I’ve had four jobs over the course of my life (six if you count the three day stint at the “chain restaurant which shall remain nameless for to give it a name is to make the memories real,” and my brief flirtation with crime fighting when I was six, which was cut short when I couldn’t find any crime in my bedroom or the kitchen.)
My first job was working as a deckhand on a ferry, aka The Greatest Job Ever. My responsibilities were as follows:
1. collect tickets
2. flirt with girls
3. untie boat
4. tie up boat
5. flirt with girls
Granted the memories will all be tainted 20 years from now when I’m getting chemo for the melanoma ravaging my body, but for now I can still look back fondly and hold out hope that if people can get paid to do what I did, then a capitalist run, commodified existence can’t be all that bad.
During the winters, I worked at a gym. The owner was a large, black former body builder who entrusted the entire gym to me two nights a week. He was nice and sociable and, in hindsight, perhaps a little mentally unstable. Either that or he had been raised to believe that sitcom plots were born of real life events, and a 16 year old white suburban kid could really park his mountain bike in the back room and learn valuable lessons about business, responsibility and life all on his own. Because basically all I did was play the Weezer album and see how fast I could run on the treadmill before falling off. The gym closed not long after my employment ended.
And of course there’s my current job, where just last week I may or may not have had a cocktail with my lunch . . . at my desk. Soooo, yeah.
But amidst all that, there was one other job. I spent a couple of summers and a few vacations from school working with my father, who is a building contractor. It was, undoubtedly, the hardest job I’ve ever done (crime fighting included), but it was also the most rewarding. Whereas now at the end of the day I go home knowing that I helped someone get away with defrauding their business partner, or on the ferry left with the satisfaction of helping insecure teenage girls get sun poisoning “which will turn into a really great tan,” here I went home aching and tired and always bleeding from somewhere, but at he end of the day there was something tangible where before there had been only space. And more than that, it was going to be somebody’s home. (Well, actually most of the work was in the Hamptons, so it would be someone’s summer home. But still, years from now, after it has been bitterly contested in the divorce, it will still stand as a memorial to the manual labor that went into its creation. The same cannot be said of my intense efforts to get the 5’2” 160lb woman to fully extend her fourth leg press.)
Also, even despite the gaping age difference between the other employees and myself, no other job had the same sense of camaraderie. Being the youngest didn’t mean that I was treated any differently than the 40 year old guy who once shit in a spackle bucket, it just meant that I had different responsibilities (read: crap work) than everyone else. Such as taking food orders, unquestionably the most dangerous part of my job. I would fall through a partially shingled roof (which I did) than hand a man with a hammer on his waist a medium regular coffee when he ordered a large light and sweet. One time I forgot to order tomato on a guy’s ham sandwich and at 4:30, as we were packing up to leave for the day, he was still mumbling while walking past me, “How can you eat a ham sandwich without tomato?”
When I got all the orders right, though, it was a triumph and I was lauded for being the bearer of all things good. To this day, I don’t think there is anything I can do in my life that will generate more happiness in the world than carrying a box of food into a gutted house full of hungry construction workers. It was like returning to the platoon with news that the war was over, every single day. And we would sit down and eat our food, regardless of the layer of dust and dirt that covered our hands, because, as it was reasoned, the real dirt was on your hand, and the layer of dust over that actually protected your food. And soap was for girls.
What made all these memories flood back to me was walking past the construction site across from my office early this afternoon. With the temperature coming back down to a reasonable 88, the workers seemed happy once again to eat their lunch outside, sitting on anything that can be fashioned into a chair, be it an overturned bucket or a large spool of wire. Classic rock was playing on their small, dilapidated portable radio and in the 30 seconds I stood near them I heard conversation range from baseball to the startling pronouncement that, “A shark can eat a person in 30 seconds. Bones and everything.”
But what got me was this: during that 30 seconds, at least five very attractive women walked past these guys, ten if count “dressing slutty” as attractive. But not once did these guy even so much as LOOK at any of these women. It was unbelievable – like I had stumbled upon the first all gay construction company, or first all blind construction, or the first all chemically castrated construction company – and more than that it was disheartening. I felt like these men were passing up on the defining fraterizational event in the entire construction business. To put this in perspective, when I worked for my father, the workers and I would seize ANY AVAILABLE OPPORTUNITY to check out a girl. It wasn’t easy, due to the fact that we were working on residential projects in low traffic areas, but somehow we found a way. You learned to sense when an attractive woman was approaching. I mean, I saw guys spy out female joggers from the back yard, looking through a framed house. On more than one occasion, we would be working in the front yard of a house and a car would go by and someone would say, “Wow, did you see her? She was smokin’.” THE CAR WAS GOING 45 MILES PER HOUR.
And these men just ate their food and talked about what animals could eat a human the fastest?
My only conclusion is that when you work in such a busy place as New York, you become immune to it, as though it would be such an immense distraction that you wouldn’t get any work done if you didn’t find a way to overcome it. And in a way I respect these guys, but in a way I’m also sad for them. Because sure, they’ll still take home with them the knowledge that they’re building people’s homes and the satisfaction of “creating something tangible,” blah, blah, blah, but is that all there is to life?
And just as my sorrow is about to overcome me, I turn to walk away from the crowd as a tall, blond woman is passing by and three seconds later hear from over my shoulder, “Jeeesus honey, where’d you get those legs? Bloomingdales?”