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I sit at a desk all day. Sure, sometimes I venture across the office to give some papers to my boss, or I head downtown to cover a press conference, or I slip downstairs to have a cigarette. But when you really break it down, my job consists of sitting on my fat ass, typing and talking on the phone. All day.

This is not what I grew up to believe a job was. In my family, a “desk job” was something people did elsewhere, in big cities, people who were bankers or businessmen or, if you were less fortunate, receptionists. (It wasn’t until I later worked briefly as a receptionist that I realized that the position should require a doctorate in Homicidal Urge Resistance.) A job was supposed to be work, where you were on your feet, lifting something, carrying something, building something. My father, my mother, my uncles, just about everyone I knew, they worked real, manual labor jobs, whether they were wiring circuit breakers, laying tar, cleaning toilets or administering insulin shots. To them, sitting down was something you did when you finally made it home. It was something that you had earned.

For a summer during college, I worked at a paper factory, where spent 10 hours a day feeding magazine pages into a large machine, which would compile them and glue them to other sheets. When it was done, voila!, you had a magazine, or a company newsletter, or a hockey program. I was on my feet the whole 10 hours, save for one 10-minute break in the morning, a half hour for lunch and another five minute break in the afternoon. While on duty, if I stepped away or just daydreamed for longer than a minute, my stack of sheets would empty, and the machine, lacking its sustenance, would shut down, and an alarm would sound, and everyone would know that I had stopped doing my job because a loud red light would flash menacingly above my station. Imagine if a big red light went off above your desk every time you stopped working for a minute. Your office would look like a strobe-lit disco club.

Truth be told, these days, I really don’t know very many people who don’t just sit at a desk all day. Do you? It feels like the biggest swindle in the world. Essentially, if I have this straight, the goal of this working world is to go to college in order to get a little piece of paper called a degree. With this little piece of paper – which you acquired pretty much by sitting down and listening to other people talk to you -- you are somehow considered “educated,” and when you show it to the right people, you are allowed to have a career where you sit on your ass all day. We call this success.

I feel rather guilty about this, as if I am part of an extensive nationwide conspiracy to mock those who actually have to work for a living. It just confounding for me to classify interviewing people and writing stories as “work,” even if evidence constantly mounts that I’m about effective at manual labor as I am at menstruation.

When I was laid off by my first Internet company almost three years ago, a place that had the whole sitting-on-your-ass-doing-nothing down to a science, I suffered a similar crisis of conscience. What was I doing, lamenting the loss of a fundamentally fake business and the decadent dungeons of instant messenging and free music downloads, when I could be out there reminding myself what work is supposed to be like? Determined, I rushed out to a temp agency and told the recruiter, “I’m looking for a job. I don’t care what I’m doing, but I want it to involve lifting something, carrying it somewhere, and setting it down. I want it to be out in the blazing heat or the searing cold, where I don’t have to talk to anyone and all I have to do is get the job done, go home and shut up about it.” He smiled and said he had plenty of those, pretty boy, and, in fact, there’s one you can start right now.

I showed up at a T-shirt factory. The job was to take large boxes of T-shirts, place them on a handtruck (and it is called a “handtruck;” no self-respecting man calls it a “dolly”) and cart them across town. I started at 2 p.m. For three mid-September hours, I put my hat on backwards and did the rounds with a burly man named Bruno (seriously) who kept calling me “fruitcake.” Bruno’s first impression of me was not, well, impressive. “You’re kinda small, aren’t you? You look like you don’t have a muscle on your body.” (Bruno apparently had been talking to my ex-girlfriends.) But for three hours, we worked together on an unseasonably sweltering afternoon, and at 5 p.m., we went our separate ways, and he said see you tomorrow, and I said yeah, and he said bye, and I went home and soaked my body in ice and slept until noon the next day. A week later, I was a receptionist.

But I still have my thirst for manual labor, but nowadays, I know my own limitations. So it manifests itself in another way.

If there is anything more painful than moving into a new apartment in New York City, it likely involves Tammy Faye Bakker, a tuning fork and mayonnaise. Forget packing your life’s possessions – inevitably thinned by space constraints – into a bunch of boxes, or renting a truck, or finding a place to park your moving van without either compiling endless friendly notes from the New York City traffic authority. That’s nothing. This city is jammed to its gills with people; it has no time, space or patience to deal with frivolities like convenience. Its hallways and stairwells are designed for human beings exclusively, preferably thin ones. For one person to move his/her life from one dwelling to another, it requires, most of all, plenty of manpower, because the process of finagling a couch through a twisting, cramped corridor and up five flights of stairs is strikingly analogous to Lara Flynn Boyle giving birth to quintuplets. People tend to need all the help they can get.

So, as my penance for my inability to handle a “real” job, anytime anyone ever has to move, I gleefully volunteer my services. It’s a horrible, wretched process, but it is real work, and I’m able to feel all manly, a sensation sorely lacking in other everyday activities. It makes no difference if I’m close to the person or not; I just want to feel like I’m doing something (personally, I’m not sure any of the people I help even like me). It usually takes about four hours, involves the climbing of many stairs, and they usually buy me beer afterwards. But most of all, I feel like I accomplished something. It sure beats going to the gym and getting punched for staring too long at a sports bra.

Just yesterday, I helped a friend and co-worker move into his new place. I met his parents, and his girlfriend’s parents, and they were all very nice, and they just couldn’t believe my generosity in volunteering to help them cart all his belongings across town. I tried to explain to them, after carrying the box carrying five paperback copies of Cliff Notes on Hamlet, how this was my atonement for a life of leisure, but they couldn’t quite hear me through all the panting.

That said, perhaps I’m underselling the effort required to type out a story. As I can attest from the experience of writing this column today, it’s not the least bit easy -- at all -- to type while soaking in an ice bath and injecting ibuprofen into your veins. Not in the slightest.


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