple of Sicilian slices and a soft drink for a reasonable price. Add a buck or so for a short beer. It’s a favorite lunch stop for tradesmen and construction workers. They like that short beer. It’s a little bit of heaven in a hell of a day.
The lunch rush had passed, and there were maybe ten other people in the place: weatherbeaten middle-aged guys who worked with their hands. They were all chawing pizza, sipping beer and staring at ESPN on the flatscreen. Or into the mirror behind the bar.
And eight of those ten were wearing screen-printed t-shirts: for their business or employer; for the tools they used; or for their union.
When I write about t-shirts, I sometimes ramble on about the power of the tee: put on a printed tee and you put on an identity. You become the message. The tee says who you are and what you believe in — or even what owns you. Other people judge and classify you by that identity.
And here it was, all around me: the cabinet installer, his employer’s name on his back; the body and fender guy; the electrician; the carpenter, in a tool company gimme shirt; the mechanic, in a tee covered with flaming crescent wrenches. Each one of them could be defined and classified by the message on their back or chest.
And you have to ask: do you wear that shirt because you want to, or because you have to? Sometimes it’s clear. Sometimes it isn’t.
And: who are you? Does the tee show who you are? Who you want to be? What somebody else wants you to be?
These thoughts endless intrigue me. T-shirts and identity, identity and t-shirts. Yes, I’m weird, but then I have a couple of thousand tees, half of them indexed, so what was your question again? At any rate, here are some of the tees that Santa Cruz tradesmen wear. To be, or not to be.
I needed a contractor; a woman at work referred me to her cousins at Bustichi Construction, “a couple of Italian good-old-boys having a great time.” Considering the butt-crack and penis innuendos, I don’t doubt it. But in its way, it’s a really fun shirt.
I saw a workman wearing this tee at the same pizza restaurant I talked about, years after Bustichi Construction changed its name and a lot of other things. Maybe it was his favorite shirt.
Mikasa Rammer Tool Tee
If your employer’s t-shirt doesn’t measure up to Bustichi Construction’s phallic overtones, some Mikasa equipment salesman just may give you a t-shirt for a phallic-looking Mikasa earth rammer. Free!
This is a fine example of contractor-representing-self-as-mad-dog-work-animal. The genre is popular. And you don’t see many blue-eyed skulls, either. If I worked in construction, I’d proudly wear this one.
Halsteel Gun Nails
Nothing shows love of country like four carpenters at Iwo Jima raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi on a gigantic gun nail. A nail made in AMERICA, by God.
They have a point, though (hah): American workmen are expected to be proud of American products made by other workers just like them. You don’t see “Made in America” touted on hardware gimme shirts much anymore because, so often the hardware isn’t. Or it might be this year, but not next year. Big corporations blithely and swiftly move producion to wherever it’s cheapest at the moment.
Schmitty’s Custom Cabinets
The cliche goes that most Santa Cruz contractors and woodworkers are surfers. And that around, oh, 3 pm, they’ll tell you that they’ve got to head to the lumberyard for more material and “see ya tomorrow. And they jump in a white pick-up with built-in tool chests and head straight for Steamer Lane or the Hook. The board’s always in the truck, waiting.
It’s just a stereotype, right?
Right. To me, it looks like “Schmitty” is sneaking away with his board on tiptoe.
I looked him up. He’s a contractor, a surfer, a sailor and an over-60 waterman stud. But I doubt that he really surfs with his circular saw and nail gun.
Again, don’t buy into the stereotype that all Santa Cruz construction dudes are just surfers. There’s no evidence for it. Right? Right?
Pipe Fusion Machine Rental
This tee is all about renting devices for the butt-to-butt fusing of two big plastic pipes (drainage or sewer pipes, industrial pipes, what have you).
Simply slide the two big, big pipes together through the circular guides, and the machine applies heat and pressure until the two pipes fuse into one. Bakes the bun in the oven, so to speak. Pay no attention to the hot mom perched on top. She’s just there to make sure that you don’t miss the metaphor.
Perrigo Auto Body
Do auto body men really get in the curl on ‘70s-era Corvette Stingrays off Cowell Beach? A Corvette would make the ultimate longboard, true. At least I can guess what the owner does with his time off.
Years ago while driving, my wife’s wedding ring dropped off her finger into an obscure crevice between the seats of our old car. I couldn’t find the crevice, or the ring. I called Perrigo and explained; they pulled the seats and got the ring back tout suite. After they stopped laughing.
Early on I mentioned flaming crescent wrenches, and I wasn’t kidding. Snap-On Tools is famous for bizarre and flashy gimme shirts aimed at people who fix cars, trucks, marine engines, aircraft, and so on. You know — guys. Be they male or female.
They know the secret: make a winning tee, and some mechanic will become your volunteer billboard. Snap-On tees eschew sex objects or sexual innuendo. These tees are all about steel, flame, and large fast-moving metal objects.
I’m not a collect-them-all kind of collector, or I’d need a warehouse. But with Snap-On tees, I’m tempted.
Kurt M. Stephens and Sons Carpet Installation
I know very little about Kurt M. Stephens, except that he is or was the only carpet guy in a dynastic family of hardwood floor installers. But he felt it humorous to send his workers out to jobs wearing tees printed with the instruction “Fuzzy Side Up.” See, they could read it off each other’s back if they forgot what to do.
I wonder how the “and Sons” part of the firm felt about this.
Santa Cruz Carpenter’s Union Local
Well, um, I still don’t think that we should stereotype Santa Cruz tradesmen as die-hard surfers who just work so that they can keep surfing. Even if the Carpenter’s Union shows a happy tradesman standing in the redwoods with a mighty longboard. It’s lies, I tell you, all lies, I mean… oh forget it.
Ahern will rent you anything you need in for construction biz — except good sense. A ha-ha construction joke t-shirt, as good — or bad — as they get.
Electricians don’t do a lot of sexual innuendo on t-shirts. They like wordplay: “service that will shock you,” for example. The only vaguely sexual motto I’ve seen from them was “We’ll check your shorts.” The tee came from some feral electrician up toward Eureka.
That said, I’ll bet that Mr. Ferrell — while not feral — is another Santa Cruz-area surfin’ contractor.
3M Vinyl Electrical Tape
As far as the American public knows, 3M is the kindly old uncle of American corporations. They sell tape, and they’ve been around however; how bad can they be, right?
On that last question, opinions vary. But it’s clear that kindly Uncle Three-Em will pitch big-breasted cheesecake with the best of them to catch the tradesman market. And yes, they, like Halsteel, can say “Made in USA.”
Note that the ‘driver” wears high-heeled sandals with her racing suit. 3M printed several t-shirts in this series — hot women, cars, electrical tape — but I chose not to Collect Them All. I have my pride.
I leave you with a tradesman’s tee that poses the one great universal question: WHY IS THIS MAN LAUGHING? HE NEVER STOPS! WHY? WHY?