“To tell you the truth, I never looked!” Or: THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE OF IGNORANCE

Interlibrary loan clerk ‘Narc’ Moocher is a head case, not least of which because the eyes in his head are barely usable, requiring his constant use of thick-lensed glasses which are rumored to have been manufactured in the same optical plant as Mr. Hubble’s orbiting telescope.

Narc’s mind – if one may take that liberty – engages the world in a decidedly literal light. His operating credo for the whole of Creation and its creatures is this single, irreducible principle: ‘A thing must be black, or it must be white.’

Paradoxically, he is a man of keen thought and insight, often catching nuances in people and situations which elude mere mortals. This is why it’s curious to the point of irritation that frequently he’s capable of missing The Painfully and Mind-Bogglingly Obvious.

Narc has worked in the Norfolk library for eight years (in prison terms read: “Since the dawn of recorded history”). Eight years is a generous enough stretch to learn about certain library truisms, such as:

  • • Shelf list cards stick together during Inventory
  • • Patrons rarely know what they need
  • • When looking up the title of any library material, always truncate the lead preposition (e.g., A, An, and The)

The observable Universe has conspired against Narc in this regard, for certain of these facts have managed to escape his powers of apprehension, retention, or both. To wit: on this cold, sunny day, we are in my Lending Library office discussing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. We get stumped trying to name all the lead male actors. Narc, sitting at his work desk, reaches for an out-dated copy of the Videohound Golden Movie Retriever and says, “I’ll find it.”

We continue talking. Minutes pass. Narc’s still looking. Narc appears to be floundering in this book, whose entries are arranged alphabetically. I also notice that, rather than searching toward the front of the book, he’s somewhere toward the back. I sidle over to him: “What’s wrong?”

“It’s not in here.”
“Of course it’s in there. It’s a world-famous movie.”
“I’m tellin’ ya, it’s not where it’s supposed to be.”
I look over his shoulder at the page he’s on. I see the entry Thelma and Louise. “Narc, you’re in the T’s.”
“I know.”
“You should be in the G’s.” Some clerks stop talking and turn toward us.
“No. I’m lookin’ for the title.”

The horror of what’s happening strikes me.

“The title begins with ‘G’,” I say softly.
“No, it doesn’t. It starts with ‘T’.” Utter silence in the room.
“You’re looking under ‘The’?”

The other clerks hear this. The other clerks laugh. The other clerks laugh a boisterous, derisive laughter of which we’re assured Hell is filled. Some clerks laugh until tears stream down their pained, weathered faces. I’m laughing, too.

Even Narc smiles. “Yeah, keep laughin’, you fuckin jerks.” More laughter. “It’s the first word of the title! Go blow yourselves!” This sets us off again.

Steven, my typewriter clerk–-This years’ hands-down winner of the library’s “Little Sammy Sunshine” award-–points an accusatory finger at me and shouts, “This is your fault, ‘cause you hired him!” Jailhouse logic is, at once, bemusing and tiresome.

While this gale of unholy merriment at another’s expense continues, I explain to Narc how many book, play, and movie titles begin with A, An, and The, and the necessity for truncation. Narc says he never knew this, and I feel bad that it never occurred to me that he needed to be told. My first impression (How stupid can he be?) has now tempered to compassion (Not everyone knows the same things), and I realize that I’m just as much an intellectual snob as these other chuckle-heads in the room. It’s a self-revelatory moment that I’d do well to heed.

Of course, someone mentions ‘The’ at least once a week; sometimes, twice a day. It’s not fair. In addition, it’s juvenile, immature, and mean. And that’s why it’s funny.

And these days, Narc joins in the laughter. Narc’s sense of humor pivots on the self-deprecatory, smacking himself down before the world can land one, a kind of emotional self-preservation that has stood him in good stead for many many incarcerated moons.

But we’ll still bust his balls about this. Probably forever. I think of it as “THE CASE OF THE PERILOUS PREPOSITION.”

File under: ‘The.’