Too Loud a Solitude 2015-07-18
For thirty-five years now I've been compacting waste-paper, and if I had it all to do over I'd do just what I've done for the past thirty-five years. Even so, three or four times a year my job turns from plus to minus: the cellar suddenly goes bad, the nags and niggles and whines of my boss pound in my ears and head and make the room into an inferno; the wastepaper, piled to the ceiling, wet and moldy, ferments in a way that makes manure seem sweet, a swamp decomposing in the depths of my cellar, with bubbles rising to the surface like will-o'-the-wisps from a stump rotting in the mire. And I have to come up for air, get away from the press, but I never go out, I can't stand fresh air anymore, it makes me cough and choke and sputter like a Havana cigar. So while my boss is screaming and wringing his hands and raining threats down on me, I slip away and set off in search of other basements, other cellars.
Most of all I enjoy central-heating control rooms, where men with higher education, chained to their jobs like dogs to their kennels, write the history of their times as a sort of sociological survey and where I learned how the fourth estate was depopulated and the proletariat went from base to superstructure and how the university-trained elite now carries on its work. My best friends are two former member of our Academy of Sciences who have been set to work in the sewers, so they've decided to write a book about them, about their crissings and crossings under Prague, and they are the ones who taught me that the excrement entering the sewage plant at Podbaba on Sundays differs substantially from the excrement entering it on Mondays, and that each day is so clearly differentiated from the rest that the rate of flux may be plotted on a graph, and according to the ebb and flow of prophylactics one may determine the relative frequency with which varying sections of Prague indulge in sexual intercourse.
Too Loud a Solitude, Bohumil Hrabal, 1976, translation Michael Henry Heim
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