I’ve Become a 21st Century Equivalent of a Scribe, Thanks to the Ice

Two consecutive days of ice storms in Central Ohio has meant two days off from school for Susie.  However, it means that I venture out into the driving rain and the sheets of ice for work.  (The State of Ohio has not cancelled work for weather since the 1978 blizzard.)  And, once I arrive at work, it means skeleton crews and entire sections that resemble ghost towns.

The upside to this was that I learned a new task.  There wasn’t much for me to do in my own section, so I learned how to scan.  The usual scan person wasn’t in–he had enough common sense to hear the ice spraying against his window, look outside and see the glare of ice on the snow, and say “uh-uh.”

I was grateful for a break from transcribing doctors’ reports.  And scanning is a task that I quickly learned to enjoy.  I sat in a pod with a computer and the scanner, a machine that resembles an ink-jet printer where you stack in the paper vertically.  Page through everything to make sure it’s legible and scan-worthy, fill out cover sheets, keep a chart current, put the document in, and push the button.  This scans the document onto a database accessible to the Injured Worker, the employer, and their representatives.  Someone downstream edits these scans, omitting duplicated documents, rotating anything I may have scanned upside down, etc.  (I did that job for several months, so I try to be conscientious whenever I am at the point of origin, as I have been since yesterday.)

Despite the title of this blog, I think this is the first time I’ve come close to a Melville reference.  I was thinking of his short story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” a chronicle of militant passive-aggressiveness.  In the days before Xerox machines, law offices employed scriveners, also known as copyists.  And that was what they did.  The attorney would give them a document, and their job was to copy it word for word, not omitting a single jot or tittle, and they had to make sure every i was dotted and every t crossed.  This was a very secular variation on the lives of cloistered monks in the days before movable type and the printing press.  They produced quite aesthetically pleasing illuminated manuscripts, sheet music, and Bibles, all of it in longhand.

When I began to think about how my job compared to the hero of “Bartleby the Scrivener,” my supervisor came with a thick stack of documents that had to be scanned tout de suite for a hearing later in the day.  I was quite tempted to say, “I would prefer not to.”  I didn’t, because I am finally learning a sliver of self-restraint in my old age, and also because this supervisor is not that well versed in literature, and I think the allusion would have completely flown over his head.  Why waste a good comeback?  (If this went totally past you, click on the above link.)

Since I’m alluding to a literary character, I see from CBS News’ Website that I won’t be reading Ulysses this year.  In addition to today being Groundhog Day, this is also James Joyce’s 129th birthday.  My late father taught English literature at Marietta College, and every year he threatened to assign Ulysses if the groundhog saw his shadow.  I’m not sure if he ever went through with this, but for the first few years since he died in 2000, I followed this tradition by listening to Recorded Books’ excellent audiobook of it–unabridged.  It was the only way I could ever get past the giant capital S on the very first page.

Tuesday morning, I ventured out to work at my usual time, but quickly realized I needed to tread quite lightly. The sidewalks and the alley behind our place were glazed with ice, so I hung onto every fence, garbage can, and telephone pole for dear life with every step I took.  As I glanced down the street, I saw the bus (which I prayed had been running late) breeze past my bus stop.  The sidewalks were so slippery that they demanded I focus on only one thing: getting from one place to another without falling.  I’ve walked while talking on my cell phone, and I’ve even done the comic-strip nerd routine of running into a lamppost or telephone pole because I was reading and not looking where I was going.

None of that yesterday and today.  I managed to make it to my bus stop without falling, although I did slip sideways once or twice, managing to catch myself both times.  I reached down to my waist, because I clip my cell phone to my belt, and found there was no cell phone.  There was no pay phone in sight, and they have become quite scarce all over Columbus, plus all I had on me were bills, no coins.  Once the bus did arrive, and we were heading south toward downtown, my seat-mate on the bus was nice enough to let me borrow his cell phone to call my supervisor to let her know I was en route.  She seemed relieved that she wouldn’t be completely flying solo.

Will Susie have school tomorrow?  Yes and no.  Columbus Public Schools will be open tomorrow, but seven schools are without electricity.  Hers is one of them.  As of now, her school will not be open, but if they restore electricity before morning, it will be.  This is crazy for parents who have to arrange days off from work to stay with their children on snow days.

During the night, during one of my bouts of wakefulness (when I’m awake, but still too exhausted to even contemplate getting out of bed), I saw a blue flash outside.  I am still not sure whether this was thundersnow, or whether a transformer somewhere in the neighborhood blew.  I tend to doubt the latter, because our lights never went out.  (If they had, it wouldn’t have made me late, because I use the alarm on my cell phone to awaken me in the morning.)