Given opportunity, we might try to find them again.
If especially bold, we might drive by their house.
This summer, I rediscovered my first love: the library.
My hometown library contained all the charm, character, and mystery of a 100+ year old home. I adored the card catalog – every book condensed in neat little boxes. I learned Library of Congress designations before I could read most of the books. The high water mark of the big flood of ’42 was still visible on the walls. Each room was its own section; no getting lost in this library. In the hall, a wide staircase to the forbidding upstairs, off-limits to regular patrons. In the front hall, the television that stood for years until my friend C_____ bought it for $20. I wonder if he ever replaced the missing tubes?
The big library in Scranton – in my mind a fortress – with two separate buildings: one for kids and one for adults. The first time someone told me I was too young to be in the adult section. The joy and wonder of “getting lost” in the ironwork stacks. Knowing the library better than my teachers for the annual research trip. My first copy card. Learning microfilm and microfiche.
I loved to read. My first book report – given in the second grade – was Moby Dick (unabridged, of course). In the fourth grade I explained the symbolism of Snowball in Animal Farm. I read political theory and philosophy while my classmates struggled with Little House on the Prairie. My parents told me that during one PTA, a teacher said I shouldn’t act so smart. Apparently I made the rest of the class feel stupid by using the word “doubloon” in a sentence. We were discussing Treasure Island.
But along the way, I stopped loving making time for books. In pursuing education, I stopped reading for fun. Well, at least during the school year. The only books I remember reading for personal pleasure between 2003 and 2008 were Charlotte’s Web and The Silmarillion, both in German. I’m sure there were books I read – some I even wanted to read – I just don’t remember them.
For the last few years, I’ve saved up and bought the books I wanted to read. But I forgot about the library. And so, several weeks ago, short of cash but long in the To-Be-Read list, I went to my local library.
It’s not like the libraries of my childhood. It’s small(er), but maybe that’s because I’ve grown. It was obviously built – or at least renovated – to be a library. Two large open rooms and a smaller local history/microfilm room. No chance to get lost in the stacks, just look down the aisle. But still, it’s a library. And I’ve discovered the books call to me here just as well. It’s love, rekindled.
We found your post very funny – it had a nice, well paced buildup of detail which can be appreciated by Monty Python fans and non-fans alike. We thought it was a great read and think the rest of the community will agree — we’re really looking forward to the discussion that comes out of it, and are glad we can give it (and you) some more exposure.
– Ben Huberman
Indeed, I received a lot of exposure, but I didn’t know what to do with it. I had followers and readers, even a few I actually connected with, but I had nothing to say. My featured post was a listicle like those found on Cracked or Buzzfeed (two of my guilty pleasures), but it wasn’t really me.
You see, I hadn’t found my voice. In fact, I’m still finding it. Looking back, my post might be funny, but it’s not mine. Not really. It’s time that changed.
So I edited and included more pictures. I used my voice. I claimed it as my own.
Go and tell your master that we have been charged by God with a sacred quest. If he will give us food and shelter for the night, he can join us in our quest for the Holy Grail.
Please note that this post is several pages in length. Scroll past the media buttons and keep reading!
It’s hard to write about current events: everyone has an opinion and – after a time – there’s nothing new to be said. I’ve spent the last several days trying to write about something mainstream: Hobby Lobby, Kendall Jones, Immigration, the World Cup, Israel and Gaza. I’ve only completed one of those, but I did write about it twice.
As I sat writing, editing, and deleting, I thought back to the first blog I ever wrote: a short-lived current events Blogger site whose only semi-redeeming feature was the title: 451 Revisited. I’d intended to use it as a place of information and discussion, but I only posted four articles in six months. Thinking on that failed abomination, I reflected on the title. Hadn’t I written a piece about Fahrenheit 451 for Banned Books Week? Maybe the time was right for another visit.
After days weeks of reading professional articles, personal blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook updates, I came to the opinion that many people would benefit from Captain Beatty’s speech to Montag about the history of the Firemen. I intended to update it for a modern audience, but found that Bradbury’s argument still held true – no rewriting necessary. Instead, I decided on a different tack entirely . . .
Captain Beatty’s Speech
Edited* and Illustrated for the Modern Reader
Original by Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1979 ed)
When did it all start, you ask . . . ? Well, I’d say it really got started around about a thing called the Civil War . . . The fact is we didn’t get along well until photography came into its own. Then – motion pictures in the early twentieth century. Radio. Television. Things began to have mass . . .
And because they had mass, they became simpler . . . Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books levelled down to a sort of paste pudding norm . . .
Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the twentieth century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations, Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending . . .
Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet . . . was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: ‘now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours.’ Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more . . .
Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters, that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought! . . .
School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?
The zipper displaces the button and a man lacks just that much time to think while dressing at dawn, a philosophical hour, and thus a melancholy hour . . .
Empty the theatres save for clowns and furnish the rooms with glass walls and pretty colours running up and down the walls like confetti or blood or sherry or sauterne . . .
More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don’t have to think, eh? Organize and organize and superorganize super-super sports. More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, nowhere. The gasoline refugee. Towns turn into motels, people in nomadic surges from place to place, following the moon tides, living tonight in the room where you slept this noon and I the night before . . .
Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere.
The bigger your market . . . the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic-books survive. And the three-dimensional sex-magazines, of course . . .
It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade-journals . . .
With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.
So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute . . .
You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn’t that right? Haven’t you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren’t they? Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun? That’s all we live for, isn’t it? For pleasure,for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these . . .
Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Bum the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he’s on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man’s a speck of black dust. Let’s not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn them all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean . . .
Heredity and environment are funny things. You can’t rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That’s why we’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle.
We had some false alarms . . . [but] [n]ever found a book. Mixed record; anti-social . . . [people are] a time bomb. The family had been feeding [the] subconscious, I’m sure . . . [People don’t] want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. [People are] better off dead . . .
CONFORM CONSUME OBEY
Luckily, queer ones like her don’t happen, often. We know how to nip most of them in the bud, early. You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the Government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it . . .
Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely `brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.
Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it. So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your dare-devils, jet cars, motor-cycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, sting me with the theremin, loudly. I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.
* I have removed dialogue indicators, Montag’s remarks, and changed/added words when necessary.
Writing 101 and the World Cup prompted several readers to comment on my use of language; specifically, my erratic mix of English and German. For the record, I am not a native German nor was German my native language. In fact, I’ve never even been to Germany (or any other part of Europe, for that matter). So, how did I come to learn Deutsch, die Muttersprache des Vaterland?
It all began in high school with an ancient German Grammatikbuch, Erstes Buch. My Lehrerin was Frau Dickhut, an older Slovenian lady who insisted on calling us her “Schlechten Buben” even when we weren’t acting like Max und Moritz. I didn’t like German as a language then, although I can’t explain why. Perhaps because it was forced on me? However, I enjoyed the songs, stories, and food. Especially the food: Schnitzel, Brezel, Kartoffelsalat. Schmeckt!
I endured the two years of high school (Gymnasium? Ich versiß) only to discover I needed a foreign language for my college course. Since I already had some German background, I took the placement test and placed in second-semester Deutschklasse. However, I convinced my examiner to start me in first semester.
It was in college that I began to love German both as a language and as a culture. Fridays were Kulturtage: we’d sing (singen), play games (spielen), eat (essen), read (lesen), or give reports (einen Bericht geben). My first oral report was on Baron Manfred von Richthofen (der Rote Baron). I remember the first time I understood Wagner, Göthe, Brahms, and Fonante. It was electrifying.
Although I finished my “official” German classes years ago, I still try to keep up with it. I read Der Spiegel and Die Zeit and listen to Deutsche Welle – all free courtesy iPhone Apps. Listening to Germany win die Weltmeisterschaft in Deutsch? Wunderbar und entzückt! The one thing I lack is someone to speak to, so my Deutschesprechen ist nicht sehr gut.
I also teach force my students some German words. In addition to a German “Word of the Week,” I answer common questions in German.
Q: How much longer?
A: Fünf minuten! [oder die Zeit verbleibende]
Q: May I use the restroom?
A: Macht schnell!
And so on . . .
Sometimes, they pick it up quite well. A year or two ago I had one student who picked up my German phrases and asked or answered them in Spanish. Since I don’t know Spanisch enough to use it, our conversations would be an eccentric mix of English, German, and Spanish. We’d often use it to confuse new students on their first day of class. That made the first fünf minuten sehr interessant, indeed.
Oh my, I’ve used enought Deutche Wörter that Microsoft is now recognizing German as the document language setting. That’s never happened before.
German has changed my everyday language. For example, I use „warum“ instead of „why“ (see, I told you the language setting changed!) and „wo bist du?“ for „where are you?“. It used to drive my wife verrückt, but now she accepts it. At the very least, she tolerates it.
Hoffentlich this has cleared up some of the Wirrung.
Sometimes it seems everything conspires against us. Yesterday was one of those times.
I really, really, really wanted to watch the BRA v GER match; however, my schedule would only allow me to see half of it. That was fine – after all, some of a match is better than no match at all, right? Besides, I had friends supporting both sides. I wanted to share in the joy/disappointment.
Now, I don’t have cable at my house, and my rabbit-ear antennae barely function. So, I’ve been watching at least one match a day at my in-laws house. Nothing new on that front.
But then I checked my email. You see, I had taken the opportunity to upgrade my current phone by renewing my provider contract for the low, low cost of free. According to their website, my phone would be delivered on Wednesday. The email I received informed me that it was on the truck for delivery on Tuesday. So, while I had planned on being ready for the 4:00 match at 1:00, I was sitting in my living room waiting for FedEx at 3:00. They delivered at 3:05; not bad, FedEx delivery algorithm!
Then came the great question: did I try to transfer my content via the cloud or via PC. Since I don’t have WiFi and didn’t want to use data from my plan, I opted to use my PC.
I thought it would be a simple file transfer: make a backup file and then restore the new phone from that file. But no, it couldn’t be that simple. No matter what I did, my PC refused to recognize my phone as anything other than a new phone. Finally, at 4:30, I gave up and went to watch the game.
At my in-laws, my wife successfully transferred her content to her new phone in under 10 minutes using the cloud. I finally got my phone to work properly at 1:00 the next morning.
I was able to see twenty minutes of the game, about 50′ to 70′. Of the seven goals Germany would score, I only saw one of them (69′).
Previously, I had stated that while I supported Germany, I sympathized with Mexico. No one should have to leave the Cup with a broken vertebra.
I lied. Watching the match unfold – or listening to it on the radio – or convincing someone to give me an update via their phone – I reveled in the schadenfreude of Germany’s thorough thrashing of the Brazil side. The tears of Brazil supporters only fueled my delight.
Now, I realize this may come back to haunt me. As Germany faces Argentina in the championship match Sunday, they may be on the receiving end of such a thrashing.
But for the next four days, I’ll glory in the excitement and anticipation of adding another star to the Deutscher Fußball-Bund.
Even if they lose, I want a Schweinsteiger jersey for Christmas.