This post brought to you by the letter ‘N’.

I read Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series when I was twelve years old. I remember sitting on my Nanna’s porch, reading through it. I still have those original books, as a matter of fact. I remember taking time out from mowing her lawn to devour every word. I couldn’t get enough. I would read a chapter then mow a swath of grass while I thinking about what I read. When I got to the end of the lawn, where it became curb and started to be a street, I couldn’t take it any longer and would have to reach for the paperback in my pocket to read one more chapter. I was entranced. I read as much Asmiov as I could and still re-read his work from time to time. If it wasn’t for his chemistry essays I would never have passed high school science. Two of his books occupy my shelf at all times, Isaac Asmiov’s New Guide to Science and Isaac Asimov’s Guide To The Bible (it was actually first published in two editions ; the volume I have contains guides to The Old and The New Testament plus revelations).
I read alot. My friend John jokes that he reads more than I do, I just remember more than him. Of the ones that we’ve both read, it seems that he doesn’t have the ability to remember characters and sub plots. He is entranced with science fiction settings. The science and the philosophy behind them. I’ve handed off to him what it is that I can of primers for writing his own short stories, and I don’t know if he’ll ever take it up, but I would eat up whatever it was he did write. And that is because I love to read. And when I read, it becomes a part of me. It becomes like a person I’ve met. And, depending on where I am and what I am doing, these people come back to me on a daily basis. And who I’ve read came back to me as I commuted back and forth to work these past few days and I saw the letter ‘N’.
In “Forward The Foundation”, after the death of the Emperor and his subsequent demotion, Hari Seldon is walking through Trantor and is aghast at it’s condition. He looks at one of the domes and comments that at the height of the Empire, the sight of one light being out would cause a turmoil and everyone would rush to get it fixed, and that was because it represented the Empire and no one wanted to see it tarnished. That line reminded me of something else from Stephen King from “The Stand”. There was a general (I really can’t remember his name, and I am not Wiki’ing “The Stand” to find it out) who was monitoring the Centre for Disease Control via monitors. He was talking about how he did everything he could to protect the army because of what it had done for him. That covering up and making things right was the same as what you would do if you found your mother and father dead when you got home. Before you did anything, before you cleaned up the blood, before you called the police, before you even started to cry, what you did was go over to them and cover them up. And you did that because you loved them. I think those two things, “The Stand” and “Foward The Foundation” have the same message. You do what it right based on how you feel. And you make no excuses about it. In the case of the general (I think it was the general) he knew that creating the Superflu and allowing it to escape into the world was because of a failure on the part of the armed forces, but you took care of who you love. And for Asmiov’s Foundation (specifically Hari Seldon) he knew what the Empire was all about and he knew what was going to happen to it (he was writing the science that would save it) and why, but still he loved it and when Hari saw those lights out, he knew it is was a symptom of the Empire’s decay.
I now commute to work. I kind of like it. The drive is about forty five minutes to an hour and I find that if I’m calm and happy and reasonable, the drivers around me are the same. If there are idiots out there, they are compelled not to be idiots because no one else around them is being an idiot, thus not giving them ‘permission’, if you catch my drift. Nonetheless, I go from my home, through Newmarket, Aurora, Buttonville, Stoufville, Markham, Concord and finally Vaughan and back again. I am happy when I see factories being built, because that means inside those factories we are employing people to manufacture things that can then be sold. I get angry when I see office buildings that do not have shipping docks because that means, for the most part, they are shuffling paper and spending money to make money and really are not manufacturing anything. I’m in automotive and have been for the last fifteen years or so. I don’t expect to be in any other career until I retire. I think it’s in my blood. My father is a backyard mechanic, my brother is a working mechanic, and I dabbled in it for a while and got a foundation in it, but never even really graduated to backyard mechanic status. Oh, I can talk a good game and I know what I talk about when I do, but hand me a wrench and I’ll ponder everything about that wrench except what it is I am to do with it. I value manufacturing and I worry deeply about our countries commitment to making things instead of buying things. If you read Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World” (a magnificent and gorgeous tome of knowledge and reasoning, not as much hyperbole as Richard Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” and not as fluffy as Christopher Hitchens’s “god is Not Great” ; emphasis on the non-captilized ‘g’ in god. I had to buy a second copy of Sagan’s book in paperback because I lost my hardcover, only to find it tucked away behind the driver’s seat of my ’84 Pontiac Fiero.) you will find that Sagan was noticing this years ago, that North America is becoming a service economy and more and more things are being made offshore for a cheaper price so that people here, who are earning less money because they aren’t making as much because there isn’t as much work available for the average education level that we currently provide ; an education level that is dropping because people can’t afford school and parents can’t afford to support them. Then if you read ‘Wikinomics’ and ‘Freakonomics’ (and all of their respective recent incarnations) you will see how the global market is changing and how technology and globalization gets things done cheaply and how monitoring and improving efficiencies get things done with less manpower.
So, a few days ago, all of these things occur to me all at once when I see one single sign (and there’s something to be said about that, if you’ve read Marshall McLuhan). The sign was on the side of the Honda building, just next to the 404. You can’t miss it. It’s not far from the greek orthodox cathedral with the ornate, gold minaret. On the north side of the Honda building, the one you see going south, there is the ‘Honda’ sign at the top of the building. One day, the day that all of the above occured to me, the letter ‘N’ was out. And I thought, for as happy as I was to see a big building, complete with shipping doors, being built and setting up shop, they sure as shit did not care enough to put good bulbs and cared even less what the place looked like. I thought, was there not a checklist that someone has to go through once a day on the basic appearance of the building. Picking up trash, emptying the ashtray bins, making sure there is no garbage on the grounds, seeing if painters have to be scheduled to repaint the lines on the parking lot. I thought that Honda, who is a world leader in automotive manufacturing, was starting to falter. I kept myself to myself about this. I made notes in my notebook about it. My wife has already heard versions of this from me before, mostly when we are driving and I see factories and buildings being built, so I didn’t bother her with it.
And then, on my way home from work last night, I looked to the building and the letter ‘N’ was lit up. I craned my neck about to check out the south side of the building (traffic was fairly heavy at this point and no one was in jeapordy, thought my fellow commuters, had they of been looking at me, would have thought I was checking on my child in the back seat) and those lights were all on too. I had thought, for one fleeting moment, that someone would have just switched the lights around just to appease me, as if the antennas on the top of the building were actually experimental telepathic devices that were designed to pickup the word ‘Honda’ from any commuter (which, by the way, became a note for a short story I might write). And seeing that letter ‘N’ gave me hope for the future. Someone cared enough to see what I had seen and do something about it. And that someone was hired by someone else who noted that quality and hired them on. And that person who did the hiring was trained to look for those traits. And the person who trained the person to do the hiring was also trained and so on and so on up to and including the person who is at the top, and there is always one person at the top (referencing something said often by the anti-hero character Parker in the excellent series of novels by Richard Stark ; the penname of Donald E. Westlake) and that one person said “We want people who care about Honda” and was making no excuses for feeling that way. Which, for me, means that there is some glimmer of hope, one light behind one sign, for the future.
So yeah, everything I started thinking about, from Asimov, to cutting lawns, to all of the above, this whole entry, is all because of one simple letter ‘N’.

Thanks for reading,

One thought on “This post brought to you by the letter ‘N’.

  1. I’m so glad I’m not the only one whose brain takes these long tangents when I see things. I have often wondered what a long commute would be like, and now I feel almost as though I’m missing out!
    Ironic as it is, I believe I saw this exact same sign. While I didn’t have a long musing about the future of the manufacturing industry, I did, however, think about how there is just no pride of ownership in the world anymore. That building is beautiful, but when a letter is burnt out, all anyone sees is that gap-toothed smile of a sign. Made me think about how people are the same. We have possibly hundreds of faces cross our line of view every day, and the ones we tend to focus on are the most flawed. It draws attention. As a society, we only see what is wrong. There is no proactive action taken to see things as a whole.

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