Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Message for You

This was a week without enough time in it.

A reader recently commented that he didn't know how I had enough time to post as often as I do. I don't know, either.

Just this past week, I had lunch at a Salvadorean restaurant, but not enough time to blog it.

I spent a couple of days in Annapolis and never found a moment to write about it all - some fine meals, fabulous conversations, the scent of the night air from the Severn river- not to mention train rides where I was forced to play "quiet cop." My only reward was the handsome man sitting next to me who whispered, "Good job!" after I silenced the loud talkers.

Today began with a phone call from Steve, the knowledgeable man with the lisp who is replacing the windowsills on the front of my 1876 apartment, letting me know he'd arrived to begin work. Me, I was just beginning my day.

With him working on the roof of the porch below, I had a constant voyeur looking in my front windows as I went about my day in full view of him.

Occasionally, he'd ask me to plug in one of his tools or refill his water bottle, but basically I just tried to carry on like there wasn't a man merely a screen away.

I hope this doesn't mean I'm okay with being watched.

After a most productive day writing, I intended to enjoy a reading at Chop Suey, passing the hordes stuffed into the Baja Bean patio in the early evening sunlight, all but shoulder to shoulder. No, thanks, no patio is worth that.

At Chop Suey, I was greeted by Andrew, notable not only because he was reading from his new book tonight but because Andrew was the occupant of my apartment before me.

I didn't know him back then, but once I moved in and learned his name, I made a point to say hello. You'd be surprised how many times we've talked about this apartment and our distinctly different experiences in the exact same space.

Taking a seat near the back of the store, I soon had hands over my eyes as the poet greeted me, looking lovely as always, barelegged in shorts. A poetry power couple sat down in front of me.

Tom DeHaven read first from a book he'd written back in 1986-87 and thought he'd lost until his wife recently rediscovered it as they began packing for a move.

Interestingly enough, the book, "Painters in Winter" was about many of the same artists as the documentary I'd seen last night. Funny how often those kinds of coincidences happen.

William Glackens is following me and I like it.

The reading began with chapter one about John Sloan, a talented painter scratching out a living doing commercial freelance work (with "payment delayed on a whim" - tell me about it) when he wasn't sitting in the back room of his apartment studying the lives of strangers through windows in the building behind his.

Now you know where the Ashcan School got their inspiration.

Fed up with the publishing industry, Tom is publishing his book online chapter by chapter.

Next Andrew took the stage to read a story from his short story collection, "I've Got a Message for You and You're Not Going to Like It," one of eleven that he wrote over a period of ten years.

It was called "The Skunk Ape of Legend" and concerned  a smelly skunk ape who impregnates a girl named Sara Marie.

Referring to the narrator getting his shoulder busted for the second time, he wrote, "My body told the weather like a goddamn almanac." Now that's a great line.

The moment the reading ended, I left for the Grace Street Theater to see "Phantom of the Operator," a documentary about telephone operators.

I said hello to the James River Film Fest guys on my way in, got a seat in my favorite row and motioned for the man about town to join me, which he did.

He'd seen "Hamlet" at the Byrd this afternoon, a film I'd have loved to have seen if I hadn't been neck-deep in work.

Tonight's documentary interested  me hugely because both of my grandmothers were telephone operators for their entire working lives, part of the thousands of women who made careers of the jobs originally held by teen least until Ma Bell determined that they had no sense of customer service whatsoever and replaced them with estrogen.

As the company put it, "Women submit to management easily." Well, we did, at least.

Director Caroline Martel used vintage corporate film footage to trace the development of women as operators, women who were given physical exams as part of the interview process and hired to work until their wedding day.

I don't know about the men in the audience, but I could tell which decades the footage came from based solely on the women's clothing.

We saw Victorian footage, all the women looking like variations on a Gibson Girl, Roaring 20s operators with their flattened breasts and shapeless dresses and mod '60s girls in mini skirts, long hair and fake eyelashes.

Just so you know, the '60s was also the first time we saw any non-white women as operators.

Teaching the women, and by default, that meant my grandmothers, the importance of putting a smile in their voices, using good emphasis (no monotones!), a moderate rate of speech and a controlled volume, they created a legion of same-sounding operators, the precursors to automated speech.

Of course, eventually women began to be forced out of the industry as automation replaced them and the film raised a fascinating point: When did we start seeing all technological developments as human progress?

While she used the royal "we," I really don't include myself in that group. I'd be the first to say that just because we have the technology doesn't mean we have to use it.

Look at me - no cell phone, no TV, no cable, no air conditioning. A Luddite, to be sure.

And absolutely no guilt when I'm too busy having a wildly enjoyable time to stop and blog about it.

Can I get an amen?

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