Tag Archives: The Written Word Endures

The Written Word Endures #7

Then one Sunday evening, Jurgis sat puffing his pipe by the kitchen stove, and talking with an old fellow whom Jonas had introduced, and who worked in the canning rooms at Durham’s; and so Jurgis learned a few things about the great and only Durham canned goods, which had become a national institution. They were regular alchemists at Durham’s; they advertised a mushroom-catsup, and the men who made it did not know what a mushroom looked like. They advertised “potted chicken,”–and it was like the boardinghouse soup of the comic papers, through which a chicken had walked with rubbers on. Perhaps they had a secret process for making chickens chemically–who knows? said Jurgis’ friend; the things that went into the mixture were tripe, and the fat of pork, and beef suet, and hearts of beef, and finally the waste ends of veal, when they had any. They put these up in several grades, and sold them at several prices; but the contents of the cans all came out of the same hopper. And then there was “potted game” and “potted grouse,” “potted ham,” and “deviled ham”–de-vyled, as the men called it. “De-vyled” ham was made out of the waste ends of smoked beef that were too small to be sliced by the machines; and also tripe, dyed with chemicals so that it would not show white; and trimmings of hams and corned beef; and potatoes, skins and all; and finally the hard cartilaginous gullets of beef, after the tongues had been cut out. All this ingenious mixture was ground up and flavored with spices to make it taste like something. Anybody who could invent a new imitation had been sure of a fortune from old Durham, said Jurgis’ informant; but it was hard to think of anything new in a place where so many sharp wits had been at work for so long; where men welcomed tuberculosis in the cattle they were feeding, because it made them fatten more quickly; and where they bought up all the old rancid butter left over in the grocery stores of a continent, and “oxidized” it by a forced-air process, to take away the odor, rechurned it with skim milk, and sold it in bricks in the cities! Up to a year or two ago it had been the custom to kill horses in the yards–ostensibly for fertilizer; but after long agitation the newspapers had been able to make the public realize that the horses were being canned. Now it was against the law to kill horses in Packingtown, and the law was really complied with–for the present, at any rate. Any day, however, one might see sharp-horned and shaggy-haired creatures running with the sheep and yet what a job you would have to get the public to believe that a good part of what it buys for lamb and mutton is really goat’s flesh!

There was another interesting set of statistics that a person might have gathered in Packingtown–those of the various afflictions of the workers. When Jurgis had first inspected the packing plants with Szedvilas, he had marveled while he listened to the tale of all the things that were made out of the carcasses of animals, and of all the lesser industries that were maintained there; now he found that each one of these lesser industries was a separate little inferno, in its way as horrible as the killing beds, the source and fountain of them all. The workers in each of them had their own peculiar diseases. And the wandering visitor might be skeptical about all the swindles, but he could not be skeptical about these, for the worker bore the evidence of them about on his own person–generally he had only to hold out his hand.

There were the men in the pickle rooms, for instance, where old Antanas had gotten his death; scarce a one of these that had not some spot of horror on his person. Let a man so much as scrape his finger pushing a truck in the pickle rooms, and he might have a sore that would put him out of the world; all the joints in his fingers might be eaten by the acid, one by one. Of the butchers and floorsmen, the beef-boners and trimmers, and all those who used knives, you could scarcely find a person who had the use of his thumb; time and time again the base of it had been slashed, till it was a mere lump of flesh against which the man pressed the knife to hold it. The hands of these men would be criss-crossed with cuts, until you could no longer pretend to count them or to trace them. They would have no nails,–they had worn them off pulling hides; their knuckles were swollen so that their fingers spread out like a fan. There were men who worked in the cooking rooms, in the midst of steam and sickening odors, by artificial light; in these rooms the germs of tuberculosis might live for two years, but the supply was renewed every hour. There were the beef-luggers, who carried two-hundred-pound quarters into the refrigerator-cars; a fearful kind of work, that began at four o’clock in the morning, and that wore out the most powerful men in a few years. There were those who worked in the chilling rooms, and whose special disease was rheumatism; the time limit that a man could work in the chilling rooms was said to be five years. There were the wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle men; for the pelts of the sheep had to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off. There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands, too, were a maze of cuts, and each cut represented a chance for blood poisoning. Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was very seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself and have a part of his hand chopped off. There were the “hoisters,” as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham’s architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees. Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor,–for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting,–sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

-Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

*My Mom and I often trade books and give each other recommendations. This was a book she read in high school and I added it to my reading pile. I pulled it out this summer and have been slowly devouring it. I’m not normally a slow reader, but summer kept me busy and I’m only half way through the book. It’s a frightening account of the way in which food is treated and the horrendous working conditions that the people within the processing factories endured. I say “is” and not “was”, as unfortunately food safety standards are still in this day and age not being met. In the past month I have read two shocking articles about the food industry, one published this morning (see below). It’s quite grim really and is most surely food for thought!

UK’s top supplier of supermarket chicken fiddles food safety dates

The chicken run: blood, sweat and deceit at a UK poultry plant

Food brands ‘cheat’ eastern European shoppers with inferior products

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The Written Word Endures #6

“What was it like when you were growing up?”

Sookie took a sip of her tea. “Like a three-ring circus, with Lenore as ringmaster. The house was always full of people. The bridge club or garden club always had some kind of meeting at our house and Buck’s friends were running in and out. Poor Daddy, I miss him. He was the sweetest thing; he said the only reason he could live with Lenore was the fact that he was deaf in one ear. One time Buck said, ‘Daddy, why can’t you hear out of that ear?’ And Daddy said, ‘Wishful thinking, son, just wishful thinking.’ He was a scream.”

Believe me, Mother lives well, but since Daddy died, who knows what she’s liable to do next. She can come up with the craziest things.”

“Like what?”

“Just crazy stuff. Five years ago so many new people started moving here and she didn’t think the Welcome Wagon and the Newcomers’ Club were doing enough to suit her so she formed the Welcome to Selma Club … and I feel sorry for the poor people who move here. As soon as they hit town, Lenore’s troops make a beeline over to their house and swarm all over them like ants before anybody else can get to them. I said, Mother, it’s a wonder you don’t scare them to death. I know if I looked up and saw Lenore Krackenberry and her gang storming up my driveway with ribbons and balloons, singing at the top of their lungs, ‘Welcome to Selma,’ I’d move back where I came from.”

“Singing what?”

“Some old stupid song that one of her friends wrote. “ ‘Welcome to Selma, Selma, Selma…can we help ya, help ya, help ya.’ It’s just awful, but God knows people know they are welcomed.”

Sookie got up. “Promise me you won’t let me have more than two glasses of wine. Earle says I’m a cheap drunk and I get silly and talk too much if I have more than two glasses. I’m liable to get drunk and reveal all the family secrets.”

“Do you have any?”

Sookie sat down and threw her legs over the side of the chair. “Secrets? Are you kidding? In Selma, honey, we couldn’t have a secret if our lives depended on it. My life is an open book. Everybody in town knows that Buck is a big goofball and that Mother is a card-carrying crazy … and I’m probably not operating on a full deck myself.”

Dena was unwinding and the feeling was pleasant. “Sookie, tell me about your life down here.”

“My life? It’s just a plain old normal life. You’re the one who hobnobs with the stars. We are just plain old people, dull, dull, dull.”

-Fannie Flagg, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!

* I simply adore Fannie Flagg. The closer I get to the end of her novels, the slower I read them. She weaves her worlds so well, I feel that I know these characters. I think some of us would even be dear friends. This book had so many things that just tickled my funny bone. It was hard to put it down at 2am, but I woke up Mr. Michie by bursting out laughing at a particular paragraph. So out went the lights…

The Written Word Endures #5

The Mists of Avalon Book Cover

They wound her hair in a garland of crimson berries and crowned her with the first of the spring flowers. The precious necklace of gold and bone was reverently taken from the neck of the Mother of the tribe and placed around her own; she felt its weight like the very weight of magic. Her eyes were dazzled with the rising sun. They placed something in her hand – a drum, taut skin stretch over a hooped frame. As it it came from somewhere else, she heard her own hand strike it.

They stood on a hillside, overlooking a valley filled to the brim with thick forest, empty and silent, but within it she could sense the life in the forest – the deer moving on silent, slender feet, the animals climbing in the trees, and the birds nesting, darting, moving, surge with the life of the first running tide of the full moon of spring. She turned for a moment and looked behind, on the hillside. Above them, carved white in the chalk, was a monstrous figure, human or animal she could not tell, her eyes were blurred; was it a running deer, was it a striding man, phallus erect and filled with the spring tide , too?

She could not see the young man at her side, only the surge of the life in him. There was a solemn, waiting hush all over the hillside. Time ceased, was again transparent, something in which she moved, bathed, stepped freely.

-Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

The Written Word Endures #4

Foxs Earth Book Cover

The old road lies in another country, in an older South. Broom sedge and seedling pines chew voraciously at the roadside ditches. Malignant green kudzu masks toppling tenant shanties, rusted barbed-wire fences, brittle old telephone poles, whole sweeping miles of lunar roadside landscape. Cotton fields here are smaller, scantily tended, leached much of the year to blowing pink dust; 1930s iron bridges span tea-colored creeks with names like One Stump, Hellpeckish, Booger’s Water, Coosaula. They are tributaries of the deep-running Oconee River, which powers the textile mill in Sparta and a dozen towns like it, on its leaping journey to join the Ocmulgee and create the Altamaha at the fall line. The creek names are the harsh and homely place music of the Piedmont.

The naked earth is seldom visible along this old road, thatched as it is with sedge, pine, and kudzu. The pale dust of the fields and ditches is not the true color of the earth but the color of fatigue and decay. The earth is littered crazily here: with cement-block houses and grocery stores; with one-pump filling stations attached to wailing road-houses and evil-smelling rest rooms; with ancient, gap-toothed family graveyards; with sagging power lines and county road signs bleached by decades and pitted by the showered gravel of pickup trucks and tossed Pabst and Nehi bottles. Along this road only Jesus saves, only Coke adds life.

-Anne River Siddons, Fox’s Earth

The Written Word Endures #3

Jack Kerouac On the Road Cover

Two rides took me to Bakersfield, four hundred miles south. The first was the mad one, with a burly blond kid in a souped-up rod. ‘See that toe?’ he said as he gunned the heap to eighty and passed everybody on the road. ‘Look at it.’ It was swathed in bandages. ‘I just had it amputated this morning. The bastards wanted me to stay in the hospital. I packed my bag and left. What’s a toe?’ Yes, indeed, I said to myself, look out now, and I hung on. You never saw a driving fool like that. He made Tracy in no time. Tracy is a railroad town; brakemen eat surly meals in diners by the tracks. Trains howl away across the valley. The sun goes down long and red. All the magic names of the valley unrolled – Manteca, Madera, all the rest. Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries. I stuck my head out the window and took deep breaths of the fragrant air. It was the most beautiful of all moments.

– Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The Written Word Endures #2

I Always Loved You Book Cover

But she had kept these letters, as he had kept hers, though what they had been thinking, she couldn’t imagine. Such recklessness. Private conversations should always remain private. Why should anyone know what they themselves had barely known? And even if something had once been committed to paper, did it mean that it was still true? Always true? Unlike the relative permanence of paint, words were temporal. You uttered them and they evanesced, but if you wrote them, they remained, though whether the written word was any more truthful than the spoken was a mystery to her. Only paint was honest. But even a painting could be wiped clean and refined. He was forever revising, stealing his paintings back to rework them, everything always unfinished with him.

– Robin Oliveira, I Always Loved You

{I’m not finished reading this book just yet, but I’m really enjoying it, I just couldn’t wait to share a small snippet!}

The Written Word Endures #1

Emma Stone Reading

I recently read a post on Cup of Jo, the focus of which was a discussion on the most beautiful sentence or paragraph that you’ve ever read. That drew my attention, as I’m often marking sections of a book I’m reading or making a mental note of page numbers, to be able to go back to a favourite sentence or paragraph and write it down.

I have the great fortune of getting to read a lot while I’m traveling around London and my choice of genres is always varying. I thought I would begin a new series on this blog as a journal of sorts to record lines and words and paragraphs that have stayed with me. I’m entitling it: The Written Word Endures, which is taken from a Neil Postman quote.

Travels with Charley Cover

 

I went to the small restaurant run in conjunction. It was all plastic too — the table linen, the butter dish. The sugar and crackers were wrapped in cellophane, the jelly in a small plastic coffin sealed with cellophane. It was early evening and I was the only customer. Even the waitress wore a sponge-off apron. She wasn’t happy, but then she wasn’t unhappy. She wasn’t anything. But I don’t believe anyone is a nothing. There has to be something inside, if only to keep the skin from collapsing. This vacant eye, listless hand, this damask cheek dusted like a doughnut with plastic powder, had to have a memory or a dream.

-John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley