Labor Day: Thirty Years and Counting (September 5, 2005)
Here's a shot of me and my friend Steve Toma, proving that a Skil 77 (the big worm drive power saws) and two 50-year old guys make a righteous production team. We met on a jobsite back in late May 1973, and are still going strong (unretouched photo from a rainy jobsite in Honoka'a, Hawaii, 2004). The Skil 77 is the professional carpenter's choice; it weighs 16 pounds (feels like 25 lbs. late in the day) and has to be handled with one hand except for above-the-head or other tricky cuts. A normal (i.e. sedentary) person unused to actual physical labor would have trouble lifting it with both hands, never mind lifting it with one hand to cut a 2X12 board.
Those 2X12 rafters laying on the slab in front of us were "pond-dried," i.e. completely waterlogged, and each one must have weighed over 100 lbs. The fact we framed this huge garage and hefted all of the rafters up in two rain-plagued days without getting hurt is a testament to the way experience teaches you to lift and cut safely.
There is no substitute for the physical skills of building, gardening and mechanics; no amount of "work" talking on the phone or staring at a computer screen gives you the same appreciation for food and water, for the joys of exertion, for the visible nature of the day's accomplishment, for the turns of weather, for the pleasures of hand-skills which come unbidden and without thought, or for the accumulation of decades of physical experience.
The usual Labor Day bromides count the blessings bestowed on American workers by the labor unions' bitter struggles early in the 20th century to obtain better working conditions and wages for industrialized laborers. Not to take away from those enormous achievements, but what I think of on Labor Day is how much we've lost in becoming an overwhelmingly skill-deprived, physically inept (can't cook, can't fix anything, etc.) society of unhealthy service workers who have largely lost the keenly felt benefits and rewards of physical labor, both skilled and unskilled.
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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
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