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.