Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Through the mansions of fear/ Through the mansions of pain"

Some twenty years ago, when I was still a sweet young thing, I read Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line at the Copley Square branch of the Boston Public Library.  Rivethead is Ben Hamper's memoir of working on a GM assembly line as American car manufacturing died.  From what I remember of the book, Hamper makes it compelling because no one looks good.  This story isn't about the triumph, or even downfall, of the working man.  Instead it's a story of the distrust, bitterness, and sloth that comes with economic decline.

I've been thinking about that book lately as I consider my structural place in an economy that doesn't want to pay for the skills I've got.

With LB, I've been reading a lot about work in the form of Katy and the Big Snow.  Cities that work, where everyone has a job, imagine that.  I've been trying to introduce my Lois Lenski's to LB, but so far nothing has caught her fancy.

I loved these books as a kid, and I find it sad that she seems to have fallen out of favor (and print).  You would think Lenski would fit right in with the contemporary problem novel.  Maybe it's too clear in her books that the problem is capitalism?  Or maybe her characters deal too well with their problems?  In any case, I really want a copy of Shoo Fly Girl to replace the one I had as a kid.

My attempts at Lenski indoctrination may be unsuccessful, but we did take LB on a field trip to Slater Mill (first water-powered cotton textile mill in America), where we learned a lot about child labor and the Rhode Island System of industrial labor (hire the family and get the kids for cheap).  Maybe life an an unemployed intellectual isn't so bad after all.

LB was most impressed by the river that once powered the mill, and least impressed by the loud, creaky, underground water wheel: "No like it! No like it! No wheel, no!"

Luckily the machinery was so loud that no one could hear a child scream-I'm sure that's what they said back in the day too.

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