On Tuesday I ran into a couple of old friends on the Downtown Mall right after work. I had been wallowing in a mud pit all day, which is not at all unusual, and looked a little worse for the wear. Actually, since I was covered in mud, tar, and blood (from waterproofing foundation walls), I looked more than a little like a disaster victim. Behind the thin veneer of congeniality, I could see horror and bemusement in my friends’ eyes.
And so it goes in the life of a carpenter. If you dare present yourself to the world as you look at work, it’s assumed that you must be some sort of vagrant or that you’ve fallen on hard times. Or worse yet, once people do know that you build for living, they frequently experience extreme cognitive dissonance and refuse to believe that construction is your bag. Within the last week alone, after explaining what I do for a living, I’ve had two people of normally adequate intelligence completely misunderstand my livelihood. One pressed me, hoping I was a house flipper or a developer or at least one of those guys who sips coffee in a trailer while the foreign-born do grunt work. The other asked how long I had been “an…err…archi….” She was at a genuine loss for words to describe my occupation. I assure you that I mince no words when I tell people what I do.
My parents, on the other hand, have had enough time to get a clear picture of my day to day. And to them I am a huge disappointment. As their first child to graduate from college, I was supposed bring honor and glory to the family by solving the world’s problems, or at least by getting a job that allows me to surf the internet. When my younger sister recently raised the subject of my job, my mother looked crestfallen – hands in her face, laughing in exasperation. Luckily, my sister is graduating from VCU in a couple weeks and has a chance to redeem the family name.
Okay, okay, so I probably shouldn’t cruise the downtown Mall looking like I woke up on the wrong side of Bonnaroo, but my point is that the working man gets no love these days. Folks, I’m not asking for you to treat me like I’m some sort of professional. I’m not. But if you happen to cut through sixth street this summer (which seems likely given the constant flow of traffic), give us a shout out or maybe even a salacious whistle.
(Editor’s note: Mr. Caldwell was recently accepted into the JET progam (http://www.jetprogramme.org/) and will most likely and sadly be leaving the 38th parallel this summer for the land of the rising sun.