A Labor Day axiom: "Do what you love, and you'll never work a day in your life."

Says the man who loves to spend his day arranging otter teeth by height and width: "Boy, isn't that true. No one's hired me in 20 years."

It's a nice thought, but not everyone gets to do what they love. Work = fun is a fairly recent innovation in human history. Seven hundred years ago, no one said, "I love the outdoors, I like exercise, I enjoy being around people but don't really like conversation, so I guess you could say going from town to town picking up plague corpses isn't work, not at all."

What about people who clean out septic tanks? You always want to ask how they chose that line of work, and they'd probably say, "Oh, I just fell into it." (Ha! Sorry.) One cannot possibly love that job. But they do it. Our street was repaved last month; hot, stinky work. The workers weren't singing paving shanties. But they do it.

Aside from the people who do their jobs because, well, it's their job, there are the unsung and seldom-considered jobs you never think about until you run into someone doing them.

For example, we need a new fridge. The cheap brittle plastic pieces that connect the baskets to the rails all are broken, as part of Electrolux's "Customer Alienation" initiative. Well, let's go online and read reviews of fridges to see what's good.

(One hour later)

So what I'm finding out is that I should just get a big wooden box and put a slab of ice in it, because anything more complex breaks down. Great.

Perhaps I should go to a store? I'm sure I could buy a fridge on Amazon, and some guy would bring it up the front steps in three hours, and then some other guy would come by and steal it, but he wouldn't get far. Point is, I like supporting stores where you can look at things and touch them and not rely on Charles9323 who gave it five stars but noted: "Interior has a weird plastic smell, like it's Gumby's coffin." Off to the store, then.

The person who helped me was friendly and enthusiastic, eager to explain all the marvelous features of modern fridges. I don't think she majored in Critical Appliance Studies in college. When she was small she probably imagined some other career and did not expect to be explaining average compressor longevity to some guy who thought he was doing due diligence by opening and closing the doors repeatedly.

But there she was, and she sold me a fridge. She ferreted out the right size in the right brand with such cheerful skill that I would have popped for the undercoating if she'd tried to push it.

That's one of the people you think about on Labor Day: people who might not rapturously adore what they do but do it with a smile. No, she wasn't on commission. She was an average nice Minnesotan. Helps a lot.

Another example: the person whose job consists of getting people not to cancel their cable or satellite service. I'd decided I was paying too much. The same company has a streaming service at half the price, and it doesn't fritz out in bad weather. (During the broadcast era, we complained when the picture was "snowy," and now the picture goes out because it is literally snowy.)

I called up, sat on hold for a while, grateful that they'd stopped using the old hold music: mournful pan flutes punctuated now and then with eagle screams. It was like being at a wake for a Peruvian shaman. Now it is all upbeat and modern: We're happy you're here to withdraw your business! I thought about what I'd say: If they could knock my bill down by 60%, matching the price on their streaming service, I'd stay, because my wife knows how to use the satellite remote and doesn't like the streaming remote.

You can do that, you know. Call, threaten to quit, and, shazam, your bill is reduced AND you get a premium channel AND the football package AND free remote batteries AND a coffee mug with a picture of Tony Soprano to make you think they'll send some boys around if you make noises about getting out. It's like calling your mortgage company and saying, "You know, I'm paying you guys too much interest," and they not only drop your rate, but they redecorate the sun porch and give you new towels for the bathroom.

Eventually I spoke with someone in Retention. She was not happy. She understood my situation. She heard it all day. There was only so much she could do. Thank you for your business. Perhaps we'll meet again, on the other side. Farewell, sweet prince.

I don't think she loved her job. All day, every day, dealing with a line of people who wanted to cancel. You wondered if she daydreamed of a life selling fridges.

I think of all of them on this day. All labor is honorable, and deserves our respect and thanks. Just not a day off. We need gas and groceries and hardware store stuff. But otherwise, totally, thanks!

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks