Posts tagged work
Posts tagged work
I spent part of the morning installing hard hickory floors in a closet. It’s a low closet, with short doors, the kind you might imagine a dwarf walking out of who’d been lurking in the darker parts of your attic and emerging into the room to speak backwards to you. (I had a bedroom with a small closet and this was my fear because I watched Twin Peaks with my dad when I was ten and that is too young to watch Twin Peaks.) Flooring this morning involved crouching, bending, and getting up and down a million times to chop pieces of floor at angles because it’s an old place we’re working on and nothing’s quite square. Yesterday, M.’s old boss was around to lend a hand with the heavy lifting of some glass doors, and there was some discussion about repeat phrases they’d heard on jobs past from co-workers and bosses. I laughed when Roland remembered one old boss of his always saying: “I cut it twice and it’s still too short.” And I laughed again this morning on my bike over to the place, my fingers cold and my toes because now it feels like fall.
Guys, some of you I know live in the Boston area, but I suspect there are more of you out there that live around here that I’m not aware of. For all you Boston-area folks, Hello! Also, a note to say that if any of you (or your parents or friends or uncles or whoever) need work done in your homes — if you’ve been considering a set of built-in bookshelves, an updated bathroom, a new front porch, a quick fix to squeaky stair-treads, a bigtime kitchen renovation, new hardwood floors, whatever — know that my boss M. and I are for hire. (I haven’t advertised this here before, trying to keep some arbitrary distinction between church and state, but what the heck.) We’re a nice team and do good, affordable work (and there’s the added bonus that the job might get written about herein. Incentives!). Drop me a line with questions (nmaclaughlin at gmail).
(Not just for people in Boston and Cambridge, but all over the place: Jamaica Plain, Brookline, Dorchester, Roxbury, Somerville, Medford, Watertown, Arlington, Lexington, Allston, Brighton, and so on.)
There was blood on the woman’s forehead matting her bangs and sticking in her eyebrow. She’d gotten out of the car, which was half on the sidewalk, half on the grass of someone’s front yard, and steaming from the front. Glass shatters and headlight fragments and rips of metal were scattered all over the road. A girl in a carseat cried in the back and another young girl with a pink dress and long hair was climbing out of the car. The accident had happened moments before we pulled around the corner on our way to work in Lawrence, a tough town northwest of here. M., calm, pulled over the van, and said to me, “Get that girl out of the backseat” while she crossed the road to see about the old lady in the other car.
I approached the car and tried to catch the eye of the woman with blood on her forehead. I’m about to take your baby out of your car, is what I tried to gesture. She was on the phone with the ambulance and touched distractedly at her head, glancing at her fingertips, seeing the blood.
The girl wailed as I unbuckled the straps and her sister came over and I crouched and asked her name and asked if she was okay and asked her little sister’s name who was too young to talk. The older sister was brave and not crying and told me her name and her sister’s name. And I bounced the girl in my arms as her mom explained where they were through the phone and the girl cried and cried and I told her to shhhhhh, shhhhhh. I don’t know about babies. I don’t have a natural ease. The weight of a small human body in my arms is something unfamiliar and in this case, frightening.
We bounced and the mother stayed on the phone, made a call to her husband at work. “No, I’ve been in an accident, I need to talk with my husband,” she said through the phone with an urgency that if her daughters had heard would’ve scared them. And I said shhhhh, shhhhh to the baby and we kept bouncing and she stopped crying. The ambulance arrived and a tall EMT named Kevin came over and looked in the baby’s eyes and said she looked tired. “Were you in the accident, ma’am?” he asked me. Not me, I said. “Is this your daughter?” He asked. No, no, not mine, I said. Hers, and pointed to the woman with blood on her forehead. The baby was quiet and still in my arms.
The four of us, mother and daughters and me with the baby walked to the ambulance and at the door the mother reached out to take her baby. She didn’t say anything. She took her baby and climbed up the ambulance stairs.
M. and I arrived at work, just around the corner, and said things like “whewf” “gosh” “scary” as we set up the saws. I set up the table saw and looked at my hands which were shaking. “Alright, hang on,” said M. “Let’s catch our breath here for a minute.” And M. smoked a cigarette and I looked at my hands and we sat on the front steps and squinted in the morning sun. I was gentle with the wood that day, and the loads I carried felt lighter than usual because they were familiar.
I admire Lapham’s Quarterly a lot (follow them here), and was thrilled to the max when they asked me to write for their Roundtable blog, expanding on a post I wrote here about Mike Rowe and skilled labor and conceptions of a ‘good job.’ Here it is: Our Dirty Jobs, Ourselves.
Last week, Mike Rowe, the guy who hosts the show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, spoke in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, making a lucid, clear-eyed case for a national PR campaign for skilled labor. We’ve marginalized the trades, he argued. It’s time to elevate them, to close the widening skills gap, to combat the idea of the trades being “best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree.”
He talked about his grandfather —- a plumber, mechanic, electrician, magician —- and how now, when his own toilet’s busted, he leaves a check on the table and never meets the plumber. He talked about how disconnected he’s become from how things get made or fixed. He (I, we, most of us sitting around reading blogs) don’t have to think about where the food comes from, or how the wires work, or who made the pair of pants or fixed the pipes. It’s been said before, sure, all about the way our relationship to the things we use goes only as far as flipping on the light, flushing the toilet, or turning the key in the ignition.
“In a hundred different ways,” he said, “we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a ‘good job’ into something that no longer looks like work.”
I do think that a shift is starting to take place. It’s most evident maybe with food right now, but I suspect that people are going to start recognizing the importance (and deep pleasure) of acquiring some know-how about the way things work.