Saturday, 6/15/02

A Barnes & Noble recently opened up within walking distance of my house. Really, it's like assigning an alcoholic security guard to work graveyard shift at the brewery. Set the pieces in place, and you already know the rest of the story.

My latest technique for productively killing an otherwise lonely evening (and if I ever happen upon any other kind of evening, you can be sure I'll write about it) is to jog down to my new literary mecca, take in a Great American Novel, and stroll on back. It's free, it's culturally enriching, and it gives me a chance to be around other people and remind myself what they look like. What more could you ask for, other than actual human interaction?

On my most recent excursion, the livre d'jour was The Old Man And The Sea, an epic tale of the indomitability of the human spirit, and fishing. This was an oddly engaging read, a strangely empathetical experience, as a consequence of my poor attention to meal planning. Being at home most of the time means that I can normally eat whenever the thought of eating occurs to me, rather than at any predefined times. On this day, I had only eaten a piece of toast or two, and I had called it breakfast. The sun was setting as I reached the bookstore. I entered the bookstore and I was drawn to the book and I took it from the shelf and found a place to sit. I saw that the book was many pages, but I had read many books before and I was not afraid. I was halfway through the book when the hunger started. The hunger gnawed gently at my stomach and still I read. Pages passed and the hunger grew into a wild pain that tore at my insides and I said to my stomach, "Stomach, you have always been a good stomach and have digested all I have given you. Why do you betray me now, when I must read this book?" And I said to the book, "Book, I will read you, or I will die trying. For a man is born to read books, just as a book is born to be read, and if I die of hunger while reading you I will feel honored to have died for such a great book." Through the pain I read the book and after many pages I reached the last page and when I finished that page I knew that the book was done and though I had nothing to show for my pain, I had done what a man is born to do and I knew that tomorrow I would live to do it again because that is the way of men who read books, and I left the bookstore, almost destroyed, but not defeated.

Then I bought a sourdough baguette at the grocery store across the street and ate it as I walked home. In conclusion, my recommendation to you: enhance your next Hemingway experience by physically suffering through it. There's no other way to capture the true flavor of the story. It's like spicy Indian food or something.

The previous visit to Barnes & Noble had resulted in the selection of Of Mice And Men, an epic tale of the profound isolation of the human spirit, the Sisyphean futility of ambition, and crushing small mammals. Nothing particularly unusual about the reading experience that time, but on the walk home, I discovered a little dialogue growing in my head. I should stress that the spirit of the following, if not the exact wording, is taken unembellished from real-life conversations:

Bret: Andre, tell me about the company.
Andre: Bret, I done told you hundreds of times now. You know all of it. Why'n't you tell it.
Bret: It ain't the same if I tell it. Go on, tell it, Andre. An' how I get to write the embedded software.
Andre: Oh, all right. Engineers like us, they're the loneliest guys in the world. Some manager assigns them a project and they work like hell on it, and then the first thing you know, they're assigned to another project and workin' on something else. They ain't got nothing to call their own.
Bret: That's it! Now, tell how it is with us!
Andre: With us, it ain't like that. What we gonna do, we gonna work for a few months at Cisco, just to roll up a stake. An' then, when we got the jack together, we gonna make our own company. We gonna have our own company, just you an' me an' Genna, an' we'll have our own office and we'll be makin' a product that ain't nobody ever thought of before.
Bret: With embedded software!!
Andre: An' I'll take care of runnin' the business, an' Genna will draw us up a really purty website, an' you can have your own lab with a 'scilloscope an' function generator and you can design the circuits and write the software.
Bret: EMBEDDED software!
Andre: I swear, Bret, you ain't got no business sense in that head of yours. You're a damn fine engineer, best I've ever seen. You can put up more code than ten engineers on their best day. But I'll be damned if you could even raise a million dollars. You wouldn't even know how to find a VC. Hey, what's that you're codin' there?
Bret: I... I ain't codin' nothing, Andre.
Andre: Yes, you are. You're codin' a Perl script, ain't you? Why you wastin' your time codin' up a worthless CGI toy?
Bret: It ain't doin' any harm, Andre! Please, let me keep it!

And so on. Hmm... if I read any further into this, I'll have to start watching my back when Andre's around.

Stay tuned for further reports on my experiment in literary immersion, as it progresses. Assuming it progresses. It wouldn't exactly be unprecedented behavior for me to lose interest in all this and revert to reading comic books. I'll try to persevere. Maybe I'll be starting my next blawg entry with "Call me Bret". (Maybe that's been done already.) Or perhaps, "It was the best of times, it was the EE Times." We'll see. The next adventure is just walking distance away.