…pondering phone books…


One of my fondest memories in life, perhaps, came shortly after graduating from college. It was my first ‘real’ job. They all were real, but somehow delivering newspapers and sorting shoes and moving furniture never felt like places I really wanted to be stuck for life, so I always considered them as means to an end; gas for a car that was thirstier than I could imagine, oddball clothing from goodwill, occasional movies and a few dates here and there, and of course, tobacco in some form or another…

It was my first job as an architect. I’d worked summers at the same office for the previous two summers, drawing flashing and brick details, renderings every so often, but mostly running blue-prints on a jurassic era diazo machine fueled by gallon bottles of ammonia, which was purchased by the case. The life of an intern architect truly is glamorous. It was the machine responsible for my life long conversion to bow ties, as it grabbed mine one day and sucked it into the gears along with a sheet I was trying to copy (another story for another time…)

It was an educational experience, all of it – not only the loss of a tie – realizing that not all architects were dapper, nor even close to the illusory vision I’d harvested in architecture school. I kept imagining people like Cary Grant, or Howard Roark, handsome and stylish men to look up to, which clearly wasn’t what I found while running blue prints of K-mart additions. I forgive myself this lapse; It isn’t hard to err a bit when you study Frank Lloyd Wright and see pictures of him showing up to a job site in a cape… What I found was far different; men in wrinkled suits, who may have just as well slept in them the night before, with odd and anomalous features.

One of these men, an associate, the real chief ass-kicker about the place, was also named Tom. I was Tom ‘Jr’, or just ‘Jr’… I never wanted that nickname, nor could I ever be a chief ass-kicker as he was. He was large and sat at his desk all day long without a break, like a sack of slumping concrete. Wheezing through a thick mustache and typing endlessly (writing specifications for projects) on an archaic computer with a green screen. His hands were what struck me most. I am not sure if he suffered from something like psoriasis. They looked, scarily, a bit like a catchers’ mitt made from a scrotum…

There was the day when we all received new phone books and the old ones were to be gathered into a box for recycling, and things like that were naturally a bit of a break time at the assylum. Everyone livened up and had something to say about the break in the monotony… And that’s when Tom silenced the room, and claimed his stake as chief ass-kicker and scary man. He took his old phone book, all 4 inches thick of it, clad in his rumpled suit, and proceeded to rip it clean in half with his scary, scaly hands…

I’ve always thought that if I had a daughter and a young man ever came to take her on a date, it would be wonderful fun to casually repeat that trick, to simply rip a phone book in half, while telling him that I expected her to be home at a reasonable hour. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been graced with children…

I have, subsequently, learned about ripping phone books in half; it is a science and an art, which doesn’t require phenomenally scary, scaly hands (though they do add to the effect!). It is easily accomplished by splaying the pages a bit so they rip, effectively, one at a time.

It’s a bit of a lovely lesson, and I remember this sort of thing from time to time for that lesson alone. Sometimes you feel trapped by thick and gargantuan ropes and you think that in order to be free, you have to have the strength to break those ropes all at once. Life doesn’t work that way. You only have to know that the rope is woven from a bunch of tiny little threads which can be broken easily, one strand at a time… And it works, too, when it comes to creativity. Sometimes your mind wanders and your hands work in ways unbeknownst to you, weaving fragile threads for months and years… And one day you realize you can weave them into something larger and stronger than you can ever imagine…



One thought on “…pondering phone books…

  1. one of the best posts ever…love, Dad

    All was amenity there A calm sunshine of the heart. . . C. Day Lewis


    Posted by Will Schilb | October 22, 2014, 3:30 pm

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