From Calder: An Autobiography with Pictures, p. 50:
One time, I had a job with the department store Abraham & Straus, in their ‘systems’ department. There were four or five of us under one director, way up in the attic of the building. There was some dispute with a salesman about which system for making change for the customers was the faster: the Lamson Conveyor or the cash register. So, I was stationed on the main floor with a stop watch, counting the time it took customers to pay and get their change with either method. I was bareheaded and was often interrupted by people asking for their way out or for the nighties department. To stop this, I took to wearing a bowler. This mystified everybody, including the house detective. I guess I left before concluding on the Lamson Conveyor or the cash register, but after a discussion with the boss–a rather heated one. He had become crabby after being flooded with inquiries:
“Who is this man with a bowler, a gray herringbone suit, a mustache, and a stop watch?”
Exact timing can be hard to ascertain in Calder’s engaging anecdotes, but this would have been in the early 1920s, during a knockabout period after his graduation from college and in the context, evident here, of widespread fascination with scientific management or ‘taylorism’.
Calder’s laconic delivery is a nice counterpoint to his engineer’s eye and artist’s sensibilities. This is the guy who defined the field of kinetic art and who elsewhere in the book describes a Shriners parade as a ‘human mobile’. What I like here is his fine sense of irony about the moving parts in this human situation that defy reduction to a linear control system. The bowler is not normally found in the inventory of rebels and saboteurs, but it’s interesting to see here on a micro-level how little pressure is needed to disrupt semiotic systems and deflect, for a moment at least, the clumsier projects of power.