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Gumshoe: Reflections in a Private Eye.

Gumshoe: Reflections in a Private Eye. Josiah Thompson. Little, Brown, $17 95. A private investigator's clients aren't always sultry blondes with gorgeous gams. Many of them, as Thompson's intriguing account of his decade in the sleuthing business indicates, are paunchy, rather dull men. What they may lack in legs, they make up for in other areas. Most of them can pay their bills, and, while that pay may not be great, it is enough, in Thompson's case, anyway, to enable him to avoid reporting, day after day, W the dull drudgery of an office job. This is precisely the sort of compensation that Thompson and other middle-class men are most likely to appreciate: freeedom from routine, an element of risk, sometimes a hint of real danger, and a sense, most of all, that one's work has some connection to the gritty business of real life. A Yale graduate who taught philosophy at Haverford College, Thompson gave up his tenure in the mid-seventies to become a gumshoe on the streets of San Francisco-Stan ing salary, $5 an hour.

Sunday, November 14, 1976. The sun has yet to come up, and Thompson, who is waiting to shadow a strike organizer, reflects on surveillance. "I was actually beginning to enjoy the game... '" he writes. "It had to do do with the watching and not being seen. .But there was also something more fundamental, something 'gritty' about it... .You had to worry about elemental things-having food in the car or else going hungry, knowing where the pay phones were, which streets were oneway."

There are moments of discouragement and periods in which he wonders why he isn't back in the classroom. Flying to Boston to dig up evidence for a jailed drug dealer's defense, Thompson begins to answer his own question. The plane "was filled with rows of businessmen, some reading papers, others tabulating their expense accounts, still others sleeping," he writes. "Had I been like that? Had I been a drowsy, well-fed passenger lolling back in his seat, fulIy at ease in the comfortable and the familiar?" Acutely aware of the "dull routine that was the reality of most people's jobs," Thompson had come to exhibit all the symptoms of a condition one hasn't heard too much about in the Age of Reagan-the male revolt against white-collar drudgery.

A bleak view of Corporate America has fallen from favor in recent years, as the Plutographers of the Reagan em have preferred to celebrate the "creative" aspects of American capitalism. The popularity of supposedly thrilling tales of high-finance derring-do recorded in the biographies of Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca, and Peter Ueberroth reassure white-collar workers that, while their own careers are dull and tedious, they don't have to be-that there is sometime, somewhere, a fluorescent light at the end of the tunnel.

The entry of women into professional and managerial ranks, of course, is enormously important. Women have entered the professions in what, to some men, must look like a virtual invasion, with the result that white-collar men today not only work alongside, but sometimes for, women. They do so just as their prospects for the loss of career-related status-and for downward mobility itself-have never been greater.

The political significance of these developments is undeniable. There are undoubtedly millions of other middle-class men out there who secretly wish they, like Thompson, could get out of their ruts. How long will they be content to live this wayand at what cost in the deterioration of morale and Mounting social unrest? That, of course, is precisely the sort of abstraction that Thompson, for one, has ceased to bother himself about. Whatever the future holds, he isn't looking back-unless it is to glance over his shoulder to see there isn't some goon back there in a trenchcoat, packing heat. Even if there is, he'll probably just smile, feeling that whatever else may happen, at least he doesn't have to carry a briefcase.
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Author:Crawford, Alan
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1988
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