hese stories of my years in Pittsburgh—still underway as I write—are of course autobiographical, but they don’t add up to autobiography. The reason for this gap is simply that they concentrate on particular aspects of my life that interested me and that I remember vividly. Often—usually—they concern work which, as for my father before me, seemed for many years to be at the center of my universe. But sometimes they concern only peculiar little things that have stuck in my mind for these many years. My family life is hardly mentioned. The reason for this lacuna is not that it is unimportant to me, quite the opposite: it is too important, and too tender; I am simply not inclined to write much of these things. People, intimate to me, appear, only to disappear, my children minor players here. It seems to me that an autobiography ought to include such important aspects of one’s life, but here they are nearly nothing.
A few decades ago I subscribed to the New Yorker Magazine for a number of years. It was then an idiosyncratic weekly publication, and it was its eclecticism that intrigued me. It has since taken on an out-and-out political orientation and has, in my view, suffered for it. The writing in the old days was very good. I clearly remember an article about bee-keeping that was so long that its pieces continued over three consecutive issues. It is impossible to imagine such a thing being published today. What intrigued me about this article was the way in which such an esoteric subject could be explained so clearly and interestingly. One can write about, say, a mystery, or the fall of the USSR, and the interest in the story will itself carry the reader along even if the writing is not stellar. This was my first experience of an article in which the writing itself was the star.
The stories I have to tell here are mundane, perhaps not as much so as bee-keeping, but ordinary nevertheless. Many of them concern how I experienced engineering and other endeavors—and those through the backdoor as it were. If there is a continuity and a momentum to these stories it is in the everyday saga of a boy eventually growing into a man, such a commonplace as to seem almost trivial, unless one is living it oneself. Yet it’s very ordinariness attests to its universality.
I have segregated these stories into two related threads. The first links together the main story line while the second concerns more esoteric subjects that are usually associated in some way to the corresponding article in the main thread. They can be thought of as two kebabs, the first with the tender bits of meat threaded rather neatly together, while the second contains the leftover bone and gristle and fat (which as a gourmand appeals to me most). You can see what appeals to your taste.
I have attempted to make these articles so that they can be read in any order, but there’s probably something to be gained by taking them in the order in which they are presented as they are ordered roughly in time sequence.