Self

Employment porn

Why manual labour is sexy

Words & images © Paul Ransom

NOTE: A version of this piece first appeared in Jobmap magazine in August 2008. It was an experiential piece written for an audience of backpackers looking for work in Australia.

My dad was adamant. “Don’t get stuck working with your hands.” He had toiled in various labouring gigs since he was fifteen and had the crook back to prove it. As far as he was concerned a university education and a high paying office job was the gold standard of inter-generational progress.

In the days before skills shortages and premium pay packets for tradies, the working class man was a low paid, blue collar throwback.

“Very unsexy,” declared a generation of smart kids from the proletarian suburbs, all of them intent on degrees, professions and trendy looking, post-modern partners.

After a few years indoors catching everyone else’s flu in unattractive airconditioned office blocks those very same kids developed a hankering for the great outdoors, and for doing something more than paperwork.

Except me. I remained stoically useless with my hands. That was, until I met Warwick.

When my girlfriend and I first moved in with Warwick we discovered that he preferred to use the loungeroom as a centrally heated extension of the tool shed, and that his take on cutlery drawers was that they were ideal for containing drill bits.

Indeed, it soon became apparent that Warwick loved drills. Within two days of moving in he had given me my first lesson in power tool etiquette and encouraged me to drill a hole in the bedroom wall. I was unclear about the purpose of the hole but I knew instinctively that I would be required to shove something in it. (The girlfriend couldn’t help but be concerned.)

Privately, we laughed at ‘Wazza’s’ blokey disposition. Meanwhile, we wrote film reviews, went to gallery openings and amused our art wanker chums with tales of our housemate’s fetish for fine grain sandpaper.

But Warwick had the last rub down. Turns out he was not just tooling around – he was doing something remarkable. He was building his own house in the forest. From scratch. With his bare hands. Using rammed earth and recycled materials and employing all the latest eco-friendly design tricks.

“Wanna come out and have a look?” he asked us one Sunday.

“Sure,” we grinned, and he drove us excitedly up the hill in his rickety ute, all the while waving intricate architect’s drawings in our faces and regaling us with the splendour his vision.

That day, Wazza’s patch of earth was just that: a muddy circle of clay surrounded by gum trees and teeming with bull ants. The ground was staked out, and here and there piles of timber sheltered beneath various cloaks of tarpaulin.

Meanwhile, the outdoor cold shower next to the rain water tank looked ominous. We wondered if it was going to be part of a ghastly initiation process; Wazza haranguing us with his drill until we duly obliged.

However, it was with considerable relief that we realised Warwick’s weekends were less about torturing useless effetes and more about house. Hardcore house. Every Friday he would invite me for a manly bonding sesh of bongs and building, yet somehow I always found better things to do. But he was persistent, I was sufficiently curious, and the girlfriend thought she might like to see me sweating and filthy.

“Could be sexy,” she smiled, and the deal was done.

On the Saturday in question, the task (surprisingly) was to drill an array of holes. “Then we’re gonna ram the main beams in, mate.” It sounded vaguely kinky, but I went with it.

To enable the process, Warwick had hired a machine that looked like it could have been Thunderbird 6. Either that or a giant ground shagging mechanical phallus. Freshly stoned, we wrestled the thing into place and he pulled the chunky, oversized lever.

The generator grumbled menacingly and then…blam! Mud, rocks, tree roots and subterranean homesick aliens were flung hither and thither. The ground throbbed like a vibrator and the morning air filled with a deep and thunderous wailing that was disturbingly sexual.

“Now that’s a fucking drill,” Warwick grinned, wasted, licking his chops.

I had to admit, it was kinda cool. It put me in the mood.

Warwick was rapt because it meant that I worked with unfettered stoner abandon, and even though I passed on the cold shower, I got it. This drilled ground was his blank page. The house was his great Australian novel. He was no idiot oaf. He was working with his hands to make a palace out of nuts and bolts and it all felt…well, just sooo natural.

When we got back to the city, the girlfriend clapped her eyes on my exhausted, dirty torso and said, “You don’t have to have a shower right away, do you?”

Though I am still resolutely hopeless with drills, I now see that manual labour is a kind of erotica. Or at least it was with Wazza. As his house slowly materialised amongst the eucalypts he began to take a steady stream of lady friends up the hill for ‘working bees.’ He wasn’t just living the dream he was making love to it.

These days, he lives on the raised deck of his forest home with the woman of his dreams, while I sit here in a rented room typing alone, wondering why my girlfriend departed for the charms of a younger and fitter lover who, I’m assured, works wonders with wood.

Therefore, when my niece is old enough, I am going to say to her: “Don’t get stuck working with your brain. It’s nowhere near as sexy as sweat.”

PS: Sometimes I still dream of drills. Make of that what you will.

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