I worked as a janitor at St. Camillus elementary school after school and in the summers when I was in high school. I enjoyed the camaraderie with the other high school kids I worked with, and the crusty Dutch man who was our boss. We cleaned every afternoon in the school year and on weekends, and then painted, cut the grass, and did maintenance on the heating system and other equipment in the summer. We took pride in our work, but we also had fun—once in a while playing a game of eraser hockey in the Camellia Room, when it wasn’t set up for a school event or a wedding reception.
But working as a janitor gave me my first taste of how people who work with their bodies can be treated in our culture. A teacher at the elementary school asked us to set up chairs for a meeting. I want 20 chairs. You can set up 5 rows of 4, or 4 rows of 5… Maybe she talked that way because she was used to talking to first graders, but I felt she was being condescending. There were other incidents. Cleaning up after wedding receptions was the worst. We tried to keep the bathrooms spotless, but people seemed to use the sinks and toilets from afar, if you get my meaning. It was as if they new that some poor schmuck was going to clean up after them, so they didn’t care. Poor schmucks don’t need to be treated with respect.
I haven’t worked with my body for a long time. When my wife and I decided to redo our kitchen cabinets, I remembered how valuable a professional painter can be. They have all the right tools, and the experience to get the job done right, and efficiently. It took us way too much time and effort because we didn’t have the best tools and did not know how to do the job efficiently. Because someone does physical work, we can think there is nothing going on upstairs. But people develop their craft by reading, listening, asking questions, trying things, and watching others do the work. To do good work efficiently requires a lot of thought, experimenting, rethinking, and practice. Plus, the person picking up your garbage may have a PhD in Philosophy!
I think that one of the reasons that the home performance industry has not nearly reached its potential is that people in general don’t value the work of people who crawl in crawlspaces and attics. We consider people who sweat and get dirty to be less than professional. So why would we invite them into our houses?
Am I completely off base? What do you think?