And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

Go to college, my parents said, you’ll never have to do hard manual work, they said.

Don’t follow your grandfather — and every construction worker — around while he’s working and ask how it’s done, they said.  You’re smart enough you’ll never have to work with your hands and you’re a WOMAN for heaven’s sake.

A) They were wrong.  B) We all are.

Their advice was absolutely right for their time and place.  I get a kick out of going back and listening to my friends being called “doctor” by their nannies and live-in maids and what not.

No, they’re not doctors, but in Portugal there are so few doctorates awarded and through my time it was so difficult to get my degree (the rough equivalent to a bit past the masters here, at least when I tried to finish out my doctorate I had a year to go — then I got pregnant and had pre-eclampsia, one of the ways in which Himself kept me from wasting money getting real credentials when ALL I really wanted to do was write.) that people just called you “doctor” anyway.  I don’t know if it’s the same now, because now there are private colleges which are easier to get into and get through (failure rates of 2/3 after a selective process that cut out 99% of applicants was normal in my time.)

However, my friends get called “doctor” even with degrees easier than my own (fact, it was easier to get into geography, philosophy or a dozen other degrees) and never have dipped their hands into dish soap.

I chose to come across the sea, and regrets?  Well, sometimes, while fixing the fence or painting a wall, yeah.  But on the whole no.

What I got in exchange for having to do some of the “rough” with my own lily-white hands (more like golden, really) is that I get to break out of class stereotype, which I couldn’t have done in Portugal, as a college graduate, of my year.  I’d have had to be a lady and dress just so and talk just so, and the heck with that, I was never good at fitting in.  As for doing the rough, I always enjoyed a good day or manual labor.

So, worth trading my birthright for a bunch of hard work.  BUT OMG, not days on end of it, no.  I’m too old for this, and I’m starting to think that if I wake up and nothing hurts, it’s a sure sign I died.

So — I will not do this again.  Once the house is finished (please G-d, before the end of the week? Though the fiddly details at the end are proving harder than I thought) I will write like a demon so next time we move (what not moving?  Not an option, unless everything comes out just so and both boys end up in CO, something that’s less than probable) I DON’T HAVE TO FIX THE FRICKING HOUSE WITH MY OWN HANDS.

Also, from this day on I will buy no more Victorians, forever.  I’d like to live in the 20th century for a change.  The 21st can wait.

The advantages of this, though?  Days of 12 hours of writing will seem easy.

On the wider application of all this — my parents couldn’t tell what would face me, even if I hadn’t moved — I understand even in Portugal, right now, handymen and manual laborers aren’t as easy to find as they once were, and people have to do manual labor who are unsuited to it.

So under “Change is coming faster and faster, here is my “teach your children well” advice:

1- Teach your kids all types of work you possibly can.  Manual, intellectual, and just fiddly craftsman.

2- If you have  a specialty in something pass it on, even if you hope your kids never have to do it.

3- Teach them work is work and nothing is beneath them.  Even the loftiest of minds can sometimes need to be kept alive by manual work.  Do it.  Don’t repine. Work is work, and adults work for a living.

4- Teach the kids that change is normal and learning is fun.  I learned to use a computer for my job and didn’t throw fits, because, well, change is normal.

5- someone did a test in which the probability of success in life was strongly correlated to ability to lick tape.  Licking tape is not harmful and doesn’t hurt, but it’s unpleasant.  The more tape you can force yourself to lick, the better the chance you’ll get where you’re aiming to go.  Teach your kids (and yourself) to lick miles of tape.  I don’t care how talented you are, in the end every success story I know that remains a success story (not a flash in the pan) licked miles and miles of tape getting there.  Persistence is 99% of success and sometimes it’s d*mn unpleasant.  Do it anyway.

And now I’m going to lick tape scrape and wax floors.

198 responses to “And Miles To Go Before I Sleep

  1. The Other Sean

    The fiddly bits, the last 5-10% of any project of any sort, seem to take the other 90% of the planned time.

    • Homebuilt (and seriously restored) aircraft owners know – It’s 90% done with 90% (the fiddly bits, wiring, and cosmetic work) to go. Or “the last 10% takes 90% of the time.” BTDT, got a hat instead of a tee-shirt.

      • It’s much the same with street rods. But if your workmanship isn’t up to par you can just call a wrecker to haul you back home. There’s no equivalent when something goes “sproing!” at 5,000 feet…

      • The Other Sean

        The software development project I’m working on at work, and 1949 Aistream rebuild I’m in the middle of, and my past projects around the house all bear this out.


        Ahem. And I quote, “The plane only has a little work left. I should be done and fly it down here inside of two months.”

        Seven moths later…. I was still on the way, waiting out weather.

    • Ask Hawkeye– home projects are never done. You just might reach a stopping point, though.

      • Death might stop the *person* doing the renovation, but the house might continue on… in other hands.

        Has, thrice over, in my family so far. Two of those represent subsequent generations.

    • Same with electric guitars- sanding and finishing takes most of the time.

    • I have a sporterization of a Mauser 98 that is 90% done … and has been for ten years.

      • I live in a house that is less than 90% done, and have for over ten years. Never move into a house you haven’t finished. It gets much harder to work on once you are living in it and have to move everything to work on something; and once you are comfortable, it just won’t get finished.



    Never say never. I can understand that at the moment this might be unimaginable at this point in time, but when the time you may feel otherwise.

    • Alas, some skills can no longer be procured for anywhere approaching a reasonable price. So your choices are to do without or do yourself.
      As to Sarah’s current efforts, once done I suspect she will look at the results and indulge in a small but enthusiastic victory dance, at least internally.
      Sad, isn’t it, for those who shall never know the simple joy of doing a job and doing it well.

      • Alas, some skills can no longer be procured for anywhere approaching a reasonable price.

        If at all.

      • MadRocketSci

        The flip side of that should be (barring some sort of law or regulatory SNAFU) that you can charge an unreasonable price for it if you know how to do it.

        • If that is the customer has any kind of realistic idea of just how lucky he is to have found you. I restore antique jukeboxes with 30 years of experience covering 3 technology changes and still encounter those who think a 100 hour job should cost them no more than a thousand dollars. Typically these customers still believe all repairmen are thieves.

      • I tend to tell people that the older I get, the more willing I am to pay people to do things for me. Besides budget concerns, being able to find people who are competent at what I need done is the biggest factor working against that.

  3. The 21st can wait.

    Let the most of the 1980s and 90s wait as well: balloon built with more icing than cake.

    • sabrinachase

      I look at the stuff being built even now and wonder how it would withstand a good sneeze, or a sugared-up toddler. Fortunately my house was built in the 1930’s by someone with plenty of time and lumber but no money, so no sheetrock. Heavens no, would have to pay for that! They used shiplap instead for the INTERIOR walls. Very strong.

      • There are several houses in the town near Flat State U that are from the late 1800s. One was being restored, and I snuck up onto the porch one evening to oogle the framing and joists. Forget 2X4s, we’re talking 6X8, my hand to Bog. With massive plaster-and-lathe over that. The original builder had left a pretty large gap between the exterior wall and the lathe, so the restorers (where possible, as best I could tell) were leaving the original interior finish and running the wiring up in the gap. I assume they were going to spray foam or otherwise insulate, but wow. Two floods and a tornado and that house probably never noticed. Not sure about the rest of the interior, but the outside walls weren’t going to need much work.

        • The house across the street from us wasn’t built of such heavy members, but the framing was rough cut OAK, with 4x4s on the corners. When they tore it down, they had the devil of a time taking down those corners (they used a tractor, instead of cutting them off).

      • Rob Crawford

        I grew up in a house built in the ’60s that had 6″ thick brick walls and foundations that went down at least 10′.

        1860s, I should say. Everything was hand-built. For all I know, the bricks were fired on-site — they’re the right color and not as “sharp” as I’d expect from factory bricks.

        • When house hunting years ago I came upon a house whose main section had been built in the early 1800s. The original section had 13″ brick outer walls. This part had been lovingly restored, including appropriate proper faux painting. Later additions had been pulled down and a new fully wired, plumbed, etc. with kitchen, the baths, a master suite and garage had been attached in their place.

          Beautiful as it was we had to pass it by; the layout just wasn’t going to work for our household.

          Oh, and the house had a name. The John B. Lowe house. Really.

          • Wait! The bathroom was in the basement?

            • Sara the Red

              This wasn’t unusual when indoor bathrooms first became the Coming Thing. People were (not unreasonably) appalled at the idea of having the room where you do THAT stuff on the main living floors! My parents’ house (which was built about 1896-98) originally had it’s bathroom in the basement, although by the time we got to it that was long since gone (although the two tons of coal/coal slag we had to shovel before rebuilding the foundation was a good deal more work than ripping out a bathroom). Considering that this was a mining town that also had two-story outhouses (for the very deepest parts of winter…I weep for whomever had to clean out the lower story come spring) I imagine it would even have been mildly scandalous to have such a room on the same level where you received company.

              • …Considering that this was a mining town that also had two-story outhouses (for the very deepest parts of winter…I weep for whomever had to clean out the lower story come spring)…

                I read that in (at least) one of the towns on the northern plans the bodies of those who died in mid-winter were stored in a back room waiting until the spring thaw allowed proper burial.

            • At the time Mr. Lowe built the house a chamber pot presented the latest in indoor facilities.

              • When was water closet invented anyway? I think they (flush toilets, that is) were in use in the late 19th century in the west in general, by the very rich and some luxury hotels and such at least, but I don’t think I have ever ran across a history with actual dates.

                • Funny how words move and mutate, btw. Water Closet -> W.C., most usually found in signs indicating a restroom in my country, usually called “vessa” here (comes from how Finnish speakers pronounce W.C.) and pretty much nobody knows (or remembers, some may have learned in English classes) where those initials come from (and nobody much except geeks like me cares either, it’s just what it is). 😀

                  • And now I googled “when was flush toilet invented?”.

                    Oh my. Seems that was in the 18th century. Or at least most of the things that make them possible date from there, although as we know them they started to be used only in the late 19th.

                    Hm. Sounds like you could claim that your fantasy world has something like them…

                    • An English plumber, Thomas Crapper (b.1836) is generally credited with invention of the ball cock, enabling easier operation of the flush toilet.

                      [E]tymologists attest that the Amercian word, “crapper”, meaning the W.C. is directly from his name. He relentlessly promoted sanitary fittings to a somewhat dirty and sceptical world and championed the ‘water-waste-preventing cistern syphon’ in particular. Indeed, he invented the bathroom showroom and displayed his wares in large plate glass windows at the Marlboro’ Works. This caused quite a stir and it is said that ladies observing the china bowls in the windows became faint at this shocking sight!

                      Mr. Crapper was holder of several patents and is credited with doing much to popularize the flush toilet.

                    • …ladies observing the china bowls in the windows became faint at this shocking sight!

                      So, basically the same as college students today. Obviously they needed a ceramic-free safe space, nd a support group, and a grant for ceramic-free studies…

                  • Jack Paar got in trouble with NBC for telling some joke in which he said “w.c.” in 1960.

                    • It is even worse when you know how feeble the joke was:

                      An English lady, while visiting Switzerland, was looking for a room, and she asked the schoolmaster if he could recommend any to her. He took her to see several rooms, and when everything was settled, the lady returned to her home to make the final preparations to move.

                      When she arrived home, the thought suddenly occurred to her that she had not seen a “W.C.” [water closet, a euphemism for toilet] around the place. So she immediately wrote a note to the schoolmaster asking him if there were a “W.C.” around. The [Swiss] schoolmaster was a very poor student of English, so he asked the [Swiss] parish priest if he could help in the matter. Together they tried to discover the meaning of the letters “W.C.,” and the only solution they could find for the letters was “Wayside Chapel.” The schoolmaster then wrote to the English lady the following note:

                      Dear Madam:
                      I take great pleasure in informing you that the W.C. is situated nine miles from the house you occupy, in the center of a beautiful grove of pine trees surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and it is open on Sunday and Thursday only. …

      • An acquaintance, who got certified and licensed to do house inspection for banks prior to loan grants, noted that there were houses built in the area during the Victorian and Edwardian ages that had oak tongue and grove sub-floors. They also built with closer wall studs than presently required and topped that with layers of lath and plaster. So long as termite damage had been prevented this contributed to a very solid building.

        Of course wiring, plumbing, insulation and hvac has to be retro-fitted to meet modern expectations…

        • Big fun! Some of earliest memories are of catching bead chain (po boy snake) helping my brother, (eighteen years older), wire houses.

        • Sara the Red

          My parents’ Victorian was/is sturdy enough to have been jacked several feet up so we could dig out the crumbling basement walls and build a proper foundation. (Though it did have termite damage, and we had to replace several load bearing beams before we dared do that.) And yes, they are indeed very sturdy!

          • Did Renovation work in New Orleans way way back (1985-86). One job was replace a water and termite damaged stud.
            Owner: “I hate the thought of a scabbed in stud, do you think we could replace the whole thing with something exactly the same?”
            Me, Uncle, and our Boss all turn and look at the exposed stud …
            Balloon build, two story and an attic with 14 foot ceilings in the living space, and this is the stud running from the plate, to the roof peak.
            Boss: “Well, sir, I think you might have a problem finding a 38 foot long unfinished actual 2 inch by 4 inch cypress stud, but if you’d like to try , call us when you find it and we will get it installed for you. Until then, we will scab in and shim out the bad section for you and get some siding on to protect things”
            That bad section was still 10 feet long. Boss pick through a lot of lumber to find something straight enough to use.
            The owner did try for quotes, and found someone willing to make a replacement from reclaimed but finger jointed together sections for near the cost of a new car.

          • In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, lots of Victorians in Los Gatos basically walked off their foundations and fell about four feet over towards the neighbors, basically intact. I walked into the major damage area to check up on a friend and saw lots of intact cool old houses that had crunched on top of trees and cars in that area. To fix them, they basically did what Sara’s folks did – ran I-beams underneath, jacked them up, built new non-collapsing foundations, set (or rather, firmly bolted) them back down, and then fixed all the broken plumbing bits underneath.

            The old Vics can be really strong if they are not allowed to rot.

            • Most of the old houses in my dad’s home valley have a history that goes something like “was built by great-granddad on his homestead, they moved it eight miles when his Grandma decided the flooding wasn’t worth it about the time my grandad was a kid, got sold to the Smiths down the way and they moved it, they died off and we moved it back, and then dad built an addition where it’s at now….”

              I don’t know how common it is elsewhere, but northern Cali and nearby Oregon and Nevada, the fairgrounds tend to have a “tiny town” made up of buildings that people donated, which were hauled over– intact– and placed in amusing ways. 😀

          • A little over 20 years ago, I dated a woman who, besides her house, owned a small cabin of that approximate vintage in a Colorado mining town. I can still remember how cold going to the outhouse was on a winter night, and how the cabin floor would sag under me when I walked.

    • We got our house in part because it’s so “horribly outdated.”

      It’s got actual pine board paneling for 90% of the downstairs areas– my mom identifies it as the inexpensive option when everyone else was doing tiles or wallpaper, and the rich were doing rare-wood paneling.

      It’s beautiful.

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  5. sabrinachase

    Before my mother would allow me to use a sewing machine, I had to demonstrate I could, by hand, sew a straight seam, do a rolled hem, and do a buttonhole. It made me appreciate the machine capabilities *and* if I for some reason do not have a machine handy, I can still do quite a bit. It’s a good thing for kids to know machines serve us, and we made them in the first place and we can live without them, too.

    • It’s even better if the machines learn that too. 😉

    • I still prefer to do buttonholes by hand. I find it easier than using a sewing machine.

      May have something to do with the fact that all of my sewing machines have been about third or fourth or more hand ones that no longer are not even close to optimal condition (I sew so little I have never seen any point to pay much for them. As long as they can do a normal straight seam okay…).

  6. Apropos of nothing, the story about the Russian guy in Denver seeing the little house on chicken feet cross I-25 decided it’s not going to wait any longer. Curse you, muse!

    • Now that I want to read. Type faster, please.

    • Rob Crawford

      Why did the chicken-house cross the road?

    • Sara the Red

      Baba Yaga lives in Denver?

      …That explains SO much… 😉

      • The premise of Gaiman’s American Gods is that, as worship grants power, all of the emigrants to America brought their native deities with them, re-creating them in uniquely American vernacular.

        So of course Baba Yaga could be in Colorado.

    • The sun was beginning to get too hot to continue working in the garden when the robin eggs blue Cadillac convertible glided up the hill came to a slow stop at the end of our driveway.

      I stood up and taking the towel I was carrying to my face, looked at the driver. Her shirt waist appeared crisp in spite of the growing heat of the day. Her head was wrapped in a sheer scarf to keep her coif neat. Her cat’s eye sun glasses were dark against her porcelain face. I have to admit I found myself staring. She was an exquisite creature, but out of time and place.

      She looked levelly at me with a hint of a smile. I heard, ‘Tell somebody they better pick up the line in their brain.’

      ‘Wha …?’ I thought. ‘Excuse me?’ I said.

      Saying nothing she turned, putting the car back in gear.

      ‘Excuse me?’ I repeated, a bit louder.

      As I waited for clarification the car pulled away. Stopping at the top of the block the blinkers indicated she was taking a left, toward the trunk road. The car turn and soon disappeared from sight.

      I stood a while longer before realizing that in truth. The woman had never spoken out loud. Yet I had clearly heard her.

      It occurred to me that she was a muse. ‘Whose,’ I wondered, ‘and why me?’

      • Kinda like that, yes. She did a drive-by last night as I was brushing my teeth, and returned this morning. And Baba Yaga lives near Greely, but is trying to relocate to Golden. It’s . . . complicated. Bad muse, bad, bad muse.

        • Everyone in Greeley wants to live in Golden.

          • Relatives living there inform me that, these days, everybody lives in Greeley. It seems the town has had something of a shale boom, and all the small-towniness is thus direly threatened.

          • Not Golden. The Coors Smell is almost as bad as the Greeley Funk, and Golden had by far the worst water I ever tasted coming out of the tap. Plus it is FAR too close to the People’s Democratic Republics of Boulder and Denver.

            • ” Golden had by far the worst water I ever tasted coming out of the tap.”

              Which might explain the taste of Coors.

              • Just recycling the leftover horse piss. You should be glad they’re ecology minded… 😎

              • Actually, Coors has less flavor than Golden water.

                • Some years ago Coors had an accident and dumped several thousands of gallons of beer into one of the creeks. People noticed only because the dead fish were all smiling.

        • Yeah, that thing is part of what came to me as a great big convoluted knot.

          I come from a long line of oral story tellers and am not a writer. I didn’t know what to make of it. I tried to put it aside and had just about forgotten it when it came back. I initially thought that I needed to tell someone else to listen to their muse and write whatever it is they were supposed to write — but who I did not know.

          It wasn’t until I told a young friend who has had the writing compulsion about it all that it became clearer. She looked at me and with all seriousness observed, ‘What you have there is two stories.’

          Oh, yes. I realized she was correct. One is about muses, and their conventions The other is a hard boiled detective mystery/fantasy blend. But I am not sure they are exactly mine. I get the distinct feeling that the wires got crossed somewhere.

          • Sure, and why wouldna muses, those drunken wenches, misdeliver a package or two?

            They wouldna be the only ones to be makin’ sech mistakes.

      • “The trouble with you, Tom Smith, is that you’re just too ordinary!” Idly moving legs six and seven, Tom had to admit that was true – even his name was ordinary.
        But, that was about to change……

        At which point the muse’s voice disappeared in the distance. Still wonder how that ended.

      • The escape pod we had managed to get aboard landed on a planet. None of us had any idea where we were, since we were being transported, mostly for political offenses.
        “Hey, there’s a trail, maybe we can get some idea where we are.”
        “Careful, we just got loose, don’t get us caught again.”
        When we reached the trail, Jones spoke up.
        “Look at these tracks, this was made by a team pulling a wagon.”
        “That means low tech, we should be able to blend in.”
        Jones frowns, speaking again. “Wait. The shoes in these tracks are split. That means oxen. We must be in the cold part of this planet. We need to head toward the equator if we’re going to be able to live off the land.”
        Marlow looks up at the sky, saying, “That’s a fine plan, but the sun is already straight overhead. This is as warm as it gets.”

  7. I developed an aversion to hard physical work helping summers on a Cola-Cola truck. Yanking that first 42-pound case of 16-ounce glass bottles from a stack nine feet tall was never fun.

    That’s why I got a desk job that demanded 14-hour days. Out of the frying pan, into the fire… 🙂

    • The Powerball of random chance has allowed me to see one Coca-Cola truck and one Pepsi truck stopped in the road, the roller doors on the sides up, and a horrible mess on the street. And one beer truck (Budweiser) ditto. And another beer truck, though I’m pretty sure all the doors were secured before the operator drove it into a five foot deep culvert. I thank that one had a local liquor warehouse’s markings, but I forget who they were.

      That’s four (4) disasterized beverage trucks, not that I’m counting…

      • My company’s office used to be just where highway 58 joined I-70 (just a little east of Golden and Coors). We were there five years, and I think there were at least that many semis loaded with beer that didn’t quite make the curve during that time.

  8. They (you know, THEM?) say that 80 or 90 percent of success is just showing up. What they don’t tell you is that the OTHER 80 to 90 percent of success is buckling down and just doing the damn job.

    (Now of course, the other, other 80-90% of success is doing the damn job RIGHT. This unfortunately eludes a significant portion of humanity.)

    (I had not previously encountered the phrase “licking tape.” It seems suitably unpleasant for the context.)

    Get to work, you tape-lickers!

    And, possibly, first post here! Hello, huns! Forth Eorlingas!

    • Rob Crawford

      What about us yak shavers?

      You start a task, only to find it depends on another task, that one depends on yet another, and so on, until you find yourself shaving a yak and wondering how you got there.

      • Dad went over to help a buddy roof one of his houses. They started by fixing the foundation…

      • Parkinson’s Law of Dire Consequences,

        • “Parksinson’s Law” is a real book, by C. Northcote Parkinson. He worked for the British Foreign Service in Malaya, and the book is a humorous treatment of government bureaucracy.

          I sat there nodding like a bobblehead, except for the parts were I was LMAO. It pretty much nailed the corporate bureaucracy I worked for at the time.

      • (writes in notebook ‘find yourself shaving a yak and wondering how you got there.’)
        Is that original with you, or ?
        (Not gonna check comments box, not gonna check comments box)

        • Rob Crawford

          It’s been running around the software world for a while. I think it’s in the jargon file, but I most recently heard it from Neal Ford.

        • Captain Comic

          One time I was at a friend’s house and she asked if I was ready to head out. I said “Yeah, I just need to change my shirt.” But I was tired so I yawned as I said the last part.

          My friend looked at me and said “Did you just say ‘I need to shave my yurt.’?”

          I’ve always wondered under what circumstances I would need to scrape hair off of a Mongolian steppe tent…

        • When I worked at MIT in the 90s, people there claimed it originated somewhere on campus. Of course, I think sometimes people at MIT believe everything original originated somewhere on campus.

        • It’s hard to find a good yak shaver these days.when we mostly have bad yaks.

          • What about shaving a yak with tape?

            Ouch. All the way around.

            Could be worse. All y’all cat people with those rough cat tongues . . . I hear yak fur balls are the WORST . . .

    • That was originally Woody Allen, IIRC. He actually meant it in a different context: “you wanna succeed in film? First, make a film. You wanna succeed at writing? First, write.” Also known as “Heinlein’s First Commandment”. “Gittin’ R Done” is not a sufficient condition for success, but it sure *is* a necessary one 😉

    • Well hi there. Just be careful. They can get a bit rowdy.

    • Well done “hello” postin’ there. I got to the bottom in a quick scan and had to scan back up to realize that yes, not a name I was familiar with, but posting like that will get you to blend right in. Yak shaving is, I think, Room 24, down the hall to the right, just after the dragon’s chew toy storage, and the carp storage closet.

  9. Similar thoughts:
    What Americans Lose When We Refuse Crap Jobs
    Working hard, low-paying jobs generates work ethic, humility, and a sense of perspective everyone, including our nation’s so-called elites, sorely needs.

    By Peter Cook
    The best job I’ve ever had was cleaning deep fryers at McDonald’s at 4:30 in the morning. By “best,” I don’t mean most pleasant. Each morning, I would take a filtration device (basically a heavy bucket with a filter, on wheels) up to each deep fryer, empty the fryer’s oil into it and, while it churned away, I would scrub the sides and bottom of the fryer. After the filter was done working, I would pump the filtered oil back into the fryer and turn on the heating element to prepare it for that day’s cooking.

    By the end of this process, which took about an hour, I smelled like a combination of old French fries and fish filets, and I had at least one new burn per week. After finishing this job, I was expected to start up the grills and prep for breakfast service.

    It was greasy, hot, and deeply unpleasant work, but in a very important way it was the best job I’ve ever had because those mornings are what I thought about in future jobs when things seemed bad. Scrubbing deep fryers will always remind me to keep a healthy perspective about work. Now, as a stay-at-home dad, even my worst day is better than cleaning those fryers, because that job was terrible.

    After McDonald’s came a steady stream of crap jobs as I worked my way through college. I’ve sliced roast beef at Arby’s, tried (unsuccessfully) to corral parents during the Christmas shopping season at Toys ‘R Us, and I’ve survived a stint at the returns desk at Wal-Mart, where getting yelled at was not uncommon. None of the jobs that followed were as physically demanding or unpleasant as cleaning deep fryers, but combined, they taught me a simple truth: work is work, which is why they pay you to do it.


    • Sara the Red

      Ugh, I do NOT miss working at the Service Desk in Wal-mart/Sam’s club. Especially the week after Christmas.

    • I worked on a poultry farm; got to be head honcho of the shoveling team, cleaning out the dropping pits.

      • Sara the Red

        Ew, that would rank high on lists of “horrible jobs.” I only have *six* chickens, and they’re smelly enough! My condolences!

      • In graduate school I had the job of animal room manager. We had a dozen chickens, all in cages. But mostly we had hundreds of rats. And the lab was in the attic of Smith Hall, which had granite and marble staircases, open and grand — and no elevators. Maybe it did and I wasn’t permitted to use them for disposing of the, uh, waste from hundreds of rats, a dozen chickens, and various other denizens including rabbits and for a while chimps.

        As well as dead rats.

        I prefer writing.

        • Hey, look at the advantages of that earlier job. Lots of exercise with all those stairs. No need to go to a gym after work. Or to pay for that gym. 🙂

          • Haven’t heard you say since you got back, how did you like the States?

            • The states loved her! Or, at least, this portion and the Libertycon crowd sure did! It was great to see you. 🙂

            • Liked. Mostly, and the irritating things were minor (“And how are you doing today?” Towards the evening I started getting this urge… “Now, let’s see… I’m having an upset stomach, for starters, maybe because of these two antibiotics courses I needed to eat due to a UTI, and…”). And the light seemed to suit me quite well. A few other things too. I like shooting, for one thing. Okay, I like plain like guns. 🙂

              • And yep, the “And how are you doing today?” mostly when it was people like the salesperson in Walmart. 😀

              • A Finn says, Okay, I plain like guns.

                [Somewhere, Simo Häyhä, who had been despairing just a bit at modern Finns, smiles.]

      • Cleaning out the neighbor’s (large)farrowing shed. Had to be thoroughly hosed off before I was allowed anywhere near the house. Luckily, farm yards are big.

    • One thing you sometimes learn doing a “crap job” is that even the jobs that you may look down on take skill and practice. Just watch Mike Rowe flub stuff up and you start to understand. The problem is that the romantics don’t.

      • I deeply appreciate Mike Rowe, for bringing things like Dirty Jobs and fishing into the homes of millions of people who otherwise are carefully insulated and fed that only “those kind of people” take trade jobs.

        Between that and his Profoundly Disconnected site with its scholarships to trade schools, he’s done as much if not more to turn the tide against the creeping disaster as anyone could.

        That’s a Man, right there, in a sense Kipling and Heinlein would both agree and approve.

        • The posts on Mikes Facebook page are true treasures if you haven’t been reading them already. And his “work smarter and harder” campaign couldn’t be more important.

        • I would probably explode from joy if President Walker appointed Mike Rowe to be Labor Secretary. Or better yet, Education.

          • Patrick Chester

            Especially if Secretary Rowe fires most of the personnel as his first act in taking over whatever department he gets appointed to?

      • RealityObserver

        Yup, there is an art to getting the dog doo to go where you need it to with a hose and a squeegee.

        You also develop very fast reflexes while moving cats to clean their cages.

        Dad was a veterinarian…

    • If I never plant, and harvest (top, sprig, stake, and hang) tobaccy again, it will be Too Soon.

      On the other hand, it motivated me not to drop out of high school, no matter how stupid the coursework!

      • RealityObserver

        Did you sew, too? Wife is from Connecticut, and always told me that was the easy job, that most of the high school girls got back then.

  10. I do miss manual labor at times, I used to do a lot of it, mostly around the house and such. Getting older now, so I don’t do it as much, but you do get a sense of accomplishment from making things with your own hands.

    and writing for 12 to 16 hours a day does sound easy.
    Until you do it for a couple of weeks straight 😛
    I’ll be glad when this book is done and I can take a short break.

  11. I’d lick tape if I had no choice, but I always use a damp sponge if I need to do more than one at a time. Just saying 🙂

  12. My Dad was a carpenter, so even though my degree is in Physics, in carpentry I can: design, survey, dig/build foundation, frame and finish, roof, electrical, heating/air, plumbing (although I’d probably ask my cousin). I can build functional cabinets and furniture (which amazing the last I learned from my Mother).
    When we were in the 12-15 year old range, Dad bought an old Rambler and we overhauled/rebuilt the engine, so we would understand the basics of car mechanics.
    The sad part, is you see very little of this kind of activity anymore. Now admittedly, house construction is buried in layers of regulation and cars are buried in layers of complex-air-pollution crap and proprietary software, so, it may not be possible to do such ‘activities’ any more.

    • My Dad bought me a 1965 Mustang and told me if I could get it running I could have it. He’d pay for the parts.

      Who could have imagined that almost every part of a 10-year-old car could be worn out?

      The bookish kid who never went outside spent the summer changing timing chains, chiseling out riveted ball joints, and spending endless hot sweaty hours fixing the “bodywork” someone had done with a ball peen hammer.

      On the other hand, once I got it running and painted and licensed, I had no desire to go hooning around like an idiot and maybe get a scratch on the thing…

  13. Anybuh’ god’any avvise ob ow da get row ob gorilla dape off face?

  14. c4c

    • d5d

      • An irrepressible urge to one-up your wife is evidence of a small willy.

        N.B., it is a widely accepted rule of American Culture that any criticism of any man can be expressed as phallic compensation. Any criticism of any woman by any man is also an expression of phallic compensation. Any criticism of any man by any woman used to be an expression of penis envy (now commonly expressed as “privilege envy.”)

      • 2d6 *roll, roll*

        Dang. So much for the labor saving roll.

        • Wait! Wait? 2nd Ed, 3rd Ed, or are you using one of the later systems? My dice all remember when I wanted them to roll LOW for THAC0, and keep trying to oblige… and they whisper to the new dice, Oh I know they do…

          • Dr. Who RPG, which is probably close to the original 2ED. I’d dig the books out, but I think they are at the bottom of the pile in the back of the storage unit. Under stuff I probably need to sort and get rid of, but not when it’s 99 degrees out.

          • Randy Wilde

            You didn’t lie to your dice? When it really mattered, I tried to convince my d20s that I was playing Bushido (want to roll low) when I was playing AD&D (want to roll high) and vice versa. Sometimes it worked.

            I really confused them when I started playing Torg… a 10 is sometimes better than a 20 in that system (you normally want to roll high, on a 20 you roll again and add if you’re Skilled, and on a 10 you roll again and add whether you’re Skilled or Unskilled).

  15. Excuse me, but I just read the title of this post, and now I have to go commit my assigned act of sabotage. (I must have a death wish or something….)

  16. …Don’t repine.

    Always reoak.

    And never never reash. No one like a reashionary.

  17. The corollary to the licking tape rule is knowing at which point you stop and pay someone to lick the tape for you.

  18. William Newman

    The USA do-it-yourself-vs.-market tradeoff is strongly affected by the government using the labor market as one of its major tax revenue collection points. (It is also affected by harder-to-quantify bureaucratic costs, like doing lots of paperwork and jumping through lots of regulatory hoops, with the advantage mostly on the DIY side. Some things like DIY pest control can have the regulatory advantage in the opposite direction, though; and much DIY medicine is nigh hopeless because of regulatory gating of key things like pharmaceuticals.) If you only keep 60% of your pay, and then when you pay other people to do your stuff they only keep 60% of what you pay them, it’s only 36% efficient from your point of view, so even if fundamentally it takes you three times as much work to do something (compare to you working in your specialty, then paying them to work in their specialties), after taxes it can be just about as efficient, plus it’s a pure win on not having to do employment/employee paperwork and jump through regulatory hoops.

    That said, I also approve of knowing how to do stuff, and being willing to do stuff. Sometimes it can be important for the reasons you mentioned (even without the factor-of-three-or-so USA tax distortion I mentioned), because the best choice is to do it yourself. And even when the best choice is pay other people to do stuff, knowing how to do the stuff ends up being useful, because you can make better decisions, sometimes much better decisions, when you understand what you’re paying for. Most of my work experience is in the software industry, and it’s a cliche in that industry that having bosses that don’t know how to program tends to breed serious problems. Relatedly, it may not be be pure coincidence that programmers are seriously overrepresented among successful founders even when their companies grow to where their personal programming contributions are insignificant.

  19. Just because, even though I wasn’t particularly a fan of the original strip (undeniable craftsmanship doesn’t make the “meh” funny):
    After a 25-year hiatus, Breathed goes back to work. I hope that link presents properly … a WP preview function is apparently beyond the pale.

    • Oh well. Article here:
      Berkeley Breathed brings back Bloom County
      The post includes a photo of Breathed drawing what looks like Opus the penguin in an otherwise blank comic strip border, under the words “Bloom County 2015.” Breathed captioned the photo, “A return after 25 years. Feels like going home.” So yeah, it doesn’t seem like there’s any other way to interpret that than to say that he’s making at least one new Bloom County strip that will be released at some point this year. Someone commenting on the photo also asked if all of this has anything to do with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (Trump played a role in the strip’s original ending), to which Breathed replied, “This creator can’t precisely deny that the chap you mention had nothing do with it.” So yeah, he’s making more Bloom County and it might be Trump-related.

  20. Maybe you ought to read Ricardo again? One of the best things about writing is that you get to work inside, and sitting down, and there’s no heavy lifting. And you make more per hour than construction workers and sometimes as much as plumbers.

    • I going through my library yesterday and realizing that there are gaps in stuff. I keep hearing about Ricardo, but somehow haven’t run into one of his books. That’s usually and indication, that like Hayek, Sumner and Bastiat a certain point of view wants to dump him down down the memory hole, sneered at, but not actually read. Which makes actually reading their stuff all the more important.

      • William Newman

        Sometimes, yes, it’s an indication of memory hole. But it also happens naturally in healthy fields, not because important ideas have become crimethink but because we’re getting better at expressing ideas. I got a biology undergrad degree and a theoretical chemistry doctoral degree (with extra helpings of physics and math in both cases), and in so doing learned lots of useful stuff that was much more than 20 years old, but read very few sources that were more than 20 years old. I have more than my share of curiosity, so I have studied more than a dozen old things (a few extremely famous things like Dirac and Darwin and Newton, and some other merely prominent things like some of the quantum mechanics papers from the 1930s, and a bit of Greek and Roman mathematics). Reading the older sources left me grateful that I was able to learn most things from later secondary sources, often there really is a significant improvement, sometimes a *vast* improvement. (Sometimes it’s a vast organizational improvement: e.g., learning electronics from early primary sources would be an enormous chore compared to something like _The Art of Electronics_. And sometimes it’s technical improvements: e.g., Newton expressed his mechanics in terms of the clumsy improvised version of calculus that he had to invent for the purpose, and more modern writers can get the same results much more flexibly using the more elegant versions of calculus that were developed in the intervening centuries.)

        Also note that in order to properly memory-hole ideas, you can’t just discourage reading the primary sources, you also need to discourage people from writing and reading the ideas in secondary sources; and for some ideas that are easy to rediscover, you also need to discourage people from writing new primary sources. E.g., the Scottish Enlightenment ideas in _Wealth of Nations_ and the Scottish-Enlightenment-style ideas in the _Federalist Papers_ are anathema to the great romantic central economic planning movement, and stopping reading those books isn’t nearly enough to properly memory-hole those ideas. Ordinary people spontaneously reinvent the obvious idea that fallible greedy people remain fallible greedy people whether they are businessmen or central economic planning bureaucrats. To keep that idea suppressed (so that you can support useful syllogisms like “decisionmakers working under the authority/responsibility arrangements of the market give imperfect results because they are just fallible greedy people, and therefore government decisionmakers should have direct authority”) the even-handed treatment of government actors and market actors needs to be academic and journalistic crimethink.

        • Back before the internet it wasn’t unusual for a lib to bring up a more Libertarian of Conservative philosopher so that they could take things out of context and get free potshots at them with confident expectation that nobody would follow up and actually read what the philosopher actually wrote. Charles Sumner was a common target. Before the internet they could be confident that the access to said philosophers was limited to university libraries and small Conservative press editions. With the internet that’s no longer the case, but the habit continues. So if I see somebody smeared by some intellectual type it’s a pretty good clue, that like Ricardo, they are worth following up on.

      • Most people here are probably aware of David Ricardo’s Law of Competitive Advantage and about his opposition to the Corn Laws. Those interested in knowing more should check:

  21. And now, this breaking news of interest to writers, book sellers and readers of a certain persuasion:

    the Times appears to have backed itself into a corner. Will it cave in and start listing A Time for Truth in a manner consistent with the book’s sales? Will it apologize to Cruz and HarperCollins? It is perhaps worth noting that legally, it is just about impossible to defame a politician. But that isn’t true of a publisher. If the Times said that it didn’t list Cruz’s book because its “sales were limited to strategic bulk purchases,” while knowing that this statement was untrue or having no grounds to believe it true, HarperCollins could very well have a cause of action against the Times, should the publisher choose to pursue it.

    Meanwhile, Tom Lipscomb, a former CEO of Times Books, has written us with his thoughts on the controversy:

    As President of Times Books at the NY Times, I got quite accustomed to arbitrary activities at the New York Times Book Review, usually directed at “politically undesirable” books.

    I hate “bulk sales” and fake political bestsellers too, and some right wing publishers are experts at it, but Harper Collins certainly has the internal tools to know where their inventory is going. You might want to ask the NYTBR how the bulk sales influenced their Best Seller List reporting on Hillary’s last bomb.

    You might find it interesting to actually sit down with Harper’s sales manager and take a look at their sales outflow on the Cruz book, and then try to go over to the NYTBR and get them to show you their “evidence.” You are likely to find disarming openness at a commercial enterprise like Harper, and a total haughty coverup at what is supposed to be a transparent media company that serves the public.

    You’ll also find the NYTBR relies more on self-reporting by bookstores filled with attitude and Harper just relies on boring invoices and numbers. Given the kind of people who run bookstores the results of bookseller attitude are predictable. A heartbreaking story of a one legged orphan in Detroit who became the 3rd string place kicker for the Detroit Lions will rocket up the bestseller list far ahead of its actual sales, while some proto-fascist politician from flyover country will be denied the attention he would get if the thousands of yahoos who buy his execrable book were given their proper due.

    The NYT Bestseller list depends on “reporting from bookstores;” not statistics. Harper has cold, hard, figures on actual orders placed, bulk or NOT.

    Make them both show down.

    No doubt in my mind what we will learn.


    It couldn’t happen to a more deserving poser. Since being on the NYT Bestseller list demonstrably affects sales, it would seem Harper Collins has a serious right of action here (unless the NYT admits it cooks the books for its BSL, and even that would likely come too late.)

    • RealityObserver

      Amazon and B&N have weighed in, too – saying they have no indications of any bulk sales.

      I don’t think there are any fans of Senator Cruz at either place – but they are fans of making money (or, in the case of B&N, losing less money). It still costs to inventory faked “best sellers” like Hillary’s book – and annoys customers when they don’t have a real best seller in stock.

  22. reddragonhawk

    Wish I knew more practical stuff, that’s for sure. It may not be impossible to teach and old dragon new tricks, but it is wicked hard.

  23. Very,very few young people are learning the building trades.
    Real stonemasons are now an endangered species-the guys who can actually cut stone,a lot of it without a gas powered saw with a diamond blade,as are real plasterers-the guys who can look at a medallion or a frieze,make the mold,and replicate it.
    Real framing carpenters are going extinct as well-the guys who can cut rafters,and frame a roof without using trusses.
    So are real cabinet makers-the guys who can measure a kitchen,build the cabinets,build the supporting framework,and install them.
    Not many people can install cedar shakes-on walls or roofs,even fewer can install or repair slate roofs.

    I quit engineering school 2 1/2 years in-apprenticed to become a chef-did that for a bit over 20 years,and earned more $$$ than I would have had I completed my engineering degree.
    (fooled you all with that one,didn’t I)

    Then,I began working as a laborer,then a carpenters helper,then became a carpenter. I worked with old guys who knew how to do everything and anything concerned with building a home-that took 6 years..
    Then I spent 3 years working with a stonemason,a guy from Scotland.
    I still haven’t met anyone better,or seen any better stonework than his.
    Then,being the glutton for punishment that I am-I sided houses with vinyl siding,and installed doors and windows for 3 years.
    Spent the next 4 years doing stamped concrete-don’t ever do that for a living-your back will thank you.

    Now,I just do maintenance and repair work for a couple of local condo complexes, keeps me busy,and they only have call in other guys rarely,mainly because even though I did learn how to do it over the years-I hate doing plumbing work.
    I’ll replace fixtures and put in new hot water tanks,but that’s it.

    Even though I’m now 56,and my body’s kind of beat up from the hard work-I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Our house was built in 1851,with sandstone quarried near the creek behind the house. The homes been updated as far as wiring, plumbing,and a shingle roof.
    It’s an ongoing,constant project to keep it up-and the repair work will never end as long as we’re here.

    • Rob Crawford

      A home I saw for sale last year was at its core an original settler’s home (in Ohio, so maybe 200 years old), built from stone pulled from the creek next to it. Quite attractive, but too close to the creek for my taste.

  24. Josh Kruschke

  25. That blue collar may not come with a piece of paper, but it does come with a pair of hands.

    We can live without the bankers and accountants and managers.

    We can’t live without the farmers and ditchdiggers and builders of all things great and small.

  26. And also one of my favorite poems, and probably my favorite by Robert Frost.

    Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there is some mistake.
    The only other sound’s the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    • It IS beautiful, isn’t it?

    • My chorus did “Frostiana” this spring. “Stopping by the Woods” may be my favorite movement. (“Telephone”? Really? If some gent shows up at my door saying he heard my voice from a flower as he was walking, I’m probably going to call the regional mental health agency and see what they recommend.)

  27. Just keep moving forward, however slowly. If you don’t die first, you’ll get whatever it was done.

  28. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    In a way the tendency for American to do most things themselves is part of our cultural expectation of self reliance. That’s a good thing. The problem is that doing that has hidden some real problems with labor laws and decreasing productivity. As well as denying employment to the young and college students who would by and large do some of those skanky little jobs for spare cash. Nobody got hurt, well emotionally, some jobs are, by their very nature dangerous, by doing some work that got you dirty. Been there, did that.

  29. Finally an explanation for the shipment of tape recently arrived here…

  30. It’s aggravating but true that the most essential jobs will keep you both employed, and poor, forever. I learned how to build, but not like my dad. Learned how to wire, again, not like my dad. He was a carpenter and electrician, but he made his money flying airplanes.
    I’m massively bugged that Sarah HAS to do painting and scraping etc because she doesn’t have the coin to pay someone to do it. Massively bugged. Not just her, other really frekken talented bringers of joy. I let the steam off. a little bit, in this blog post:

  31. We lived in an old Victorian for 21 years and worked on it steadily all that time. When we moved, we opted for a newer home. I miss the character of the Victorian, but I rather like up-to-date heating/cooling, plumbing, electrical, and insulation. I appreciate modern kitchens and bathrooms, too.

    • we’ve lived in this one 12 years, worked on it all the time and STILL practically had to rebuild to move/sell. Yeah, as long as we find a suburb in easy driving distance to the places I like, suburbs are fine. The house we’re renting is low-build-quality suburb, and it’s still infinitely better.

  32. The Other Sean

    I was rereading the start of this thread, and something Sarah wrote reminded me of my college days, so long ago (OK, it was like 3 years ago, but I went back to college late.)

    Go to college, my parents said, you’ll never have to do hard manual work, they said.

    Several of my archaeology professors recalled their parents saying similar things, like “Go to college so you don’t have to spend your life digging ditches.” They noted that, ironically, much of their field work consists of…. excavation. I think this is why they have grad students. 🙂

    • One of the archaeology profs, who hung out with the geologists, said that the day his home department got funding for a GPS-controlled aerial radar unit, so the grad students no longer had to drag the radar box back and forth across the sites, there was an enormous party.

    • Remember “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love,” assumed that a paleontologist had a desk job — and did not spend his summers breaking up rocks with a pick axe.

    • The Daughter and I had the good fortune to visit on several occasions historical sites that were part of ongoing archeological digs. One we visited several times between 1995 and 2001 was Jamestown, where the APVA Jamestown Rediscovery Project was ongoing. The another was Sommerset Place in North Carolina.

      The Daughter was fascinated and asked questions. Fortunately she was usually very well received and those working would provide answers. The grid system, the exacting work and meticulous records keeping were explained to her.

      But your comment brought to mind one of the things that occurred to me at the time. These college educated people were not only digging ditches, they were doing so with teaspoons, dental picks and paint brushes.

  33. Just so’s ya know. Can do women NEVER Learn. I am 78 my husband just turned 80. Stop me if you’ve hear this. We are in the process of moving from our dream home we built in the wilderness, a beautiful 3 bedroom 2 bath, huge screened porch, near the whooping cranes, in the woods, birds, cougars, bobcats, deer, raccoons, etc. When I say built I mean I put up the bead board ceilings, mudded the sheetrock, painted, wall papered, and all. He did the wiring, the plumbing and trailblazing. We loved it. But at a certain age you need to be around neighbors, people who will see if you fall in the yard; where the emt’s are not 12 miles away. That is why we are moving to town. The house has a lot of room, but we have 57 years of marriage and lots and lots of “stuff.” Help we need help. And many have helped us but deciding where the stuff goes, what goes away, what stays and just packing the precious stuff is very, very tiring. Yet we do it and you will too. We are CAN DO’s, the people who think we can do it all ourselves and mostly we do. It’s good to be one but sometimes it gets a bit old and iffy. But you ARE one of those.