Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lunch at Work

Charles C..Ebbets, (b. 1905, Gadsden, AL) Skyscraper Lunch, 1932

Ebbets' two most famous photos were taken during the construction of the Rockefeller Center in New York in 1932. Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper depicts eleven men sitting on a girder eating lunch, their feet dangling from the beams hundreds of feet above the New York streets below was snapped on September 29, 1932, and appeared in the New York Herald Tribune shortly after. The photo was taken on the 69th floor in the last several months of construction. Men Asleep on a Girder is a picture of the same workers lying down on the beam taking a nap. Not until 2003 was Charles C. Ebbets officially recognized by the Bettman Archive as the photographer of Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper and dozens of other famous Bettman Archive photos which had previously been mis-marked or were marked as "photographer unknown"

                       Edward Hopper, Tables for Ladies, 1932

..Above: William Klein, Horn & Hardart Automat, NYC, 1954-55

Bernard Cole, The Shoemaker's Lunch, 1944

 Lonely, Liquid, Late Lunch (Sketch Hunter) This Sketch Hunt is ©, TM & Patent Pending

A Tiny Memory of Lunch from the 1940s:

     In 1970, feeling the tide of emerging liberal thought about student academic independence and a connection to the value of student autobiographies, Herbert R. Coursen, Jr. (b. Newark NJ, 1932) edited and published a marvelously rich book of autobiographical essays, As Up They Grew (Scott, Foresman and Company).
The book is not presented as a model for students' mimicry, but for enjoyment. It is brilliantly edited and presents a work-a-day picture of life in the second half of the 20th century. Sports, movies, casual friendships, an occasional mean trick, and, for Coursen, odd jobs are the life of a boy in the 1940s.  His place in his teen-aged character's town is, to some extent, defined by this work.  Coursen's rich and memorable story is about change.
In 1970-71,  I had a one-year contract to teach English at the then-tiny Mt. Diablo Community College in meadowed and pristine Contra Costa County.  I found it a refreshing change from urban high school language courses. Faculty interaction was rich and friendly. I was free to order my own texts and experiment with the issues and feelings of that decade, and that meant, first of all, the Vietnam War, and close behind, race and ethic differences, Black Power, technical and environmental concerns and the promise of students’ autobiographical writing.  Much of this was strange fare for California nineteen-somethings who resided far beyond Berkeley and Oakland - the hottest spot in the country.

I used Coursen's collected essays for student reading and discussion with great enjoyment and success.  Most students felt, for the first time, that their own lives were interesting enough to put down on paper.  They wrote about what they knew best - one of the rules of composition.

Now it is 2012, I am retired, and because we were the same age at that time, I still remember the conclusion of Coursen's own contribution to the collection - a story about living in the New Jersey suburbs in 1940s, seeing the approaching war in newsreels and envisioning it in mock combat with his teen buddies who daily fought the Japanese in their wooded grove between lunch and supper.

 Coursen's title is "The Son of Nick Massimo," and a moment ago I strode to my bookshelf and there it was on page 219.  I am fond of this story for the same reasons that I am fond of E. B. White’s “Once More to the Lake” (1941).  It is completely relevant   

Allow me to share this paragraph:

   But one spring our woods are full of real men, swart with strange sounds on their tongues, carrying milk bottles full of water and eating dripping, dark sandwiches, the bread looking as if it encloses something alive. The men ride roaring machines and strew grainy sewer pipes over the ruined field that had been our woods. And I am afraid of the men and do not know why.

Grant Wood, Dinner for Threshers,1934

 Lunch, Labor and Harry Bridges

When Imoved to San Fancisco in thbe 1950s, Harry Bridges (b. Australia, 1901 -1990 was still a colorful and powerful lfigure in he city's longshoremen's union. A former Wobbly and member of the Communist Party, , "Hit the bricks!" was his call for a strike.

In Lucian Labaudt's San Francisco Beach Chalet scenes, equestrians, tennis players, and the Saint Francis Yacht Club inhabit the landscape. If, as reputed, a Beach Chalet waterfront scene includes a portrait of Labaudt's friend, labor organizer Harry Bridges, it is a Bridges peacefully wheeling a hand-truck, not leading the violent waterfront strike of 1934. 

Dean Lamont Mitchell (b. 1957, Quincy, Fla.))  Noon Nap, 1992

     Mitchell was born and grew up in Quincy, Fla,  He is an award-winning painter of figures depicting black middle and lower class people and landscapes from his southern background and other personal experiences, Dean Mitchell is inspired by grizzled laborers, time-worn elderly faces, and persons like himself who have lived in a segregated environment. His career hit an upswing 2002 when art critic Michael Kimmelman wrote in "The New York Times" that Mitchell was 'a virtual modern-day Vermeer'.

Lunchbox Diner, Malden, Massachusetts