Monthly Archives: November 2008

An acrophobe’s anxiety

“Lunch on a Skyscraper,” a photo forwarded to me by Klare Schmidt, shows a group of men on a suspended I-beam hundreds of feet above New York City.

Unless it’s a diabolical Photoshop job, in which a background is simply added, and the men in reality are seated on ground level, the scene is hard to imagine.

The photographer, Charles C. Ebbets, did a masterful job of catching the 11 men — apparently oblivious to the perils that are inherent below — earning their living. And smoking cigarettes and eating their lunch during the construction of Rockefeller Center.

The single beam has no back or foot support, and nobody appears to be fazed by it.

A glimpse of this 1932 photo gives me a chill. But I had a different reaction when I saw the photo while in my teens. Why are kids fearless of heights and oldsters quite fearful?

Back in the ‘60s, when I lived in Illinois, my girlfriend’s father, Bernard, was one of those who toted the proverbial black, dome-shaped lunch box as he worked high above most other people, in Chicago’s Loop. He felt at ease walking across beams often lacking safety nets. To be sure, there were safety nets in the construction zones more heavily populated, but, Bernie would say, “You fall off and let the net catch you, and you’re still in a mell of a hess. It takes an hour to bring you back up.” Continue reading

Don’t high-five the bailout

The first time I felt the impact of big bucks was in my youth, while window shopping at the old J.C. Penney store in Las Vegas, exactly where Beall’s operates now.

I had been selling newspapers downtown and ran in to a fifth-grade classmate who I thought to be the richest kid in town. We began talking about finances. I’d been proud of having opened my own passbook-savings account, at the First National Bank, and, solely through sales of Optics, I’d built up a nest egg of about $7.

The incentive to save was great. At the time, one could request a bank book — literally. That handsome bank looked exactly like a hardback book. A slot on top was for coins, another in back for dollar bills, which I seldom saw.

I liked the thrill of taking my full bank book to one of the tellers, Charles Keyes, who used a bank-kept key to unlock the treasure and even counted the coins, deposited them and returned the book. Continue reading

Verisimilitude: It’s chilling

One of the classiest motivators, something virtually guaranteed to get people to pick up a book, appeared a few years ago.

It was a several-paneled cartoon which started simply with a kid’s beginning to read a book. The second panel showed the child expressing greater interest.

The third section showed some kind of monster on the page, and the young reader growing fangs, facial hair and claws.

The exaggerations continued, with the message that by the time the child got well into the book, the child herself had changed. She had become what she was reading. Continue reading

Keep a civil tongue

One of the burdens of public school teaching is dreaded duty. There’s cafeteria, playground, restroom, hall, bus duty and probably a host of other punishments teachers get subjected to when they first sign on to “earn the big bucks and get three months’ vacation every year.”

Now, my English teacher would question the use of quotation marks above, so I need to stress they’re deliberate. By using the unattributed quote marks, I’m being ironic and saying teachers don’t earn much and seldom get vacations, as they’re too busy going to summer school to keep up their credentials.

Years back, I was sharing playground duty in a high school when I saw my co-teacher approach a group of freshmen with, “Don’t you see I’m in the area? I can hear the bad words. Don’t use them in front of me.” Continue reading