We all sat together – apart – in our slippery plastic chairs, isolated from one another by the dull grey walls of our computer cubicles beneath an artificial sky of white, popcorn style ceiling tiles and high-octane LED lights, each of us a castaway on our private Facebook island, getting fat on information entirely devoid of any nutritional value – and none of us feeling the least bit guilty about it.
I was stuffing my face with Memes featuring The Most Interesting Man in the World, Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, Sam Elliott from The Big Lebowski and Leonardo DiCaprio hoisting a glass of Champagne as The Great Gatsby. My mouth was watering at the prospect of enjoying the taste of recipes I knew I’d never make (but maybe my next wife or girlfriend would): Bacon Brie Crescent Wreaths, Polar Bear Claws, Pineapple Upside Down Cheesecake and Keto Pesto Chicken with Feta Cheese. MMM!
Of course I had to tread lightly through the Facebook minefield – political bombs were everywhere – I knew if I wasn’t vigilant, one could easily blow up in my face. Left-Wing Obama bombs, Right-Wing Trump Molotov cocktails – I could be wiped out at any time. Fortunately, thanks to my Prior Service experience, I was able to navigate the ideological battlefield with my sense of proportion intact.
More or less.
At some point, while I was deliciously deepdeepdeep into the time-sucking bowels of The Great Facebook Vortex, a voice – a big one – crashed, asteroid-like, into my private ZuckerBurgh just as I was about to finally find out how to remove myself from one of those Facebook Groups you join as a kindness to a Friend (even though you don’t really want to) and then your phone Dings endlessly as 3 people in the Group of 187 chat endlessly about mediocrities you couldn’t care less about. I was just about to unlock The Great Mystery when –
“Hey Mary! Hey Mary!” boomed over my cubicle.
“Good grief,” I immediately thought. “Doesn’t this guy know we’re in the library.”
I wasn’t the only one who noticed.
The three teenage girls sharing a cubicle behind me and three stations down – they were maybe Thirteen or Fourteen years old – stopped giggling about the cute boys in their class long enough to peek over their cubicle to have a look-see at who was responsible for over-talking their conversation.
Four old men noticed too. They were scattered about, with their bad knees, bad hips and bad backs (but great memories – they’d all remembered to bring their Nose Whistles which they played with incredible Symphonic gusto – one Bass, two Tenors and a Soprano (who occasionally reached for – and found – the Falsetto). There’s was a rhythmic Nasal assault on the auditory senses – a Pig snort here, a wheeze or two there mingled with the occasional snit-snit-snit and the rare, but unforgettable, high-pitched Horse whinny. Each groaned as they stood to look over the tops of their cubicles to identify the loud talker.
The young executive in the cubicle in front of me in the fashionable suit didn’t look up. He seemed deeply immersed in actual work, which none of us could claim to be doing.
“Look at my new car, Mary! Look at it! Isn’t it cool!” the voice practically shouted.
I didn’t have to stand to look over my cubicle since I was parked on the end – I only had to lean about 40 degrees to my right.
I was full of righteous indignation, as were the others. “Who is this thoughtless man taking a wrecking ball to the rules of library etiquette?”
With the exception of Suitman, the rest of us were preparing, with our angry eyes, to launch spears of disapprobation at the careless obliviot.
As quickly as our anger was aroused, however, it dissolved – into One Part Shame and Four Parts Understanding.
The voice was that of a man-child. He was easily 6’2”, 250 lbs and, I reckoned, between 50 and 55 years old in body – but 7 years-old otherwise.
Atop his head was an Ohio State Buckeyes Scarlet and Gray winter hat, the kind with the big knit ball dangling from the top. He was wearing a pair of clean, light-blue jeans with an elastic waistband that clung to his behind at a distance higher than your common sixteen year-old street punk, but lower than your standard Plumber. His white Fruit-Of-The-Looms were plain to see as he bent over to show his new prized possession to the librarian.
His sneakers were Scarlet and Gray too – I imagined his caretaker was either a rabid fan or an alumni – or both.
The coattails of a white and blue pinstripe Oxford were visible underneath his Red, down-filled winter coat.
“Isn’t it awesome!” he said, holding the tiny Red car out to the librarian for her to admire. “It’s beautiful, Tom,” she replied in a muted tone directly in opposition to his.
“I know, I know! My mommy bought it for me today at the store!”
I laughed a little at myself, then glanced over at the three girls. They returned to what they were doing prior to the interruption without a second thought
One of the old men, in the station two down from me, looked at me and I looked at him. We tossed knowing looks at one another, then smiled – each of us knowing that any man who could harbor continued hostility toward a human being like Tom, was no man at all. We understood how the Challenged – whether in Body or in Mind (or both) – are Gifts from God – bestowed upon us to measure the depths of our devotion to one another.
“Tom,” she said and took his big hand with the Red car in it into both of hers, “I want you to do something for me, okay?”
“Okay, Okay!” he said excitedly – and loudly.
“I want you to use the library voice we talked about last week. Do you remember that?” she asked, in a voice that if it were a color would be pastel blue – if it were a fabric would be soft cotton. Her voice had the timbre of a woman who’d spent more of her life within the walls of a library than without.
Big Tom thought about it real hard for more than a moment, smiled, then whispered, “Like this?”
The librarian smiled and said, even more quietly, “Yes Tom, just like that.”
Big Tom beamed proudly, thrilled that he’d remembered what they’d talked about – and happy that he’d made his friend Mary happy.
I allowed my eyes to linger on this touching real-world scene for a short spell longer before returning – faith in Humanity restored – to the surrealities of ZuckerBurgh.
PS: That’s a sweet Red car by the way, Big Tom.
**Originally Posted on 21 Dec 2017**