Jul. 18, 2012

The Fence Painter

by Richard Jones

By the time I wake,
the fence painter is ready
to knock off for the day.
The black lines of the fence
fall away behind him
more evenly, more beautiful
for the touch of his brush.
His forearms black with asphalt paint,
as though part of the brush and bucket,
he concentrates on the unfinished wood
until it matches to his satisfaction
an unblemished darkness he imagines.
"I like to start early," he says,
"before the sun gets too hot."
I can't say whether he's happy,
but I envy the fence painter
the early morning hours
and the peace of hard work,
the way he puts away his tools in the afternoon
and drives home in his truck.

"The Fence Painter" by Richard Jones, from The Blessing. © Copper Canyon Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Intel was founded on this date in 1968, chiefly by Robert E. Moore and Robert Noyce. The company was originally going to be named Moore Noyce, but since that sounded too much like "more noise" — something that electronics manufacturers try to avoid — they called themselves NM Electronics, and then settled on Integrated Electronics, or Intel. They had to buy the rights to the name from a hotel chain called Intelco first.

The company's business plan was a mere 161 words long, just half a page, and it was full of grammatical errors and typos. It was also fairly vague. It included things like "a variety of processes will be established," and "it is anticipated that many of these customers will be located outside of California." The company's central philosophy was to keep investing in innovation. They started by manufacturing semiconductors and memory chips, and by 1970, they had developed the first microprocessor: all the computing power of the room-sized computers of yore, housed on a tiny chip that was measured in millimeters.

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Gilbert (books by this author), born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on this date in 1969. Gilbert studied political science at New York University, but what she really wanted to do was write. So after graduation, she took up an itinerant lifestyle, traveling the country, taking odd jobs on ranches and diners and bars, and listening to the way people talk. She turned all this raw material into a short-story collection, called Pilgrims (1997). She also worked as a journalist, and her 1997 GQ article about her experience bartending on the Lower East Side of Manhattan inspired the film Coyote Ugly (2000).

In 2000, she published a novel (Stern Men) and in 2002, a biography of a modern-day woodsman (The Last American Man), but she shot into the publishing stratosphere with her wildly successful 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. It's the story of her post-divorce travels through Italy, India, and Indonesia, and it was made into a film starring Julia Roberts.

Her latest project is a reissue of a cookbook that was written by her great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter. It's called At Home on the Range, and it was originally published in 1947; Gilbert had discovered it while cleaning out her mother's attic, and she wrote the introduction to the new edition, which came out this past May (2012).

Today is the birthday of William Makepeace Thackeray (1811) (books by this author). He was born in Calcutta, India, where his father was an administrator in the East India Company. His father died when Thackeray was four, and he was sent home to England, where he unhappily attended a series of boarding schools. He later received an inheritance — £20,000 — but he lost it through gambling and bad investments.

His first full-length book was The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844). He published it in serial form under the pen name George Savage Fitzboodle, but Thackeray didn't care for the book. He wrote in his diary, "Got through the fag-end of chapter four of Barry Lyndon with a great deal of dullness and unwillingness and labour."

The first book he published in his own name is also the one he's best known for: Vanity Fair: a Novel without a Hero. It was published in monthly installments, in 1847 and 1848, and it's about two women: the well-born but passive Amelia Sedley, and the ambitious adventuress Becky Sharp, who delivers one of the book's most famous lines: "I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year."

It's the birthday of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson (books by this author), born in Louisville, Kentucky (1937). Thompson was a pioneer of a journalistic style that came to be known as "gonzo journalism." The journalist usually ends up being part of the story he's researching, and the story is told through his eyes. There's usually profanity, sarcasm, and exaggeration so that the line between journalism and fiction becomes blurred. In 1973, Thompson told Rolling Stone that this was by design: "If I'd written the truth I knew for the past 10 years, about 600 people — including me — would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."

His best-known book is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), about a drug-fueled trip to Las Vegas in pursuit of the "American Dream." The book's preface quotes Samuel Johnson: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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