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Catching Out: The Secret World of Day Laborersby Dick Reavis
Synopses & Reviews
Reavis reported to a labor hall each morning hoping to “catch out,” or get job assignments. To supplement his savings for retirement, the sixty-two-year-old joined people dispatched by an agency to manual jobs for which they were paid at the end of each day. Reavis writes with simple honesty, sympathy, and self-deprecating wit about his life inside day labor agencies, which employ some 3 million Americans. .
Written with the flair of a gifted portraitist and storyteller, the book describes his days on jobs at a factory, as a construction and demolition worker, landscaper, road crew flagman, auto-auction driver and warehouseman, and several days spent sorting artifacts in a dead packrat’s apartment. On one pick-and-shovel job, Reavis finds that his partner is too blind to see the hole they’re digging. In each setting, he describes the personalities and problems of his desperate peers, the attitudes of their bosses, and the straits of immigrant co-workers..
This is a gritty, hard-times evocation of the sometimes colorful men and women on the bottom rung of the workforce. It is partly a guide to performing hard, physical tasks, partly a celebration of strength, and partly a venting of ire at stingy and stern overseers. Reavis wants to make the point that physical exertion, even when ugly, painful or unpleasant, remains vital to the economy—and that those who labor, though poorly paid, bring vigor, skill and cunning to their tasks. .
"Though a writer and English professor by trade, Reavis found himself taking on the role of a day laborer to help supplement his retirement and savings. Appearing at the local labor hall to 'catch out,' that is, get picked for a job, Reavis, who wrote about illegal immigrants in his first book, Without Documents, becomes one of the millions of Americans who work all manner of manual labor gigs and are, economically and socially, 'living on the edge,' as he lugs boxes, digs ditches, and hauls debris with fellow workers. Despite each of the jobs being unrelated, the book is held together by Reavis's central focus on the plight of a working class that has no health insurance, for the most part must rely on others for transportation, and, in many cases, may not even have a home to return to at the end of a long day. Also to his benefit, Reavis allows his colleagues — hard drinkers like Real Deal, shirkers like Tommy, softies like Office Skills, and hard workers like Sung — to take center stage in his tales, which run the gamut from humorous to heartrending. This ability to bring the small successes, daily struggles, and measured dreams of these 'down-at-heels' working stiffs makes the book's final chapter, in which Reavis outlines the legal and economic reforms needed to help day laborers get fair wages and treatment, overwhelmingly persuasive." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich, Reavis joins the ranks of day laborers, exposing the reality of this tough, ignored, and growing part of American life.
About the Author
Dick J. Reavis is a former staff writer at Texas Monthly. He has written about motorcycle gangs, undocumented immigrants, guerrillas, convicts, coal miners, security guards, and bankers for publications as diverse as Soldier of Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. He is a professor in the English Department at North Carolina State University.
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