Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Reading Place

In the mid 1980's, some financial hiccups similar in nature to our current unstable malaise made for nervous times for long-term employment. Promises of company longevity were few and those that were offered weren't worth the breath exhaled in hope by the H.R. dept extolling a company's worth. So, with a young son and the Ever Loving Wife home caring for our future, any position with moderate claims of survival past a year was worth investigating. I hooked myself up with a medium manufacturing conglomerate that showed some promise as it had collected a diverse group of smaller companies concentrating on such specific products that competition, at least in the States, was fairly limited. The cozy arena of these products was filled with equally sized firms that, while not really colluding, had established and, seemingly, mutually agreed upon territories and sales volume which kept everybody happy. Not rich. Not expansive. Happy.
The company I'd joined had manufacturing plants in Maryland, Vermont, and upstate New York. In my position at the firm, I had to make repetitive and long-stay visits to all three plants, working at each facility on a rotating 1 week basis. While the plants in Vermont and New York were, I hate to use the word but it is so true, in bucolic areas it meant I'd be far away from the ELW and son from Monday through Friday during his formative years and our formative marriage. The fact that everything turned out so well these many years later can only be credited to the ELW's patience, resolve, and devotion.
As I was soon to discover, the company I'd joined with thoughts of staying with for a while was a company that seemed destined to be around considerably less than a while. Quality issues combined with an incalcitrant union incapable of seeing the fully-loaded Chinese freight train coming up over the horizon and cash flow issues requiring daily hand-wringing at the local bank made it obvious that I'd be in job search mode from the second week of my employment. In the mean while, the proverbial bread or bacon or whatever I was supposed to be bringing home had to be provided, so I stayed with the inevitably doomed firm for a year.
It was an intense 365 days, a period I look back on with wonder that our little family survived and one that I look back in pleasure for each day that began with an anxious exhaling of that night's dreams and nightmares. We were young and relatively naive about surviving tight and unpredictable times. The sun was always shining despite the occasional cumulonimbus plowing through.

From my end of that year's events, each 7:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m. day was jam-packed with minutiae and dooms to get through to the next day. As it wasn't my company, my plant, it became easier (and self-preserving) to step back sometimes and look at the sucking whirlpool that swallowed our daily efforts. What also kept my sanity intact was reading; it offered a sedative that staring at a motel TV screen could not provide. One of the books I read during that time was Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes. Prior to my weekly stays in Watertown, I'd never heard of the book, first published in 1968, nor its author, Mr. Exley. The New York plant I spent some time at was located just outside of Watertown, NY. A local bookstore was toting local authors and Frederick Exley, a writer with a truly tragic life, was a Watertown native.

"A Fan's Notes", not a chipper novel, was a perfect book for me to read at the time. A story measured in tonnage as far as depressing goes, it put my own situation in perspective. Beautifully written, no, make that obsessively written, the main character, a "fictitious" Mr. Exley, moved at a sluggish pace through the heap of his life. It's a book I loved reading but one that, like Mr. Schaub, I would not urge any friend to read as I would not want to be connected with the long term deep mood that reading this book would bring.

What struck me most about the book and what I always come back to is how Exley's Watertown and "my" Watertown were so similar. After reading one of his chapters, I went out in the late evening and just drove around the downtown square of Watertown and then out to the beautiful farms and fields surrounding the town. One early summer evening, I even made it up to Alexandria Bay, where the darkening blue skies were streaked by the quickest moving cloud formations I'd ever seen. My experiences up in the Watertown area are inseparable from Exley's book and "A Fan's Notes" is part and parcel with my months up North. I can't imagine reading that book anywhere else than in Watertown. I've tried picking it up again to read in another location and have had no success. It's the same odd thing with Steinbeck's East of Eden. Part of a summer soon after college was spent lolling about in Sidari on Corfu. A trip to Corfu town for some cheap gyros ended up with the pickup of Steinbeck's book. I spent a few days on some of the rock formations just soaking up the rays and Steinbeck's words. Sidari and "East of Eden" are forever entwined for me, each partner in this reading marriage evoking the other.

How about you folks? Any book/place that are forever joined?


Actually, yes: The Visiting Professor by Robert Littell (in German translation) is in my mind closely connected to a cold winter holiday in Northern Germany... The days were short in we read most of the stuff our cosy holiday appartment had to offer. My hubby found the book and read it, quoting from it most of the time and telling me about the protagonists... I was really hooked and couldn't wait to read it myself and when I did, it was still a sheer pleasure, even though I knew some of the stuff... Later, we ordered the English version at Amazon, it was a used book that came from an American library... Nice.
I like discussing books with my hubby, we tend to generate our own ideas and expressions while doing it (though I read many books he doesn't - but that's not important) and such nice times are hard to forget.
Hey Alcessa! Long time, no visit. Yes, I too have been a non-visitor to the Moose, so I won't be scolding.

I'm with you on the spousal reading thing. My ELW is blessed both with a luxuriously deep voice and natural and trained inflection/modification tricks so that when she reads a telephone directory to me, I swoon.
Her voice comes in handy as her ameliorative commenting on my plethora of faults amuse me rather than froth me up into a spinning agita.
Oh Darko, I've actually been keeping up with your delicious writing, most of the time, it's just the commenting I have been neglecting recently, more or less everywhere... You see, I don't like commenting if I appreciate a post but my frame of mind is temporarily of a different type (like: ueber-busy, or fussy, or much too down-to-earth) or if my mind is accidentally fluent in an inappropriate language.. . :-)

A nice description of your wife's abilities... It's similar with us: while I am not able even to imitate a decent cat, my hubby can do accents, feeling etc.
Not a particular book, but a particular author...Henry Miller's writing must be read where it was written, in Big Sur, CA...speaking of bucolic. ;-)
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