Dec. 1, 2001

The Firemen

by Deborah Garrison

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Poem: "The Firemen," by Deborah Garrison from A Working Girl Can't Win (Random House).

The Firemen

God forgive me—

It's the firemen,
leaning in the firehouse garage
with their sleeves rolled up
on the hottest day of the year.

As usual, the darkest one is handsomest.
The oldest is handsomest.
The one with the thin, wiry arms is handsomest.
The young one already going bald is handsomest.

And so on.
Every day I pass them at their station:
the word sexy wouldn't do them justice.
Such idle men are divine—

especially in summer, when my hair
sticks to the back of my neck,
a dirty wind from the subway grate
blows my skirt up, and I feel vulgar,
lifting my hair, gathering it together,
tying it back while they watch
as a kind of relief.
Once, one of them walked beside me

to the corner. Looked into my eyes.
He said, "Will I never see you again?"
Gutsy, I thought.
I'm afraid not, I thought.

What I said was I'm sorry.
But how could he look into my eyes
if I didn't look equally into his?
I'm sorry: as though he'd come close, as though

this really were a near miss.

It's the birthday of the architect Minoru Yamasaki, born in Seattle in 1912. He's most famous for designing the World Trade Center. He was selected for the project over 12 other American candidates, with an assignment to create a space of 12 million square feet of floor area on a 16-acre site, for a budget of under $500 million. The center was completed in 1976.

It's the birthday of Woody Allen, born Allen Stewart Konigsberg in Brooklyn in 1935. He adopted his pseudonym when he first began writing one-liners, at age 15, mostly for newspapers, and then wrote for television comedy programs for three years. In 1960 he worked for awhile as a standup comedian and gained fame, landing guest spots on TV shows, including The Tonight Show. He has won Academy Awards for his screenplays Annie Hall and Hannah and her Sisters. Woody Allen, who wrote: "The lion and the calf shall lie down together but the calf won't get much sleep."

It was on this day in 1830 that French novelist Victor Hugo was due to deliver the final draft of his novel Notre Dame de Paris to his publisher, according to their agreement. But Hugo was late; it was several months later that he completed the epic story, which was published in 1831, and eventually re-published under the title The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Victor Hugo, who wrote: "I perceived, at the end of a certain time, that I was, for one reason or another, fit for nothing. So I decided to become a poet ... It's a profession one can always take up, if one is a vagabond."

It's the birthday of the Jewish writer and poet Ernst Toller, born in Samotschin, Germany in 1893. Toller fought in WWI, suffered a mental and physical breakdown, and was discharged. In the aftermath, he wrote bitterly against the war. He became an active socialist and pacifist and a member of the Independent Socialist Party. He was a vocal supporter of the German Revolution beginning in 1918 and was arrested in 1919 for high treason. He would have been executed if not for an international campaign to save his life, and was sentenced to only five years in prison. In prison, he wrote plays such as The Transformation, Once a Bourgeois Always a Bourgeois, and Miracle in America. When Hitler came to power in Germany, Toller's works were banned and he moved to England, where he published his autobiography and wrote more plays. In 1939, when word reached him that his sister and brother had been captured and sent to concentration camps, Toller committed suicide in a New York hotel room at the age of 48.

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