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Working: President, Lordstown Local, UAW

Reading Working last night, I was struck by this passage from the UAW local boss in Lordstown, Ohio, which is timely today even though it was said back in 1972. He's talking about the onset of robotic automation at General Motors, which sped up output but also resulted in extensive layoffs.

When they took the unimates on, we were building sixty an hour. When we came back to work with the unimates, we were building a hundred cars an hour. A unimate is a welding robot. It looks just like a preying mantis. It goes from spot to spot to spot. It releases that thing and it jumps back into position, ready for the next car. They go by them about 110 an hour. They never tire, they never sweat, they never complain, they never miss work. Of course, they don't buy cars. I guess General Motors doesn't understand that argument.

There's twenty two, eleven on each side of the line. They do the work of about two hundred men - so there was a reduction of men.

You always hear economists and business commentators sing the praises of "productivity", which is just a fancy way of saying "producing more with fewer workers." What they never say is that fewer workers also means layoffs, and reduced consumer spending, and lower quality of life in the towns that rely so heavily on the auto industry. Sure, robotics increase production, but at a human cost that is rarely mentioned. Or an economic cost, even to GM - as the union boss points out, robots don't buy cars. Imagine how many more cars GM could have sold all these years if they were still paying the paychecks of several hundred thousand more autoworkers whom were cast aside in the quest for "efficiency."

May 31, 2009 in Books, Current Affairs, Studs Terkel: Working | Permalink | Comments (2)

What I Listened To On My Way To Work Today

The iPod shuffled up this interesting half-dozen for my walk from the train to the office.

Mark Sandman, "Devil's Boots"
This song (from the posthumous Sandman box set Sandbox) is noteworthy for its lack of the bass guitar for which Sandman was so famous. Instead he plays simple piano chords, accompanied as always by Dana Colley on sax. The final Morphine album The Night had quite a bit of piano instead of bass, one of many tantalizingly hints of the new musical direction the band was beginning to explore when Sandman suddenly passed away. This July will make it ten years since Sandman died. I can't believe he's been gone that long.

Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio, "Ave Patricia"
The first post-Silkworm Phelps song I ever heard, from a CMJ magazine sampler disc circa 1993, one which intrigued me just enough to hunt down his solo debut, Warm Springs Night, which was hard to find even back in the nineties and has now been out of print for ages. Loved the album then, and still do today, both for its music and that it introduced me to the rest of Phelps' solo work which I've found endlessly rewarding.

The Jam, "Man in the Corner Shop"
I first dubbed this great song onto a cassette from public library CD checkout back in the early nineties (long before the home CD-ripping era) and for years longed to have it in digital format, though I could never quite take the plunge to buy the whole disc. And for some reason the Jam is criminally underrepresented on iTunes, with just a few compilation albums available and none of the band's regular releases (including Sound Affects, where this one first appeared), so even with iTunes I had to do without. But there I recently and blissfully stumbled across what I believe is an extended version of the old Snap! band compilation, which included this tune. And now it's mine, for which I'm extremely pleased.

The Replacements, "Sixteen Blue"
Set this gentle remembrance of teenage life next to the raucous "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" (both from the seminal Let It Be) and you'll see what made the Replacements so great: from wistful tenderness to balls-out rock and roll.

The Hold Steady, "Don't Let Me Explode"
My most recent band discovery, courtesy of the estimable Ben Tanzer.

Lou Reed, "Set the Twilight Reeling (Live)"
Interesting that the iPod cued up this one right after the Hold Steady, given that the latter's Craig Finn owes a lot of his vocal delivery to the sing-speak of Lou Reed.

May 29, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tiger, Tiger

It appears I'm not the only person who's puzzled by the undercurrents of Judith Kerr's The Tiger Who Came To Tea.

But how polysemous is The Tiger Who Came to Tea, a picture book about a tiger that turns up one afternoon on a little girl called Sophie’s doorstep and consumes all the food and drink in the house? Maybe not enough to justify the theory that the mother is an alcoholic who dreams up the tiger’s visit in order to explain the vanishing of ‘all Daddy’s beer’.

If anyone’s an alcoholic or problem drinker in The Tiger Who Came to Tea, it’s the father.

I've read the book to my daughter numerous times, and I always find it to be somewhat unnerving. (Admittedly, though, not as all-out creepy as Love You Forever. Yikes.) The mother's strangely impassive docility as a large carnivorous animal eats every speck of food in the house. The daughter's cloying affection for the ravenous beast. The impossibility of the tiger drinking every last drop of water out of the tap, which implies that it completely drained the well or the municipal water supply. The implausibility of the tiger, having scoured the larder bare, refraining from then turning his gastronomic sights on the mother and daughter. And perhaps most troubling, the father's flippant and unconcerned response, which falls somewhere along the lines of "Eh, no big deal. Let's go out for dinner instead."

It's by no means a stretch for readers to find an alternate, psychological interpretation to this one.

May 28, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Joliet Police Blotter

It seems to me that one of the responsibilities of gun ownership is not only knowing exactly how many guns you have in your home, but also checking on them more often than every 26 years.

Gone but not forgotten
JOLIET TOWNSHIP -- Where were you on the night of May 15? How about May 15, 1983?

On May 15, a homeowner on Sugar Creek Drive reported a burglary to Will County Sheriff's police. After completing an inventory, the woman called police again May 20 to tell them several firearms had been stolen.

The victim told police she'd inherited four handguns and two rifles in 1981 and had them appraised two years later.

"At that point the firearms were stored in a closet attached to the master bedroom (and) during the past 26 years she hadn't thought of the firearms," police said.

Reports indicate it is not known if the weapons were stolen during the May 15 burglary, another burglary that occurred in 2003 or "during a number of parties at the residence during the last 26 years."

May 28, 2009 in Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Farewell, Jay Bennett

Sad news. Former Wilco guitarist and Champaign-Urbana mainstay Jay Bennett has passed away, at the age of just 45. Titanic Love Affair was pretty big in Champaign while I was in grad school there ("Poster" is careening through my memory right now) and I had followed him off and on over the years. And as if that news wasn't enough, Greg Kot's blog post that I linked to above saddens me even further, as it briefly mentions a show yesterday that included the Poster Children, the Outnumbered and Lonely Trailer, Chambana musical gods all. Incredibly sorry I missed that one.

May 25, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Heroes of Democracy, Part 1

This is wonderful: a high school kid who operates a lending library of banned books - out of his school locker.
I would be in so much trouble if I got caught, but I think it's the right thing to do because before I started, almost no kid at school but myself took an active interest in reading! Now not only are all the kids reading the banned books, but go out of their way to read anything they can get their hands on. So I'm doing a good thing, right?
A kid who loves both literature and free speech. Maybe the future of our country is in good hands after all.

(Via Boing Boing.)

May 24, 2009 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)


This looks great: Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson, and the Mannahatta Project website.
“Mannahatta” is more art book than typical natural history tome, and it’s all about envisioning: see the salt marsh that is now Delancey Street, the grassy plains of Harlem, the water moving slowly through what is now Times Square to the forests along the banks of the Upper West Side, which may have been untouched even by the Lenape Indians who used to live there. The computer-generated illustrations, by Markley Boyer, are aptly called “visualizations,” and are paired with photos of the contemporary real thing: for example, to portray the red-maple swamp postulated to have been where the ESPN Zone stands in Times Square today, Sanderson photographed a red-maple swamp in Orange County, some 40 miles north.
I often find myself envisioning Chicago "then and now", but my "then" usually only goes back 100 or 150 years, and rarely to pre-settlement times. Though I've never even been in Manhattan, I think I would love this book, which makes me think that similarly sympathetic Gothamites might really love it.

May 23, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Parlor Emerging Writer's Festival

Just a quick reminder that I'll be reading at The Parlor Emerging Writer's Festival tomorrow night (Saturday) at Green Lantern Gallery, 1511 N. Milwaukee, Chicago. I'm scheduled to read at approximately 5 PM, though that could be earlier or later depending on how quickly the others read. So just to be safe, come on out for the whole shebang!

May 22, 2009 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Clean and Bright"

My short story "Clean and Bright" has been published at the Chicago hub of the online journal Joyland. Special thanks to editor Levi Stahl.

This is one of only a handful of new stories that I've finished over the past few years, which for some reason has been a period of fairly low creativity for me. The story is a direct response to Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place", and is told from the perspective of the lonely old man who whiles away the hours of his life in the cafe in Hemingway's story. I find it interesting that I'd be so inspired by Hemingway - I've never read any of his novels, and he's not even one of my favorite authors (I've tried writing stories that riff on Nelson Algren and George Ade, with little success) but I still liked this story of his enough to create one of my own. Odd how inspiration goes.

May 21, 2009 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (3)

Chin Up Chin Up, we hardly knew ye

One of Chicago's most interesting indie rock bands calls it a day. It just occurred to me that I don't have any Chin Up Chin Up tunes on my new(ish) iPod, after greatly enjoying the half-dozen tracks which are now trapped on my old iPod thanks to its dying (now likely dead) battery. I intend to rectify this shortcoming shortly.

May 15, 2009 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Delightful as the pastime of measuring may be, it is the most futile of all occupations, and to submit to the decrees of the measurers the most servile of attitudes. So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say."
- Virginia Woolf (from A Room of One's Own)

May 13, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)


"I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders."
- Jesse Ventura

May 12, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Parlor Emerging Writer's Festival

I've been keeping the news under wraps for the last few weeks, but now that it's official I can finally pass it along: I'm very pleased to be invited to read at The Parlor Emerging Writer's Festival. It takes place on Saturday, May 23rd from 4:00-6:30 PM at Green Lantern Gallery, 1511 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

It’s awesome - we’ve got a great line-up ahead for our Emerging Writer’s Festival on Saturday May 23rd - coincident, as it so happens, with the Pilcrow Lit Fest. Here is the roster - you should come out, it’s free and there’s a BBQ to follow on the back porch.

4:00 pm Sarah Terez Rosenblum - Where She Is
4:30 pm Jeanie Chung – Cuts and Folds
5:00 pm Peter Anderson – One Son Resists
5:30 – 5:45 BREAK
5: 45 pm J.D.K. Goodman – Another Place, Another Time
6:15 pm Jessie Morrison – The Queens of the Northwest Side
6:45 pm BBQ

I'll be reading my story "One Son Resists" which I first wrote several years ago and have put through several heavy-duty revisions since. If you live in the city or happen to be in town for Pilcrow, please thinking about swinging by Green Lantern for some great readings and to say hello.

May 12, 2009 in Books, Fiction, Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fortune Cookie

I had this fortune in a fortune cookie I ate this morning:

"In all matters of opinion, you always say it better."

Though I appreciate the sentiment, I know quite a few people who would vigorously dispute that claim.

May 8, 2009 in Personal | Permalink | Comments (1)

Spring Book Giveaway! Spring Book Giveaway!

I'm trying to keep some semblance of equilibrium to my personal library, and after picking up three books over the weekend I've decided to cull a few others from my shelves. The books listed below were all received (unsolicited) from various publishers as review copies, but given the present state of my To Be Read pile I doubt if I'll ever get around to reading any of them, let alone reviewing. So I'm offering any and all of them for free (I'll even pay for shipping!) to a good home - simply leave your name and which book(s) you want in the comments below, and I'll follow up for your mailing address.

Peter Ho Davies: The Welsh Girl
Kelly Braffet: Last Seen Leaving
Charlotte Mendelson: When We Were Bad
(advance reading copy)
Shari Goldhagen: Family and Other Accidents (bound galley)

Please note that the Mendelson and Goldhagen books are not their final published versions, so approach those accordingly. I thank you, as does my family and the structural integrity of my house.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I will ship to U.S. addresses only. My apologies if you live elsewhere.

May 5, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (5)

Ander Monson, Neck Deep and Other Predicaments

Just finished Ander Monson's essay collection Neck Deep and Other Predicaments, in which the writer thoughtfully examines his intriguing past and the mundane commonalities of his everyday life - car washes, disc golf, Lake Michigan ferry boats, card catalogs. And snow - not the gentle, powdery flakes that grace Christmas cards or bring multimillions of tourist dollars to ski resorts, but the heavy, punishing blankets that bury Michigan's Upper Peninsula under 250 inches every winter, bringing isolation and claustrophobia and making snowmobiles as common as (and more essential than) automobiles. Anyone who enjoyed the inventive structure and quiet depth of feeling of Monson's wonderful fiction debut Other Electricities are strongly encouraged to check out this essay collection. And if Neck Deep happens to be your first exposure to Monson and you found yourself moved by it (and particularly by "I Am Thinking Of Snow"), then you will definitely love Other Electricities as well.

May 5, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cheever and the Suburbs

Interesting story on John Cheever, through the lens of his widow Mary (apparently still quite sharp, at 90), son and biographer. As it turns out, despite conventional opinion Cheever wasn't a chronicler of suburban angst, frustration and boredom - yes, he wrote about those characteristics, but didn't feel the suburbs were to blame, and in fact even loved living there. The suburbs were simply the locale he knew best, and so that's where he set his sad stories.

(Mary Cheever) rejects those who attribute her husband’s inner loneliness to his life in the suburbs.

“His was the loneliness of a writer, when he would sit by himself working alone,” she said. “They all complain about it. It’s not a social craft.”

All of the Cheever exposure of late (largely due to Blake Bailey's well-received biography) has me thinking I really need to read his work. I've never read anything of his. I think I have one or two of the Wapshot novels in an old box in the basement, but I'm not sure whether to start there or with his short stories. Any suggestions?

May 4, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sax Man

(Previous installment)

His last visit to the Landmark was the previous week, Tuesday. He had a particularly slow day for spare change, despite the usual crowds bursting past. He had riffed on "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", playing the melody straight for eight bars before easing into an extended bop solo, staccato runs up and down the scale, ignoring not only that few of the commuters were familiar with bop - enough so to appreciate the sound and toss a dollar or quarter into his case - but that even fewer were old enough to recognize the old tune which came all the way from World War I. Though the faces flitted past in endless arrays, two things were constant: they were almost exclusively white, and none of them beyond middle age. Old men - which, he did realize, included himself more than the younger commuters - didn't seem to ride the train downtown any more, though from everything he had heard people were working longer than ever, well beyond sixty-five and into their seventies. But wherever these older men were working, it must not have been downtown. Maybe somewhere closer to their suburban homes.

He had played "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" for a good twenty minutes, with half a dozen or more clusters of commuters from the arriving trains coming and going, but gained less than a dollar in change for his effort. He had packed up shortly after, earlier than usual, and despite being short of cash stopped in at the Landmark to spend his time. He nursed a Tanqueray on the rocks, slowly, restraining himself in knowing he had to be fit for work in forty-five minutes. He thought of many things - to himself, not being the type of man who got confessional with his bartender - about work, about his music, about his father, who had taught him the melody to "Johnny" in the first place, slowly tapping it out on the keys of the piano at the corner bar as young Frank squeaked and bleated along on his sax as best he could.

May 4, 2009 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

We. Are. Going. To. The. Library. Sale.

(Deep breath). Will. Remain. Calm. (Deep breath.) Will. Not. Lose. Control. (Deep breath.) Must. Show. Restraint.

Sure. Just like last time.

Update: We actually showed great restraint, nay, superhuman restraint. Though tempted by many more, I walked away with just three books: William Maxwell, All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories, George Ade, Artie and Pink Marsh, and Aharon Appelfeld, The Iron Tracks. Part of that restraint is due to a change in the pricing setup - before it was $5 per bag (which made it easy to toss "just one more" book into the bag), but this time it was a fixed price per book. And it was also due to realization that most of the books I picked up last time (including Eric Bogosian, Ward Just and Morgan Llywelyn) remain unread three years later, and even though I'm still interested in reading all of them they're not terribly high up in the queue. So I took it easy this time around.

May 2, 2009 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

Studs Terkel on May Day

I can think of no better way to honor May Day than with this priceless anecdote from the late Studs Terkel.

About 25 years ago, Studs Terkel was waiting for a number 146 bus alongside two well-groomed business types. "This was before the term yuppie was used," he explains. "But that was what they were. He was in Brooks Brothers and Gucci shoes and carrying the Wall Street Journal under his arm. She was a looker. I mean stunning - Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus and carrying Vanity Fair."

Terkel, who is 95, has long been a Chicago icon, every bit as accessible and integral to the cultural life of the Windy City as Susan Sontag was to New York. He had shared the bus stop with this couple for several mornings but they had always failed to acknowledge him. "It hurts my ego," he quips. "But this morning the bus was late and I thought, this is my chance." The rest of the story is his.

"I say, 'Labour Day is coming up.' Well, it was the wrong thing to say. He looks toward me with a look of such contempt it's like Noel Coward has just spotted a bug on his collar. He says, 'We despise unions.' I thought, oooooh. The bus is still late. I've got a winner here. Suddenly I'm the ancient mariner and I fix him with my glittering eye. 'How many hours a day do you work?' I ask. He says, 'Eight.' 'How comes you don't work 18 hours a day like your great-great-grandfather did? You know why? Because four guys got hanged in Chicago in 1886 fighting for the eight-hour day ... For you.'

"Well, he was scared and nervous and the bus was still late. I've got this guy pinned up against the mailbox. He couldn't get away. 'How many days a week do you work?' I went on. Well, then the bus came and I never saw them again. But I think that every workday morning she was looking from the 15th floor of their apartment block to see if that mad man was still there."

Sadly, that mad man is no longer with us, but I hope that couple never forgot the encounter.

(Via MobyLives.)

May 1, 2009 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)