David Bruce: Boredom is Anti-Life — Work

Work

• During the Alaskan gold rush, some people made lots of money serving as goldweighers in cafés and saloons. Miners came into various places of business and paid for their purchases in gold. One goldweigher grew long fingernails so he could secrete some gold dust under his fingernails during each transaction. Another goldweigher wore his hair long and well oiled, and he ran his fingers often through his hair — at the end of the day he would give himself a shampoo and collect the gold dust from the bottom of the basin. For a while, Wilson Mizner worked as a goldweigher. He used to spill some gold dust on the square of carpet under his feet — at the end of the day he would burn the square of carpet and collect the gold dust from the ashes. Mr. Mizner later boasted, “I weighed a million and a half dollars’ worth of gold dust at Swiftwater Bill’s joint, and never made a mistake that wasn’t in favor of the house.”

• An early performance of Peter Ustinov’s Love of Four Colonels ran for four hours, so of course Mr. Ustinov was told to cut 90 minutes from his play. He replied, “Why? Hamlet ran for four hours — and this play’s much funnier.” By the way, anyone who works with other people will have occasional problems. Mr. Ustinov once said that he thought Walt Disney must have been happy while making an animated film: “If one of his characters became difficult, all he had to do was to erase it.” Also by the way, Mr. Ustinov has a boat, about which he says: “It can sleep six people who know each other very well. Or one prude.”

• Microsoft founder Bill Gates knows how to express his opinion. More than one Microsoft computer programmer has received an e-mail from Mr. Gates stating, “This is the stupidest piece of code ever written.” Mr. Gates has the credibility to get away with his bluntness — in addition to being the billionaire owner of Microsoft, he scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of his Scholastic Aptitude Test. Microsoft computer programmers worked long, hard hours, but they did have special amusements provided for them, including a room set aside specially for juggling.

• For a while, Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, worked 80- and 90-hour weeks as a freelance technical writer. Eventually, she went to a therapist, but she soon quit because he kept falling asleep during their sessions. Especially upsetting her was that the therapist fell asleep only when she talked about good things; whenever she talked about bad things, he was extremely attentive. This, she felt, reinforced her negative feelings and was a second good reason to stop seeing the therapist.

• When Count Basie broke up his big band and started a sextet, everyone was surprised that Freddie “Pepper” Green, an important part of Count Basie’s “All-American Rhythm Section” for 14 years, was not part of the sextet. But Pepper showed up for work anyway, telling Count Basie, “After I gave you the best years of my life, you think you’re going to leave me now?” The six-musician group became a seven-musician group, and Pepper worked for Count Basie another 35 years.

• The Marx Brothers once ordered their writers to show up at 9:30 a.m. for a meeting. The writers pointed out that they were always at work by 9:30, so Groucho responded, “Well, then, come in at 8:30.” The writers did come in at 8:30, but the Marx Brothers didn’t show up until 11:45. The writers complained, “Where were you? We were right here!” Groucho said, “How do you like that? They were right here. We go out of our way to have a meeting and they just sit here!”

• Heinrich Conried, director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, knew that the clouds in Wagner’s Walküre are important, and once he spent three hours rehearsing the movement of the clouds with the stagehands before a performance. He then told them, “Very good! If you do it as well as that tonight, I shall be much pleased.” One of the stagehands replied, “But Mr. Conried, we shall not be here tonight. Our eight-hour day expires at five o’clock.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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