It’s a crisp fall day in Austin, Texas today. It’s 50-something degrees, the sun is bright, the leaves have turned, creating a picturesque collage of red-brown-orange around the city, and I’m wearing a sweater. I fucking love sweaters. In other words, it is a truly glorious day to be outside. As I was getting out of my car and walking into the Grandex offices, I spotted, out of the corner of my eye, two tree removal trucks parked in the lot, with giant, industrial, perfect-for-disposing-of-Steve Buscemi’s body, sized wood chippers attached to their rears. Upon seeing the trucks my first thought was, “Thank every aged Jesus that I’m not going to be spending my day working outside.”
I don’t care how beautiful it is outside. I don’t care how cathartic people claim working outdoors, and working with your hands, can be, mostly because I don’t care what liars say. I cherish my cushy desk job. Besides, I type words and mouse over things. That counts as working with my hands. I relish in the knowledge that I can stop and eat Cheez-Its whenever I want. Or that when I want to take a dump at work, it’s not in a 4×8 plastic box that’s been slow cooking human stew for the last week, or a park restroom that doubles at night as a hobo jerk-offery, which, in case you were wondering, is sort of like an owlery, except instead of being home to noble birds it’s just used by filthy vagrants gripping shaft. Still just as many white, encrusted stains on the floor, though.
I am legitimately thankful that I do not work outside. It’s not quite Thanksgiving, but I might as well say what I am thankful for now, since on the actual holiday you can bet I won’t be writing anything. Rather, I’ll be drunk and alone, having stayed in Austin instead of going home to St. Louis. I’ll likely eat a poorly made turkey sandwich and substitute cranberries for hand scooped servings of grape jelly straight from the jar. I’m really going to kill it this Turkey Day. To fill the familial void I’ll get into a text argument with my uncle about the economy or something, eventually threatening to tell everyone he touched me as a child (he didn’t) after I’m clearly bested. You might call that “cheating”, and you might think the adult hand shaped thigh bruises I Photoshopped onto many of my childhood pictures that I use as argument winning blackmail are “abhorrent”, but I think my record speaks for itself, since the person who wins the argument is always the one who talks last; everyone knows that. Reconcile by winning.
Back to the point, I’m thankful I don’t work outside because working outside is fucking awful. I’m not trying to rip anyone’s jobs, if you do what you love and it happens to be outside then 1) You’re insane, but more importantly, 2) Good for you. Though there are people who disagree with me, I’m of the firm opinion that Office Space’s Peter Gibbons had it dead wrong when it came to which type of labor is preferable. How often do you get to play Tetris while putting up drywall in a McDonald’s, Peter? The answer is NEVER. Unless they cut drywall into the Tetris shapes and then formed a giant Tetris game in the parking lot. That would be awesome. Someone should do that. Still, if we were able ask the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids, you know, the ones with the mangled spines and crippling, full body arthritis, if they would have rather been dragging giant slabs of rock up a ramp all day or filing inane rolls of papyrus in between games of Senet, I’m fairly confident we would have a unanimous answer, and it would be, “The one that doesn’t involve the possibility of me being crushed to death beneath a giant stone.”
Outdoor labor is often backbreaking work. Meanwhile, boring office jobs are generally considered “soul crushing.” Backbreaking or soul crushing, which is worse? All I know is, I’m 100% certain I have a back, and while I hope I have a soul, I don’t know for sure if there is one inside of me, plus if I did have one I might have already lost it. Forgive me if I’d rather preserve the thing I’m positive I possess. Granted there will be a certain level of irony to endure once my cheap office chair starts causing me back problems. I think it’s already given me a bedsore too, but whatever, INSIDE WORK IS BETTER.
Readers can call me a pussy all they want, but I know what I’m talking about. I have worked outdoor, hard labor jobs before. Well, just one, but it was enough for this pale, skinny guy to know that his eternal working place was in front of a computer, under the soft, nurturing glow of florescent bulbs, and not out in the always dangerous open air, under the oppressive shine of God’s unholy fireball we so foolishly assigned the benevolent moniker of “sun.” The sun is trying to fucking kill us, people! The ozone layer, Earth’s magnetic field, Mr. Burns’ visionary invention, all PROTECTING us from that evil in the sky. Ever heard of night cancer? Nope, because it doesn’t exist. Skin cancer does though, and you get it from the Goddamn sun. All the hail the moon, our true kind sky orb, bringer of tides and menstruation.
The reason the tree removal service in my office’s parking lot reminded how terrible working outside can be is because for one summer during college I worked for St. Louis County’s tree removal service, known as their forestry department. It was pure misery. I’m not saying that after working in tree removal I knew what it was like to be a slave, but…wait, hold on guys, my editor is furiously shaking his head “no” and telling me to find another example. Fine, let me try again. I’m not saying I know what it was like to be a Jew imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp, but…seriously? My editor says I can’t use that one either. C’mon! Why are all the good hard labor analogies so offensive!?! It was hard work, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.
When my father, a St. Louis County counselor, informed me that, because I had failed to find (or look for) an internship or any means of gainful employment for that summer, that I would be spending my break working for the county parks department, I thought, “Oh great, I’ll sit on a big riding mower all day and smoke weed.” That was but a dream, a distant, foolish dream. Also a dream that, if I’m being honest, would have ended like this:
We had to be at work at 6:00am so that we could start the day before the heat set in. That was a great plan, but everyday by 7:00am it was already 95 and climbing right up into the devil’s asshole. It was a good day if I only came home aching from dragging a hundred me-sized logs into a wood chipper so large and terrifying that I would legitimately choose to lather up in seal blood and wrestle a Great White than tangle with this machine of unrelenting death. Multiple times I became ensnared in branches and could feel myself being dragged towards the chipper’s merciless metal teeth. Once the jerk of the branch was so quick that I was actually pulled up onto the chute before I could hit the emergency bar at the front of the chipper’s soul swallowing mouth. The other guys had a good laugh about that one as I cried into my Dorito’s at lunch.
The work environment in general was miserable. It was always hot, even in the trucks, which any true fiscal conservative will be happy to hear were not equipped with air conditioning. You have to admire a government that keeps its spending in check, even if you’re having a heat stroke because of it. At least that’s what the George Washington I hallucinated one day that summer told me. Something I actually looked forward to when I got the job was that I assumed a summer of working outside and lifting heavy shit all day, five days a week, would get me tan and in pretty good shape. Nope. This was the summer I found out just how Irish I really am. No one has ever lifted as much as I did that summer and seen such meager results, except maybe the malnourished workers in one of those Nazi…SORRY, stupid editor, jeez. Anyway, couple that with the fact that if you compared the before and after of my skin tone it would play out like the business card scene in American Psycho. My pigmentation went from bone to eggshell, or vice versa, I don’t even fucking know. I was still really white, is my point.
I will admit that there was one thing I loved about physical labor, and that was our shameless conversations about the moms and nannies we would see in the parks. The construction worker stereotype is completely true. My truck mate was an especially horny individual, and any woman who was a 5 or better basically had him ready to hump the nearest tree trunk out of a sheer primal need for release. Talking about women with him was the best, if only to hear about his warped sexual preferences. Here’s my favorite conversation I had with my truck mate that summer.
Truck Mate: Holy fuckin’ shit! Check out that hottie! Dude, that might be the fuckin’ hottest chick I’ve ever seen in the parks.
Me: Yeah, she’s gorgeous. Super pregnant though.
Truck Mate: Oh man I don’t even care if she’s pregnant. You ever fucked a pregnant girl?*
*Ed. Note: I was 21 at the time.
Me: (laughing) Uh, no.
Truck Mate: Aw man, it’s fuckin’ great. There’s all this extra goo and shit. It feels SO good.
Me: Jesus Christ! The fuck!?!?!
I am incredibly thankful I work indoors, where life is easy and the only threats to my health are forty different types of cancer or a deranged coworker shooting up the office. Totally worth the tradeoff of getting to cruise Facebook and eat snacks all day.