Thursday, January 15, 2004

Introducing the Ford Sociological Department, Detroit, 1922

(from Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides)

Someone knocked on the door ... Two men stood on the welcome mat. They wore gray suits, striped ties, black brogues. They had short sideburns. They carried matching briefcases. When they removed their hats, they revealed identical chestnut hair, neatly parted in the center.

"We're from the Ford Sociological Department," the tall one said. "Is Mr. Stephanides at home?"

"Mr. Stephanides, let me tell you why we're here."

"Management has foreseen," the short one seamlessly continued, "that five dollars a day in the hands of some men might work a tremendous handicap along the paths of rectitude and right living and might make of them a menace to society in general."

"So it was established by Mr. Ford" - the taller one again took over - "that no man is to receive the money who cannot use it advisedly and conservatively."

"Also" - the short one again - "that where a man seems to qualify under the plan and later develops weaknesses, that it is within the province of the company to take away his share of the profits until such time as he can rehabilitate himself. May we come in?"

Once across the threshold, they separated. The tall one took out a pad from his briefcase. "I'm going to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind. Do you drink Mr. Stephanides?" ...

Meanwhile, the short one had entered the kitchen. He was lifting lids off pots, opening the oven door, peering into the garbage can. Desdemona started to object, but Lina checked her with a glance...

"How often do you bathe, Mr. Stephanides?" the tall one asked. "Every day, sir."
"How often do you brush your teeth?"
"Every day, sir."
"What do you use?"
"Baking soda."

Now the short one was climbing the stairs. He invaded my grandparents' bedroom and inspected the linens. He stepped into the bathroom and examined the toilet seat.

"From now on, use this," the tall one said. "it's a dentifrice. Here's a new toothbrush."
Disconcerted, my grandfather took the items. "We come from Bursa," he explained. "It's a big city."
"Brush along the gum lines. Up on the bottoms and down on the tops. Two minutes morning and night. Let's see. Give it a try."
"We are civilized people."
"Do I understand you to be refusing hygiene instruction?"

... The short one now reappeared from upstairs. He flipped open his pad and began: "Item one. Garbage in kitchen has no lid. Item two. Housefly on kitchen table. Item three. Too much garlic in food. Causes indigestion."


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