Tuesday, March 28, 2006

0 to 60 in Chapter 9, an Excerpt

I spent three weeks of my 19th summer loading shingles into a machine that applied a layer of grey paint to its contents (the shingles). At the end of my three week temp job I was offered, and I declined, a full-summer placement. The factory lunatics had given me a glimpse into what I would become after a full summer of such boredom. So it is difficult for me to imagine how Bumi, who has twice my intellectual capacity and was crazy before he began factory work, survived six years of it.

I do know that during those years he became an almost complete insomniac, consumed hundreds of books a year, lost complete touch with his coffee shop friends, and was in constant conflict with Ada’s family. It was only his devotion to Ada and his children that kept him living.

Baharuddin was born under the usual sheen of slick placental fluids and Bumi was surprised to find himself as amazed by his second child as he was by the first. Bumi’s dazed amazement inspired Ada to choose the boy’s name, a description of newness. Newness never fails to astound.

A week after Baharuddin’s birth, taking inspiration from ‘Roots’, which he finished reading while Ada was in labour, Bumi took his 7-pound newborn outside the hospital walls and cradled his whole backside in his left hand and lifted him to see the stars and the black heavens. He said, “Look my son.” Baharuddin cried as his white cotton blankets unfurled and fell around Bumi’s hand.

“Look son,” repeated Bumi in a loud deep voice. “I want to tell you something very important. You are immensely special and important. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. In this world you will be expected to conform and you will receive nothing if not pressure to be numb, to obey, to feed the collective ambiguity. Don’t let them do that to you. You are the most important thing, other than what you see high above and around you. Always remember that.”

Bumi gathered the crying infant back into his arms, covered him again and whispered gently in his ear, “You are more important than anything except the universe itself. God will never help you through this life and I am not a strong man. I will always give you my love and let you be what you want to be. The rest is up to you.”

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I was hoping there'd be more. Seems a shame to end it there. But what say have I in the matter: little-to-none, for the deed is done.

"...consumed hundreds of books a year..." seems like a nasty diet, my boy. You should have a quick word in the man's ear and teach him about protein and carbohydrates and what not. I agree that to embrace literature should form part of everybody's staple figurative diet, but to eat it is sheer lunacy. Too much fibre often results in a burning ring of fire, which is why there's already a song written about it.

P.S. Five Word Stories is waiting on another update. Giddy up!

Say no to books, kids!

Wise words for the child.
Oh I've tried but he's a stubborn man, and he continues to feast on the words of wise women.
ps. AK, more to come on this one, fear not my afro-bearing insomniac.
Well, this snippet is not at all bad; in fact I found it most intriguing. It does leave one wanting for a bit more. However, it is interestingly almost complete with just what you have offered.

I spent three weeks of my 19th summer loading shingles…
I spent about 8 weeks of my 18th, 19th and 20th summers picking apples and pears in Washington/Oregon. This was before the large influx of “transient” farm workers that now do this type of work. Not to date myself, but way, way before.

Do young people still do these kinds of jobs, or have they gone by the wayside? I slept in the orchards in a sleeping bag to save money. Some days I ate only the fruit (sneaking what I could) as my meals. I’m not sure if kids would even be interested in these types of jobs anymore: picking fruit and/or loading shingles.

consumed hundreds of books a year
I hope that the father put comments in the margins, chapter headings and in the index of the books he read. One of my favorite things is to buy a used book with someone else’s comments, notes and underlines in it. The inscriptions are the best. “Happy Reading, From Aunt Mildred and Uncle Fred, Xmas 19XX”. Can’t you just image the niece or nephew getting that book instead of a toy, or cash?

I have also found notes, shopping lists, etc. in the books. Once even a $20 bill (series 1954). I still have it. It will never be spent, and in fact, is still in the book in which I found it (Lectures on the French Revolution).

Perhaps the father in your story made notes, or comments, directed at his child in this large volume of works read. 30 years, or perhaps evem 40 years or so into the future, the child, now grown and the father dead, reads the ideas, thoughts and comments of the father. Dreams, ideas, philosophies that the child never knew his father had are now exposed. “If only I had talked to my father, really talked to him!” the now grown child says, reading in amazement at the wonderful things his father had written in the books!

I am reminded of a book that I found on a train in Europe. Almost to this date. It was on April 1, many, many years ago. A trip that was only to be 1 week in duration during spring break, but due to an unfortunate and premature large inheritance, turned into 3 years of traveling in Europe.

I can remember it as if it were yesterday. You have not yet experienced this, but the older one gets, the more vivid the images of youth become. I, sometimes, can not remember last week, but things that happened 30 or more years ago are extremely fresh in my memory.

My friends, who had gone on the trip to Europe with me, had all gone back to the US. I alone, because of my new found wealth, remained in Europe. I had spent the night sleeping in a park in…well the city does not matter, but it was in Spain. I awoke the next morning, with an awful hangover from too much wine (in an attempt to corral a young Spanish maiden), and with the sudden urge to travel to Italy. I know not why. To this day, I do not know why the thought of Italy came into my head.

I went to the train station and purchased the cheapest ticket I could buy to Rome. I boarded the train, and found a seat. It was unassigned, of course, because of the cheapness of the fare. But lying on the seat I chose was a book. No one was near, so I picked up the book. Amazingly as it may sound, it was an English version. Many, many years ago, in Europe, this was uncommon, to find a book in English.

The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham, was the book. I started to read the book, and read non-stop all the way to Rome. The previous owner of the book wrote his comments, notes and thoughts in the book. Some comments in English, some in French. I was amazed not only at the story by Maugham, but the notes and ideas from the previous reader as well. I did not sleep that night. I only read. I could not put this book down.

I still have this book. The very same book I found so many years ago on the train in Europe. I read this book about every 5 years or so. I make comments and continue to write notes in the very same book that I found in the train many, many years ago. As I have aged, and my life has taken on different perspectives, the comments that I wrote are sometimes even foreign to me.

The title character, Larry, changes after his involvement in WWI. I first read this book during the US involvement in the Viet Nam war. My comments now in this book with the war in Iraq are completely different than they where then. We change, and the world changes along with us.

It is a book that every young man should read. BB, if you have not yet read this book then I do encourage you to do so.

I have no children. I have only nieces and nephews. My personal library of books must number somewhere in the thousands; perhaps when I die it will be even more. I write comments and notes in every single one of the books that I read.

Perhaps one day my nieces or nephew will read one of these books and be amazed at what their Uncle thought.

Perhaps not, and the whole lot of books will be sold to the highest bidder. On ebay.
Thanks Anon. That's a beautiful story about books and your relationship with them. Bumi is the kind of guy who highlights but is minimal with his notes. He is a careful man because he lives in a dangerous time and place for someone with his way of seeing the world.

My version of 'The Razor's Edge' would probably be 'Ishmael' by Daniel Quinn. I read it when I was 20 and a couple times since. I've also read everything I could get my hands on by DQ since. He's a provocative thinker to say the least.
Also, interesting points about the crappy jobs of middle class youth. I did so many odd jobs when I was a kid, everything from pulling everything that resembled a weed from an sweet old lady's yard to digging sewage holes, pumping gas, telemarketing (this was the worst, hard labour's a breeze compared to hard nagging to sell someone something they don't want during dinner hour).

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague of mine who'd grown up in a place where the middle class never did those kind of jobs, even in their youth. It was school school school white collar job. He had a lot of respect for the concept of these 'character-builder' jobs that Canadians do, and so do I. I do so because this kind of labour is still how most people survive in the world, so those of us lucky enough to avoid for most of our lives can sure as hell learn something from the experience.

And I think kids still do crap jobs. As you pointed out the orchard labour is mostly done by migrant workers now. My wife spent some time doing that kind of work and tutoring the Mexicans in English literacy and using the Canadian bank system, that kind of thing, but that's fairly rare. But there are other crap jobs like the ones at MacDonald's that kids do.

The ones I feel bad for, here in Toronto, are the skilled immigrants who go from a place of privilege to hucking fries or driving cab. I respect them immeasurably for the sacrifice they make, often for their children.
My version of 'The Razor's Edge' would probably be 'Ishmael' by Daniel Quinn.

I have not read this book, or any other works of the author. Unfortunately, as you well know, there are too many books and not enough time…

I did sign on to Amazon and read the first four chapters without charge. I can see why you would be engrossed with this manuscript.

You are correct about the youth and the jobs. I should have prefaced my comment with saying “middle class” youth. I am half inclined to believe that it is the parents (middle class) who perhaps discourage their children from working at McDonalds, etc. Not only for status reasons, but the parents just don’t want to have to drive the children to work!

Now, my short weeks of work in the orchards certainly were absolutely nothing compared to the hard work many (no, most) do day in and day out in order to support their families, and bring a better life to their children. Let us just hope that the children, at some point, are able to comprehend just what their parents sacrificed for them.

If I may be so bold as to offer a suggestion of yet another book…In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck. It is about itinerant apple pickers in California and the attempts of two Communists who attempt to “organize” them against the orchard owners. I see that you are in human resources, so I am not sure how you feel about unions. Most in your field are against them.
Steinbeck I've only tackled in movie renditions (East of Eden, Of Mice and Men - both excellent), so it's a good suggestion.

Where to begin on unions. Let's just say I have mixed feelings. I'm thrilled that after several attempts a Toronto group of newspaper deliverers, again mostly immigrants, have successfully unionized. I think they have a lot to gain from this.

But I've seen how nasty unions can be in other situations, how corrupt and how bullyish.
I forgot I wanted to mention about immigration! Boy, what a hot button topic it has been here in the United States.

Well, as far as I’m concerned the trash coming into this country from abroad MUST STOP. I’m tired of the US taking in all the trash of other countries. The borders must be closed, and closed quickly before even more trash arrives. Just read this to understand what I’m talking about.
I apologize on behalf of the City of Toronto; and I will personally compost all the harder in light of this recent reminder. The good people of Michigan have suffered long enough from this atrocity; it's time to find another dump, I mean US State in need of cash, I mean place kind enough to help us maintain our unrestrained consumption.
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