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Catching Out: The Secret World of Day Laborers

by Dick J. Reavis

Seasoned journalist and professor Dick Reavis reported to a labor hall each morning, hoping to "catch out," or get job assignments. To supplement his retirement savings, the sixty-two-year-old North Carolinian joined people dispatched by an agency to manual jobs for which they were paid at the end of each day. Written with the flair of a gifted portraitist and storyteller, Catching Out describes Reavis's 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, he 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 coworkers, so many of whom make up the three-million-strong day-laborer poor. This is a gritty, hard-times evocation of the often colorful men and women on the bottom rung of the American 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 reminds us that physical exertion, even when painful or unpleasant, remains vital to the economy -- and that those who labor, though poorly paid, bring vigor, skill, and cunning to their tasks. In the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Catching Out is destined to become a classic of our troubled times.

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