Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Some Lazy SOB with a Shovel

So. for the last little bit, since the project I was working on went away for rehab, I've been doing some unskilled labor around the house. It's unskilled because I'm doing it, aided and abetted by my Dad, who comes up and makes sure I don't kill myself with tools or effort. He has a lot more practice than me and a generally good sense of humor, which is what is needed when I pick up a hand tool. It's not all sweetness and light, as we have different ways about us. Dad is of the type who believes that working means actually doing something, anything, and if he has a hammer in his hand it is usually moving. Me, I prefer to analyze all my options before committing to any one of them, and thus I can usually be found staring at a project, my eyes burning a hole in the atmosphere, as I appear to be attempting to pound the nail with the power of my mind alone. Eventually my hammer swings, blows are landed, something happens. While waiting for that, Dad repairs to his coffee thermos, in which I have often wondered if there isn't something stronger, to salve the frustration at having to watch me work, or think about working. But we have been doing this for a while, and we have learned to complement each other-- my job is generally to say "Whoa there, Tiger", his is to say "Well, let's at least do something." So we have been installing some sweat equity, and nothing is more truly named-- a linoleum floor synthesized from coffee. cursing, perspiration and ham sandwiches; and currently a wall, taking place behind our garage, where we enact most of the travails of the ancient Egyptians, slowly moving block after block, with considerably less grand results-- two and a half feet so far. Well, they had slaves (They didn't? Damn it. Damn it to hell.). We have each other, and a "helpful brochure".

It has been an education, no thanks to the brochure. Everyone should do it at least once. This doesn't explain why I keep doing it, but the fact that I'm cheap and just a bit of a control freak probably will do for that. The thing is, despite the undervaluation of manual labor, its continual marginalization and defamation, there remain two facts about it: 1) it's necessary, and 2) it's hard. It's not just physically demanding, it requires skills that you and I don't have. There is nothing more humbling to the college bound youth than working along side someone who can really use a hoe. I've seen it, and I'll never forget it. That simple tool, bane of casual gardeners and reluctant lawn owners, can be wielded like a sushi chef's knife or sculptor's chisel. My painfully slow "improvements" just makes that memory burn brighter-- the merciless sun beating down on our six-person weeding crew, till finally this kid, an aspiring chiropractor no less, said "We'll never finish this like this. You guys take this half of the field, and I'll take this half." And he finished before us. It was a sight to behold.

And it is physically demanding as well. This wall has taken a lot out of me, and if sweat were equity, then I'd live in the Taj by now. But I had a realization that I really needed as I stood there, drooping off the top of my shovel like a wet gym sock, trying to find another breath somewhere. I had a picture of myself in my mind's eye at that moment, that I had seen a hundred times. Mostly, I'd seen it driving past highway construction sites or street work. We all have seen it-- some lazy SOB with a shovel, just leaning stock-still on the thing, taking what surely must be a long, lazy break. And I have taken this as proof of the decline of America's work ethic, or misplaced staffing priorities, or whatever. Well, now I have some idea of what might have been going on before I drove by and saw what I saw. SOB's with shovels, I owe you an apology. Take your rest, you've almost certainly earned it.

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