A month ago, I started a part-time construction job. I am helping to build a house and guest house on some rural property. The guest house affords some incredible views of the ocean and a secret river. It would be the perfect place to hide out during the winter and write a novel.
On the job, I perform all manner of grunt work tasks: sanding, painting, hauling lumber and plywood, site clean up, various nailing, shining nails (I’ll explain that in a later piece), a bit of sawing, drilling, etc. Nothing that requires fine carpentry because I have no skills whatsoever.
I will say, I am improving every day on the job, learning something new in reality and metaphor, and experiencing a few tiny silent epiphanies here and there. I’m also writing a lovesick country song in my head (more on that later as it develops…it could evolve into a concept country album much like Willie Nelson’s Red Haired Stranger). One of the country songs references Karl Marx and Smirnoff vodka.
Working a construction job requires learning a new vocabulary, a professional jargon and slang. I’m picking it up, slowly. I like how the word “purchase” is used in construction.
After a couple of weeks, my body finally broke itself in, and now I am gaining strength in body and mind.
My boss is a fascinating person and a master teacher at teaching me the carpentry trade. He also bakes bread and makes his own apple brandy and Gorgonzola cheese. He’s an inveterate reader and knows what the word inveterate means. He plays Cake and Wiemar torch songs on his playlist that we listen to while we work. He does a hilarious James Cagney impression firing a Tommy gun with a palm nailer. Along with other great crew members, we have interesting discussions at break and lunch about current events and the end of the world, which my boss believes is coming no matter how humans try to prevent it.
If you really think about it, we aren’t doing anything.
My nickname on the site is The Shiner Kid. I delighted the crew by bringing homemade octopus fritters I hauled away from a dive bar. We feasted at break and surely were the only construction crew in the world at that time eating octopus fritters on site.
I have lots of time to think on the job while performing repetitive tasks. One of the things I think about is how this construction job contrasts mightily with classroom teaching, something I did for 25 years.
Let me list these contrasts:
I never take the construction job home with me.
I generally arrive a little before my work day begins, as opposed to 3:42 in the morning like I did on some teaching days.
I never have to devise curriculum.
I make more than $4.75 an hour, what I once determined was my my hourly wage for teaching.
I get to use the Leatherman my ex wife gave me 22 years ago for our engagement every day on the job.
I lose a lot of weight.
I get to hurl scrap wood.
I get to work methodically. Teaching for me was never like that.
I don’t have to correct double negatives.
I get to say aloud. “I want a cold cracklin’ Hamm’s.”
I get to wear a Hamm’s t-shirt on the job.
I can take scrap wood home with me for outdoor fires.
I don’t have to piss in a urinal.
No faculty meetings. No grading. No dead weight colleagues. No fire drills. No active shooter drills. No drug dogs. No taking attendance. No rubrics. No standards. No assessments. No filling out professional evaluation goals. No pep assemblies. No parent/teacher conferences. No pledge of allegiance.
I don’t have to direct anything. I follow directions.
I don’t have to monitor anyone’s phone use.
I don’t have to police inappropriate attire.
I never have to hear the word “inappropriate” spoken aloud.
I don’t have a paid day off to sit around a room with other teachers and try to improve workplace practices.
I don’t get blamed for America’s ills by politicians, evangelical Christians and conservative news commentators.
I don’t have to worry about getting shot.
I get to see the instant results of my work.
I don’t have to practice untrained social work every day.
I don’t spend thousands of dollars on classroom supplies and food, treats and field trips for my students every school year.
I get to perform repetitive tasks and that allows me to write in my head.
I don’t have to interest anyone in anything.
No staging open mics and rock festivals.
No Pledge of Allegiance.
No angst at end of day.
No struggling with hundreds of instant daily decisions that affect the future of young people.
No working for a boss who isn’t the best at the trade he is supervising. ( I always longed to work for a principal who could kick my ass at the art teaching. Teach me dammit!)
I get to cuss on the job.
I get to see a bald eagle while working.
No banal announcements every morning.
I get to hear quail and thrushes.
I don’t have to be complicit with participation in a system that largely trains/brainwashes young people to serve capitalism and ruin the planet.
I get to watch clouds.
I get in shape while I work.
Hearing Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Flashdance never sounded better.
I get to sing along to songs.
I sleep much better.
I get to run shims to carpenters like Gunga Din ran water to soldiers.
I don’t dread Sunday nights.
I don’t have to worry about my body odor offending anyone.
No field trips where students sneak away to smoke dope, fornicate or climb trees, or all three at the same time.
I don’t occasionally steal copy paper for personal use.
I don’t have to use a computer on the job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!