Nov. 13, 2012


by Michael Blumenthal

Sooner or later it comes to everyone:
the beautiful prom queen who has lost a breast,
the Don Juan of the tenth grade who has
turned up impotent, the fleet chiropodist
who has developed a limp. Sooner or later it comes,
and you are never prepared for it quite yet,
you who had hoped to be spared through another epoch
of your rightful happiness, you who had always
given to charity. Like a gargantuan tackle
lumbering toward you, it comes and comes,
and—though you may double lateral all you wish,
though you may throw a perfect spiral
up the middle to some ecstatic receiver
and be blessed blue-green some night
by the ministrations of strangers—it will not
spare you. It comes and comes, inevitable
as sunrise, palpable as longing,
and we must go on
laughing it right in the face
until it learns to sing again.

"Sadness" by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry: Poems 2000-2012. © Etruscan Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day, the people of Australia and New Zealand will experience a total solar eclipse as the moon passes between the sun and Earth, temporarily hiding the sun from view. The sun's diameter is almost 400 times that of the moon, but it's also about 400 times farther away from the Earth. This causes the two to appear roughly the same size in our sky. A total eclipse is most rare, and can only occur when the moon is nearest the Earth in its elliptical orbit — its perigee — so that it appears large enough to block out the entire body of the sun. Residents of the city of Cairns in northern Australia will have the most dramatic view, when just an hour after daybreak the city will return to darkness for around two full minutes as they experience the eclipse in what astronomers call 100 percent totality. Residents of northern New Zealand and Auckland will see a near 80 percent eclipse a few hours later.

It's the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson (books by this author), born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1850). He was a sickly, moderately successful essayist and travel writer, living in France, when he fell in love with a woman after one look at her. He was passing by the window of a house one night in France when he looked inside and fell instantly in love with a woman he saw eating dinner with a group of her friends. Stevenson stared at her for what seemed like hours, and then opened the window and leapt inside. The guests were shocked, but Stevenson just bowed and introduced himself. The woman was an American named Fanny Osbourne, and she was unhappily married. After a few months in Europe, she returned to California, and Stevenson decided to drop everything and go persuade her to divorce her husband and marry him. He collapsed on Fanny Osbourne's doorstep. She divorced her husband, and they were married and moved back to Scotland.

One rainy summer afternoon, Stevenson painted a map of an imaginary island to entertain his new stepson, and in a single month, he wrote his first great novel, Treasure Island (1883). It's been in print for 129 years. He went on to write Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885) in just three days. Those two books made Stevenson rich and famous, and he spent the rest of his life traveling from one place to the next.

Robert Louis Stevenson said: "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

Today is the birthday of the American inventor, author and founder of the company that bears his name, Leon Leonwood Bean (L.L. Bean) (books by this author), born in Greenwood, Maine (1872). His father was a horse trader, and Leon grew up hunting, trapping, and working on farms. Both his parents died just days apart when he was 12 years old and he was sent to live with relatives, where he showed an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age, peddling soap door to door to support himself. He didn't get far in school, but he took a few business courses that he paid for with his own money. Bean got the bulk of his education in the woods of Maine, and it was frustration with soaked feet from the wet snowy winters of New England that led him to his first invention. In early 1912, he imagined a boot with a waterproof rubber sole combined with a genuine leather upper and soon commissioned a local cobbler to construct the first "Maine Hunting Shoe." He got his hands on a list of those with nonresident hunting licenses and prepared his own direct mail ad guaranteeing the quality and workmanship of his new hybrid boot. Out of his first 100 orders, 90 of them were returned by customers when the soles split. Though it almost broke him, Bean kept his word, returning the money and improving the shoe. He quickly garnered a reputation for his personal integrity and orders began to flow.

The U.S. Postal Service had just begun offering parcel delivery when Bean's business took off. And when his brother became the local postmaster of Freeport, Bean opened his newly expanded factory in the floor directly above the post office, streamlining distribution with a system of chutes and elevators. Bean's product line grew, but he still insisted on testing every item personally. Bean's would resole your boots if they wore out, and starting in 1917, he insisted on keeping his the business open 24 hours in case a hunter or fishermen might need a license or an item late at night.

During the height of the Great Depression, Bean's sales actually grew. He began issuing a seasonal catalog, always postpaid and featuring an artist-illustrated cover of the Maine woods. Inside, he wrote stories and conversational descriptions of innovative and sensible items that appealed to both the outdoorsmen and nature lover. His loyal customers ranged from small-town folks to national figures like Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, and John Wayne.

In 1942, Bean published his first book, Hunting, Fishing, and Camping, which offered advice on hunting moose, reading a compass, and showing locals respect "even though you [might be] a college man and your home is a big city." It also contained duplicate chapters meant to be torn out and used in the field, while still letting the reader retain a whole book. By 1963, it had run through 20 editions. He followed this in 1960 with his Autobiography of a Down East Merchant. Bean was always a little suspicious of growth, insistent that it not come at the expense of quality and a personal relationship with customers. He remained an active part of the company, still insisting on copy editing the 56-page catalog, until his death at the age of 94.

It was on this day in 1933 that workers at the Hormel meat packing plant in Austin, Minnesota, began the nation's first large scale sit-down strike. Local farmers had recently formed their own union called the Farmer's Holiday Association. They had taken to direct action, blockading roads to fight for better prices. The Farmer-Labor party was also on the rise in Minnesota and, at Hormel, corrupt plant foremen openly threatened employees with layoffs should the party do well on Election Day. They also made sure that raises went to their friends, and forced out any workers that challenged their rule. Company president Jay C. Hormel had initiated many reforms at the plant that sounded promising, but the plant workers were mostly at the mercy of the foremen.

In July, when an employee on the hog-killing floor was harassed by management, his co-workers brought all work to a full stop until they moved along. Led by a nomadic organizer named Frank Ellis, the plant workers met in secret at Austin's Sutton Park where they agreed to organize. They invited all trades, regardless of skill, and called themselves the IUAW, or "Independent Union of All Workers." Jay Hormel promised to work with them, and agreed to contract talks. But after 10 weeks, he still had put nothing into writing, so the union called for a strike. When Hormel sneaked in outside workers, the employees kicked them out and occupied the plant.

Support rolled in from all around the state. Food, books, and blankets were sent in to the strikers from local townspeople. The factory workers declared their support of the farmers' campaign and the farmers repaid the favor by patrolling the surrounding roads looking for strikebreakers and blocking incoming shipments of cattle. Several days after it began, management relented, and the workers in Austin won one of the nation's first industrial union contracts.

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




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