Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Book of Benjamin

“So that’s the library,” said Janelle, concluding my tour of the library’s inner workings my first day on the job. I already knew a lot of it from volunteering there two mornings a week, but now I was seeing it all in more detail. “You just need to meet your coworkers from the evening shift – oh, and Benjamin, but you probably won’t meet him for a few weeks.”

“Who’s Benjamin?” I asked.

“He works on Fridays and Saturdays. But he has the next few weekends off because of high school graduation.”

“That’s nice,” I said. “Is he going out of town for one or something?”

“No,” said Janelle. “He’s in one.”

And that’s how I went from working as a school librarian to working alongside a teenager no older than the students I used to preside over.

Chapter 1 - Introductions
I heard it over and over for two weeks: “He’s really smart, like you! You like the same stuff! You’ll get along great!” But now that we were working our first shift together, he wasn’t living up to the hype.

“Wait a minute,” I said during our first conversation. “You mean to tell me you missed the eighties altogether?”

“Um, yes. Yes, I did,” he said.

I sighed. “I was really hoping we could be friends.”

“We can be friends!” he said. “I’m sure we have other things in common!”

“You just told me you’ve never even seen Princess Bride!” I said.

“So what?”

“So, that’s kind of important!”

Chapter 2 – Gadget Freaks
Oh, joy! It was going to be a good day at the library! New computers! New features! New extra large monitors!

New desktop backgrounds to play with!

“I’m going with this one!” said Benjamin. “It’s beautiful. Look, a spaceship!”

“Mine's a pumpkin,” I said, pointing out the Halloween theme.

Benjamin scoffed. “Mine's better.”

“Pumpkins are better than spaceships,” I argued.

He made a disgusted noise. “Pft. How many pumpkins have visited other planets?”

“We'll never know, will we? Because of the infinite blackness of space,” I said.

“What we should do is…” and he spent the next several minutes telling me about some science he read about somewhere, that would allow us to use protons to send information so that we can access the internet from distant planets. I’d like to explain it more thoroughly, but I was paying more attention to pictures of pretty pumpkins.

Finally, I said, “Why would we want to do that, until we're able to visit the distant planets and access the internet therefrom?”

“Because,” Benjamin said with a long suffering sigh, “other life forms are already there and they can meet us on the internet!”

I shook my head. “Interstellar internet dating? I don’t think it will work out.”

“Of all the millions of planets out there, one of them is bound to be a match!” he insisted.

I said, “Have you ever TRIED Chatroulette?”

Chapter 3 – Great Minds
In a book, I read that when Google tracks searches for flu symptoms, their maps of the searches mirror the CDC’s maps of flu outbreaks, only Google’s results come in nearly two weeks faster. I couldn’t wait to tell Benjamin.

He was suitably impressed. “Google should run for president!”

“I’m pretty sure you have to be a citizen first,” I said.

“It was technically born in America,” he pointed out.

“Good point,” I said.

“It should start by running for governor or something.”

I nodded. “I'd vote for it. It already tells me what to do and where to shop.”

“It'd be the perfect candidate: its opinions would change to match whatever is most popular! It could solve all the world's problems by running simulations before it implements the solutions in the real world,” said Benjamin.

“So how do we start the ball rolling?” I said.

“Beats me.”

I sighed. “We have the solutions to all the world's problems. If only we weren't limited by this crippling laziness that stops us from implementing them.”

“We could tell somebody?”

“That's too much work.”

Benjamin nodded. “Our solutions shall die with us.”

Chapter 4 – Shared Mortality
Suddenly, Benjamin stopped everything, pulled up the calculator application on his desktop, and punched in some numbers. He looked at me, face grave. “28,470,” he said.

“That’s a big number,” I said. “What is it?”

“That’s the number of days you’ll live if you reach the average life expectancy of 78 years old.”

“I take it back!” I said. “That’s not a big number at all!”

He typed more numbers in. “That’s only 4056 weekends.”

“That’s a small number!” I said, moving in to look at the numbers on his screen.

“I know!”

“How many have we lived already?” I asked.

“Using the average of our ages?”


He typed some numbers. “We’ve already had 1248! We only have 2808 left!”

“Holy crap! What are we going to do?!”

Chapter 5 – Word Games
I stepped back from the display case to admire my work: a lovely tableau of children’s books with matching stuffed animals. Yup, I thought. The kids will love it.

“Nice,” said Benjamin from the circulation desk behind me.

“Do you like my fluffy octopus?” I asked, pointing it out.

“It’s very… fluffy,” he said, diplomatically.

“I just bought that leather-bound copy of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea yesterday,” I explained, joining him behind the desk to empty the return bin.

“And they include a fluffy octopus with every purchase?” he asked.

“No, I already had that. I really wanted to put him on display so I bought the book to justify it.”

“That’s… obsessive,” he said.

“Octopuses are awesome!” I said in my defense.

After a long pause, he said, “When you have more than one, I believe it’s ‘Octopi’.”

“No,” I said. “It’s octopuses. Greek, not Latin.”

“But if you bake them in a pie,” he said, “it could be octopie. Octopi pie.”

I nodded. “If you use eight octopuses in a pie, it’s octo-octopi pie.”

“Guys,” said Carla, gesturing at the pile of books at the circ desk. “Can we get back to these now?”

“Sorry,” we said together.

Chapter 6 – Just Yesterday
Carla slouched into her chair as the clock rolled over to 4:00PM. “Finally! No more passports!” The library is also a passport acceptance facility. The fees are a good source of money for the library, but it can sometimes be stressful for the librarians who double as passport agents. “When are you going to start training to do this?” she said, looking at me.

“Ha!” I laughed. “As disorganized as I am? Really?”

“It’s not so bad,” said Carla, heading toward the back to prepare the passports for shipping. “They just make you crazy when you have to do several in a row.”

“With you and Benjamin both doing them, one of us has to stay sane,” I called after her. “I’m like the designated driver!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Benjamin. “Let’s back that up a minute. ‘Stay’ sane? This presupposes that you are actually sane at this moment, and I think the evidence against you—”

I cut him off with a wave of my hand. “I just gave you the opportunity to use the word ‘presuppose’ in a sentence. I deserve points for that.”

He stuttered to a halt. “You’re right,” he said eventually.

And the discussion ended there.

“I told Matt our Google idea,” I said.


“He helpfully reminded me that you have to be at least thirty five years old to run for president.”

“Dang it!”

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