I looked out the window of the sun room this evening as I was washing the dishes – it is called the Arkansas room by realtors as it is no doubt called the Alabama room or the Missouri room by realtors in those states – and my gaze fixed in the gloaming on the cement bench I carried single-handedly ten years ago to the back yard that borders on the commons. I was sixty-four then and it was so hard I thought I was ready for the rocking chair; a hundred and twenty-five pounds easy. I couldn’t lift an end of it today, so there is decline and then what comes after.
We decided to wash dishes by hand a year or so ago when the washing machine went out after three years of noisy service, about the normal time for these machines made in some dark satanic mill in the third world where workers regularly throw themselves out a window when the shift ends. It used to be called planned obsolesence back in the day, but I suppose some sort of muffling corporate phrase is now used. The longer the word to describe something these days, the greater the evil it hides. Anyhow, we rebelled like the Luddites when the mechanical weaving looms entered their lives and decided not to replace it when it went tits up. It took an hour or so for the dishwasher to go through the cycle, but it seemed longer. We had to turn up to the volume to hear the conventional wisdom from Gwen Ifil and the rest of the PBS crowd giving the news with the appearance of scrupulous balance. You have to be in the racket to know what a laugh that is.
Actually, it is not bad washing the dishes by hand. Judy makes dinner one day and I do the next, and we trade off on the clean up. You are actually doing something with your hands instead of dealing with some abstraction on page or screen. The job has a beginning, a middle, and an end when you wipe off the counters. Where else can you find such a logical and satifying progression unless you are a machinist or farmer; it is a way of life that seems more enviable as time goes on, but which is doomed as robotic machines increasingly take over every human pursuit, including thinking for ourselves. I remember when we looked down on blue collar types as having exiistences inferior to that of the life of the mind led even by journalists, who are among the most superficial creatures in nature. I sure changed my mind about that, yet I hang on their every word, fool that I am. I fired off a complaint this afternoon, cranky-old-man-like, after the mailman delivered four copies of the Wall Street Journal in a clump. It wasn’t so much that the news was old – it was all new to me because TV and even radio have been banished in the interest of quiet and sanity – but that it seemed to typify the inability of government to deliver the simplest services, let alone taking on more burdens like health care. And yet a study came out this week that said entering public service will pay you thirty percent more over a career in salary and benefits than the private sector. France’s dire economic plight — bureaucratic rules and regulations make it the poorest performer in Europe — tells you where that leads. I spent the morning sweating over four or five paragraphs in my new novel that I will probably blot out tomorrow while I tossed this off in forty-five minutes. I’m not saying it’s good, but it was easy.