I’ve been working hard getting the word out about my cover design business (kickasscovers.carbonmade.com)–sending job query letters, and even setting up a companion blog jacketjustice.wordpress.com. It’s no wonder that, lately, I’ve been thinking about the nature of work.
I so empathized with a recent college grad in a Los Angeles Times article the other day–a young man with a passionate career vision and outstanding qualifications who’s standing at busy intersections just trying to pass out his resume.
I also just saw an excellent documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom (don’t be put off by the pop-diva look), about the underrated influence of backup singers (mainly African American women) since the 1960s–the nature of their work.
This train of thought led me to examine where work appears in my postcard collection. It was an interesting investigation because postcards traditionally depict scenes of leisure and places out of the ordinary. Yet, as I dug into my collection, it began to be that in every postcard I looked at, I saw evidence of someone’s labor. Someone photographed and/or designed each card, after all. Here are the ones I selected for your viewing pleasure!
This postcard is from a friend whose work and passion for it I admire. A very positive young woman, she moved across the country to Washington D.C. to work for a non-profit housing agency serving the homeless.
This postcard of a humble yet beautiful ristra and pumpkin stand reminds me of how the parking lot owner describes his view of his business–a tiny plywood kiosk –in The Parking Lot Movie, a new favorite film of mine. He relates that before establishing the parking lot, he did a lot of traveling, and wherever he went in the world, there were little stalls specializing in just one good or service. He recalled one such stand in Morocco, run by a man who made fresh squeezed orange juice. The stand was basically a box with an open window, not even a door. So the orange juice man wood sit outside the box, and when a customer came along, he’d hop in through the window, squeeze the juice, and hop out again. The parking lot owner remembered that sweet simplicity. a park ranger
in her home office
“Not that it was beautiful, but that I found some order there.”
–Ane Sexton, To Bedlam and Part Way Back
Not only did Mr. T play a real workin’ man in D.C. Cab, but he was one. The youngest of twelve children, he grew up in a three-room apartment in a Chicago housing project, where he witnessed rape and murder. In high school, he was the city-wide wrestling champion two years running. Work as a bouncer was a natural move.
It was a rough club, and there, he became known as Mr. T. At that time, all his gold jewelry were just things customers had left behind. He stood outside wearing it as a human lost-and-found. Customers would return and not have to pay entry again to retrieve their bling. Also, some patrons would get into fights, for which they’d remove their jewelry. When they lost out, they’d often forget their accessories in a run for the door. Mr. T’s lost and found saved the club additional brawls since the losers (or unpopular winners) didn’t have to go back inside.
The only reason Mr. T encountered stardom was because, after the bouncer gig, he worked for nearly ten years as a bodyguard. His clients included Muhammad Ali, Steve McQueen, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross.
“In his opinion, working was vastly overrated. Particularly as a way to build character, for everyone who engaged in it was far too snappish and fussy, and seemed to have no manners at all.”–Hilari Bell, Crown of Earth
Looks like he’s banging his head on the keyboard, or falling asleep, depending how fast you move it.
Illustrated by Eugene Hartung (1897-1973). Hartung’s amusing anthropomorphic cat scenes were published in the 1940s-60s by Alfred Mainzer, and are generally called “Mainzer Cat” postcards. Many traditional postcard collectors are rabid about them and would want to know that this one is from the 4916 series. But I wouldn’t want to sell it. This is one of my first postcards, passed on from Mama Snail. It was propped on my bookshelf when I was a wee snail, and I always felt bad for the maid-cat. The hostess-cat did not look forgiving. As you can see, either I or a young Mama Snail carefully addressed the postcard to the queen of England:
I think it’s so cool that this postcard I found at a boutique once bore the news to a family that Dad was striking out on a new business tack. I also love that in 1953, Coca-Cola had not yet fully colonized the American consciousness. Today, I think every semi-literate American–most people in the world, in fact–would spell Coke correctly without thinking twice.
This postcard is rather curious, because, though it’s sent from Richmond, California (East San Francisco Bay Area), the postcard depicts “Kitsilano Beach & Swimming Pool, Vancouver, B.C., Canada” and has the postmark that’s on the back stamped backward on the front. (No, the strange postmark is not bleed-through from the back. It’s in a different spot.)
Wanting to know more about Dixie Dog stands, the only relevant hit I got led me to Round America, an online travel journal compiled by a couple named Bill and Barbara. In April 2003, the duo hit the road to visit all 50 U.S. states in one trip. They completed their odyssey in August of that year, 148 days, many pies, 29,000 miles and 2,500 towns later. One of those towns was Floydada, Texas, pop. 3,000, where they dined at a Dixie Dog! I can’t tell who wrote the Day 38 entry–I plan to get more familiar with the site–but either Bill or Barbara recorded:
“I passed through Cone, and then I stopped in Floydada, self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the USA, for a little lunch. I started to eat at P.J.’s Fantastico Burritos, but the Dixie Dog caught me eye right next door. It was a small walk-up drive-thru kitchen in a box. The Dixie Dog advertised “a meal on a stick.” I ordered two Dixie Dogs (corny dogs) and a large Coke. It was $2.39. The sweet lady who helped me was Glenda Kemp, the owner. There was a sign in the window that said “Close 2 – 4:30 until business gets better.” Mrs. Kemp said it would be 10 to 11 minutes. 10 to 11 minutes later, folks were waving at me from inside the Dixie Dog. It wasn’t fast food; they cooked those Dixie Dogs to order, and they were piping hot, fresh, and delicious. There was a free Strawberry Dum Dum in the bottom of my bag. I hoped business would get better. The next time you’re in Floydada, please eat at Dixie Dog.”
Speaking of food service…The plaza is fairly empty as dusk begins to settle. But I get the sense that as soon as the air cools with the night, Piazzetta San Marco is going to be packed. The early birds are already trickling out into the square. The waiters anticipate a busy evening. The one at the center anchors the scene, the only person in focus. He’s seen this many a time before, and leans familiarly on a chair in which a customer will soon sit. He notes that the chairs and tables are all lined up nicely. Now he has some time to breathe before the rush. A young couple selling t-shirts in the plaza noticed Mama Snail and me painting. We speak limited Spanish and I don’t remember if they spoke some English, but one way or another, they expressed curiosity and we showed them our work. They were delighted that, in this watercolor postcard, Mama Snail had included their t-shirt display. They seemed to think it was both funny and wonderful that their unglamorous business wasn’t edited out of the grand, historic scene.
This photographer of Notre Dame took a similar view:
I wonder how gondoliers feel about their work. On the one hand, they get around the beautiful canals of Venice, they’re not tied to a desk, and they get to meet people from all over the world. On the other hand, tourists are a most obnoxious species, and rowing, even gently, all day is strenuous. Look how low that bridge is!
This postcard is from a beautiful, authentic series Grandpa Snail brought back from his work in Micronesia as a civil engineer. Check out the fullcollection!Simple and small as they are, Hiroshige clearly captured people pulling tugboats ashore, as well as people doing some hardcore carrying in the distance. The back of the postcard sites the painting:
“P.V. Alekseev and B.I. Kaloev, In the Meadows, Oil on canvas, 63 x 110 inches, 1967.”
Last time I checked, I didn’t find any information on these artists. Isn’t it interesting that it’s a collaborative painting?3,000,000 Bricks
26,450,000 Tons of Cement
7.5 Kilograms of Gold
Many Years of Work
This postcard commemorates the reconstruction of The Church of the Fyodor’s Icon of the Mother of God in St. Petersburg. Consecrated in 1913 in celebration of the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty, the church was closed, used as a dairy barn, and largely destroyed in the Soviet era. Not until the 2000′s did reconstruction begin.
“Go on with your work as usual, for work is a blessed solace.”
–Louisa May Alcott, Little Women