Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Subterranean Homesick Blues

This is the part of the year that grinds.

I work below ground. There are a few windows, but essentially no natural light creeps in. If you've never worked on a concrete floor for long periods of time, you're lucky. It sucks the life out of you through the bottom of your feet, is the only way I can describe it. The fluorescent lights overhead cast a greenish pall on everything. From November to March, it's like being suspended in refrigerated, dessicating formaldehyde.

There's none of the dampness of the usual basement to it. It's dehumidified to death for the sake of the wood I use and store. Between the low temperature and no humidity, all the heat and moisture is wicked from your body all the time. I have a heater, but I can only afford to use it when the items I'm working on require a warmer temperature for finishing or something. By late December it gets down in the forties otherwise.

My fingers don't work properly when they are cold. Many in construction don't mind the cold, but are enervated by heat. I'm the opposite, generally.

Everything makes noise. It's tiring to listen to it, and tiring to wear something to muffle it. I listen to the sports talk radio in the background because I don't care about sports.

Almost every machine I use is dangerous enough to hurt or maim or kill me in an instant, or perhaps debilitate me over the long run. There is a constant state of readiness, an alertness I imagine a person that hunts for more than sport has. It never goes away. It is taxing to have job where a mental lapse can be freighted with such dread. A surgeon must feel that way, a little. If you sneeze, someone might be hurt, or perhaps die. At least with the surgeon, it's not him.

People generally dabble in physical labor when they are young and then move on. Cubicle farmers often regale me with stories of their toil in life's vineyard of the aching back before becoming men and women of letters. It's different, you know. Many people-- and I do not really count myself among them, as I have chosen the path I walk in life -- have nothing but hard, unremitting physical toil stretched out in front of them from day one to the horizon, and beyond, and can never choose another way. I've done more than dabble in hard, physical labor, so perhaps I am able to talk about it better than most by sheer familiarity. But that's about it. It would be presumptuous of me to claim to be like the people born with their shoulder to the wheel. I've always cherished their respect where I could cadge it.

I'm not sure why I keep doing it. Some character flaw. A kind of stubbornness, perhaps. Maybe I like it. I don't really know.


Gnawbone Jack said...

I don't do the basement, but rather the garage. Very familiar with the concrete floors and the constant awareness that I could hurt myself beyond repair if I let my mind wander too far. I'm wood stripping a canoe and have been forced to cut my work-time back to the few hours I can keep the temperature above fifty for the Titebond III to set and clean-up sux in cold water. Love your work; it helps me pass the time here in Gnaw Bone...

Larry said...

My guess is you do not face the truth.

You like it.

There are too many alternatives.

Bruce Hall said...

You simply MUST get some "full spectrum" bulbs to replace your fluorescents. They will make you feel much better in the winter. Also be sure to take Vitamin D3. No one who lives in the north gets enough sun. You should have your levels checked by a doctor but 2-3,000 iu a day is usually good.
It helps your immune system and also mood!

Happy Winter!

Royal said...

I'm sure you know this, but putting down some sort of padding in your work areas helps alleviate the foot/back strain from standing on the concrete.

A mechanics' website I frequent discussed the use of the multicolor "childrens'" tiles with a largely favorable consensus, although solely on functional grounds. They tend to be bright primary colors. In any event, they are quite cheap and more durable than you'd think. One brand is SoftTiles, though there are probably numerous others.

SippicanCottage said...

Interesting comments.

I don't know much, but I know I don't want to armwrestle, play poker, or get in a scrap with anyone named "gnawbone jack."

Bruce is helpful. It's important to acknowledge that the dreadful fluorescent lights I have are actually an enormous improvement over the dimly lit cave the place used to be. Full spectrum bulbs cost more than the fixtures did, or I'd have them already. As far as my immune system, the only thing I'm immune to is good advice, or so it appears to me sometimes. I'm grateful for it just the same, though.

royal- I use mats designed for stationary tool use at each work station. The rest of the floor needs machines and furniture to be mobile, so needs to remain hardscape.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Tell Gina I'm prayin' for her until you emerge from the cave.

Teri said...

You will be like my husband, age 58. He went to drain a pressure cooker yesterday and had a bone dislocate in his wrist. He waited a bit, put the cooker down and the bone reset. He'd spent the day ditching (as we had a chinook wind melt about a foot of snow over two days) and splitting wood. The wrists were damaged when he lifted a truck radiator out for repairs.

Personally, despite the arthritis in my knees, etc, I still prefer manual labor to cube work. I just don't think I'm physically up to it any more. We used to work with a guy that was still picking apples at age 70 (and he looked younger) but those tend to be exceptions to the rule.

Harry said...

Excuse me, Greg, if you find this comment uncharitable. Other readers have been kind and prescriptive. But your post reminded me of and prompted me to needle you with the first stanza of Frost's New Hampshire:

I met a lady from the South who said
(You won't believe she said it, but she said it):
"None of my family ever worked, or had
A thing to sell." I don't suppose the work
Much matters. You may work for all of me.
I've seen the time I've had to work myself.
The having anything to sell is what
Is the disgrace in man or state or nation.

You, poor b-----d, have to sell the stuff, too!

Harry said...

BTW, I do plan to buy some.