In my last update, you may recall an overwhelming sense of optimism regarding my new job in the art department for an upcoming media event. I acknowledged that there would be manual labor involved, but I was ready and eager to do the work because it was in the film industry, it was ethically okay, and it paid well. After three days on the job, I think it wise to point out that a lot of the reason I was so optimistic last week was because I wrote that the night before I went in for my first day of work.
My non-disclosure agreement prevents me from giving you any specifics about what we’re doing or why we’re doing it, but rest assured we’re trying to make things in a place look like they’re other things in another place so that people at an event will be able to pretend they’re in that other place. This is a process that requires the use of power tools, ladders, and entire aisles’ worth of materials from the Home Depot. Try to picture me in these circumstances, and then meet me in the next paragraph once you’re done laughing.
I have no right to complain about this job, and that’s not what I’m going to do. I drive along Venice Boulevard to get to my internship, and every day I pass multiple slightly scruffy but otherwise ordinary looking guys standing on the center median, holding signs and begging passers-by for money. Whenever I go to the Home Depot for this job, my car is just about swarmed by the Dawn of the Dead hordes of Hispanic day laborers lined up around the parking lot, dying to get picked up to spend a day doing the sort of hard work I’m so ill-qualified for. So I’m not complaining; I’m damn lucky to have this job and I’m giving it my all until they fire me or until the job is over.
That being said, golly, I don’t particularly relish this line of work.
The art department is not construction per se – the carpenters build things, and it’s the art department’s job to make those things look the way they’re supposed to: Color, furniture, and general ambiance are the responsibility of the art department. It didn’t occur to me before I actually started on the job, though, that color, furniture, and ambiance are created by painting, moving furniture, and generally doing far more hands on home improvement style work than I ever thought I’d have to do.
Before now, my ingrained attitude towards home improvement was that it was generally the thing you paid other people to do. For example, my room in Portland was and still is purple, because that was the color it was when we bought the house four years ago, nobody ever painted it not purple, and my parents weren’t willing to hire a painter to do it. Mind you, I hate purple due to its unfortunate ties to a university in Washington, but what could I do? I sure as hell didn’t have the money to hire a painter, and the idea of buying paint and doing it myself no more occurred to me than the idea of solving my money problems by brewing my own gold out of yeast and angel shit.
I mean, I guess I was aware that ordinary civilians did these sorts of things themselves – I saw the Home Depot and Kohl’s commercials where unsure newlyweds transform their ramshackle hovel into a dream home in 20 seconds with the help of some friendly, attractive employees. But these commercials were always followed by commercials where guys open a Coors Light and an icy train full of girls in bikinis crashes through the wall,* and I sort of assumed that both commercials were equally realistic.
*In any other circumstances, a train full of people drinking beer crashing through a wall would be a horrible tragedy followed by multiple lawsuits and government hearings.
On my first day at work, though, my boss pointed to a wall and said, “Alright, Truman – prep that wall and paint it white.” He could’ve just as well said, “Alright, Truman, land that F-16 on an aircraft carrier at night.”
I knew very little about prepping a wall to paint it: I knew that you had to put blue tape on some things, and that you had to rub a paint scraper on some other things, and then you black out and when you wake up the job is done and Gene Hackman is telling you that Lowe’s made this all possible, somehow.
I had applied some tape to the wall and was scraping fruitlessly at some loose paint when one of my supervisors walked past, stopped, and said, “Truman, you’ve never painted a wall before, have you?”
Classic Truman Capps moment.
I was given a crash course on wall painting and by the end of the day I had a solid first coat of paint on the wall. That night I looked up an Internet tutorial on the finer points of wall painting, and the next day on the job I had most of a dynamite second coat down before they notified me that professional painters had arrived and sent me to assemble some Ikea furniture instead, which was much more my speed.
In the three days that I’ve been on the job now I’ve developed bonkers amounts of pain in my legs and lower back from all the squatting, lifting, kneeling, and general lack of stillness my job requires. But I also learned how to paint, reinforce a wall, and use a pneumatic staple gun.
I do not relish this job the way I relish my internship where I get to criticize crappy screenplays all day. These are not tasks that I strictly enjoy doing, but I’ll keep doing them because the money is good and it’s a really valuable experience – for perhaps the first time in my life, I’m learning practical skills that, in the event of the apocalypse, will make me useful.*
*”No, I can’t build anti-zombie barricades – no construction experience. No, I can’t soup up that shuttle bus into a zombie-proof tank – I don’t know shit about engines. No, I can’t make napalm out of the supplies we’ve got here in the mall – I’m useless with chemistry. Look, is there anything you need written? Is there any way writing could help us kill zombies?”
Also, this job has given me a real, tangible appreciation for manmade objects. Are you in a building as you read this, or have you seen a building recently? Well, a lot of people put a lot of energy into building, painting, and decorating that building, and that’s before you turn on the lights or flush the toilet. Relish the fact that there are people out there who love building things and allow the rest of us to have jobs so sedentary that it’s possible to surf porn while we work.
Truman Capps admits that Internet-enabled phones make it possible to surf porn no matter what job you’re doing.