Thursday, August 28, 2008

Drive, she said

I suspect Maine has the politest drivers in the country. They are forever stopping to let people in (indeed, I sometimes get annoyed with this gallantry. ‘Come on,’ I’ll fume, “let’s get on with it.’ But then, I’m probably the rudest driver in Maine.) They don’t honk, or yell out the window at you, or shoot you the finger. They stop if a pedestrian even looks like s/he wants to cross the street. I compare this last quality with the drivers in Boston (possibly the country’s worst), who seem engaged in a perennial war with pedestrians.

You encounter relatively few people driving around convinced that they have the god-given right to inflict there music on the rest of the world, and most of them are in the “big city” of Portland. It used to drive me crazy in Colorado Springs, in San Antonio, in Abilene (God, especially in Abilene), all the jerks so damned indifferent to the concept of consideration for others. You could hear the bass from their car radios blocks away. I'm sure wherever you live you get treated to this sort of thing all too often.

There isn't even very much traffic to contend with here in the great state of Maine. Indeed, the fact that traffic is relatively light throughout Maine is one of its attractions for me. I’ve long held that traffic is one of the true curses of modern life. It frays our tempers, raises our stress levels, eats up great quantities of our valuable time, as well as great quantities of that oil that has gotten so expensive. (Aside: I can’t help but feel the silver lining to the rise in gas prices situation is that it has forced many people to reconsider their gas-guzzling SUVs that should never have been invented. Actually, there are two silver linings: people are now taking the concept of alternative forms of energy seriously.)

But what's a body to do? We have to drive, immerse ourselves in that monster, Traffic, in order to get to work, to school, to the store, the doctor's office, our parents in the old folks home, etc., etc. Admittedly there is that wacky concept, public transporation, that I am such a big supporter of, especially the kind, like subways and trains, that do not add to the traffic on the streets. But not everyplace in the U.S. was foresighted enough to build those kinds of systems; and even places that do have public transportation, usually have a lot of traffic anyway. There are just a whole lot of us, and we all have cars, and we all have lots of things to do, lots of places to go. Wherever you live, you probably have to contend with heavy traffic some part of every day.

I'm lucky; I don’t. A number of things wrong with my life these days, but that ain’t one of them. Oh, being the demon of impatience that I am behind the wheel I may get irritated on my ten-minute commute from Gardiner to Hallowell, if I get stuck behind someone who insists on going the speed limit, but that doesn't always happen, and I can always take the back roads between here and there, that tack on three or four minutes, but are aggravation-free because nobody but me is usually on them.

I’ve been in Maine this second time around almost three years now. And slowly but surely the penchant for driving with courtesy is rubbing off on me. Today I even let somebody in.

Friday, August 22, 2008


I recently read Agatha Christie’s autobiography, which I found quite interesting. She would seem to have been a nicer person than her sister English mystery writer, Dorothy Sayers, who was a vastly better writer. Do you suppose there’s some significance there?

At any rate, reading this book has made me want to read a biography of Christie, to get more of an objective take on various aspects and incidents of her life. For example, she doesn’t even mention the fact that she disappeared for eleven days in 1926, after she learned her husband was having an affair with another woman (though she does mention the affair). And supposedly her second marriage was happy in the early days, but less so later on because of her second husband’s frequent philandering (oh, those men). However, her autobiography gives no hint of problems in the second marriage. I suppose it’s prurient of me to want to know about that sort of thing – although the disappearance was a bona fide mystery, and wanting to know more about it is not necessarily indicative of an unhealthy interest in other people’s sex lives.

But the real reason I’m bringing this book up is that it produced one of those coincidences that make life seem so amazing at times. Christie’s second husband was the well-known archeologist Max Mallowan, whom she met in Iraq in about 1929 (among other things I didn’t know about Christie, was that she spent so much time in Iraq, and loved it). She met him while he was working with an even more well-known archeologist, Leonard Woolley, who was at that time excavating the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, in southern Iraq. Yes, yes, all very interesting.

But here’s the coincidence. Another book I had started, when I was about halfway through the Christie book (I usually have two or three going at once), was called Looking for Dilmun, about the archeological excavations on the island of Bahrain, off the Arabian coast, in the early 1950s. The author, Geoffrey Bibby, mentions Leonard Woolley and the excavations at Ur several times. This might not seem so very amazing, but consider that when I started reading the Christie book I had no idea that there would be anything about archeological excavations in it, and that when I pulled Looking for Dilmun off my shelf it was just a second-hand book that I’d had for a long time and thought I might try reading, when biography began to pall.

But this coincidence is as nothing compared with the coincidence of starting up a conversation with a good-looking man in a bar in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1983 and discovering that not only was he a fellow Texan, but he had been at the University of Texas in the fall of 1967, when I was, AND our mothers had both lived in the Dallas suburb of Duncanville. I mean, what are the odds? Rick and I are still friends, by the way, 25 years after that illuminating conversation at the Casablanca.

But even this pales when compared with the coincidence of running into the wife of a friend of Friend Ernest’s (a native and all-but-life-long resident of Long Island, if you’ll recall from a previous Note) while strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. This was in the summer of 1974, when I was just beginning my six weeks stay in France. Zoozie and I had known that we were going to be in France at about the same time, and we had agreed that we would try to contact each other to see about getting together, once we were settled at our respective destinations. But here I was in Paris on one of only two days that the study group I was traveling with would be there, before going on to our final destination in Brittany, and here was Suzy, strolling with a friend through the very park that I just happened to be cutting through on my way to the subway. Incroyable!

I find coincidences fascinating, and maybe in another life I’ll write a dissertation about them.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Into every life a little rain must fall

We have finally had a few nice, sunny days. From the end of July through most of August it has rained. Very hard for all the tourists who have driven all the way to Maine to spend their vacation, only to be rained on for some part of every day, and to have most days overcast. Also hard on businesses that depend on the walk-in tourist trade, since people are less wont to stroll down the street, going in and out of shops, when it’s raining.

I myself haven’t really minded, because it has also been cooler. Heat is my enemy, if you’ll recall. My un-air-conditioned library can get extremely unpleasant, when it is very hot and humid, and the sun is shining.

The annual Lobster Festival in Rockland occurred right in the middle of all the rain. I felt bad for all those people trudging around to the various exhibits and entertainments – the seafood cook-off, the art exhibit, the musical performances, never mind the parade, the carnival rides, and the 10k road race – in the rain. I felt especially bad for all the people who had worked so hard to bring the festival off. Maine is a land of volunteerism, and a huge number of volunteers work on the L.F. every year. And after all their effort, the weather had to have reduced the number of people who showed up.

I had considered going because, as I’ve mentioned, I love lobster, and I was very much wanting to do something out of the ordinary. However, I didn’t have anyone to go with. This is another of the reasons I rarely do things for pleasure. While years of traveling abroad on my own have more or less inured me to eating alone (for lunch – too damn many couples at dinner), and while certain activities can be enjoyed perfectly well alone, such as looking at pictures in an art gallery, other activities simply demand to be shared. A family-oriented lobster festival is one of those activities. Everyone would be with someone. The two people I suppose I can call my friends here in Maine both have some trouble walking, and a lot of trouble going up and down stairs. I would want to cover a lot of ground – I always want to see as much as possible whenever I go to something like this – and that would have been difficult for my friends. Also, one of the things I very much wanted to do was visit the naval ship USS Whidbey Island, that would be available for guided tours. I’m fascinated by ships (actually, it occurs to me that this person who loves to travel is fascinated by most forms of transportation -- ships, airplanes, trains, old automobiles, hot-air balloons. I'll admit to not being too interested in bicycles or skateboards...) – among other things, I love seeing how they fit all the necessities of life into the available space. However, the online information about the ship included warnings about its not being handicapped-accessible (of course), with not just steep stairs, but ladders, to be climbed. My friends would not be able to do that.

So in the end I didn’t go, and when the weather proved to be so bad I was just as glad. But I’m still pining to do something out of the ordinary.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

And where were you born?

Last year I asked all of my friends who are reachable by email where they were born. Given how mobile Americans tend to be, I was curious as to how close to their birth place my friends and relatives currently lived. I found the results quite interesting.

Easily the most exotic birth place was Corrigedor, the Philippines. I know Friend Bob L. from when we were both hanging out at the State University of New York at Oneonta – I as a student and Bob as a professor – but Bob now lives on the west coast, in Pacific Grove, California.

The other person who lives farthest from her birth place is one of my three oldest friends, whom I know from when we were going to high school together in San Antonio, Texas, where we were both born. But Sherry has lived in Paris, France for the past 25 years (for which I have never quite been able to overcome my envy).

As far as the two other “oldest friends” from high school go – one was born in Ohio, but has lived most of her adult life in San Antonio; the other was born in New Mexico, has lived for many years now in Oregon, which she loves, and keeps trying to get me to come visit her in (and when I can afford to, Martha, I will!)

I was interested to learn that one of my two English friends, John, who now lives in High Wycombe, about 30 miles northwest of London, was born in Leeds, in the north. What was most interesting was that he was born at home. And John is from my generation, not from an older generation that one might expect to be born at for example my stepmother, who was not only born at home – near the small town of Troop, in East Texas – she was born in the same house her mother had been born in, and in the same bed.

The other person from my generation who was born at home was actually born in her grandmother’s home out in the countryside of North Carolina. Meaghan grew up in Greenville, NC; she and I met when we became roommates in Washington, D.C. where we’d both gone to seek adventure and fortune right out of high school. Now Meaghan lives in Connecticut...and I, of course, live in Maine.

I have two friends who were born in the Bronx. Both I know from my days at Oneonta (quite a few of my friends date from my college days). Tim has lived for many years in Florida – he hates the cold – and Bob S. moved to Seattle a few years ago, after living for many years in New Jersey.

One of the most amusing birth scenarios involved one of my sisters in-law, who grew up in Minnesota. I had assumed that that was where she was born, but no indeed, she was born in Kansas City, which is where her parents happened to be when she decided it was time to be born. I met her in Ft. Worth, whence my stepbrother Mike had whisked her, after meeting her and falling for her on a skiing trip to Colorado. A widow like myself, she still lives in Ft. Worth (she also dislikes the cold)

An example of coming full circle – which often happens to people – friend John Mark was born in Kansas City, Kansas, I met him when we were both living in Anchorage, Alaska, and now John Mark lives across the river from his birth place, in Kansas City, Missouri. He’s picked out his grave site, so I guess he’s there to stay.

For all that so many of us have gone far afield from where we first sprang up, many of us still live within spitting distance of where we were born. Friend Ernest was born in Port Jefferson, Long Island, has lived virtually his entire life in nearby Patchogue, except for two years spent in the army in Anchorage – which is where we met. Friend Janis was born in Odessa, Texas, now lives 158 miles away in Abilene, which is where we met. Friend Ruth was born in Hudson, Massachusetts, which is maybe a 40 minute drive from where she has lived for many years in Arlington (suburb of Boston). These are also, I might add, among the most stable people I know.

Basically I see that most of my friends were born in New York – people I met while going to school in upstate N.Y., or when I was living in Boston – or Texas. There are a few other midwesterners thrown in for good measure – people born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Carthage, Missouri whom I know, however, from Boston, and southern Louisiana. A couple of people born in Pittsburgh, PA, whom I also met in Boston, ditto some Connecticut natives.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that I am easily the biggest gypsy of all the people I know. They may be living many miles from where they were born – in several cases on opposite coasts – but they generally have not lived all that many places in-between. It is because I have lived in so many different places that I have met them all! And presumably all those people are just five additional people (after me; I’m the first of the “six degrees”) from knowing one another.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Marion, Madam Librarian

It may have occurred to some of you to wonder if I don’t enjoy any of the processes involved in being a librarian, which has been, after all, my profession for 25 years. And indeed, I do. I especially enjoy what is called collection development or collection management. That’s a matter of ascertaining what the library needs to add to its collection, and what remove. Acquisitions – the actual ordering of items to be added – can be a part of collection development, or separate. In a small library such as mine, in which not that many items are ordered each month, and staffing is very limited, acquisitions is often performed by the same person, in this case, me.

I love trying to decide what should be ordered. This calls for a consideration of many factors, including how much money do I have to spend in each area, and provides an opportunity to exercise my professional judgment, which is always satisfying. The process includes, for example, investigating the contents of preview boxes of children’s books sent to me from time to time by book distributors (the middleman between publishers and libraries). I look to see what grabs me, then see if we have holes or weaknesses in the collection that the items could fill. With children’s books I have to consider reading level: we may have a book or two on the solar system, but are they at a higher reading level than this particular book? In most subject areas, as well as in fiction, you try to have some books at all three reading levels: very easy to read, slightly more advanced, more advanced yet. In fiction, you must also have picture books – lots of picture books – which are generally read to children who cannot yet read.

This is also when I can find myself doing what we call weeding. As I’m looking at the books we have I may discover two or three that we need to withdraw – they’re too old for the topic, possibly so old-fashioned in appearance (pen and ink drawings for illustrations, for example) that no modern-day child would give them a second glance, they haven’t been checked out in ages. Removing books from the collection is also part of the process.

As for adult books, I don’t get preview boxes; I read mini-reviews in publications like Library Journal and the New York Times Book Review. This is great fun. As a public librarian I am less concerned with nonfiction that I would be in an academic library – which is one of the things I miss about working in an academic library – and of necessity must be most concerned with keeping the best sellers streaming in. Even here, though, I must try to find a balance between ordering all the latest James Pattersons/Robert Parkers/W.E.B. Griffins/Danielle Steels, and selecting new authors for readers to try. And I have the challenge of trying to ascertain what sorts of nonfiction books my particular patrons will be interested in. This has to be done over time, through observation of what goes out and what doesn’t; it’s part of the process.

I also enjoy the process of providing reference assistance. Someone is looking for particular information – where to look? You become a kind of detective. Often you have to ask questions to get at exactly what information the patron is looking for. A classic example of the importance of what is called the reference interview is having a patron come in asking where’s your section on horses, and finally getting at the fact that what he really wants is a book that will show him how to draw horses. Or you have someone say she’s looking for information on china -- is that dishes or countries the lady is interested in?

A very different process that I enjoy is that of cataloging. Here my penchant for having things according to Hoyle is in its element. Uh-oh, that information should be in field 520 of the record, not 500. Or the information in the Series Name field needs cleaning up, or that in the publisher information field. What’s really fun is when you have to supply all the information for all the fields in a record – original cataloging – but most catalogers do little of that these days, unless their collection is very distinctive, and they are unable to find records already out there, in one of the larger catalogs that one can tap into and extract records from.

Among the numerous frustrations of my current position is that I do very little cataloging, or reference. And other tasks that I do have responsibility for, such as programming (i.e., coming up with special events to be held in the library – which always seem to involve a great deal of work with, in the end, almost nobody showing up) and computer trouble-shooting, I do not enjoy at all, or do particularly well. But, life must have its frustrations, or one would be insufferably happy...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Happiness is...

You’re supposed to get wiser as you get older. It’s supposed to be a bit of a recompense for all the wretched things you have to put up with in getting older. But alas, I fear I am, if anything, less wise than I was, say, ten years ago. One of the few observations I think I can make, that has any claim to wisdom at all, is that happiness requires an enjoyment of process. The end result may not be exactly what you hoped, or you may never even reach an end-result. And even if you do, unless it's a once-in-a-lifetime affair, you will most likely have to do it again and again. So you’d better derive some satisfaction from the doing.

I am not a person who enjoys the process of doing most things. I think that’s what makes me an impatient driver – I just want to be where I’m going, so get out of my way so I can get on with it – and a mediocre cook. Cooking requires all that time and effort, and the results are gone in 15 minutes. And then you have to clean up! No, no, I’ve got more important things to do. I very much enjoy a good meal, love dining out, and having a nice dinner at someone else’s house. But I am not interested in participating in the preliminary process at all (which makes my having to eat every three hours – my having to endlessly, endlessly cook – one of God’s little jokes).

Likewise, I love flowers, love beautiful gardens, but have absolutely no interest in grubbing around in the dirt on my hands and knees, coming eyeball to eyeball with bugs. (In the South ‘bugs’ includes fire ants, which are the Devil’s own emissaries.) I was also never able to get into any kind of needle work, although every other female member of my family can at the very least sew, and my stepmother was also a whizzbang knitter.

I can think of only a few processes that I genuinely enjoy. Traveling, for one. Even by way of automobile, so long as I’m not driving (my husband Micheal and I were the perfect travel companions, since he enjoyed the process of driving, and I enjoyed looking out the window). Admittedly the process of flying has become an ordeal, where once it was a real pleasure, but historically, when you didn’t have to all but undress to get through security, when you had room to breath in your seat, and were served real food – it was a process I enjoyed. I love every aspect of traveling by train. And then, of course, I derive enormous pleasure from exploring and experiencing the new places that travel at last brings me to.

I enjoy the process of writing, despite the fact that it can be a kind of agony. Producing a collection of words that say something worth reading, and that no one else has said in quite the same way, brings with it a satisfaction that make the process worthwhile. Exactly as, I’m sure, the excellent meal, the beautiful garden, the well-sewn garment or knitted sweater also make the processes that produced them worthwhile. But I don’t think the final outcome is the only, or even the most important, reason people enjoy doing whatever it is they’re doing. Somehow the process itself gives satisfaction.

Part of the process of writing is going away from it, then coming back to see, as if with new eyes, that this word would work better than that one, that this sentence needs to start the paragraph, rather than end it, etc. And I love that stuff. Love being almost asleep and suddenly thinking of the perfect line for something I'm working on -- rolling over, fumbling for the bedside light, and the paper and pen I keep beside the lamp for just such moments of inspiration. Or driving along, hearing something on the radio, passing something on the road, or just suddenly having a thought, that causes me to fumble for the pen and pad in my purse. This is all part of the writing process.

So my little pearl of wisdom would have it that the more activities for which one can enjoy the process in this way, the happier one is likely to be. Or, if there are just one or two processes that really make you happy – and I don’t know that you can force yourself to enjoy a process that just does not interest you – you would be wise to give most of your time and energy to those activities. My misfortune would seem to be that I fit into the latter category, but have never managed to shake off all the other activities that clamor for attention in this life – things one “should” do, or must do in order to have such and such (e.g., a safe, quiet roof over ones head, food every three hours, money to pay all the bills). Have never been able to make my writing, or my travels – or my writing about my travels – provide me with those necessary such and suches. Thus, while I can see what I need to do to increase my happiness, I haven’t managed to do it. Which disqualifies me, I fear, from the Wise Woman Olympics.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Odds and ends

As those of you who know me know, I love reading license plates. Thank heavens for vanity plates; they can add a bit of spice to the blandest of days. To whit:

at the other end of the scale: ORPHAN
BUMMER (now there’s an optimist)
CREMATE (another cheerful soul)
MYRDSOX (major fans here in Maine)
and then there was SING4U
BBLGUM (that one took me a while)
DR JAB (!)
DAYOUT (do you suppose the person drives that car only on...?)
And then there was FAVORIT (favorite car? Or the driver is somebody’s favorite?)
AWESOM (that one made me grown out loud – I am so tired of that overused word)

Favorite book title recently encountered: “Social Structure and Testosterone” (according to the American Journal of Sociology, it is “irreplaceably worthwhile.”)

Favorite store name recently encountered: First Amendment Adult Video Store

Favorite community event (I read about this a few years back, and am just getting around to mentioning it): The town of New Bedford, Massachusettes held a public reading of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” (24 hours and 17 minutes), to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the voyage that Melville took – leaving from New Bedford – that inspired the book.

A couple of (personally experienced) Maine accent stories:

A woman started to go up the steps of the post office in Hallowell, and found the side she was on blocked off. A man coming down the side that was still open looked over at her and said, quite literally (and cheerfully), “Ya can’t get they-uh from he-uh.”

A female tourist was looking out at the Kennebec River, which flows past Hallowell, and asked the bemused question, “Did they lower the river? It looks a lot lower than it did yesterday.” A man standing nearby drawled, “A-yah-uh. They call it the tide.”

Does anybody else wonder:

Where they get the figures for statements like: “Flood damages are estimated to be 3 million dollars”?

Why radio stations stay on all night?

Why they have Stop for Pedestrian signs? What, you’re going to run over them?

And is anybody else bothered by the fact that virtually all female police detectives, FBI agents and forensic scientists on T.V. shows wear their hair long and loose, and wear low-cut, form-fitting tops on the job? Has anyone ever seen women in these kinds of positions dressed in these totally inappropriate ways? The forensic scientists are the worst – just think how much long, loose hair could contaminate a crime scene.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reader's Advisory

I recently read two novels by Richard North Patterson. Took up the first one because I’d never read anything by him, and as he’s a fairly popular writer at my library (though not so wildly popular as the vastly inferior writer, James Patterson), I thought I should have some idea of what his books are like. This is one of the “tasks” of a public librarian: to be at least somewhat familiar with different authors, so that when a patron asks for suggestions of whom to read now that they’ve read everything by so and so, you have something to offer. It’s called Reader's Advisory.

My take is that Richard North Patterson has found a way to make money expounding on his views on various political and philosophical issues, without being a Fox News commentator. Both books I’ve read involve a great deal of talk. It’s usually interesting talk, real food for thought, but it’s talk. These books are referred to as "political thrillers,” but i don’t find anything particularly thrilling about them. I think of thrillers as involving bad guys from foreign powers who are crack shots or fanatical terrorists, being foiled by (often unwilling) John Wayne types from the U.S. Stakes are usually quite high, e.g., saving the world from nuclear holocaust, and there’s usually something of a body count. Nothing like that here. In The Race there is an incident of terrorism, but it’s barely a blip on the screen. Small scale (a hundred die, though it “could have been a thousand”), it occupies only a few paragraphs in the novel, and is used only to show the protagonist exhibiting leadership under stress.

Both of these books have to do with a U.S. political situation – in one case, the campaign to win the Republican party’s nomination for President (The Race); in the other, the “advise and consent” process of confirming a presidential nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (Protect and Serve). The tension in both books arises from in-fighting within the party, and the lengths to which one side proceeds to go to see that it wins.

The two books, published seven years apart, share many things; I’d go so far as to say too many things. In both there is a young, handsome, moderate Republican who’s politically savvy, but loaded with integrity. In The Race, he’s trying for the nomination, after having been a senator from Ohio; in Protect and Serve, he’s a senator from Ohio who hopes eventually to run for President. (I checked, and yes, Patterson grew up and went to college in Ohio. The other attributes he gives his heroes may owe something to the wish-fulfillment fiction writers are able to indulge in.) Both characters were air force pilots who were captured and tortured. In The Race the handsome, charismatic seeker of his party’s nomination is divorced and becomes involved with an impossibly beautiful black woman (and how realistic is that?); in Protect and Serve the (young, handsome, Democratic) President is also divorced, engaged to an impossibly beautiful woman who isn’t black, but did have an abortion once upon a time (a parallel plot line to the Chief Justice confirmation is a judicial challenge being brought by a young girl to a recently-enacted parental-consent law for late-term abortion). It would be interesting to know how many of these motifs appear in other Patterson novels.

Besides getting even-handed discussion of important issues, what’s perhaps most interesting about these books is their portrayal of Republicans who are moderate; who may personally object to abortion or same-sex marriages, but are not prepared to demonize homosexuals or women who get abortions (or doctors who perform them). There are characters who fit the stereotype of the unscrupulous Republican hypocrite – mouthing pieties while plotting all kinds of chicanery – but they are balanced by honest souls who are trying to do the right thing. Democrats figure virtually not at all in The Race; in Protect and Serve three major characters are Democrats, including the President and Vice President (who’s a woman :-) ), and they are portrayed as idealists who nonetheless know how the political game is played.

So there you go. I think I’ll read at least one more, to see if I get something entirely different. I admit that I hope so. Maybe a higher body count.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

One thought leads to another

I don’t know how many of you watched the public television show “Carrier,” about life on board the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier. The show ran in its entirety here in Maine over several nights a few months ago, and now they’re rerunning it in hour-long segments every week. I watched it the first time, and found it fascinating, although I occasionally felt they concentrated too much on a particular crew member (the young fellow with the pregnant girlfriend back home), and gave too much air time to the Pentecostal group, in the segment on religion on board ship. The Pentacostals seemed to be a very small group, out of all those people on board, to receive so much attention from the producers, and I suspected it was because their services were a little more “out there” than the more staid services of the other denominations.

I also took exception to the final segment, when the cameras followed some of the crew to their very homes and, it seemed to me, invaded their privacy to a really egregious extent. Of course, these crew members had agreed to be followed in this way, but I felt it made the show slip over the line into the unpleasantly voyeuristic...from the pleasantly voyeuristic, I suppose.

But overall I thought it was T.V. at its best: informative, while being entertaining. And one thing I learned, that amazed me, was how young most of these sailors are. Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. And working at extremely demanding, stressful, important jobs. And doing a good job! They are still in many ways immature – one older sailor declares the ship is like one big high school – but the navy is teaching them discipline, and responsibility, and they are able to take a well-deserved pride in their contribution to the running of the ship.

Seeing this made me think of something else, the work programs established by Franklyn Roosevelt during the Depression. I was thinking it was the WPA I had in mind, but a dip into that highly useful if not always reliable People’s Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, showed me it was the CCC – the Civilian Conservation Corps – I was really thinking of. The WPA did have a number of work projects, that produced things like bridges, post offices, guidebooks by authors, what has proved to be invaluable photographic records of conditions of the time by various photographers, etc. But the CCC was especially developed to put young men to work. According to Wikipedia they planted trees, constructed shelters and trails in state and national parks, built fences, roads, including logging and fire roads, even installed phone and power lines. My father worked in the CCC for a while, and it was a godsend for him, as it was for many young men.

And I thought, why don’t we have something like that now? Something besides the military that could instill some discipline and a sense of responsibility into young people (have to include both sexes these days), something that would enable the young men, at least, to work off some of that energy and free-floating testosterone in productive ways. I’ve actually had this thought before, when I would see young men just hanging out, begging for the opportunity to get into trouble. Or I’d think about all those kids being destroyed in gangs, because they have nothing else that makes them feel important, gives them a sense of being part of something bigger than themselves.

And now I discover that we do have something like that! Again according to Wikipedia, 41 states have some form of a CCC program. So why don’t we hear more about them? How many young people are actually involved in them? Are these organizations going into the ghettos and recruiting? Hmmm...