Tuesday, May 17, 2011

David Ortiz Foster Wallace

Last night I started reading The Pale King while I listened to a Red Sox game on the radio.  This kind of multitasking never really works, and I usually end up absorbing nothing that I've read while I try to remember which team is batting.  But one passage from very early (page 11) in The Pale King stuck out.  An IRS employee named Claude Sylvanshine is on his way to take an exam to become a CPA.  He's terrified of the exam and of his potential failure.  He sees visions of his career in ruins, reduced to working as an airport janitor. He's so paralyzed by these visions that he can't even think about studying for his test:
Even the sight of a mop, rollable bucket, or custodian with his name woven in red Palmer script on the breast pocket of his gray jumpsuit (as at Midway, outside the men's room whose little yellow sign warned bilingually of wet floors, the cursive name something beginning with M, Morris or Maurice, the man fitted to his job like a man to the exact pocket of space he displaces) now rattled Sylvanshine to the point where precious time was lost before he could even think about how to set up a workable schedule for maximally efficient reviewing for the exam.
While I was reading, the Red Sox broadcast regained my attention.

The Red Sox were playing in Fenway.  Their game in New York the night before had ended close to midnight and they didn't land back in Boston until 3 AM.  After commenting on the team's late night, the Red Sox radio guy, Joe Castiglione, said something like, "Can you imagine you're the guy buffing the floors in the Delta terminal at Logan at 3 AM and David Ortiz and the Red Sox walk by?"

At which point, I said to my roommate Ted, "How bad do you wish you were a janitor at Logan Airport?"

Ted's response: "So bad."

I'm not sure if Ted meant what he said, but I did.  At that moment I don't think there was anything I'd have rather been doing than buffing an airport floor at 3 AM and having the Boston Red Sox walk by.  I probably don't really want to be an airport janitor.  It's probably a lot of work for not that much money.  And the Red Sox probably don't walk by all that often.  And I really hate cleaning stuff.  But at that moment I couldn't imagine anything better.  

Claude Sylvanshine couldn't study for his test because he was too busy daydreaming that if he screwed it up he might become an airport janitor.  I couldn't keep reading about Claude Sylvanshine because I was too busy thinking how great it would be to be an airport janitor.  I'm not sure I have a point, other than this: I'll bet my job (and Claude Sylvanshine's too) would be a lot better if David Ortiz et al. walked by once in a while.