"OH I DO SO HOPE THERE ARE MORE PINK BALLOONS AND CAKE AND TOFFEE IN THE KITCHEN! AND I DO SO HOPE THAT THERE IS SOMEONE WHO LOVES ME AND WHO SHALL RECEIVE NICE NEW PAY FOR BRINGING ME THESE THINGS AND NOT BEING SEEN ABOUT IT?"
"New pay, mum? I guess this means I'm back to starting wages again, is it?"
"IT IS A NEW JOB! I CAN'T VERY WELL INCREASE YOUR SALARY IF YOU ARE STARTING A NEW JOB! FETCHING CREAMS AND ICES IS A WHOLE DIFFERENT LINE OF WORK THAN PERFORMING ORAL SEX ON PUPPIES FOR THE AMUSEMENT OF GENTLEMEN RASCALS!"
"Yes, mum. Starting wages again for a new job. Makes sense."
"ALSO BRING MORE FIRECRACKERS! I WANT TO BLOW SOMETHING UP! I AM A REBEL; NOT LIKE YOU!"
"I shall go and check, mum. Are your head cushions comfortable? Do you need more feather-pillows, mum, for your fevered mind that races and creates like a sexual pony?"
"I AM SO WILD, SMART, AND SUCCESSFUL! I INVENTED EVERYTHING THAT YOU LIKE!"
"Yes, mum. Your commemorative plaque arrived yesterday. Blackie Munroe tried to carry it up the stairs alone and it crushed his back and killed him. He cried out for Nintendo to carry his mind away from the pain. We had no Nintendo to give. No power-ups, no force shields, no fireflowers."
"YOU CANNOT EXTORT NEW DIVERSIONS FROM ME WITH YOUR TALES OF MISERY, WHELP. YOUR LOT HAS ENOUGH NINTENDO. DOWNSTAIRS WITH YOU! NO MORE OF YOUR CHEEK!"
We toil and hack up tobacco flakes and smile cynically in the dark. Our fun is cold and hard like our hearts. Our dreams are like our social security benefits: tapped and delayed by our elders so that they may continue to rule us. We are a generation that is comfortable with a virtual universe because the actual world is in somebody's closet, suffocating underneath trophies, bongs, sex toys, albums, gorilla masks, and cupcake wrappers. The actual world is pretty -- yes -- but these days it is stained a faded and mottled yellow that could be urine, could be olive oil.
We work long hours in jobs that we do not believe in -- jobs created by people as hobbies, dreams, and dalliances -- jobs that fulfill the vanity of the generations preceding us and contribute nothing practical to society.
We are not sailing with Jack Aubrey. Hell no, we are not. We are all trapped at sea with heartless, aristocratic captains who have never served and only commanded.
Our elders think we are practical and strong: a good crew. We ARE practical and strong. We ARE a good crew. In fact, we are a GREAT crew. But we do not dream of advancement in the ranks. We know we would be leaving our competent peers and entering the company of more useless whiners who would ask us to do (more of) their work for them. We huddle, we persist, and instead, we dream of mutiny. We dream of dumping our officers overboard and turning pirate.
In Patrick O'Brian's seventh book -- the final volume of the three-part "Hell at Sea" miniseries "One-Hundred Horrible Things That Happen, Ending in Marriage" -- we see our boys caught between the generations.
This book is straightforward, simple, and quiet. It is unlike the others, despite the fact that the horror count is still stunsail high. Instead of blast and foofraw, however, Jack and Steve are sent on a quiet mission to build alliances, saddled with a handsome Scandinavian youth named Jagiello who must serve as their guide, translator, and foil. Jagiello gets all the chicks, but he does not want them. He is a jolly sort with rosy cheeks who flees from women. What kind of man is he? What kind of soldier?
He is the younger generation. The suck-up. The dandy. The flake. He is likable, but useless. He is youth! He calls in late for work; he steals stationery and uses it to make flyers for his band.
Then there is the Admiral, their boss. He takes credit for their triumphs and condemns them for their accidents. He is age. He must be placated and subverted in order to get results. He never listens when they request days off and always schedules them anyway. He likes to sit in a big comfortable chair and watch his workers work.
HORRIBLE THINGS THAT HAPPEN 95-100
95. Aubrey's ship wrecks on the coast of France as a result of a long-prognosticated lee shore wind.
96. Jack and Steve get tossed in a stinking French prison on account of being spies.
97. Jack, Steve, and Jagiello break their backs trying to escape down the toilet hole. It takes them a month to shave the sides enough to crawl down: a month spent playing cards, not sailing, and not sewing arms back on or tearing them off during the hottest part of the War of 1812.
98. Diana pawns her massive blue diamond to try and get them out. She will probably resent this forever!
99. Diana has a miscarriage, or maybe an abortion.
BUT TO WHOM?
I won't tell you. Not me. That's the book! It is great. You should read it.
You ever work in a kitchen or do time on a sales floor? Working in a Manhattan kitchen is just like being impressed into the British Navy during the Age of Bonaparte. I'm not talking about one of those nice, chrome Fascist kitchens you see on TV where everything sparkles, everyone wears tall hats with speed flanges cut into the sides, and people shave carrots into soups with the same attention to detail that imprisoned psychopaths use to sculpt their feces into hostile messages for their psychiatrists. No, I'm talking about real Manhattan restaurants -- places that only sell one or two signature dishes with infinite variations -- places with names like "Lettuce Eat" which only sell special "healthy" and "fresh" salads for people who only want to eat flavored lettuce. These places are the size of the trunk of a car and feature one person topside who would rather be filming pornography and who presides over a single dusty table and two bins full of spoons and napkins. This person's job is to collect money, take orders, smile, and make sure that the containers of napkins and spoons are always full, never dirty, never infested with spiders. Napkins must be in the bin marked "napkins." Spoons must be in the bin marked "spoons." This person makes three hundred dollars in tips a night and spends it on cocaine.
Underneath this restaurant, in the airless basement where the lettuce is being prepared (crisped, broken, cleaned, sprayed with honey mustard, boiled with raspberry sauce, tickled with rosemary / gruyere fondue), five people -- a person from every inhabited continent -- are toiling for twelve-hour shifts at minimum wage, trying to learn each other's languages so they do not accidentally cause an international incident. One of them -- Vanya -- slices his hand off in the lettuce shredder and collapses. The others gather round and watch him bleed. Inigo says a "Hail Mary." Ten orders for hot lettuce sandwiches come in from upstairs. There is no time to cry. Someone remembers that Vanya used to talk about a girl back home; a girl with flaxen hair and her own goat. They bury Vanya in the deep freeze. They tell no one. There is no one to tell.
Anyway, what I am saying is that if you have a bad job, you ought to read Patrick O'Brian. You will laugh a lot. You will get it.
Posted by miracle on Thu, 23 Oct 2008 00:13:19 -0400 -- permanent link