About five years prior to those hateful shouts, back when MK and I were still married and reasonably happy, she mentioned one day that she’d just read a survey in a women’s magazine, polling 300 women’s opinions about the sexiest profession a man could hold. The Number One answer was a carpenter, followed by such jobs as firefighter, pro athlete, astronaut, Secret Service agent, move star, rock star, forest ranger, airline pilot, doctor, lawyer, and many more. The winning professions all alternated between physical exertion jobs, high danger jobs, celebrity glamour jobs, and Ivy League power jobs -- with a carpenter standing at the top of the heap. All the answers in the survey centered upon nothing but the subjective, unfounded and entirely fantasy-based perceptions held by women as to what sort of activities and skill sets gave the superficial appearance (I say delusion) of a man being sexy.
I was stunned that the humble carpenter finished so far above the likes of firefighters and movie stars. The article explained why in great detail.
First, his vocation has the most perfect and even poetic combination of the following: a brute physical strength in hoisting around massive planks of wood, a delicate gentleness when carving tiny decorations and flourishes, an adept and effortless handling of complex and dangerous power tools, a precise command of mathematical and geometric skill, an overt flair for artistic creativity, and a gift for hand-making beautiful things entirely from scratch --things that were large, strong, practical, relevant, beautiful, expensive, and capable of invoking deep emotional attachment. Beyond this already impressive head start, the very vocation of carpentry is associated with clean, honest and wholesome effort as opposed to those jobs seen as sneaky, violent, ego-centric, or power-craven. Furthermore, the image of a carpenter at work manifests itself as a tall, quiet, really well-built guy, dressed in all-American faded jeans and a ruggedly masculine shirt with rolled-up sleeves exposing his rippling arms -- in short, he’s a physically fit he-man who dresses neatly and modestly yet still exudes a subtle but undeniable undercurrent of macho allure. What’s more is this fairy tale image has him leaning with a calm intensity over his mysterious and powerful table saw in a clean but rustic work room with wooden walls, a wooden floor, exposed wooden rafters above, and glorious beams of sunlight streaming through the multi-paned sash of a nearby window. And this work room is his exclusive domain that he rules over, where he answers to no one, and from which he single-handedly produces valuable works of much sweat and high artistry. There’s even the added plus that the most common aroma associated with carpenters is freshly cut wood emanating from the piles of sawdust found everywhere in his he-man carpentry shop. And then it all gets topped off with the notion that because carpenters work with wood they are somehow closer to nature than most other guys. Stone masons might have scored just as high for the same reasons, but stone is a hard cold non-living thing associated with grave yards, while wood is a warm thing associated with life itself. So carpenters have it all, and women just swoon over them. As an afterthought, the association with Jesus -- while not someone deemed “sexy” --lends a universally-perceived divine stamp of approval on the whole vocation.
As for the least sexy job in the survey, being a garbage collector was branded the absolute most unflattering job a man could have. And in second place came a two-way tie between sewer workers and … plumbers.
The thing that burned me up about the survey is carpentry and plumbing mirror each other very closely. Most plumbers need to know advanced carpentry since laying pipes includes opening up walls, floors, and ceilings, and cutting through timbers. So you need to know which beams should not be cut through so as to avoid collapsing the entire house. Then when the pipes are done you need to reconstruct everything with wood and plaster -- sometimes grout and tile -- restoring it to its former intactness including the paint and wallpaper. And since I was a “master plumber” I was most definitely trained in all the skills of any carpenter.
But women from that time period didn’t see it that way. When those women thought of plumbers they thought of short stumpy uncouth louts with obnoxious pot bellies bulging over their ill-fitting pants. Women saw plumbers as men who scratched themselves in unseemly places, sported unsavory beard stubble, and burped indiscriminately. And the image of plumbers at work in their craft showcased these frumpy and grotesque males leaning their faces over shit-clogged toilets, flashing their hairy butt cracks to the world. The aromas associated with plumbers included piss-filled bathrooms and moldy basements. As for any connection with nature, plumbers were seen as part of the ever growing problem of industrial pollution with massive pipes spewing raw sewage into our planet’s dying ecosystem.
Even the tools associated with plumbers were unromantic: plungers and monkey wrenches. While sexy Mr. Carpenter valiantly held forth a manly hammer with pride and authority, unsexy Mr. Plumber pathetically held forth a ridiculous plunger with a sit-com laugh track playing in the background.
At the time when MK showed me the women’s article, she assured me I was the sexiest man in the world and that the women who answered the survey didn’t know what the hell they were missing. But a few years later when things started getting sour between us, she had the fucking audacity to bring up the article and declare she had grown inwardly embarrassed, tired of having to apologize to her family and friends “for having married a plumber of all things.” I knew our marriage was over only when she went one step further by snarling to me with much venom and disgust about how when she met new people she now made it a habit to avoid for as long as possible telling them the truth of what her husband did for a living.
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