Monday, July 28, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gottland by Mariusz Szczygiel, excerpt two)

from Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia by Mariusz Szczygiel:

“Bata approached our parents, asking them to sell him their beloved orchard. They refused, because they’d waited twenty years for it to produce fruit. My brother, my sister, and I were already supporting ourselves—we were all working for Bata. The head of personnel threatened us, saying that if we didn’t force our parents to sell the land, we needn’t bother coming to work the next day. So we put pressure on our poor father, who wept as he sold the land for a fifth of its value, just because Mr. Bata had a whim” (Josef and František Hradil).

In analyzing the documents, the author reveals that in the period from 1927 to 1937 not a single worker went from Bata into retirement. The workforce was systematically rejuvenated. Workers were laid off for any reason at all at least ten years before retirement.

“This was how the era broke people, this was how the old regime debased them,” adds Turek.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gottland by Mariusz Szczygiel, excerpt one)

from Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia by Mariusz Szczygiel:

Emil Zápotek, the world’s top athlete of 1952, keeps his hands above the quilt. Others who will do so too include: the famous (forty years on) writer Ludvík Vaculík, and the leading representative of the new wave in Czechoslovak cinema (also, forty years on) director Karel Kachyňa. Kachyňa starts work at Bata as a cleaner, and finished as a trained draughtsman. “I was a Bataman,” he’ll say, in the early twenty-first century. “At Zlín I learned to fight against fear.”

Each of Bata’s students is a Bataman.

You can become a Bataman through obedience and hard work.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt eight)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

Then, “Mule Train,” by Frankie Laine, not one of the great Laines but great enough, and “It’s Magic,” by Doris Day. Those pauses back then: It’s ma- gic. They knew how to hurt you, back then when there were two eight-team baseball leagues and you could remember all the players. People then were not exactly softer, they were harder in fact, but they were easier to hurt, though in fewer places.

He has to leave 176 for 23 through Amish country, it’s the one really local stretch of road, but there shouldn’t be any buggies out this late to slow him down. Rabbit wants to see once more a place in Morgantown, a hardware store with two pumps outside, where a thickset farmer in two shirts and hairy nostrils had advised him to know where he was going before he went there. Well, now he does. He has learned the road and figured out the destination. But what had been a country hardware store was now a slick little real-estate office. Where the gas pumps had been, fresh black asphalt showed under the moonlight the stark yellow stripes of diagonal parking spaces.

No, it isn’t moonlight, he sees; it is the sulfurous illumination that afflicts busy paved places all night. Though the hour is near eleven, a traffic of giant trucks heaves and snorts and groans through the sleepy stone town; the realtor’s big window is full of Polaroid snapshots of property for sale, and Route 23, once a narrow road on the ridge between two farm valleys as dark at night as manure, now blazes with the signs that are everywhere. PIZZA HUT. BURGER KING. Rent a movie. Turkey Hill MINIT MARKET. Quilt World. Shady Maple SMORGASBORD. Village Herb Shop. Country Knives. Real estate makes him think of Janice and his heart dips at the picture of her waiting with Nelson and Pru for him to show up over at the Springers’ and panicking by now, probably imagining he’s had a car accident, and coming back with her key to the deserted house, all fluttery and hot-breathed the way she gets. Maybe he should have left a note like she did him that time. Harry dear – I must go off a few days to think. But she said never forgive him, shoot you both, she upped the stakes, let her stew in her own juice, thinks she’s so smart suddenly, going back to school. Nelson the same way. Damned if they’re going to get him sitting in on some family-therapy session run by his own son whose big redheaded wife he’s boffed. Only really good thing he’s done all year, as he looks back on it. Damned if he’ll face the kid, give him the satisfaction, all white in the gills from this new grievance. Rabbit doesn’t want to get counselled.

Friday, July 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt seven)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

To placate the pain, he switches to weeding the day lilies and the violet hosta. Wherever a gap permits lights to activate the sandy soil, chickweed and crabgrass grow, and purslane with its hollow red stems covers the earth in busy round-leaved zigzags. Weeds too have their styles, their own personalities that talk back to the gardener in the daze of the task. Chickweed is a good weed, soft on the hands unlike thistles and burdock, and pulls easily; it knows when the jig is up and comes willingly, where wild cucumber keeps breaking off at one of its many joints, and grass and red sorrel and poison ivy spread underground, like creeping diseases that cannot be cured. Weeds don’t know they’re weeds. Safe next to the trunk of the weeping cherry a stalk of blue lettuce has grown eight feet tall, taller than he. Those days he spent ages ago being Mrs. Smith’s gardener among her rhododendrons, the one time he ever felt rooted in a job. Fine strong young man, she had called him at the end, gripping him with her claws.

A block and a half away, the traffic on Penn Boulevard murmurs and hisses, its purr marred by the occasional sudden heave and grind of a great truck shifting gears, or by an angry horn, or the wop-wop-wopping bleat of an ambulance rushing some poor devil to the hospital. You see them now and then, driving down a side street, these scenes: some withered old lady being carried in a stretcher down her porch stairs in a slow-motion sled ride, her hair unpinned, her mouth without its dentures, her eyes staring skyward as if to disown her body; or some red-faced goner being loaded into the double metal doors while his abandoned mate in her bathrobe snivels on the curb and the paramedics close around his body like white vultures feeding. Rabbit has noticed a certain frozen peacefulness in such terminal street tableaux. A certain dignity in the doomed one, his or her moment come round at last; a finality that isolates the ensemble like a spotlit crèche. You would think people would take it worse than they do. They don’t scream, they don’t accuse God. We curl into ourselves, he supposes. We become numb bundles of used-up nerves. Earthworms on the hook.

From far across the river, a siren wails in the heart of Brewer. Above, in a sky gathering its fishscales for a rainy tomorrow, a small airplane rasps as it coasts into the airport beyond the old fairgrounds. What Harry instantly loved about this house was its hiddenness: not so far from all this traffic, it is yet not easy to find, on its macadamized dead end, tucked with its fractional number among the more conspicuous homes of the Penn Park rich. He always resented these snobs and now is safe among them. Pulling into his dead-end driveway, working out back in his garden, watching TC in his den with its wavery lozenge-paned windows, Rabbit feels safe as in a burrow, where the hungry forces at loose in the world would never think to find him.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt six)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

Judy, startled just like the girls on the show, does put it back, but by now it’s a commercial, and she cries, as the insult sinks in, “I want Daddy back! Everybody else is mean to me!”

She starts to cry, Pru rises to comfort her, Rabbit retreats in disgrace. He circles the house, listening to the rain, marveling that he once lived here, remembering the dead and the dead versions of the living who lived here with him, finding a half-full jar of dry-roasted cashews on a high kitchen shelf and, on the kitchen television set, a cable rerun of last night’s playoff game between the Knicks and the Bulls. He hates the way Michael Jordan’s pink tongue rolls around in his mouth as he goes up for a dunk. He has seen Jordan interviewed, he’s an intelligent guy, why does he swing his tongue around like an imbecile? The few white players there are on the floor look pathetically naked, their pasty sweat, their fuzzy armpit hair; it seems incredible to Harry that he himself was ever out there in this naked game, though in those days the shorts were a little long and the tank-top armholes not quite so big. He has finished off the jar of cashews without noticing and suddenly the basketball—Jordan changing direction in midair not once but twice and sinking an awkward fall-back jumper with Ewing’s giant hand square in his face—pains him with its rubbery activity, an extreme of bodily motion his nerves but not his muscles can remember. He needs a Nitrostat from the little bottle in the coat jacket in that shallow closet upstairs. The hauntedness of the downstairs is getting to him. He turns off the kitchen light and holds his breath passing Ma Springer’s old breakfront in the darkened dining room, where the wallpaper crawls with the streetlight projections of rain running down the windows.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt five)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

She expects Harry to be more grateful; but a man even slightly sick assumes that women will uphold him, and in this direction, men to women, the flow of gratitude is never great. In the car, his first words are insulting: “You have on your policeman’s uniform.”

“I need to feel presentable for my quiz tonight. I’m afraid I won’t be able to concentrate. I can’t stop thinking about Nelson.”

He has slumped down in the passenger seat, his knees pressed against the dashboard, his head laid back against the headrest in a conceited way. “What’s to think?” he asks. “Did he wriggle out of going? I thought he’d run.”

“He didn’t run at all, that was one of the things that made it so sad. He went off just the way he used to go to school. Harry, I wonder if we’re doing the right thing.”

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (John Updike's Rabbit at Rest, excerpt four)

from Rabbit at Rest by John Updike:

Thelma makes an annoyed motion with her hands. “Harry, you’re not actually God, it just feels that way to you. Do you really think Nelson was jumpy because of you?”

“Why else?”

She knows something. She hesitates, but cannot resist, perhaps, a bit of revenge for his taking her always for granted, for his being in Pennsylvania a week before calling. “You must know about Nelson. My boys say he’s a cocaine addict. They’ve all used it, that generation, but Nelson they tell me is really hooked. As they say, the drug runs him, instead of him just using the drug.”

Harry has rocked back as far as the rocker will take him without his shoes leaving the rug and remains in that position so long that Thelma becomes anxious, knowing that this man isn’t sound inside and can have a heart attack. At last he rocks forward again and, gazing at her thoughtfully, says, “That explains a lot.” He fishes in the side pocket of his tweedy gray sports coat for a small brown bottle and deftly spills a single tiny pill into his hand and puts it in his mouth, under his tongue. There is a certain habituated daintiness in the gesture. “Coke takes money, doesn’t it?” he asks Thelma. “I mean, you can go through hundreds. Thousands.”