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 viewfinder 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 snatch in seeming desperation at the first, thus to sacrifice 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.
And yet they weren’t.
He had heard of the internet, for years hadn’t tried it. You could buy stuff, they said. Play games. Research, a little. Research was getting better all the time. Not that certain lines of communication hadn’t been, by the 90s, well established…but that his own work didn’t require them.
The Wilmot persona called for a stubborn Ludditism.
And not that using a word processor didn’t make a lot of sense. Moving documents from machine to machine, no paper…finding them, by alphabet, by date, lost files scrolling up before your eyes…
No need burdening the supply office with tracking down the last, dwindling store of correction tapes for the old Selectric. And Tom was not really a slow learner…
But to be an embracer of the new, to be efficient in method, was to have fewer obvious excuses for nonproductivity.
Mid-2000s, something had come 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, got himself talked about… Had come introducing a new kind of jerkiness, some combination, if Tom got the scuttlebutt, of gladhanding 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 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.
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, he gleaned 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), was a matter of making copies, of everything in the library’s collections. At least, eventually everything. For preservation, for a more democratic access. So that, say, anyone could skim a journal article he was supposed to be critiquing, at home, eating pizza on the sofa. Or run through records, like those county stat-books of Tom’s 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, Tom 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, “When you’re in doubt, just use commas.”
Tom could say either thing, under circumstances, and it would feel to the student 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 kid (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)