He had crude tattoos on his face and he needed them to be gone
CLEARWATER — The man with the ominous tattoos perched on a metal box in a dusty welding booth, sparks spraying on his jeans and white T-shirt as he ground down another mistake.
Moments before, his instructor at the Pinellas Technical Education Center had shone a flashlight inside the pipe and pointed out a shadow the size of a pinprick. If this had been his final welding test — which was just a week away — he would have automatically failed.
Eriks Mackus, 22, had spent two years mastering the tasks to become a pressure pipe welder. Along the way, he'd learned the skills to weld parts on buildings, barges, train cars, even ships. He'd worked hard to achieve what his instructor called "the Ph.D of welding," the certification that would allow him to make good money at a power plant or on a natural gas pipeline. It had not been easy.
Eriks (pronounced Erik) has a long history of making mistakes. Arrested for the first time when he was 12, he'd joined a gang in juvenile detention. There, he learned how to make ink from melted checkers, grease, toothpaste and pencil lead. He used paper clips to tattoo a gun and the words "Money Hungry" on his chest and neck.
Since getting out of prison two years before, he had convinced himself he could stay out of trouble. And he had. Sort of.
He put the pipe back in the vise and pulled down his dark visor adorned with skull decals. He ignited the torch's white-blue flame. Slowly he began to smooth over his error, molten metal filling the crevice a millimeter at a time.
Some mistakes are easier to correct than others. Read it all.