Read and listen and learn and have at least a little fun....
Sun sets on summer....
The summer is over! The harvest is ended! And it’s time to go back to school….
This fall I’m teaching two sections of Intro to Creative Writing, one section of Fiction Writing, and a section of Contemporary American Literature.
Going to be fun. Busy, too. And exciting—I grew up on college campuses and the start of school was for me always more exiting than stupid Christmas. As an adult—as a professor--it's of course different than it was when I was a kid, when I rode my bike around the quiet nearly-silent campus, watching students move into the dorms, fascinated by adulthood, while at home my parents did whatever they did to prepare for classes. Now I'm the one at home preparing, going through various frenetic activities....
But—as of now, my syllabi are posted to Canvas, my slides are ready to be loaded, and—and--
I guess I’m ready. Hope the Young Scholars are ready, too….
In the evenings I stop writing for a bit and walk the short distance down to the little park at the end of TX 172, and I sit and contemplate the bay.
This is not a pristine natural area. Formosa Plastics, Alcoa, and Union Carbide all have big operations in this county, along this coast. The next bay over is a superfund site: Alcoa dumped tons of mercury into the bay over the span of a couple decades.
So the bay is not pristine, but it is what it is. The wind off the water is always cool, and I sit on a picnic table and feel the cool, look out at the hard-seeming gray-brown water. A solitary gull swoops by on the wind. A mockingbird settles briefly in a bent tree, then flies on. Sometimes there are people fishing. Pickup trucks will come down the road and circle through the park, their drivers looking at the bay. Clouds scoot by. Everything moves.
Then after a while the sun goes down beyond the Alcoa plant, and I walk back up to the house to work some more.
I was looking for something on the wonderful National Archives website—now I forget what—when I came across these photos of child laborers.
I’ve written before of my interest in archival photographs, and about my fascination with forgotten people, people who have lived and died and are now—lost to history.
And here at the National Archives, a whole trove of forgotten children.
The photos were taken for the National Child Labor Committee between 1908 and 1912 by Lewis Hine. They are just amazing—pictures of a lost world, filled with lost people.
What scary photos! these poor kids, doing hard work that would kill me if I even tried to do it. The moments of interrupted narrative that are captured here—what is going on? Who are these people? What happened to them? I'll never know: the people are gone, though their images live on to haunt me....
National Child Labor Committee photographs
National Child Labor Committee
Lewis Wickes Hine
Back in 1985 I had a crummy job as a burglar alarm monitor, working for Security Monitoring Systems of Texas. I sat around a hot office all night and waited for something to happen. When something did happen, when an alarm came in, the computer would buzz and a customer number would appear on the monitor. Then I would pull a big loose-leaf binder from the shelf and see what the customer wanted—sometimes they wanted the monitor to call the cops immediately, sometimes they wanted the monitor to call the house or business to see if everything was all right. So, I was sitting there one night, very early morning, not quite light out, sweating, waiting, and the computer buzzed.
I looked at the number on the screen and then pulled down the instructions. I was supposed to call the customer and ask for the secret password. Burglars don’t know the password, right?
So I got on the phone and called the customer. A groggy-sounding guy answered.
“Hi,” I said. “This is security. I’m calling to see if you know the password.”
“The password?” the guy asked. “Uh….”
Now, if whoever answered the phone didn’t know the password, I was supposed to hang up and immediately call the cops. But calling the cops was always a hassle. So I asked again.
“Yes, sir,” I said. “This is security. I’m calling to see if you know the password.”
“No-no….” The guy sounded half-asleep. “Nobody told me any password.”
Which meant he wasn’t supposed to be in that house. But still. He sounded confused. That happened. There was a drunk guy in Pennsylvania who was always setting his alarm off accidentally. I had to call the cops on him at least once a week.
“Well,” I said, “I still need the password.”
“But—but…I don’t have a password.”
I was about to hang up when I glanced down at the phone. The readout had the phone number in it. The area code I had dialed was 503. Hmm. I looked at the instructions.
The number I was supposed to have called had a 603 area code.
I said, “Well, okay, sir. We’re just checking. But you need to get yourself a password.”
And I hung up.