第一单元 A Working Community
1I have a friend who is a member of the medical community. It does not say that, of course, on the stationery that bears her home address. This membership comes from her hospital work.
2 I have another friend who is a member of the computer community. This is a fairly new subdivision of our economy, and yet he finds his sense of place in it.
3Other friends and acquaintances of mine are members of the academic community, or the business community, or the journalistic community.
4 Though you cannot find these on any map, we know where we belong.
5 None of us, mind you, was born into these communities. Nor did we move into them, U-Hauling our possessions along with us. None has papers to prove we are card-carrying members of one such group or another. Yet it seems that more and more of us are identified by work these days, rather than by street.
6In the past, most Americans lived in neighborhoods. We were members of precincts or parishes or school districts. My dictionary still defines community, first of all in geographic terms, as “a body of people who live in one place.”
7But today fewer of us do our living in that one place; more of us just use it for sleeping. Now we call our towns “bedroom suburbs,” and many of us, without small children as icebreakers, would have trouble naming all the people on our street.
8It’s not that we are more isolated today. It’s that many of us have transferred a chunk of our friendships, a major portion of our everyday social lives, from home to office. As more of our neighbors work away from home, the workplace becomes our neighborhood.
9The kaffeeklatsch of the fifties is the coffee break of the eighties. The water cooler, the hall, the elevator, and the parking lot are the back fences of these neighborhoods. The people we have lunch with day after day are those who know the running saga of our mother’s operations, our child’s math grades, our frozen pipes, and faulty transmissions.
10We may be strangers at the supermarket that replaced the corner grocer, but we are known at the coffee shop in the lobby. We share with each other a cast of characters from the boss in the corner office to the crazy lady in Shipping, to the lovers in Marketing. It’s not surprising that when researchers ask Americans what they like best about work, they say it is “the shmoose factor.” When they ask young mothers at home what they miss most about work, it is the people.
12It’s not unlike the experience of our immigrant grandparents. Many who came to this country still identified themselves as members of the Italian community, the Irish community, the Polish community. They sought out and assumed connections with people from the old country. Many of us have updated that experience. We have replaced ethnic identity with professional identity, the way we replaced neighborhoods with the workplace. This whole realignment of community is surely most obvious among the mobile professions. People who move from city to city seem to put roots down into their professions. In an age of specialists, they may have to search harder to find people who speak the same language.
13I don’t think that there is anything massively disruptive about this shifting sense of community. The continuing search for connection and shared enterprise is very human. But I do feel uncomfortable with our shifting identity. The balance has tipped, and we seem increasingly dependent on work for our sense of self.
14 If our offices are our new neighborhoods, if our professional titles are our new ethnic tags, then how do we separate ourselves from our jobs? Selfworth isn’t just something to measure in the marketplace. But in these new communities, it becomes harder to tell who we are without saying what we do.
The Roots of My Ambition
by Russell Baker
1“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, Russell, it’s a quitter.”
2My mother, dead now to this world but still roaring free in my mind, wakes me some mornings before day-break. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, Russell, it’s a quitter.”
3I have heard her say that all my life. Now, lying in bed, coming awake in the dark, I feel the fury of her energy fighting the good-for-nothing idler within me who wants to go back to sleep instead of tackling the brave new day.
4Silently I protest: I am not a child anymore. I have made something of myself. I am entitled to sleep late.
5“Russell, you’ve got no more gumption than a bump on a log.”
She has hounded me with these battle cries since I was a boy in short pants.
“Make something of yourself!”
“Don’t be a quitter!”
“Have a little ambition, Buddy.”
6The civilized man of the world within me scoffs at materialism and strives after success. He has read the philosophers and social critics. He thinks it is vulgar and unworthy to spend one’s life pursuing money, power, fame, and ...
7“Sometimes you act like you’re not worth the powder and shot it would take to blow you up with.”
8Life had been hard for my mother ever since her father died, leaving nothing but debts. The family house was lost, the children scattered. My mother’s mother, fatally ill with tubercular infection, fell into a suicide depression and was institutionalized. My mother, who had just started college, had to quit and look for work.
9Then, after five years of marriage and three babies, her husband died in 1930, leaving my mother so poor that she had to give up her baby Audrey for adoption. Maybe the bravest thing she did was to give up Audrey, only ten months old, to my Uncle Tom and Aunt Goldie. Uncle Tom, one of my father’s brothers, had a good job with the railroad and could give Audrey a comfortable life.
10My mother headed off to New Jersey with my other sister and me to take shelter with her brother Alen, poor relatives dependent on his goodness. She eventually found work patching grocers’ smocks at ten dollars a week in a laundry.
11Mother would have liked it better if I could have grown up to be President or a rich businessman, but much as she loved me, she did not deceive herself. Before I was out of grade school, she could see I lacked the gifts for either making millions or winning the love of crowds. After that she began nudging me toward working with words.
12Words ran in her family. There seemed to be a word gene that passed down from her maternal grandfather. He was a school teacher, his daughter Lulie wrote poetry, and his son Charlie became New York correspondent for the Baltimore Herald. In the turn-of-the-century South, still impoverished by the Civil War, words were a way out.
13The most spectacular proof was my mother’s first cousin Edwin. He was a managing editor of the New York Times. He had traveled all over Europe, proving that words could take you to places so glorious and so far from the Virginia sticks that your own kin could only gape in wonder and envy. My mother often used Edwin as an example of how far a man could go without much talent.
14“Edwin James was no smarter than anybody else, and look where he is today,” my mother said, and said, and said again, so that I finally grew up thinking Edwin James was a dull clod who had a lucky break. Maybe she felt that way about him, but she was saying something deeper. She was telling me I didn’t have to be brilliant to get where Edwin had got to, that the way to get to the top was to work, work, and work.
15When my mother saw that I might have the word gift, she started trying to make it grow. Though desperately poor, she signed up for a deal that supplied one volume of Worlds Greatest Literature every month at 39 cents a book.
16I respected those great writers, but what I read with joy were newspapers. I lapped up every word about monstrous crimes, dreadful accidents and hideous butcheries committed in faraway wars. Accounts of murderers dying in the electric chair fascinated me, and I kept close track of fast meals ordered by condemned men.
17In 1947 I graduated from John Hopkins and learned that the Baltimore Sun needed a police reporter. Two or three classmates at Hopkins also applied for the job. Why I was picked was a mystery. It paid $30 a week. When I complained that was insulting for a college man, my mother refused to sympathize.
18“If you work hard at this job,” she said, “maybe you can make something of it. Then they’ll have to give you a raise.”
19Seven years later I was assigned by the Sun to cover the White House. For most reporters, being White House correspondent was as close to heaven as you could get. I was 29 years old and puffed up with pride. I went to see my mother’s delight while telling her about it. I should have known better.
20“Well, Russ,” she said, “if you work hard at this White House job, you might be able to make something of yourself.”
21Onward and upward was the course she set. Small progress was no excuse for feeling satisfied with yourself. People who stopped to pat themselves on the back didn’t last long. Even if you got to the top, you’d better not take it easy. “The bigger they come, the harder they fall” was one of her favorite maxims.
22During my early years in the newspaper business, I began to entertain childish fantasies of revenge against Cousin Edwin. Wouldn’t it be delightful if I became such an outstanding reporter that the Times hired me without knowing I was related to the great Edwin? Wouldn’t it be delicious if Edwin himself invited me into his huge office and said, “Tell me something about yourself, young man?” What exquisite vengeance to reply, “I am the only son of your poor cousin Lucy Elizabeth Robinson.”
23What would one day happen was right out of my wildest childhood fantasy. The TIMES did come knocking at my door, though Cousin Edwin had departed by the time I arrived. Eventually I would be offered one of the gaudiest prizes in American journalism: a column in the New York Times.
24It was not a column meant to convey news, but a writer’s column commenting on the news by using different literary forms: essay devices, satire, burlesque, sometimes even fiction. It was proof that my mother had been absolutely right when she sized me up early in life and steered me toward literature.
25The column won its share of medals, including a Pulitzer Prize in 19
  79. My mother never knew about that. The circuitry of her brain had collapsed the year before, and she was in a nursing home, out of touch with life forevermore.
26I can only guess how she’d have responded to news of Pulitzer. I’m pretty sure she would have said, “That’s nice, Buddy. It shows if you buckle down and work hard, you’ll be able to make something of yourself one of these days.”
27In time there would be an attack on the values my mother preached and I have lived by. When the country began to pull apart in the 1960s and 70s, people who admitted to wanting to amount to something were put down as materialists idiotically wasting their lives in the “rat race.” The word “gumption” vanished from the language.
28I tried at first to roll with the new age. I decided not to drive my children, as my mother had driven me, with those corrupt old demands that they amount to something.
29The new age exalted love, self-gratification and passive Asian philosophies that aimed at helping people resign themselves to the status quo. Much of this seemed preposterous to me, but I conceded that my mother might have turned me into a coarse materialist (one defect in her code was its emphasis on money and position), so I kept my heretical suspicions to myself.
30And then, realizing I had failed to fire my own children with ambition, I broke. One evening at dinner, I heard myself shouting, “Don’t you want to amount to something?”
31The children looked blank. Amount to something. What a strange expression. I could see their thoughts: That isn’t Dad yelling. That was those martinis he had before dinner.
32It wasn’t the gin that was shouting. It was my mother. The gin only gave me the courage to announce to them that yes, by God, I had always believed in success, had always believed that without hard work and self-discipline you could never amount to anything, and didn’t deserve to.
33It would turn out that the children’s bleak report cards did not forebode failure, but a refusal to march to the drumbeat of the ordinary, which should have made me proud. Now they are grown people with children of their own, and we like one another and have good times when we are together.
34So it is with a family. We carry the dead generations within us and pass them on to the future abroad our children. This keeps the people of the past alive long after we have taken them to the churchyard.
35“If there’s one thing I can’t stand, Russell, it’s quitter.”
Lord, I can hear her still.
Help Yourself through the Hard Times

1Some years ago I had what most would call the American Dream: a thriving construction business, a comfortable home, two new cars and a sailboat. Moreover, I was happily married. I had it all.
2Then the stock market crashed, and suddenly no one was looking a



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