As the narrator of Russell Kirk’s ghost story The Invasion of the Church of the Holy Ghost wanders the sordid main drag of his decaying parish, a neon sign above a stripper bar flashes “Stark Naked or Your Money Back.” What a slogan for our times.
Consider the story in Monday’s Citizen about a new online survey, by America Online and Salary.com, ranking the sexiest jobs in North America. Evidently firefighters are first, flight attendants second and CEOs third, so the story was accompanied by an absurd photo of a supposedly sexy male firefighter. Honestly he had nothing I don’t … other than an incredibly muscled glistening torso, the sort of rugged good looks that imply a hidden capacity for tenderness, and a job involving prodigious athleticism and physical courage saving innocents from death, disfigurement and tragedy, possibly including whisking female survey respondents out bedroom windows to safety in his strong arms. But I’m not bitter or jealous.
No really. Because, you see, the fourth-sexiest job is… reporter. Ha ha! Vindication. Economist and historian didn’t rate. But since a columnist is practically a reporter, I’m even sexier than interior designers and event planners. I bet those girls who wouldn’t go out with me in high school are sorry now. (By the way, my high school counsellor never even hinted that “event planner” was a ticket to the Austin Powers lifestyle. Mind you, if he’d been an expert on career fulfilment he probably wouldn’t have had the job he did which, you’ll notice, doesn’t exactly rate high on the “babe magnet” scale.) In case you care, the top 10 was rounded out by nurses, teachers, doctors and lawyers. To each their own, say I. But enough about sex. Let’s talk about sex.
What particularly struck me was the explanation by Salary.com vice president Tim Driver that, in choosing careers, people “are increasingly going for meaning first and pay second.” Meaning? Does anyone out there remember when we could find meaning with our own clothes on, say by feeding orphans or visiting the bed-ridden?
Mind you, talk is cheap. The Citizen also quoted a skeptical Max Valiquette, president of “Toronto-based trend and marketing consultancy, Youthography” (another career possibility they didn’t mention to me in high school; back then people had jobs like construction worker or history professor or car salesman where you could actually tell what they did) that “It’s really easy to say, ‘I’m looking for meaning in my job.’ But let’s see if you’re looking for meaning when you’re thinking about $55,000 a year versus $85,000 and a car allowance.” Besides, that extra $30,000 will buy a lot of philosophy books. But it’s not much of a step toward idealism to claim that instead of money you’re looking for sex. At least you could in principle donate some of the money to charity.
Mr. Driver said survey respondents seemed to be defining sexy in various ways, so “Those results are actually more interesting to us than what you would see at first blush.” Dude, if we were given to blushing we’d probably start with the burgeoning field of “parent coaching” the Citizen reported on Sunday; given how interested we all are in sex, how can we be so baffled by its ordinary consequences? But I think we’ve moved on from shame now.
I recognize that this attitude is not the only one out there. There are people increasingly determined to switch off that neon sign over our culture. But sexual fulfilment, Malcolm Muggeridge’s “mysticism of materialism,” is the dominant theme in the zeitgeist. Scan the popular magazines; look at the best-sellers; read the surveys. Everyone’s telling us how to transcend the mundane by getting more, better you-know-what. So what the heck. Now that my job is among the sexiest around, I think I’ll cash in by becoming a romance consultant.
Next Valentine’s Day or anniversary, guys, forget the chocolates and roses. Get her a few of my columns or one of those special fire axes with the pointy back ends. And while taking her to a special restaurant and a show might seem to qualify as “event planning,” I think the idea is to do a conference and make sure there are magic markers for the flip charts and those little pads at everyone’s seat. (Did I mention I had trouble getting dates in high school?)
Incidentally, I know what the sign said, but please don’t try to get your money back from the newspaper when I confess that I wrote this column fully clothed. Hey, when your job is as sexy as mine, you don’t have to undress.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]