“All happiness depends on courage and work.”
― Honoré de Balzac
Day Two, Tuesday, July 11, 2017
One snippet of what I wrote that day.
The first time Jambalaya Joe cooked for us he made – of course – jambalaya. A great black cast iron kettle, suspended over a ring of roaring blue gas jets fed by a rusty steel bottle mounted on his trailer, bubbled furiously and steamed like a witch’s cauldron into the humid Louisiana air.
Rice, mysterious lumps of meat, and bags of vegetables went in – to roil and cook.
Then Jambalaya Joe looked around as if to make sure nobody was watching (though we all were – ravenous after a long, hard working day) extracted a large tin box from a stained canvas bag, lifted it over the boiling pot, and opened the lid with the creak of old hinges.
A cloud of red spice tumbled out to disappear into the boil below. It changed the color of the stew from a flat brown to a fiery red.
“That’s his famous secret spice mix,” said some random stranger next to me, complete with a wink and a subtle elbow to the ribs.
Jambalaya Joe cooked the evening meal for us every night, hired by The Company to feed the work crew until the job was finished.
He made something different each night. Jambalaya became gumbo, then red beans and rice, Irish stew, chili, then spaghetti and meatballs… on and on – visiting every cuisine of the world. I never imagined a cast-iron kettle could be so versatile.
But every meal he dumped the exact same tin box filled with the same secret spice mix into the pot.
“Looking from outside into an open window one never sees as much as when one looks through a closed window. There is nothing more profound, more mysterious, more pregnant, more insidious, more dazzling than a window lighted by a single candle. What one can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what goes on behind a windowpane. In that black or luminous square life lives, life dreams, life suffers.”
― Charles Baudelaire
“I don’t like work–no man does–but I like what is in the work–the chance to find yourself. Your own reality–for yourself not for others–what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.”
― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day ten – Hollow, by Breece D’J Pancake
Read it online here:
So again today we have a story about work – about work under desperate conditions. Like yesterday‘s The Zero Meter Diving Team we have young men working in the energy industry. It is costing them their lives.
Hollow is the story of a West Virginia coal miner, Buddy. Things aren’t going very well for Buddy, he drinks too much, his lungs are shot, and his girl is looking to leave him and go back to life as a prostitute. The only thing he has going good is that the coal seam is unexpectedly thickening, promising some extra cash.
At the end of Hollow – Buddy tries for a mental escape from his inescapable troubles by going on a hunt. He kills and skins his prey in an expert, methodical fashion. But there is something watching him that he is unaware of.
Something deadly… something waiting.
A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day Four – Orientation, by Daniel Orozco.
Read it online, here:
I remember when my kids were little I told them to watch a certain movie – because it had great wisdom to pass on to their growing and impressionable brains. The movie was Office Space – and I was proud of my fatherly wisdom in getting them educated in the ways of the world.
When the movie was over my son said to me, “Jeez Dad, you are so lucky that you don’t have a job like that.”
“Of course I do,” I said to him, “as a matter of fact, everybody has a job like that.”
There is truly great truth and wisdom in Office Space. I’m not talking about the romance where the nerdy guy ends up with Jennifer Aniston – that never happens. And I’m not talking about the part of the plot where they put in a virus and steal tiny bits of pennies on every transaction – that never…. well, actually it did happen – but that’s not important.
I’m talking about the TPS reports. Life is all about how you deal with the TPS reports and the humiliation that comes with having to fill them out.
As a matter of fact, in real life the TPS reports aren’t important – they are sort of a workplace MacGuffin – it’s really about the humiliation, pure and simple. Being humiliated in front of your “superiors” is the only profitable activity in the workforce that can’t be automated or outsourced.
Once you get to the point where your self-respect is a forgotten ghost of the past, your dreams have been ground to dust, and you are willing to do whatever degrading abasement is required to get through the day… you discover there is good money in that.
And that brings us to today’s story, Orientation. In it a new employee, you, is getting the introduction to a new job with your workspace, and most importantly, your cow-orkers.
The office is, of course, a horribly dehumanizing place. But the cow-orkers are all all too human. Everybody has a passionate crush on everybody else – though never reciprocally – so the place becomes a vicious circle of unrequited desire and lust.
Everybody has their quirks – from hiding in the ladies room now and then to an actual serial killer. These are open secrets, though nobody ever talks about them. Except during orientation.
It’s ultimately an uplifting story. Flawed humanity oozes up through the sea of cubicles like a flawed template through a Powerpoint Presentation.
Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone. Let the Voicemail System answer it. This is your Voicemail System Manual. There are no personal phone calls allowed. We do, however, allow for emergencies. If you must make an emergency phone call, ask your supervisor first. If you can’t find your supervisor, ask Phillip Spiers, who sits over there. He’ll check with Clarissa Nicks, who sits over there. If you make an emergency phone call without asking, you may be let go.These are your in- and out-boxes. All the forms in your inbox must be logged in by the date shown in the upper- left- hand corner, initialed by you in the upper-right-hand corner, and distributed to the Processing Analyst whose name is numerically coded in the lower-left-hand corner. The lower-right-hand corner is left blank. Here’s your Processing Analyst Numerical Code Index. And here’s your Forms Processing Procedures Manual.
100 Notable books of 2013 – From the New York Times, edited (reduced down) by me.
FICTION & POETRY
THE ACCURSED. By Joyce Carol Oates. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Oates’s extravagantly horrifying, funny and prolix postmodern Gothic novel purports to be the definitive account of a curse that infected bucolic Princeton, N.J., in 1905 and 1906.
BLEEDING EDGE. By Thomas Pynchon. (Penguin Press, $28.95.) Airliners crash not only into the twin towers but into a shaggy-dog tale involving a fraud investigator and a white-collar outlaw in this vital, audacious novel.
THE CIRCLE. By Dave Eggers. (Knopf/McSweeney’s, $27.95.) In a disturbing not-too-distant future, human existence flows through the portal of a company that gives Eggers’s novel its title.
CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT. By Edwidge Danticat. (Knopf, $25.95.) Danticat’s novel is less about a Haitian girl who disappears on her birthday than about the heart of a magical seaside village.
THE COLOR MASTER: Stories. By Aimee Bender. (Doubleday, $25.95.) Physical objects help Bender’s characters grasp an overwhelming world.
THE DINNER. By Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett. (Hogarth, $24.) In this clever, dark Dutch novel, two couples dine out under the cloud of a terrible crime committed by their teenage sons.
DIRTY LOVE. By Andre Dubus III. (Norton, $25.95.) Four linked stories expose their characters’ bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses.
DISSIDENT GARDENS. By Jonathan Lethem. (Doubleday, $27.95.) Spanning 80 years and three generations, Lethem’s novel realistically portrays an enchanted — or disenchanted — garden of American leftists in Queens.
DOCTOR SLEEP. By Stephen King. (Scribner, $30.) Now grown up, Danny, the boy with psycho-intuitive powers in “The Shining,” helps another threatened magic child in a novel that shares the virtues of King’s best work.
DUPLEX. By Kathryn Davis. (Graywolf, $24.) A schoolteacher takes an unusual lover in this astonishing, double-hinged novel set in a fantastical suburbia.
THE FLAMETHROWERS. By Rachel Kushner. (Scribner, $26.99.) In Kushner’s frequently dazzling second novel, an impressionable artist navigates the volatile worlds of New York and Rome in the 1970s.
THE GOLDFINCH. By Donna Tartt. (Little, Brown, $30.) The “Goldfinch” of the title of Tartt’s smartly written Dickensian novel is a painting smuggled through the early years of a boy’s life — his prize, his guilt and his burden.
THE GOOD LORD BIRD. By James McBride. (Riverhead, $27.95.) McBride’s romp of a novel, the 2013 National Book Award winner, is narrated by a freed slave boy who passes as a girl. It’s a risky portrait of the radical abolitionist John Brown in which irreverence becomes a new form of homage.
A GUIDE TO BEING BORN: Stories. By Ramona Ausubel. (Riverhead, $26.95.) Ausubel’s fantastical collection traces a cycle of transformation: from love to conception to gestation to birth.
I WANT TO SHOW YOU MORE: Stories. By Jamie Quatro. (Grove, $24.) Quatro’s strange, thrilling and disarmingly honest first collection draws from a pool of resonant themes (Christianity, marital infidelity, cancer, running) in agile recombinations.
MADDADDAM. By Margaret Atwood. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $27.95.) The survivors of “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood” await a final showdown, in a trilogy’s concluding entry.
METAPHYSICAL DOG. By Frank Bidart. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) To immerse oneself in these poems is to enter a crowd of unusual characters: artistic geniuses, violent misfits, dramatic self-accusers (including the poet himself).
THE SON. By Philipp Meyer. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Members of a Texas clan grope their way from the ordeals of the frontier to celebrity culture’s absurdities in this masterly multigenerational saga.
THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING. By Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Translated by Anne McLean. (Riverhead, $27.95.) This gripping Colombian novel, built on the country’s tragic history with the drug trade, meditates on love, fate and death.
TENTH OF DECEMBER: Stories. By George Saunders. (Random House, $26.) Saunders’s relentless humor and beatific generosity of spirit keep his highly moral tales from succumbing to life’s darker aspects.
WANT NOT. By Jonathan Miles. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26.) Linking disparate characters and story threads, Miles’s novel explores varieties of waste and decay in a consumer world.
THE AMERICAN WAY OF POVERTY: How the Other Half Still Lives. By Sasha Abramsky. (Nation Books, $26.99.) This ambitious study, based on Abramsky’s travels around the country meeting the poor, both describes and prescribes.
THE CANCER CHRONICLES: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery. By George Johnson. (Knopf, $27.95.) Johnson’s fascinating look at cancer reveals certain profound truths about life itself.
ECSTATIC NATION: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877. By Brenda Wineapple. (Harper, $35.) A masterly Civil War-era history, full of foiled schemes, misfired plans and less-than-happy endings.
THE FARAWAY NEARBY. By Rebecca Solnit. (Viking, $25.95.) Digressive essays, loosely about storytelling, reflect a difficult year in Solnit’s life.
FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. By Sheri Fink. (Crown, $27.) The case of a surgeon suspected of euthanizing patients during the Katrina disaster.
THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. By Rick Atkinson. (Holt, $40.) The final volume of Atkinson’s monumental war trilogy shows that the road to Berlin was far from smooth.
THE RIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code. By Margalit Fox. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.)Focusing on an unheralded but heroic Brooklyn classics professor, Fox turns the decipherment of Linear B into a detective story.
THE SKIES BELONG TO US: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking. By Brendan I. Koerner. (Crown, $26.) Refusing to make ’60s avatars of the unlikely couple behind a 1972 skyjacking, Koerner finds a deeper truth about the nature of extremism.
THE SLEEPWALKERS: How Europe Went to War in 1914. By Christopher Clark. (Harper, $29.99.) A Cambridge professor offers a thoroughly comprehensible account of the polarization of a continent, without fixing guilt on one leader or nation.
THOSE ANGRY DAYS: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941. By Lynne Olson. (Random House, $30.) The savage political dispute between Roosevelt and the isolationist movement, presented in spellbinding detail.
TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. By Evgeny Morozov. (PublicAffairs, $28.99.) Digital-age transparency may threaten the spirit of democracy, Morozov warns.
THE UNWINDING: An Inner History of the New America. By George Packer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) With a nod to John Dos Passos, Packer offers a gripping narrative survey of today’s hard times; the 2013 National Book Award winner for nonfiction.
Between Candy and I, we have three of the five covered.
People don’t actually like creativity.