Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Space

I was seriously distracted while trying to start Volume 4 of Les Misérables today on account of the young guy who's moved into the cubicle behind mine at work getting a financial product software demonstration all afternoon. One on one, from a young guy with the same--the very same--gruffed-up young guy at work voice as his--to the point it was freaky--four feet away from my head.

I'm telling you.

But I love Victor Hugo's tone for the July Monarchy and that revolution--the choice of serenity; really the choice of elaborately elevated but undeniably airborne high-mindedness. A tone above irony: beyond irony into what stratosphere? Truth? Purity? The realm of Goddess Wisdom? It's the sound of elder status attained, taken, pulled off.

Just remembered: early this morning I dreamt that I was re-reading Proust again and it was making me so happy!

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Struggle with the Modern

Watching the Mets play baseball is exactly like watching the final season of Dynasty.


This past Christmas one of the brokers we work with had a kind of Jerry Maguire moment but rather than writing something original he sent everybody copies of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. He'd seen the movie and loved it and then read the book and loved that too and he thought everyone should read it. There were copies all over the place and I ended up with one. It's the ash-gray cheap paperback movie release edition with Viggo Mortensen in ashes on the cover. I kept the book at my desk and had never thought to read it as I'd never wanted to--had planned, in fact, always to avoid it--but later it occurred to me that I ought to, seeing as how I was reading Les Misérables at work and The Road seemed to be about misery too, but modern. Last week I started it. I haven't gotten very far. First impression, coming from Brooklyn: in a depopulated world surely they could have found a Razor Scooter somewhere for that kid.

Power Point

Sunday Night Baseball: What do I need to hear about Bob Uecker? I want to hear about the baseball.

Blackening the screen, I return to writing about Les Misérables. One day last week I was trying to read one of the most exciting sections of one of the most exciting series of scenes and chapters ever written, while at work, when suddenly one of the conditions of my employment as outlined in my job description required me to leave my desk and go down to the building lobby to greet and escort some people from a foreign company upstairs to a meeting room. Previously I'd booked the meeting and the room; but when on my way to the elevator I stopped to check that the room was empty, I found it occupied. I looked through the window in the door and saw sitting around the table a bunch of guys I recognized as working here; two I knew their names. Immediately I judged this meeeting to be of no further importance and opened the door and gave them five more minutes, since it would take me that long to get back with "my" meeting's participants.

The guests waiting at the security desk downstairs proved to be three very nice Canadians (all Canadians are so nice), two men and a woman, who run a mining company in Canada, accompanied by the broker from a Canadian firm who was escorting them through their day of meetings with fund managers whom they hoped to persuade to buy their stock. If the manager buys and the company strikes gold (in this case, literally) then the value of the fund will rise with the value of the shares, putting more money into the pensions and retirement accounts whose own managers, in turn, have invested in the fund. I was about to write that brokers have a hard job; in fact all these jobs are hard, much harder than mine. But they pay very much better and I assume, having chosen mine, that they too were willingly chosen--I don't begrudge, and I usually like, the higher wage earners I meet every day. Every other person I bring upstairs for a meeting makes unimaginable magnitudes more than I do of money; so, I make other things. I'm like Marius, living poor to leave more room for contemplation--don't you see?

Anyway, back upstairs with the Canadians I've told them to dawdle in the "washrooms" in case the room still isn't vacant and in fact it's not. I end up parking them just outside, on and around a nearby credenza, and I open the door again. I see these guys I recognize, again, right by the door is one guy who's in some kind of charge here, seated around the table in shirtsleeves with their hands--there must have been six or seven even of these guys--identically holding their heads from behind in interlocked fingers, making their elbows like wings, happy as kids full of sunshine and hamburger; and then the one guy I haven't seen before, he's wearing a suit, he's standing and giving a financial product software demonstration from a laptop and projector on the pull-down screen. And he is very far from being finished. With smooth haste he continues to enumerate the range and speed of features for processes he's still only halfway through listing. The presentation, clearly, is timed to suffer fewer interruptions than it had that afternoon: the shirtsleeves I recognize burned this guy's gasoline very fiercely, cruising among show-offy digressions while he stood there for over an hour in his suit. I've got the door wide open at this point and the Canadians are widening (not rolling!) their kind eyes at the unstoppable torrent of technical jargon that's reaching us, so much like one of their nation's own numerous natural wonders I imagine. At last the shirtsleeves seem to have taken their fill and they come lumbering out in the style of their leader, a heavy lumberer, leaving ungracious tramp-marks all over the tail end of the guy's presentation while he's left to unplug his equipment; I offered but he didn't want help. Nor could I tell him that I thought he was the true professional in the room and that with the advantages of a top-tier degree and influential family connections he'd no doubt have been sitting where they were. Indeed, this would have been no sort of compliment. And I wanted to get back to my reading.

Men at work: no wonder there's so much written about them. There really is a lot of action there.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

No Such Thing as Too Much Coincidence

Today at work I realized at the very the end of the day that I had a hole in my pants. High on the inside of the left leg, up near the crotch, not visible (I asked) but big enough to be embarrassing. Don't know when it appeared; I recall that since around lunchtime I'd wondered vaguely how I'd sat in water because I felt a little chill. These pants, as I figure it, are at least 10 years old and possibly 20. Back when pants lasted I bought them. There's no replacing them now. Now that they are rags, in which I sat (unwittingly) at work and read the chapters re-introducing the now destitute Thenardiers; although that name is being withheld by Victor Hugo to protect the dignity of the novel's construction. I'm wondering: was it, is it, the wild role coincidence plays in Les Misérables that has (apparently) kept it off college syllabi? When Léon in Rouen runs into Emma and Charles at the opera, that's nicely done, classy, sophisticated. When it transpires that Marius has been living next door to and even at one point paying back rent for the Thenardiers--whom he has spent all the spare resources he has upon seeking in distant towns so he can thank the father for having saved his father at Waterloo (hah!)--and he's in love with the girl who was the child they once abused; but she's gone now, and the daughters once so favored by fortune and their mother have turned hoyden and worse, entering his small quarters in all kinds of ragged undress, arousing his pity, his aching pity--and mine, and anyone's who can read it as something other than a great comeuppance for their former cruelty, although it's that as well--when, I mean, major characters turn out to have been sharing a connecting wall (with a peek hole in it no less) inside the same dwelling where two other major characters once lived, then certain judgements might perceive a surfeit of things too improbable too neatly done, at least for serious readers.

But I don't.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Les Misérables was funny today! I was laughing at my desk at the grandfather's tirade against student protestors and at the lancer great-newphew Theodule who is a fool standing there trying to attract Marius's share of the inheritance by agreeing at every pause in the screed; to no avail. I hope! I am on the side of Marius. He fell for Cosette today and it made him hilarious.

What a great book!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

La Règle du Jeu

One day last week I was distracted from reading Les Misérables at work by the news that an angry mob was headed downtown to protest the fat cats on Wall Street. There would be a massing, I learned, at City Hall from 3:30 to 4 followed by an angry short march south. Employed as I am I couldn't get away from my desk until somewhat past five; but I was able to pass a portion of that time in reading the account of the salon to which Marius would be taken by his grandfather as a child among elders. The ultras, survivors of the Terror, refugees returned at last to live once more under a king in a Paris so changed they can barely look at it, hating the new in their old age, hating their old age in the new, up-to-date in despising Napoleon--an irony--they frighten the quiet child. There is a quality of having been unearthed about them; they avoid direct sunlight; I don't recall any mention of food. A contemporary reader draws the obvious conclusion: Anne Rice read her Victor Hugo.

And all the rest of us read her.

I felt tired on my way to the train which I was catching at Rector Street but I decided to walk a block out of my way to observe the angry mob. It seemed too good to ignore as material. Here I was trying to write every day about reading Les Misérables at work and with the revolution in progress one street up I go home to my rooms? What else was I doing a short walk from Wall Street if I didn't bear witness in the spirit of the book I now admire above all other novels?

What would I have been back then? Not an aristocrat. I start to add ", probably" but pause to lay out the rules of the game for myself. Had I come from the same sort of family I do--clergy; poor Protestant clergy--and been the same sort of unmarried woman I am, I would have been--what? A governess at best, more likely a maid. Today I am a secretary; but thanks to computers, now I can be a published writer, too! Another pause, while I take a moment to feel grateful for the labor-saving devices that took almost all the white women out of the serving class and set us in front of machines all day instead. Think: with my old drinking problem the same I might have wound up as a laundress. Dead of syphilis. Existence used to be so uniformly hard and dangerous for single women.

Although many laundresses were artists' models.

I was so glad to miss the rush hour thunderstorm today. Work was slow so I got to leave at three when it was still brilliantly sunny outside and come home and do my laundry plus all this writing. That's what's great about women: just give us another two hours and we can accomplish anything.

There were any number of women of all races in the Wall Street neighborhood that afternoon walking singly towards train entrances in office clothes. Otherwise, the streets were filled from side to side with New York City Police officers, police cars, police barriers, police motorcycles, possibly horses, and police emergency vehicles of every sort except the nice fancy ones that they save for the movies and certain parades. Everything but the best for this angry mob, might have been the message here. Naturally I didn't have my camera with me otherwise I could just be saying See Below for what it looks like in the city these days when an angry mob is expected. It's grim. There is very little space for mob activity. A narrow corridor between crowd control barriers from the sidewalk halfway to the middle of the street is what you get, it's really only suitable for steady walking; no one from outside is going to leap the barricade and join.

And this angry mob was exclusive. The unions, swelling out lettered t-shirts identifying their brotherhoods; rough faces, crude laughter, uncouth midsections; plus a couple of short gray haired lady teachers with gigantic rear ends who were limping past when I arrived--one of them was shouldering a sign that read Greed Is Bad which coming from a teachers' union member I liked--and frankly it looked just like Gangs of New York except that the gangs were being ravaged by middle age instead of by club-wielding enemies. That they were being paid to be there was very much the same, however.

Paid mobs: would I have been part of one? If I'd turned "laundress," probably; but if I'd kept it together, I mean, could you ever have found me where money changed hands and mobs were made? No: and why not? Because I would have been too busy working! What would I have been? I can tell you. Coming back from the shops at five o'clock because the new cook forgot to order the peacocks' tongues so it's an emergency; but a mob soldiers crowds are blocking the streets and keeping me from rushing home.