David Bruce: Work Anecdotes

As a child, L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, was lonely but imaginative. She named her geranium “Bonny” and even gave trees such names as “Little Syrup.” In addition, she invented imaginary friends who lived behind the two glass doors of a cabinet. Behind one glass door lived Katie Maurice, an imaginary friend of her own age. Behind the other glass door lived an older imaginary friend: Lucy Gray. Of course, as an adult Ms. Montgomery put her imagination to use writing novels and other literary works of art. When she was a teacher, she forced herself to get up and write one hour an day before teaching. She did this even in winter, when it was so cold that she had to wear a heavy coat as she wrote. Later in life, after she had achieved success, she wrote, “When people say to me, as they occasionally do, ‘Oh, how I envy you your gift, how I wish I could write as you do,’ I am inclined to wonder, with some inward amusement, how much they would have envied me on those dark, cold, winter mornings of my apprenticeship.”

Oral historian Studs Terkel may be the world’s greatest interviewer, but he is inept when it comes to mechanical things such as making sure that a tape recorder is turned on. One day, he was interviewing an African-American woman with three kids, all of whom were living in public housing. She asked him, “’Have you noticed that machine is not working?” He had pushed the wrong button. She pushed the right button, and the tape recorder began to work. Mr. Terkel says, “From that point on, she became not only my equal but my better. And that is important, because when you are interviewing a person, that person must count.” Then she spoke eloquently about her life. After the interview, Mr. Terkel says that “the kids want to hear mummy’s voice. I play the tape back. She’d given the most eloquent account you could imagine of her life; a black person’s outing in a white world. It was so moving. When it finished, there was a pause. She said: ‘My God —I never knew I felt that way.’” Mr. Terkel adds about himself, “It can help to be inept.”

Bob and Ray, aka Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, worked together for decades as comedians, and apparently the entire time they were trying to make each other laugh, and as a side effect they made their audiences laugh. According to Andy Rooney, who wrote a foreword to one of the collections of Bob and Ray’s scripts, the two men “have three distinct personalities. There’s Bob’s, there’s Ray’s, and then there’s Bob & Ray’s.” According to Mr. Rooney, when you met the two men separately, “two duller people you never talked to.” And Chris Elliott, Bob’s son, who is also a comedian, says that for years he thought his father was some kind of a businessman. Only at age 11 did Chris realize that his father worked as a comedian for a living. Of course, Bob and Ray were very close. Late in their career together, Ray joked, “I’ve been married to my wife for thirty-seven years, and to Bob for thirty-five.”

Jack Kirby is King of Comics, and his art filled many, many comic books. He was known for working well and quickly, filling page after page with high-quality artwork. However, early in his career Mr. Kirby worked for Victor Fox, a man who paid artists poorly and who wanted profits much more than masterpieces; therefore, Mr. Kirby took shortcuts in his artwork. For example, he would draw a large cloud, which took little work, then add a tiny, quickly drawn airplane to fill a panel of a comic book. One day, he filled an entire panel with the word “Wow.” Mr. Fox was puzzled, and he asked Mr. Kirby what was the point of the word “Wow.” Mr. Kirby stumbled out an explanation about relating to kids on their level. This satisfied Mr. Fox, and very quickly his other artists started to fill panels with the word “Wow,” knowing—as Mr. Kirby did—that this was a quick way to create a panel.

Not much is known about the life of the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes, and much of what has been recorded by ancient historians about him probably falls into the category of gossip and legend rather than biography. For example, supposedly Archimedes was such a constant thinker about his work that he forgot to eat or to bathe, and sometimes people had to literally pick him up and carry him to the baths so that he could be clean again. Even then, he would draw diagrams on the ground or in the oil rubbed onto his body because he was so preoccupied with mathematics and other intellectual work.

A student developed a problem, and a teacher helped the student learn how to solve the problem, and the teacher was proud of her work. The teacher’s home developed a plumbing problem, and a plumber took care of the problem, and the plumber was proud of his work. The plumber’s car developed a problem, and an automobile mechanic took care of the problem, and the mechanic was proud of his work. The automobile mechanic developed a health problem, and a doctor took care of the problem, and the doctor was proud of her work. And so on and so on. The moral? All trades have their experts.

At age 16, White Rabbits bass player Adam Russell dropped out of high school because he was annoyed that his teachers insisted that he listen to them instead of reading books such as philosophy texts by Nietzsche, Moby Dick, and physics textbooks during class. Later, he moved to New York where he played music and got a job in the Strand bookstore, for which he had to take a test before being gainfully employed. The test included such questions as “Who wrote The Age of Innocence?” and “Who wrote Catcher in the Rye?” Not surprisingly, he had no trouble passing the test.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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