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Unread 07-23-2021, 10:48 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 5,005
Default Stall


Although this is partly about fiction it's true, or true enough for government work, as the old-time workers I spend my days with like to say. The old-time workers are machinists who run lathes and boring mills and giant grinders. Every day they make dozens of decisions about metal tolerances. It will be at least twenty years before computers make the same decisions in a fraction of a second. My job is too insignificant for me to make decisions. I'm the floor sweeper and it's my lack of importance that gives me time to sit in this bathroom stall and read paperback books. Yesterday I finished The Sun Also Rises, before that I read Winesburg, Ohio. Soon I'll discover the Russians and this is where I'll first read “Ward Six” by Anton Chekhov and “The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol. I'm convinced it's an injustice I have to work here when my talents could be better used elsewhere. Here is an old building that will be torn down in thirty-six years. I'll stop and take cell phone pictures of the rubble. Standing beside my hybrid car I'll struggle to remember what it was like to spend my days in the old building with green windows. What color were the bathroom walls? I see right now that they are half-green and half-white. In thirty-six years, as I email the photos to my computer, I'll think it's a shame the building was torn down. Surely it could have been of use to someone. It'll irritate me for a few moments that the city cares so little about its past. Did anyone think of all the men who had clocked in here every day before they sent the wrecking ball crashing into the red-brick walls? As I sit here reading my second-hand books the old-time workers come in and out of the bathroom. Most go to the urinals, some relieve their bowels and make satisfied moans. I don't begrudge them their pleasure although I avoid engaging them in conversation. What do we have in common? Why waste my time listening to their stories of World War II, or how hungry they were in the Great Depression? I've heard it all before. When I take my pictures in thirty-six years most of the old-time workers will certainly be dead. I'll think and think but will not remember a single face. I'll have my future without them.
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Unread 07-24-2021, 02:39 PM
Sarah-Jane Crowson's Avatar
Sarah-Jane Crowson Sarah-Jane Crowson is offline
Join Date: Oct 2018
Location: UK
Posts: 874

On first read, it’s very, very good, I think. It draws the narrator perfectly - both the young man and the older man - but for me it’s the stories of the ‘old-time workers’ that draw me in, too. What it does is remind us of the anonymous stories behind the grand narratives of ‘great depression’ and WWII. Of the stretching-out-ness of time in small human ways as well as ‘the wider social’. That’s deeply deeply important I think - a good thing to be reminded of. And the narrator failing to remember an individual face reminds me, as reader, of the way that people are swept away sometimes (and the ability of writing to bring them back, in some way).

I also really love the mention of the tacit knowledge of the men and the computers replacing that knowledge, and the details, like the bathroom walls, gutted as the building is swept away.

I can’t think of anything that would improve on this, to be honest. It’s fab. Although I haven't had that much time with it so I will come back if I think of anything else.

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Unread 07-24-2021, 03:34 PM
F.F. Teague's Avatar
F.F. Teague F.F. Teague is offline
Join Date: Jul 2017
Location: Gloucestershire, UK
Posts: 1,238

Hi John,

I'm pleased to see someone posting in Fiction. My first impressions are that this is very interesting, with the N seeing at least twenty years and precisely thirty-six years into the future.

I suspect knowing all the literature mentioned here would equip me to better understand the floor sweeper's character, but I could easily google a few things, if need be.

The contrasts among past, present, future are very well drawn.

Initially I thought, This is a bit of a text block!, but I think it works as a sort of soliloquy.

I think this is a standalone piece (please correct me if need be), but it could easily belong in a collection of similar-length pieces and also your shorter pieces from Non-Met.

Sorry I haven't come up with anything useful, John. I shall certainly return if I do.

Best wishes,
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Unread 07-25-2021, 09:32 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 3,224

This feels real in every way. A musing though it is, it also provides eye-opening insight into an everyman's ordinary life playing out in factories, in bathrooms, in stalls, in the mind (head!).

It is no coincidence because it happens to me all the time, but last week I came close to posting a thread on General Talk inquiring what others would recommend as good reading material for the bathroom. (I'n switching out my current three.) I thought better of it and held back because I thought it might cross the TMI line. Now that you've unveiled "Stall" I don't think that would be a problem at all. Ha!

One more thing: I think this "Stall" piece could be whittled down to become one of your wonderful 100 word prose poems. The language in it ism already poetic.

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Unread 07-26-2021, 10:43 AM
Rob Wright Rob Wright is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Philadelphia PA, U.S.A.
Posts: 887


Good to see your post here. I enjoyed this very much, and agree with Fliss that it might be a companion to other narratives that treat the abandoned past with the view from the present. It's interesting that you integrate them – the past view with the one thirty-six years later, or I assume, the present. I would have been tempted to set them off with a break, but I like the way you have woven them together.

One suggestion. Having worked as a machine operator in a factory some – my God – forty years ago – what has stayed with me most is the smell of the cutting oil and the degreaser that was the true atmosphere that we all breathed.

Wonderful work!
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Unread 07-27-2021, 05:01 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: North Carolina
Posts: 5,005

Thanks to each of you for reading and commenting. This is pretty much totally true. I say almost because I know memory is a tricky thing. The place was called Newman Machine Company and I was still a teenager. I read some of the first novels and stories there that made me excited, beyond the same things everyone was supposed to read in school. It was mostly early 20th century American and Russian but there are worse places to start. They tore the building down a few years ago and built yet more apartments. It's near the local university. I'm pleased the time travel aspect works. That is often the theme of my work and this time I made it the motif.

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