Sunday, March 31, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, excerpt four)

from The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis:

“This is in no particular order,” he says with remarkable patience. “But Iran is somewhere in the top five.” He’d watched Secretary Moniz help negotiate the deal that removed from Iran the capacity to acquire a nuclear weapon. There were only three paths to a nuclear weapon. The Iranians might produce enriched uranium—but that required using centrifuges. They might produce plutonium—but that required a reactor that the deal had dismantled and removed. Or they might simply go out and buy a weapon on the open market. The national labs played a big role in policing all three paths. “These labs are incredible national resources, and they are directly responsible for keeping us safe,” said MacWilliams. “It’s because of them that we can say with absolute certainty that Iran cannot surprise us with a nuclear weapon.” After the deal was done, U.S. Army officers had approached DOE officials to thank them for saving American lives. The deal, they felt sure, had greatly lessened the chance of yet another war in the Middle East that the United States would inevitably be dragged into.

At any rate, the serious risk in Iran wasn’t that the Iranians would secretly acquire a weapon. It was that the president of the United States would not understand his nuclear scientists’ reasoning about the unlikelihood of the Iranians’ obtaining a weapon, and that he would have the United States back away foolishly from the deal. Released from the complicated set of restrictions on its nuclear-power program, Iran would then build its bomb. It wasn’t enough to have the world’s finest forensic nuclear physicists. Our political leaders needed to be predisposed to listen to them and equipped to understand what they said.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, excerpt three)

from The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis:

“Broken Arrow” is a military term of art for a nuclear accident that doesn’t lead to a nuclear war. MacWilliams has had to learn all about these. Now he tells me about an incident that occurred back in 1961, and was largely declassified in 2013, just as he began his stint at DOE. A pair of 4-megaton hydrogen bombs, each more than 250 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, broke off a damaged B-52 over North Carolina. One of the bombs disintegrated upon impact, but the other floated down beneath its parachute and armed itself. It was later found in a field outside Goldsboro, North Carolina, with three of its four safety mechanisms tripped or rendered ineffective by the plane’s breakup. Had the fourth switch been flipped, a vast section of eastern North Carolina would have been destroyed, and nuclear fallout might have descended on Washington, DC, and New York City.

Friday, March 29, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, excerpt two)

from The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis:

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said, “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy—the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain—but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like . . . I love the Bangles! You know that song ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’?” recalled on of his advisers on the scene.

That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble. He’d asked Jared Kushner what that was about, and Jared had simply said, Donald ran a very unconventional campaign, and he’s not going to follow any of the protocols. The next hint that the transition might not go as planned came from Mike Pence. Now, incredibly, Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Christie met with Pence the day after the election, to discuss the previous lists of people who had been vetted for jobs.The meeting began with a prayer, followed by Pence’s first, ominous question: Why isn’t Puzder on the list for Labor? Andrew Puzder, the head of CKE Restaurants, the holding company for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., wanted to be the secretary of labor. Christie explained that Puzder’s ex-wife had accused him of abuse, and his fast-food restaurant employees had complained of mistreatment. Even if he was somehow the ideal candidate to become the next secretary of labor, he wouldn’t survive his Senate confirmation hearings. (Trump ignored the advice and nominated Puzder. In the controversy that followed, Puzder not only failed to be confirmed, but stepped down from his job at the fast-food company.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, excerpt one)

from The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis:

Christie viewed Jared as one of those people who thinks that, because he’s rich, he must also be smart. Still, he had a certain cunning about him. And Christie soon found himself reporting everything he did to prepare for a Trump administration to an “executive committee.” The committee consisted of Jared, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Paul Manafort, Steve Mnuchin, and Jeff Sessions. “I’m kind of like the church elder who double-counts the collection plate every Sunday for the pastor,” said Sessions, who appeared uncomfortable with the entire situation. The elder’s job became more complicated in July 2016, when Trump was formally named the Republican nominee. The transition team now moved into an office in downtown Washington, DC, and went looking for people to occupy the top five hundred jobs in the federal government. They needed to fill all the cabinet positions, of course, but also a whole bunch of others that no one in the Trump campaign even knew existed. It’s not obvious how you find the next secretary of state, much less the next secretary of transportation—never mind who should sit on the board of trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt twelve)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

“Witches loves pork meat,” she said. “They loves rice and potatoes. They loves black-eyed peas and cornbread. Lima beans, too, and collard greens and cabbage, all cooked in pork fat. Witches is old folks, most of them. They don’t care none for low-cal. You pile that food on a paper plate, stick a plastic fork in it, and set it down by the side of a tree. And that feeds the witches.”

The motorboat’s engine clicked off. An oar splashed in the water.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt eleven)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

As for Lee and Emma Adler, Williams simply dropped their card into the wastebasket. Williams had no need to curry favor with the Adlers anymore. Lee Adler had been up to his old tricks, anyway. He had just returned from the White House, where he had received a National Medal of Arts award and posed for photographs with President and Mrs. Bush. This only made him more hateful to Williams and to most of the people who would be attending his party. On top of that, Adler had become embroiled in a bitter fight locally over his plan to build new Victorian-style housing for blacks in downtown Savannah. Adler’s scheme called for row upon row of identical house covered with vinyl siding and jammed together with no lawns or green spaces in between. The Historic Savannah Foundation had risen up in angry opposition, decrying the substandard quality of Adler’s proposed dwellings. Adler had been forced to redesign the project, putting in green spaces and replacing vinyl siding with wood. Jim Williams knew that the guests at his Christmas party would be eager to exchange views about Lee Adler’s latest activities without fear of being overheard by him or Emma. No problem; they would not be there.

Williams also dropped Serena Dawes’s card into the wastebasket—but sadly, and for a different reason. Some months earlier, Serena had decided that the 1930s and 1940—the days of her glamorous full-page ads in Life magazine—had been the high point of her life and that it would be downhill from here on. She announced that she would die on her birthday, and she thereupon refused to leave the house or receive visitors or eat. After several weeks, she was taken to the hospital, where one night she summoned her doctor and nurses and thanked them graciously for looking after her. By morning she was dead. She had not died of starvation or committed suicide by any conventional means. She had simply willed herself to die, and being a strong-willed woman, she had succeeded. She had missed dying on her birthday by two days.

Monday, March 25, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt ten)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

If Savannah’s spiritual, economic, artistic, architectural, and law-and-order concerns were not enough to keep people’s minds off Jim Williams, there were plenty of distractions on the social scene. There was talk, for instance, about a standoff at the Married Woman’s Card Club. Slots for membership had opened up, but competition to fill them had become so fierce that every candidate had been blackballed for two years running. No one had gotten into the club in all that time, and for the first time in memory, membership had slipped below the mandated sixteen. The stalemate was temporarily upstaged by a food-poisoning scare at one of the club’s get-togethers. The ladies were just heading home at six o’clock when they discovered the hostess’s cat lying dead on the front steps. Someone recalled having seen the cat nibbling a leftover portion of crab casserole only minutes before. The women thereupon trotted to their cars and drove in a swarm to Candler Hospital to have their stomachs pumped. The following morning, the next-door neighbor stopped by to say he was sorry he’d run over the cat.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt nine)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

The Savannah College of Art and Design—known familiarly as SCAD—had opened its doors in 1979 with the blessings of all Savannah. The school had taken over the boarded-up Guard Armory on Madison Square and refurbished it as classrooms and studios for seventy-one art students. Within two years, enrollment had climbed to three hundred, and the college had acquired and restored several more old and empty buildings—warehouses, public schools, even a jailhouse. SCAD’s young president, Richard Rowan, let it be known that the student body would eventually grow to two thousand.

Downtown residents did not respond happily to Rowan’s announcement. While the students did contribute something to the local economy, and they did bring a little life to the otherwise empty streets, they were becoming in the eyes of some people a blight on the landscape with their green hair, their odd clothes, their skateboards, and their tendency to play loud music on their stereos well into the night. In reaction, a group of downtown residents formed a Quality of Life Committee to deal with the situation. Joe Webster, who headed the committee, could be seen each day at noontime walking stiffly with the aid of a cane from his office in the C&S Bank building to the Oglethorpe Club for lunch. His route took him down Bull Street past the main entrance of SCAD, where he would invariably make his way through a small cluster of students and point silently with his cane at some offending object—a crumpled candy wrapper or a motorcycle idling noisily at the curb. On one occasion, Mr. Webster and his committee stopped in to see Richard Rowan in his office to express their concern that the fragile human ecology of downtown Savannah might not survive two thousand students. The total population of the historic district was, after all, only about ten thousand. Rowan told the committee that he would see what he could do about the loud music and that, by the by, he had recently revised his goal from two thousand students to four thousand.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt eight)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

The first Saturday in court, both Sonny Seiler and Judge Oliver appear to be on edge. They are worried about the Georgia-Mississippi State game, which is taking place concurrently in Athens. Seiler stations an associate in the corridor listening to the play-by-play on a portable radio. Oliver, a past president of the University of Georgia Club, asks Seiler to keep him advised of the situation. Seiler does so during whispered conferences at the bench. Georgia wins, 20 to 7.

Friday, March 22, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt seven)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

Lafayette Square was a quiet, conservative corner of Savannah. It was surrounded by stately townhouses and free-standing mansions. The townhouse where the writer Flannery O’Connor had lived as a child stood catty-corner from Joe on Charlton Street. Directly across the square the magnificent Andrew Low House, a pink Italianate villa with a Greek Revival portico, sat in all its architectural and historic splendor; Juliette Gordon Low had founded the Girl Scouts of America there in 1912, and it was now the Georgia headquarters of the Colonial Dames. Of all Joe’s neighbors, however, none was more reproachful a presence than the Lafayette apartment house, that monument to Joe’s financial debacle of just a few years back. The Lafayette stood on the far side of the square in silent rebuke to Joe. Within its walls there were half a dozen people who had still not recovered from the shock on having their apartments foreclosed (and then having to sue to get them back) when Joe defaulted on his construction loan.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt six)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

Glass in hand, Joe Odom stood on the roof of his new home and looked down at the floats and the marching bands passing through Lafayette Square below. It was a perfect spot for watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade. From the rooftop, Joe could see green-tinted water bubbling out of the fountain in the center of the square. He could see crowds lining the streets wearing green hats and carrying big paper cups full of green beer. St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah was the equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It was an official holiday; the whole town turned out for it. There were to be more than two hundred marching units today, plus forty bands and thirty floats. A cheer rose up from the crowd as the Anheuser-Busch team of eight shaggy-hoofed Clydesdale horses trotted around the square, past the front of the house.

Like most St. Patrick’s Day parades, Savannah’s was an ecumenical affair. Blacks, Scots, and Germans marched along with the Irish, but this parade had a distinctly Southern flavor. At one point, that flavor took a bitter turn. A column of marchers dressed in gray Confederate uniforms came into the square, with a horse-drawn wagon bringing up the rear. The wagon had low wooden sides, and from the street it would have appeared empty. But from the roof we could see a blue-clad Union solider sprawled motionless on the floor of the wagon. It was a chilling tableau, the more so because it was meant to be surreptitious.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt five)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

The town of Beaufort was dark and still. Williams drove along the main street, passing the great old houses that faced across the harbor toward the Sea Islands—eighteenth-century mansions of brick, tabby, and wood. Halfway between Savannah and Charleston, Beaufort had once been a major shipping center, but it was now an almost forgotten, perfectly preserved, gemlike little village. We cruised along the narrow streets, passing rows of handsome white houses gleaming in the darkness. The tidy, well-manicured section of town gave way shortly to unpaved streets and tiny run-down cottages. We pulled up in front of a wooden shanty with a swept-sand front yard. The house was unpainted except for the door and windows, which were a light blue. “Haint blue,” said Williams. “It keeps the evil spirits out.” The house was dark. Williams knocked lightly and then pushed the door open. The flickering light from a TV set was the only illumination in the cluttered front room. Pungent cooking smells, of pork and greens, filled the air. A man lay asleep on a daybed. He stirred as we entered. A young black woman came into the room through a curtained doorway carrying a plate of food. She nodded toward the back of the house without saying a word, and we walked on through.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt four)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

A couple standing next to the Crams joined the fun inspecting the bullet holes in Harry’s jacket. Williams drifted toward the living room. “And that’s Harry Cram,” he said. “I imagine he’s here tonight because it would never occur to him that he shouldn’t be. Now, see that lady standing over by the window, talking to the bald-headed man? She’s Lila Mayhew. Her family’s one of the oldest in Savannah; they’ve lived in two of Savannah’s most important historic houses. She’s a little dotty though, so it’s possible she doesn’t even know that I’ve shot anybody.

Monday, March 18, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt three)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

As far as Miss Harty was concerned, the squares were the jewels of Savannah. No other city in the world had anything like them. There were five on Bull Street, five on Barnard, four on Abercorn, and so on. James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, had been responsible for them, she said. He had decided Savannah was going to be laid out with squares, based on the design on a Roman military encampment, even before he set sail from England—before he even knew exactly where on the map he was going to put Savannah. When he arrived in February 1733, he chose a site for the city on top of a forty-foot bluff on the southern bank of the Savannah River, eighteen miles inland from the Atlantic. He had already sketched out the plans. The streets were to be laid out in a grid pattern, crossing at right angles, and there would be squares at regular intervals. In effect, the city would become a giant parterre garden. Oglethorpe built the first four squares himself. “The thing I like best about the squares,” Miss Harty said, “is that cars can’t cut through the middle; they must go around them. So traffic is obliged to flow at a very leisurely pace. The squares are out little oases of tranquility.”

As she spoke, I recognized in her voice the coastal accent described in Gone with the Wind—“Soft and slurring, liquid of vowels, kind to consonants.”

Sunday, March 17, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt two)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

I had never been to the Savannah, but I had a vivid image of it anyway. Several images, in fact. The most memorable, because it was formed in my childhood, was one associated with Treasure Island, which I had read at the age of ten. In Treasure Island, Savannah is the place where Captain John Flint, the murderous pirate with the blue face, has died of rum before the story begins. It is on his deathbed in Savannah that Flint bellows his last command—“Fetch aft the rum, Darby!”—and hands Billy Bones a map of Treasure Island. “He gave it me at Savannah,” says Bones, “when he lay a-dying.” The book had a drawing of Flint’s map in it with an X marking the location of his buried treasure. I turned to the map again and again as I read, and every time I did I was reminded of Savannah, for there at the bottom was Billy Bones’s scrawled notation, “Given by above JF to Mr W. Bones. Savannah this twenty July 1754.”

I next came across Savannah in Gone with the Wind, which was set a century later. By 1860, Savannah was no longer the pirates’ rendezvous I’d pictured. It had become, in Margaret Mitchell’s words, “that gently mannered city by the sea.” Savannah was an offstage presence in Gone with the Wind, just as it had been in Treasure Island. It stood aloof on the Georgia coast—dignified, sedate, refined—looking down its nose at Atlanta, which was then a twenty-year-old frontier town three hundred miles inland. From Atlanta’s point of view, specifically through the eyes of the young Scarlett O’Hara, Savannah and Charleston were “like aged grandmothers fanning themselves placidly in the sun.”

Saturday, March 16, 2019

the last book I ever read (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story, excerpt one)

from John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: A Savannah Story:

Feeling flush, Williams bought Cabbage Island, one of the sea island that form an archipelago along the Georgia coast. Cabbage Island was a folly. It covered eighteen hundred acres, all but five of which lay under water at high tide. He paid $5,000 for it in 1966. Old salts at the marina told him he had been duped: Cabbage Island had been on the market for half that sum the year before. Five thousand dollars was a lot of money for a soggy piece of real estate you couldn’t even build a house on. But a few months later phosphates were discovered under several coastal islands, including Cabbage Island. Williams sold out to Kerr-McGee of Oklahoma for $660,000. Several property owners on neighboring islands laughed at him for jumping at the bait too quickly. They held out for a higher price. Weeks later, the state of Georgia outlawed drilling along the coast. The phosphate deal was dead, and as it turned out, Williams was the only one who had sold in time. His after-tax profit was a half million dollars.

Friday, March 15, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt twelve)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

There was no work to do in the kitchen, and I sneaked off into a small shed used for storing potatoes, where some workhouse paupers were skulking to avoid the Sunday morning service. There were comfortable packing-cases to sit on, and some back numbers of the Family Herald, and even a copy of Raffles from the workhouse library. The paupers talked interestingly about workhouse life. They told me, among other things, that the thing really hated in the workhouse, as a stigma of charity, is the uniform; if the men could wear their own clothes, or even their own caps and scarves, they would not mind being paupers. I had my dinner from the workhouse table, and it was a meal fit for a boa-constrictor—the largest meal I had eaten since my first day at the Hôtel X. The paupers said that they habitually gorged to the bursting-point on Sunday and were underfed the rest of the week. After dinner the cook set me to do the washing up, and told me to throw away the food that remained. The wastage was astonishing and, in the circumstances, appalling. Half-eaten joints of meat, and bucketfuls of broken bread and vegetables, were pitched away like so much rubbish and then defiled with tea-leaves. I filled five dustbins to overflowing with quite eatable food. And while I did so fifty tramps were sitting in the spike with their bellies half filled by the spike dinner of bread and cheese, and perhaps two cold boiled potatoes each in honour of Sunday. According to the paupers, the food was thrown away from deliberate policy, rather than that it should be given to the tramps.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt eleven)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

The scene had interested me. It was so different from the ordinary demeanor of tramps—from the abject worm-like gratitude with which they normally accept charity. The explanation, of course, was that we outnumbered the congregation and so were not afraid of them. A man receiving charity practically always hates his benefactor—it is a fixed characteristic of human nature; and, when he has fifty or a hundred others to back him, he will show it.

In the evening, after the free tea, Paddy unexpectedly earned another eighteenpence at “glimming.” It was exactly enough for another night’s lodging, and we put it aside and went hungry till nine the next evening. Bozo, who might have given us some food, was away all day. The pavements were wet, and he had gone to the Elephant and Castle, where he knew of a pitch under shelter. Luckily I still had some tobacco, so that the day might have been worse.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt ten)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

Bozo talked further in the same strain, and I listened with attention. He seemed a very unusual screever, and he was, moreover, the first person I had heard maintain that poverty did not matter. I saw a good deal of him during the next few days, for several times it rained and he could not work. He told me the history of his life, and it was a curious one.

The son of a bankrupt bookseller, he had gone to work as a house-painter at eighteen, and then served three years in France and India during the war. After the war he had found a house-painting job in Paris, and had stayed there several years. France suited him better than England (he despised the English), and he had been doing well in Paris, saving money, and engaged to a French girl. One day the girl was crushed to death under the wheels of an omnibus. Bozo went on the drink for a week, and then returned to work, rather shaky; the same morning he fell from a stage on which he was working, forty feet on to the pavement, and smashed his right foot to pulp. For some reason he received only sixty pounds compensation. He returned to England, spent his money in looking for jobs, tried hawking books in Middlesex Street market, then tried selling toys from a tray, and finally settled down as a screever. He had lived hand to mouth ever since, half starved throughout the winter, and often sleeping in the spike or on the Embankment. When I knew him he owned nothing but the clothes he stood up in, and his drawing materials and a few books. The clothes were the usual beggar’s rags, but he wore a collar and tie, of which he was rather proud. The collar, a year or more old, was constantly “going” round the neck, and Bozo used to patch it with bits cut from the tail of his shirt so that the shirt had scarcely any tail left. His damaged leg was getting worse and would probably have to be amputated, and his knees, from kneeling on the stones, had pads of skin on them as thick as boot-soles. There was, clearly, no future for him but beggary and a death in the workhouse.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt nine)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

The dormitory was a great attic like a barrack room, with sixty or seventy beds in it. They were clean and tolerably comfortable, but very narrow and very close together, so that one breathed straight into one’s neighbour’s face. Two officers slept in the room, to see that there was no smoking and no talking after lights-out. Paddy and I had scarcely a wink of sleep, for there was a man near us who had some nervous trouble, shell-shock perhaps, which made him cry out “Pip!” at irregular intervals. It was a loud, startling noise, something like the toot of a small motor-horn. You never knew when it was coming, and it was a sure preventer of sleep. It appeared that Pip, as the others called him, slept regularly in the shelter, and he must have kept ten or twenty people awake every night. He was an example of the kind of thing that prevents one from ever getting enough sleep when men are herded as they are in these lodging-houses.

At seven another whistle blew, and the officers went round shaking those who did not get up at once. Since then I have slept in a number of Salvation Amry shelters, and found that, though the different houses vary a little, this semi-military discipline is the same in all of them. They are certainly cheap, but they are too like workhouses for my taste. In some of them there is even a compulsory religious service one or twice a week, which the lodgers must attend or leave the house. The fact is that the Salvation Army are so in the habit of thinking themselves a charitable body that they cannot even run a lodging-house without making it stink of charity.

Monday, March 11, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt eight)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

On the journey I fell in with a couple of Roumanians, mere children, who were going to England on their honeymoon trip. They asked innumerable questions about England, and I told them some startling lies. I was so pleased to be getting home, after being hard up for months in a foreign city, that England seemed to me a sort of Paradise. There are, indeed, many things in England that make you glad to get home; bathrooms, armchairs, mint sauce, new potatoes properly cooked, brown bread, marmalade, beer made with vertitable hops—they are all splendid, if you can pay for them. England is a very good country when you are not poor; and, of course, with a tame imbecile to look after, I was not going to be poor. The thought of not being poor made me very patriotic. The more questions the Roumanians asked, the more I praised England; the climate, the scenery, the art, the literature, the laws—everything in England was perfect.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt seven)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

There were thieves among the staff, and if you left money in your coat pockets it was generally taken. The doorkeeper, who paid our wages and searched us for stolen food, was the greatest thief in the hotel. Out of my five hundred francs a month, this man actually managed to cheat me of a hundred and fourteen francs in six weeks. I had asked to be paid daily, so the doorkeeper paid me sixteen francs each evening, and, by not paying for Sundays (for which of course payment was due), pocketed sixty-four francs. Also, I sometimes worked on a Sunday, for which, though I did know it, I was entitled to an extra twenty-five francs. The doorkeeper never paid me this either, and so made away with another seventy-five francs. I only realised during my last week that I was being cheated, and, as I could prove nothing, only twenty-five francs were refunded. The doorkeeper played similar tricks on any employee who was fool enough to be taken in. He called himself a Greek, but in reality he was an Armenian. After knowing him I saw the force of the proverb “Trust a snake before a Jew and a Jew before a Greek, but don’t trust an Armenian.”

Saturday, March 9, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt six)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

At a quarter to five we went back to the hotel. Till half-past six there were no orders, and we used this time to polish silver, clean out the coffee-urns, and do other odd jobs. Then the grand turmoil of the day started—the dinner hour. I wish I could be Zola for a little while, just to describe that dinner hour. The essence of this situation was that a hundred or two hundred people were demanding individually different meals of five or six courses, and that fifty or sixty people had to cook and serve them and clean up the mess afterwards; anyone with experience of catering will know what that means. And at this time when the work was doubled, the whole staff was tired out, and a number of them were drunk. I could write pages about the scene without giving a true idea of it. The chargings to and fro and in narrow passages, the collisions, the yells, the struggling with crates and trays and blocks of ice, the heat, the darkness, the furious festering quarrels which there was no time to fight out—they pass description. Anyone coming into the basement for the first time would have thought himself in a den of maniacs. It was only later, when I understood the working of a hotel, that I saw order in all this chaos.

At half-past eight the work stopped very suddenly. We were not free till nine, but we used to throw ourselves full length on the floor, and lie there resting our legs, too lazy even to go to the ice cupboard for a drink. Sometimes the chef du personnel would come in with bottles of beer, for the hotel stood us an extra beer when we had had a hard day. The food we were given was no more than eatable, but the patron was not mean about drink; he allowed us two litres of wine a day each, knowing that if a plongeur is not given two litres he will steal three. We had the heeltaps of bottles as well, so that we often drank too much—a good thing, for one seemed to work faster when partially drunk.

Friday, March 8, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt five)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

We had an excellent dinner from the leavings of the higher employees. The waiter, grown mellow, told me stories about his love-affairs, and about two men whom he had stabbed in Italy, and about how he had dodged his military service. He was a good fellow when one got to know him; he reminded me of Benvenuto Cellini, somehow. I was tired and drenched with sweat, but I felt a new man after a day’s solid food. The work did not seem difficult, and I felt that this job would suit me. It was not certain, however, that it would continue, for I had been engaged as an “extra” for the day only, at twenty-five francs. The sour-faced doorkeeper counted out the money, less fifty centimes which he said was for insurance (a lie, I discovered afterwards). Then he stepped out into the passage, made me take off my coat, and carefully prodded me all over, searching for stolen food. After this the chef du personnel appeared and spoke to me. Like the waiter, he had grown more genial on seeing that I was willing to work.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt four)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

It is disagreeable to eat out of a newspaper on a public seat, especially in the Tuileries, which are generally full of pretty girls, but I was too hungry to care. While I ate, Boris explained that he was working in the cafeteria of the hotel—that is, in English, the stillroom. It appeared that the cafeteria was the very lowest post in the hotel, and a dreadful come-down for a waiter, but it would do until the Auberge de Jehan Cottard opened. Meanwhile I was to meet Boris every day in the Tuileries, and he would smuggle out as much food as he dared. For three days we continued with this arrangement, and I lived entirely on stolen food. Then all our troubles came to an end, for one of the plongeurs left the Hôtel X., and on Boris’s recommendation I was given a job there myself.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt three)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

Boris always talked of the war as the happiest time of his life. War and soldiering were his passion; he had read innumerable books of strategy and military history, and could tell you all about the theories of Napoleon, Kutuzof, Clausewitz, Moltke and Foch. Anything to do with soldiers pleased him. His favourite café was the Closerie des Lilas in Montparnasse, simply because the statue of Marshal Ney stands outside it. Later on, Boris and I sometimes went to the Rue du Commerce together. If we went by Metro, Boris always got out at Cambronne station instead of Commerce, though Commerce was nearer; he liked the association with General Cambronne, who was called on to surrender at Waterloo, and answered simply, “Merde!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt two)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

These three weeks were squalid and uncomfortable, and evidently there was worse coming, for my rent would be due before long. Nevertheless, things were not a quarter as bad as I had expected. For, when you are approaching poverty, you make one discovery which outweighs some of the others. You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming feature of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future. Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry. When you have a hundred francs in the world you are liable to the most craven panics. When you have only three francs you are quite indifferent; for three francs you are quite indifferent; for three francs will feed you till to-morrow, and you cannot think further than that. You are bored, but you are not afraid. You think vaguely, “I shall be starving in a day or two—shocking, isn’t it?” And then the mind wanders to other topics. A bread and margarine diet does, to some extent, provide its own anodyne.

And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.

Monday, March 4, 2019

the last book I ever read (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, excerpt one)

from George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London:

There were eccentric characters in the hotel. The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people—people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from ordinary standards of behavior, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.

There were the Rougiers, for instance, an old, ragged, dwarfish couple who plied an extraordinary trade. They used to sell post cards on the Boulevard St. Michel. The curious thing was that the post cards were sold in sealed packets as pornographic ones, but were actually photographs of chateaux on the Loire; the buyers did not discover this till too late, and of course never complained. The Rougiers earned about a hundred francs a week, and by strict economy managed to be always half starved and half drunk. The filth of their room was such that one could smell it on the floor below. According to Madame F., neither of the Rougiers had taken off their clothes for four years.