Now I Dream of Concrete Sculpture

Author: Ed Cohen

About a year ago I started to get that feeling of unease that sometimes descends upon men in their early 40s like me. Not the one about the expanding forehead. This was that feeling that maybe I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do career-wise. You know — that my life had been a tragic misguided waste, at least during normal business hours.

To find out for sure, I made an appointment with a career counseling service offered to employees where I work. It was housed in a small building downtown. I arrived and was ushered into the office of a nice woman who, by her age, I guessed to have lots of experience. We talked about my doubts and interests and insecurities. I had the feeling she was more used to dealing with people whose job concerns involved their repeatedly losing theirs because of crimes committed to support their drug habit, but she listened politely to my Loggins & Messina-grade angst.

One of the things she said they could do was let me take standardized tests designed to help identify one’s vocational inclinations. She had me take two tests — more like surveys, really. The one I remember was called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It was full of questions like, Among your friends, are you the last to hear what’s going on or full of news about everybody? The former. The shameful truth is that I might not notice for a week if one of my office associates turned into a mastodon.

My answers yielded a score in the form of a four-character code, I.N.T.J, shorthand for my personality type. “I” stood for introversion, “N” for intuition, “T” for thinking and “J” for judging.

I later found a description of the INTJ personality at a website devoted to the Myers-Briggs test. We INTJs, it said, are “independent, innovative, logical and driven by the inner world of ideas and possibilities.” To others, we appear “quietly self-confident (and sometimes stubborn) critic[s] of the status quo — convinced that reality can be altered, the future reshaped.” This was sounding accurate, pleasantly accurate. The celebrity section of the site said Dwight Eisenhower was an INTJ. I guessed, though, that the descriptions of all of the personality types were probably flattering. Like signs of the Zodiac, I doubted there was any code that translated to “cruel, slow-witted and prone to nose-picking.”

After obtaining my type-code, I was told to look in a booklet listing hundreds of occupations and find the ones with INTJ next to them. That meant they suited my personality type. I hoped to find it paired with jobs like inventor, political cartoonist, humor columnist, photographer, graphic designer, offensive coordinator — occupations that had appealed to me over the years. But as I flipped from one page to the next page I couldn’t find INTJ anywhere.

I eventually spotted it next to one — and only one — job. Concrete Sculptor.

So this was what I was born to do.

Wait. What is a concrete sculptor? I’d never heard of this occupation, and I doubt anyone else has either. It was like being told I was predestined to affix square-root buttons to pocket calculators. I tried imagining what a concrete sculptor did. Are they the people who design gnomes or those cement porch geese that housewives dress in raincoats in the spring and Pilgrim suits around Thanksgiving? Shoot me now.

Maybe, I imagined, they work on a bigger scale — dams, freeway off-ramps, temporary lane dividers, those geometric ceilings above newer subway stations. I began to think this might not be so bad an occupation after all. So I hopped on the Internet and went to, the giant job search site. I typed in “concrete sculptor.” To my utter astonishment, it came back with 727 hits.

The first job was in Portland, Oregon, branch manager for a waterproofing company. Nowhere in the description did it mention sculpting, but the salary range was $50,000 to $80,000 “plus bonus opportunity and vehicle.” At least my career change would be a step up in pay.

Listing No. 2 was for a production superintendent in the Washington, D.C., area. I’d be working, the ad said, for “the nation’s largest specialty contractor in the field of concrete and masonry reconstruction.” Again, no mention of sculpture, but the salary was $56,000 to $70,000 with “bonus opportunity and vehicle.” Clearly we concrete sculptors command trippin’ wheels.

The third listing — no, I’m not going to go through all 727 — was in Dayton, Ohio. An employer was seeking a “precast concrete detailer/checker.” I thought to myself, I am a detail-oriented person (translation: anal), and I’ve been judged competent at checking things like oil levels, spelling and when to use who or whom. So I clicked open the listing.

The second sentence said the job called for “a complete knowledge of AutoCAD.” To be truthful, I have an incomplete knowledge of AutoCAD. Which is to say, I have a vague idea of what it is (some sort of computer-aided design software). But I imagined I could bluff my way through the interview. (“Actually, I asked for AutoCAD for Christmas when I was 14, but after my father’s double lung transplant, all they could afford was ManualCAD.”) Unfortunately, the job also called for 5+ years of experience in “detailing and checking Architectural Precast Concrete Erection Drawings.”

The ad didn’t specify a salary range, but it said the employer offered the industry’s most generous pay and benefit package. Based on my accumulated knowledge of concrete-sculpting compensation, this could mean only one thing: a Jaguar! Maybe they’d even throw in a jet ski for the weekends to clear my mind of those disturbing erection drawings.

Needless to say, I’m not yet working as a concrete sculptor. But if there’s anyone out there looking for a reality-altering, future-reshaping introvert who’s willing to train and by all indications would be invaluable in the event of a ground war in Europe, I’m ready to talk.

Bring the car brochures.

Ed Cohen is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine. For now.

Notre Dame Magazine, summer 2002