I have been hanging out (what we used to call, "corresponding") with a man from Michigan, with whom I've chatted via GooGle Buzz and Plus for a couple of years now. He's been having a rough time with his work environment and that in turn has made his life plans - he's engaged - more complicated. We have been talking on and off about the profession he's chosen as an indie, and the prospects for other work in his particular market. It reminded me of my own experiences with the world of work, and also something I have carried in my head since I read it a year or two ago. I am copying it here out of my copy of The Autobiography of Mark Twain, which was a Christmas gift to me from my family a few years ago. Photos are courtesy of the Mark Twain House of Hartford, CT.
It is from Volume 01, and from the entry dated Tuesday, March 27, 1906:
[Calvin H.] Higbie was the first person to profit by my great and infallible scheme for finding work for the unemployed. I have tried that scheme, now and then, for forty-four years. So far as I am aware it has always succeeded, and it is one of my high prides that I invented it, and that in basing it upon what I conceived to be a fact of human nature I estimated that fact of human nature accurately.
Higbie and I were living in a cotton-domestic lean-to at the base of a mountain. It was very cramped quarters, with barely room for us and the stove—wretched quarters indeed, for every now and then, between eight in the morning and eight in the evening, the thermometer would make an excursion of fifty degrees. We had a silver-mining claim under the edge of a hill half a mile away, in partnership with Bob Howland and Horatio Phillips, and we used to go there every morning carrying with us our luncheon, and remain all day picking and blasting in our shaft, hoping, despairing, hoping again, and gradually but surely running out of funds. At last, when we were clear out and still had struck nothing, we saw that we must find some other way of earning a living. I secured a place in a near-by quartz mill to screen sand with a long-handled shovel. I hate a long-handled shovel. I never could learn to swing it properly. As often as any other way the sand didn’t reach the screen at all, but went over my head and down my back, inside of my clothes. It was the most detestable work I have ever engaged in, but it paid ten dollars a week and board—and the board was worth while, because it consisted not only of bacon, beans, coffee, bread and molasses, but we had stewed dried apples every day in the week just the same as if it were Sunday. But this palatial life, this gross and luxurious life, had to come to an end, and there were two sufficient reasons for it. On my side, I could not endure the heavy labor; and on the Company’s side, they did not feel justified in paying me to shovel sand down my back; so I was discharged just at the moment that I was going to resign.
I said “What kind of a job do you want at the Pioneer?”
He said “Why, laborer. They get five dollars a day.”
I said “If that’s all you want I can arrange it for you.”
Higbie was astonished. He said “Do you mean to say that you know the foreman there and could get me a job and yet have never said anything about it?”
“No” I said, “I don’t know the foreman.”
“Well” he said, “who is it you know? How is it you can get me the job?”