Celebrated (part eight)
She stirred. He said, “Hold it!” And: “Here. I’ll trade places with you.”
He plucked at the zipper of her open parka, squeezing past. Tom wore a jeans jacket, his hands fairly numb. He brought the Kodak’s viewer to his eyeball, dropped the knapsack to his elbow, backed into someone, apologized.
It was their couple thing, for smiling.
She did smile, a real one—falling, as she would, from peak exasperation back into affection—and Tom cocked himself over the rail, angling feet to the sides of his shoes, manufacturing unbalance. He took one shot, two. He was sorry to lose them…probably they’d been good.
Then a fortuitous rear collision with another…or the same…person.
He let his right leg collapse, managed to fling off both camera and knapsack…believed it a pretty good job, his snatching in seeming desperation at the first, thus sacrificing both…
The kind of accident “some idiot”—he wanted them, witnesses, to say so—might plausibly have.
Shannon said, “You’re such a moron, Tom.” Still, with affection.
And the books were gone.
They weren’t, though.
He had heard of the internet…for years hadn’t tried it. You could buy books, they said. Play games. Research, a little. Research was getting better all the time. Not that certain lines of communication weren’t, by the 90s, well established…but that his own work didn’t require them.
And the Wilmot persona called for a stubborn Ludditism.
Also, though…not that using a word processor didn’t make a lot of sense. Moving documents (back then on floppies) from machine to machine, no paper…finding your stuff, by alphabet, by date, lost files popping up before your eyes…
No need burdening the supply office with tracking down the last, dwindling store of correction tapes. And Tom was not really a slow learner…
But to be the embracer of the new, to be efficient in method, was to have fewer obvious excuses for non-productivity.
Mid-2000s, something came up in conversation…one of his students, doing work-study for a new library hire, put in charge of a new service: digital archiving. Tom, long tenured now, having little to do with meet-and-greets, shrugging off opportunities to represent his department, had with the majority of university people small acquaintance. This guy though, apparently got himself talked about… Had come introducing a new kind of jerkiness, some combination, if Tom got the scuttlebutt, of glad-handing and arrogance that sowed a line of division among the faculty, between old and young.
Being old, he figured he didn’t care, unless they made him. He would probably never get stuck on an elevator or a cafeteria line with Marco, anyway.
“So far as I know, it’s just his name.”
This from his dean, Jules Pilson. With eyes and hands she telegraphed her meaning…Marco was a guy named Marco—his parents’ choice, one presumed…
So not protected. They were all liberal-minded; they all wanted everyone to have all the rights and respect everyone was entitled to. They were all on eggshells, for fear of being blindsided.
This idea of archiving seemed from his student’s remarks (since the normal, rule-abiding person didn’t snatch at, launch a probing interrogation into, a passing acquaintance’s casual news), a matter of making copies, of all the library’s collections. At least, eventually all. For preservation, for a more democratic access. So, say, anyone could skim a professional journal he was supposed to be critiquing, at home, eating pizza on the sofa. Or run through such records as those county stat-books of Tom’s little mid-Atlantic alma mater.
Or, oddities no one had checked out since 1932.
“Infinity, so far as I know, is not getting any smaller.”
Greenwalter, first name Marco, hair too close-shaved to judge color, ethnicity unimportant (or very important, but unacknowledgeable as such…or as any other thing…or…) made quips that carried a whiff of insult. This was partly contextual. You hadn’t mooted yourself a presupposer. You were here to learn.
You learned that storage was getting better all the time.
On short acquaintance, he could put his finger on Marco’s abrasiveness.
For example, maybe hand back a paper, commenting as he laid it on the desk, “Use all the punctuation you like. Edit out what looks stupid. It’s not hard to get the hang of.”
He did say this.
He said, “If you’re in doubt, just use commas.”
Tom could say either thing, under circumstances, and it would feel to the kid personal, pointed. But he wasn’t a son of a bitch…he was a lucky man. He knew his luck unpushable, the happenstantial kind, like the youngster’s (Tom) who stays upright on his roller skates, without knowing how to balance. He gave these tips to his students only as general advice.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)