Days at the Scanner

Earlier this week, I shared a Huffington Post article on my Facebook page.  The story carried some sad tidings–after 244 years, the Encyclopædia Brittanica will no longer appear in hard copy after the edition published this year.  I shared the article by email with several friends, many of them bibliophiles and curators of useless odds and ends of information.

As sorry as I am to see the Encyclopædia Brittanica fold, it also makes me wonder about the integrity of computerized and scanned records that students and researchers will see in the future.  In an earlier post, I posted a picture of John Hurt portraying Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell’s novel 1984, as he goes about rewriting historical records and periodicals to conform with the current party line.

My workload has been light this week, so I have been working in scanning, a job made bearable–and even fun–as long as I have audiobooks to listen to as I work.  (Yesterday, I finished The Stand, and today I began Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History.)  The job is fairly simple.  It involves stacking documents and forms into a scanner, clicking the mouse, and then making sure they scanned properly before submitting them.  Eventually, the original paper records are destroyed.

Logistically, this is the right thing to do.  Eventually, the stored hard copies would be impossible to maintain, and probably the State of Ohio (as well as other agencies–government and private sector) would constantly be scrambling for a place to store records.  Yet, computerized images and records can easily be manipulated or altered by either side in a legal battle, and there would not be a hard copy available for a comparison.

In no way am I suggesting that we eliminate microfilming or scanning paper records.  Soon after my dad died in 2000, I thought it would be fun to obtain a copy of his service record.  He served as a Remington raider (Army slang for a clerk typist) stateside from 1952 to 1954.  (He said that he occasionally considered writing to get his medals, but he never did.)  It seems likely, however, that his records were among the 80% of Army records destroyed in the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire in the St. Louis suburb of Overland.

When I’m looking up old articles online, I often try to see if I can look at a microfilm copy of the original page at the library as soon as possible, if not that very day.  As a young teenager, I was quite fascinated when I visited Dawes Memorial Library, the Marietta College library, and saw bound editions of Time and Newsweek going back to the 1920s, and learned how to thread spools of microfilm into the reader to look at The New York Times and The Marietta Times (I would sneak a peak at the comics page in the latter).  The library kept weeks of newspapers from all over Ohio, and some of the national dailies, but soon they would either put them on microfilm or throw them away.

I must admit the demise of the printed Brittanica hits me on a personal note.  During a 1987 discard sale at Ohio University’s library, Alden Library, I happily plunked down $10 for a 1947 edition.  The library was even kind enough to lend me a shelving cart to get the books down to my New South Green dormitory, and declined my offer to pay a deposit on the cart.  In addition to lying in bed reading random entries (yes, folks, I read reference books for fun), the books made excellent lap desks in a very popular class I took the next quarter.

It would also seem that supermarkets never offer encyclopedia sets for sale anymore.  When I lived in Cincinnati, Kroger offered the Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia for sale, and I, like many would-be buyers, ended up being an expert on everything from A to Argentina.  I bought Volume I for about $.12, and never kept up with buying the subsequent volumes.

One friend pointed out on Facebook that we will always need records that can withstand a power surge or a change in software.  (Whenever I’m tempted to say ’tis time to part when it comes to typewriters, I remind myself that I have yet to strike a wrong key and delete an hour’s (or month’s) worth of work, never to be seen again.  When writing his memoir Keeping Faith, Jimmy Carter deleted an entire chapter while using “my trusty word processor.”

Winston Smith writing in his diary, a scene in 1984.

I guess this is also the reason why I’ll probably never abandon keeping a handwritten diary, and why I’ll add to the stack of composition books, journals, calendars, and spiral notebooks that accumulate in my study.  I know that there is always a chance that LiveJournal’s or Blogger’s Website may one day irreparably crash, and this blog and all the hundreds of thousands of other blogs stored there, may one day disappear like a soap bubble. 

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Latest Permission Slip: So Susie Can See THE MATRIX at School

One of Susie’s winter semester classes at The Graham School is “Utopian and Dystopian Literature,” and earlier this week she brought home the latest of many permission slips her mother and I have signed since her first day of preschool.  This time it asked permission for her to see The Matrix, which is, I suppose, an example of a dystopia.  I signed it, because I have never been one for censoring what Susie wants to read or watch.  (I have never seen the movie, but Susie may whet my interest enough that I’ll borrow the DVD from the library sometime in the near future.  I’m still enough of a typesetter to think of a matrix as the die on a Linotype machine that shapes the character.)

Currently, they’re reading Anthem, Ayn Rand’s only tolerable writing.  My guess is that soon they’ll be proceeding to 1984, and when that happens, I plan to buy the DVD of the movie, starring John Hurt and Richard Burton (in his final appearance).

John Hurt as Winston Smith, rewriting history in the Ministry of Truth, in  1984.

And I’m sure The Matrix will hardly be the most violent film she will encounter before she reaches adulthood.  Recently, as part of my revived interest in Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand (a Lord of the Rings-like tale transplanted to 1980s America), I’ve been lackadaisically making my way through the 1994 four-part miniseries.  I’ve gotten some heat for not shooing Susie from the room when I watch it, or for not watching it only after she’s nestled all snug in her bed.  She’s watched parts of it, and has read some of “Captain Trips,” the first volume of Marvel Comics’ excellent adaptation.  Apparently, letting a 14-year-old girl watch any Stephen King story other than Stand By Me guarantees that she’ll turn into the next Aileen Wuornos.  I’m willing to take my chances–if Susie is uncomfortable with a scene, she’ll bury herself in her journal or the latest book she’s reading.  The worst that can happen is nightmares, and if they happen, you wake up, switch on a light, and maybe get a glass of water, and that’s it.

A high school English teacher emphasized the point that in a good horror movie or story, the grossness is kept to a bare minimum.  Where they get you is with suspense.  Susie didn’t fully understand this concept until she saw Jaws for the first time a week or so ago.  I brought it home from the library, and all that she had known about it previously was the F-F sharp tuba music playing whenever the shark is in the vicinity.  She was afraid that she would be totally grossed out by the movie, but she was able to watch it and enjoy it thoroughly.  There is only one scene where we actually see the shark’s teeth actually touch someone.  Susie expressed the appropriate outrage at the blindness and callousness of the small town’s movers and shakers to the danger the shark presents, which will give her an advantage if she ever reads or sees Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People.

And no, she did not have nightmares about sharks for several nights afterwards.  The other night, we watched the first half of Jaws 2 (which was not as good as the original, but which never received the proper respect), and will probably watch the rest of it over this long weekend.

When I was younger than Susie, only television stations had access to video tape, and seeing movies at home was rare indeed, except on TV.  (I remember one friend of mine saving money from his paper route for months so that he could rent 16-mm movies and a projector for a New Year’s Eve sleepover.)  Until my mother left us, it was rare indeed that I got to see a movie downtown, and when I did, it was usually a Disney movie.  I remember how much I had to plead for my dad to take me to see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Once she left, that was when I began watching movies that were for a more adult audience.  Since Dad was gone from before the time I got home from school until I was nodding off in front of the TV, I had oodles of unchaperoned free time.  The first “grown-up” movie I saw (I am not saying “adult” movie for the obvious reasons) was a 1970 horror movie, Count Yorga, Vampire.  I saw it in the auditorium of Thomas Hall, the classroom building at Marietta College where my dad had his office.  On Friday and Saturday nights, they featured “Cinema 75,” so-called because the admission price was $.75.  During that same period, however, my dad refused to give me money to see The Trial of Billy Jack with a friend.  Seventy-five cents, on the other hand, was a pittance to pay, and the movies at Cinema 75 were usually quite good.

The first movie I lied about my age to get into was Saturday Night Fever, although I told people for years it was The Exorcist.  The theater owner would not let anyone under 16 in to see Saturday Night Fever, and this was an occasion when I appreciated my dad’s uncanny ability to turn morality and ethics on and off as though it were a light switch.  I was 15 when the movie came to town, so he told me to tell them, if they asked for my age, that I was in my 16th year.

Dad also went to bat for me when I got in trouble for using foul language at school.  When I was in sixth grade, a boy named Rex was taking too long (in my estimation) at the water fountain.  I said, “Hurry up, Sex!”  (I’m sure every kid named Rex has heard that one a few times.)  When the teacher who busted me explained this to my dad, he asked, genuinely puzzled, “What ‘bad word’ did he use?”  So I got a walk on that one.

I paid it forward a few years later.  During Fire Prevention Week in high school, our homeroom teachers handed out fliers about how to escape the house if it was on fire, and it featured drawings of the inside of a house, showing where fires can start, etc.  Before class, I had told a friend of mine that I had seen my first porn films at a guy’s house the previous weekend while his parents had been out of town.  I was unnecessarily graphic in describing the films (as if they actually had plots!), and he had asked me if I enjoyed the films.  I seesawed my hand in a comme ci comme ça gesture, and added, “Now, the guy and the pig… I could have lived without seeing that.”

My friend thought this was hilarious, and, out of boredom, he was doodling on the fire prevention flier, and got in trouble with the teacher.  What was the offensive doodle?  In the bedroom, he drew a man’s head on one pillow, and a pig’s on the other.  Neither were anatomically correct–only heads.  I mentioned this to a teacher, who grudgingly let it slide.

Since Susie will probably be spending the summer in Florida with Steph, my major project will be restarting the book-cataloging job I had underway when my other laptop was stolen from Weinland Park.  That may involve organizing the DVDs as well.  I am sure some parents would not be happy with the fact that Porky’s and Se7en are on the same shelf as Despicable Me.  (I will never underestimate anyone’s ability to zero in on the sketchier titles in my video or book libraries.  When Steph and I were first married, we had about 200 VHS tapes, of all genres, including many classic movies and TV moments, and the title that a guest could spot from a mile away was something like The Sadist or She-Devils of the S.S.  (The latter is more of a sex farce than an actual porn movie.)

And yes, if Susie wants to see The Exorcist or Porky’s, she can.  The disks are not under lock and key.  The only restriction I have placed on anything is that if she chooses to see JFK, I have forbidden her to use it as source material for any paper on the Kennedy assassination she may turn in during the course of her academic career.

Heading Into One of My Stephen King Bacchanalias

I can go for years without reading anything by or about Stephen King, and then, for no reason whatsoever, I’ll start immersing myself in his works–mostly the older stuff (1970s-1980s).  I think the newest of his novels I’ve read is Under the Dome, but I love to read and reread the novels and short stories I discovered in high school.  (Anyone who knows me at all will not be surprised to know that I am eagerly awaiting November 8, when his science fiction novel 11/22/63 appears.  Two of my interests–the John F. Kennedy assassination and Stephen King–will intersect in that book.)

Thunder crackles lightly outside right now, which is appropriate for the subject matter of this post.  I’m offsetting it with The Beach Boys, my two-record vinyl copy of Endless Summer.  (Right now, I’m typing with “Surfin’ USA” blasting from my turntable.)

Boredom at work was the impetus that launched my latest Stephen King binge.  When I have no doctors’ reports to transcribe, and have completed the stack of ex parte orders, I spend the rest of the day re-indexing the medical documents that both Injured Workers and employers submit.

How do I approach this task?  George Orwell described it eloquently in Chapter IV of 1984:

With the deep, unconscious sigh which not even the nearness of the telescreen could prevent him from uttering when his day’s work started, Winston pulled the speakwrite toward him, blew the dust from its mouthpiece, and put on his spectacles.  Then he unrolled and clipped together four small cylinders of paper which had already flopped out of the pneumatic tube on the right-hand side of his desk.

To alleviate the boredom, I looked through the extensive disk collection of a co-worker, a woman in Indexing.  (I have plenty of music disks, but wasn’t in the mood to listen to any music that day.)  To my delight, she had the Books on Tape edition of The Stand.  She had managed to put the complete reading on three MP3 disks.

I need to qualify my use of the word “complete” above.  When King first published The Stand in 1978, entire sections went by the wayside.  The editor was quite brutal with the blue pencil.  (As a character once said on Lou Grant about an editor: “With him, War and Peace becomes War and you don’t even bleed!”)  The original hardcover was 823 pages.  I read the book during high school, over most of an Easter weekend.  I thought initially that it was a run-of-the-mill science fiction novel, since the first section described an artificial influenza virus made by–who else?–the military.  The virus has a 99.4% mortality rate, and I followed the main characters, part of the 0.6% immune to the virus, trying to bury their dead and reestablish their lives with fellow survivors.  I followed intently as the survivors gravitated toward the Stand described in the title, as some follow the shadowy and faceless Antichrist figure Randall Flagg as he establishes a cruel law-and-order technology-efficient society in Las Vegas, punishing disobedience with (literal) crucifixion.  Some follow a centenarian African-American woman from Nebraska named Mother Abigail, and attempt to establish a democratic society in Boulder, and struggle with waste disposal, getting the electricity going again, etc.

Hardcover dust jacket of The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition (1990).

The version I listened to at work was the 1978 edition of The Stand.  Only Stephen King would have the chutzpah to take a book that many reviewers said was already too long, and in 1990 reissue it.  This time it was The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition, with 329 additional pages.  I was living in Cincinnati when it came out, and decided to forego buying groceries to go down to B. Dalton downtown and buy it the week it appeared.  The added tonnage turned out to be quite valuable.  It filled in a lot of backstory, clarified questions that arose as a result of careless editing, and I enjoyed the book a lot more.

My apartment building manager, the myopic George Wagner, who would introduce me to the world of pulp conventions and the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention, went a step further.  This epitomizes the person with way too much free time.  He sat down with the 1978 edition of The Stand and the hardcover edition, ballpoint pen in hand, and marked what had changed, and how.  (He later gave me this book as a birthday present, and it sits on my shelf between Signet paperbacks of the 1978 and 1990 editions, as a transition volume.)  “All new,” “mostly new,” “about 35 words missing here” dot the pages, along with brackets and parentheses representing where the text changed one edition to the next.

I ordered a DVD of The Stand miniseries from Amazon.com recently, and it came in the mail on Saturday, waiting for me when I came home from work at the bookstore.  This finally caused me to get off my ass and buy the appropriate cord to hook up my VCR/DVD to the TV.  I stayed up late Saturday night and watched the first two parts, “The Plague” and “The Dreams.”

I was quite happy when Recorded Books issued an unabridged reading of It, which is my all-time favorite Stephen King novel.  It is the story of a shape-shifting, child-killing monster that lives in the sewers and tunnels underneath a city in Maine.  The monster goes on a killing spree every 30 or 40 years and then goes dormant.  Seven outcast teenagers (a girl emotionally and physically–and possibly sexually–abused by her stepfather, a bookish Jewish boy, a stuttering aspiring writer whose brother was killed by this monster, and the only African-American kid in town are among the seven) come close to killing It in 1958, and make a pact to return to their city should It ever return.  In 1985, murders and disappearances happen again, and they come back to do battle.

It was another huge book (1142 pages), but I read it over the course of almost one day–“a day” being a 24-hour period.  I remember that it was the summer of 1987, and I was living in a furnished room above the Dairy Barn in Carthage (in the Mill Creek Valley, about six miles north of downtown Cincinnati) while working as a typesetter at Feicke Web.  I started reading about midnight one Friday night, propped up in bed with the fan and the radio going full blast, and by morning being unable to put the book down.

Here is just how much the book drew me in.  In mid-morning, I decided to escape the confines of my room (and the Carthage neighborhood–go to Google Maps and type in “6901 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45216” and you’ll completely understand!), so I took the 78 bus downtown and had an early lunch at the Frisch’s Big Boy on E. 6th St. downtown.  My nose remained buried in It as I worked my way through a few glasses of Diet Coke, some fries and a cheeseburger.

One of the forms the monster possessing the city of Derry, Maine assumes is the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, making him more attractive to naive children who love the circus.  After paying the bill and tipping the waitress, I made my way outside the restaurant–

–and damn near had a heart attack!  Standing on the sidewalk was a street person who dressed head to toe in a one-piece clown suit, a white hard hat, and basketball sneakers.  He carried a plastic Igloo in one hand.  Despite this gala attire, he never spoke or smiled.  (I asked the Westin Hotel’s barmaid about him once.  She said she had no problem with him.  He would come in, order a Coke, and sit by himself quietly drinking it, and then leave, and always left her a decent tip.)

Susie claims that the brief glimpse she saw of Stephen King’s It, the 1990 two-part miniseries, has given her an unshakable case of coulrophobia, an abnormal fear of clowns.  I was afraid this would poison her enjoyment of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, since Tim Curry portrayed Dr. Frank-N-Furter in Rocky Horror and Pennywise in It.  But when I took her to Studio 35 to see Rocky Horror, she loved every minute of it.

Susie and I plan to watch The Stand once she returns from Florida.  I was a teenager when I first discovered Stephen King, and picked up an abandoned copy of Carrie at the free book giveaway shelf at the Washington County Public Library.  I gloried in this Revenge of the Nerds on steroids, and rooted for the oppressed as she brought down the school building, and eventually the whole city, on her tormentors’ heads.  Several friends have told me it is not a good idea to show The Stand or Carrie to Susie when she’s 13.  I have never censored her reading, and never will.  These works of Stephen King’s qualify as literature–my grandchildren will be studying them.  University libraries include doctoral theses about King’s works.

My job is to keep Susie safe from the real horrors–of which there are many.  I won’t waste my energy shielding her from the ones that reside on paper and ink, and which will vanish with the STOP button or by returning the book to the shelf (which never happens in our house anyway!).