Black Label

Mike Caramana, Paul Dodd and Dick posing in Domas home in Greece, New York. Photo by Burr Lewis for Democrat & Chronicle
Mike Caramana, Paul Dodd and Dick posing in a Domas home in Gatese, New York. Photo by Burr Lewis for Democrat & Chronicle.

At Wednesday’s Debbie Kendrick gig I was chatting with Frank and his friend Jim about some plumbing that Jim was doing on his mother-in-law’s house. Frank said something that indicated he didn’t think I was very handy. I was a bit taken aback but mostly I was thinking how it was that I project that image. I’ve known Frank since high school.

It was the summer before my junior year when I worked for Virgila and Sons. We framed houses, the rough carpentry as opposed to finished carpentry. Plywood had not taken over. The walls, floors and roofs were constructed with three quarter inch, tongue and groove boards. We’d stop for coffee in the morning and have sweet rolls toasted on the grill. On Fridays we’d drink beer at quitting time. They asked me what kind of beer I liked and I said, “Carling,” probably because I like the Mabel, Black Label commercials. They laughed and called it, “nigger piss.”

After I dropped out of college, around the time I met Peggi, I worked for Mitchell Construction in Bloomington. I wanted to do carpentry but they needed someone on the concrete crew. The company wanted to do work for the University but all thirty of their workers were white. They had to hire a black person to get a contract. Wayne had just got out prison for accidentally sandwiching someone between the car he was driving and another. Involuntary manslaughter. Three of us spread stone around and poured and finished concrete sidewalks, garage floors and basements. After the first week one of the carpenters asked me what it was like to work with a nigger.

When we moved back to Rochester I got a job for another, small family run construction crew, Caramana Construction, a father and two sons. We built a hundred or so Domas tract homes in Gates and Spencerport. There were three models with slight variations, a center entrance Colonial, a split-level and the cheapest, a raised ranch.

Mike, one of the sons, took on some the homes himself while his father worked on another home with a few other guys. The three of us, above, would put up a house like this in three days! And then we’d come back and plop in the windows. A photographer for the D&C happened to be there this time and we wound up in the paper. Proof for Frank.


4 Replies to “Black Label”

  1. You all have that “pondering at the optimistic future” look in your eyes, that can only come from standing inside a spanking brand new home.

  2. Hey Mabel get off the table, the quarter’s for the beer. One of my male (oh really?) relatives would say that when my brother and i were kids, we never knew what it meant.
    Fast forward to Mike Skinner: Pick a bottle off the table peel the label tell a fable.

  3. Well my face is red!

    I think of you as a sensitive artist, a talented musician, an extraordinary soccer player, an incredible walker, and an all-around swell guy. Also, the man who inspired me to start my blog!

    I must admit that my limited imagination did not immediately allow me to include “dedicated carpenter” to your long list of remarkable attributes. I will never make that mistake again.

    Please accept my sincere apology and allow me to buy you a beer the next time we meet.

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