Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Chapter 4 (in the library, in installments)

I met S. at work (can’t get much more ordinary than that, right?). I’m a secretary in Manuscripts & Archives in Yale’s Sterling Library, not because I want to be a secretary, but because that’s all Yale will let me be without a degree. So much for the open mind of the academy. M & A is the place where the Important People deposit their Important Papers so researchers can, well, research them for insight— or gossip or whatever researchers want for their books and scholarly papers. Seems like everyone who comes into M & A is writing a book, so usually I take pity on the article writers or students and help them instead. If nothing else, I find it passes my boring days talking to people who don’t normally rate any attention from the rest of the staff. They’re busy throwing themselves at the book writers, hoping to get a mention in the introduction: “and finally, most importantly, I want to thank Maureen Busybody at Sterling Memorial Library’s Manuscripts & Archives, without whose magnificent help this exceptionally wonderful tome could not have seen the light of day.” Not that Ms. Busybody had anything really to do with writing the book, it’s just the author knows if he doesn’t kiss up to her, he won’t get any help the next time he needs to rummage around in the papers of Important People.

Anyway, S. was researching his Senior thesis— it’s a big paper, really a mini-book Yalies have to write Senior year before they graduate— his was about the diplomatic failures leading up to the First World War, so he wanted to work with the papers of Col. Edward House, delegate to the Versailles Peace Conference, and Yale alumnus. The one good thing about Manuscripts is I like history. S. was charming and funny and right off we got talking, chatting on and off for a few weeks as I made sure he got the papers he needed (sometimes ones he wasn’t supposed to have access to, he was only a student after all). Hey, it passed the time. The more we talked, though, the more I could see he wasn’t just funny, he was urbane and sophisticated. More than that, we clicked on a certain level different from anyone else that came in there. His one major defect (and I teased him about it all the time): he was dating Ellen Lefrak, the woman who works at the desk next to mine (and whom I despise). Ellen’s my age, yet she looks ten years older and acts twenty years older still. She’s not bad looking, and he must’ve seen something or other in her. Turns out, though, he also liked gossiping with me about his misadventures with Ellen— especially the plans and schemes he concocted in a fruitless crusade to bed down “Ellen Iron Panties” (his name for her; mine is much worse). We traded gossipy tidbits about Ellen— and the whole stuffy M & A crew. He even asked my advice on improving his chances with her. What girl could resist such fun?

One day S. invites me for a cup of coffee in the library cafeteria. We talked about the usual things— his latest vision to spirit Ellen away to some remote location in the Black Forest where no one could hear her crying for help while he licked honey off her naked body, gently forcing her to submit to his carnal desires. I know that sounds horrible, only she’s been a total bitch to me since the day I started, I don’t now and didn’t care then what happened to her virginity, it has never been important to me. See, she has a college degree, she’s an “archivist-in-training” (still a secretary, really), while I’m worthless “clerical staff” with no prospects for advancement until I come up with a sheepskin (and sheep haven’t grazed on the New Haven Green since the Civil War, so there aren’t any around for me to skin). No chance for advancement, no chance for acknowledgements, tsk, tsk. I thought his scheming was a hoot, I encouraged him in the conviction my enemy’s enemy is my friend (and it wasn’t too bad having a friend, either). Right about the time I stood up to return to work, he grabbed my hand and asked me:

“Would you do me a huge favor? Since you’re such a good typist—" it’s true: 100 words per minute! “—would you type my Senior thesis for me?”

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I can tell you it wasn’t that!

On a whim I’ll never be able to explain, I said “sure.” My dad once told me the most important lesson he’d learned during five years in the Marines was “never volunteer.” Guess I should’ve listened to my dad more!

(to be continued)