Doing The Dirty Work

T-shirt #125

We’re just not used to getting our hands dirty these days. The pure thought of changing to winter tiers or doing some gardening starts with thinking of how dirty we’ll get and what clothes we have that’s is worth ruining. Not to speak of how hard it’ll be to get all that dirt off your hands once we’re finished.

I’m a copywriter at a small town ad agency. This basically means I spend my days in front of a MacBook Retina screen, consuming una­cceptable amounts of caffeine, trying my best to reinvent and/or repackage messages to make you buy and/or do something. Every now and then I’ll venture out to a film set or visit a client at their office, but all in all, approximately 95 percent of my time is spent at my desk, sipping coffee and tapping away at the keyboard. This of course hasn’t kept me from adopting the look of a seasoned lumberjack or weathered Alaskan crab fisherman – arms covered with old school tattoos, tattered Red Wing-boots, a constant three-day-stubble – but let’s face it: I’m a glorified desk-jockey. I’m not complaining, I actually love my job, but it is what it is. And I do have a few previous job-experiences to compare it with…

“Stoooooooones!” The call ricochets off of the old red brick building and is quickly followed by another call, and another, then another. Drops of sweat are trickling down, creating tiny patterns in the thick layer of brownish dust covering my scrawny torso. I just stand there, panting, every single muscle in my 15-year old body aching. “Stoooones kid, goddamnit!” That’s Sture, a short and stocky man with a graying mustache, an unbelievably

  • T-Post t-shirt issue 125
  • T-Post t-shirt issue 125
  • T-Post t-shirt issue 125
  • T-Post t-shirt issue 125

These days, the only dirt under my fingernails comes from handing the office HP color-printer

deep tan, and both the build and demeanor of a mean old pit-bull terrier, yelling at me. My dad has managed to hook me up with a summer job at a construction site, and I am grateful for the opportunity. Sweden is in a deep recession, interest-rates are going wild and unemployment is through the roof. Most of my friends were not able to get any work during summer vacation, but I got lucky. At least that’s what I keep telling myself as I’m pushing on in the hot midday-sun, completely covered in

dust and struggling to keep up with demand.

The job is as uncomplicated as it is exhausting: I transport cobblestones from the center of the construction site to the team of workers spread out across the square. I’m not trusted with the highly qualified task of placing the stones on the ground and whacking them with the rubber club, so it has fallen on me to supply the others with hardware. It’s the hottest summer of the century, and a couple of my unemployed friends have taken it upon them to show up at the construction site around noon every day. They loudly offer “moral support”, mainly consisting of them relaxing in the shadow of a big elm tree, eating ice cream and telling me to “pick up the pace”. I genuinely feel like stabbing them and burying the corpses under the cobblestones, never to be found.

It’s not all bad though. Hanging out with the older guys at the construction site is pretty cool, I’ve showed I’m ready to work my ass off and they seem to have taken to me. They even invite me to join them for a Friday drink at a pub, and I feel really grown up guzzling down a cold beer and listening to the others talking smack. The work, however, is monotonous, grueling and uninspiring beyond comprehension. It’s about to get a lot worse.

I’m 18 years old, it’s Sunday night and I feel like crying. I’ve actually been fighting tears since leaving work on Friday night, the thoughts of having to come back in about 60 hours being almost too much to bare. My God, I hate that fucking place. It’s like my soul is slowly being sucked out of me, replacing it with all consuming darkness, as all that is good with the world fades into nothingness. Yeah, I might be a little overdramatic here, but I genuinely despise every second of driving through that warehouse, filling trolley after trolley with supplies bound for supermarkets all over the area. It’s not the physical effort that’s getting to me – well, it’s that too – but it’s mainly the mind-numbing repetitiveness of it. No matter how hard I work, it just never ends. There’s always a new order sheet waiting for me. After six months I can’t take it anymore, I just stop showing up. I don’t quit, I just stop showing up.

So no, at 35, I’m not complaining. 20 years after landing that first job carrying rocks, I now spend my days thinking of creative ideas to make you buy and/or do things, and having a great time doing it. But every now and then, I kind of miss it. I miss the daily grind, the physical effort, building something tangible, and getting my hands dirty. These days, the only dirt under my fingernails comes from handing the office HP color-printer, and the only manual labor consists of putting together a few new IKEA-furniture for the office “inspiration-lounge”. But to tell you the truth, I probably wouldn’t last a week at one of those construction sites at this point. Not even if I got to use the rubber club.