Forum for Earnest Discussion

One of the great joys of my position is that I am never surrounded by yes-men. I feel so sorry for those big and mighty CEOs out there who need only express “I think it’s going to rain” to have a dozen voices shouting out, “Yes, Ma’am! You picked that one right! I can see why YOU have the big office, Ma’am! Your meteorological skills surpass those of any known human in history!”

Yeah, I weep for them. There’s one regular volunteer, by the way, who makes a point of responding to my remark “I think it’s going to rain” with “Well, it doesn’t feel like it, the paper says it’s supposed to be sunny today, and the sky was clearing when I came in.”

I am SO lucky.  Just the other day, I was noting that I now have THREE copies of the seventh edition of a book called How To Make Methamphetamines but had no real intention of putting them out for sale.

“That’s censorship, you know,” a volunteer noted. “The book must be legal, if it’s in its seventh edition, and you say you’re not afraid to put out anything that’s legal.”

“Oh, I’m not afraid to put it out,” I told her. “It’s a logistics question.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, what subject does it go under?” I asked. “Cookbooks?”

She shook her head firmly. “Collectibles,” she said.

Of course! That’s exactly the place where I want potential meth-makers to gather: next to the thousand-dollar books. I asked her what she thought of the weather. I know my limits. This is the volunteer who once argued that a long protracted fatal illness is better than a quick death. “Gives you more time to plan,” she said.

What it is about my scowl that attracts these people I am not sure, but I find dozens of them working at the Fair. One July, a man paused in alphabetizing Short Stories (we don’t alphabetize short stories, but he insisted) to say, “This is fun, but I worry about the Book Fair.”

“Oh, don’t let the white whiskers fool you,” I said. “I’m planning to live to see the hundredth Book Fair.”

He seemed annoyed at this jovial assurance. “I worry that it lowers the status of the Newberry. It looks like you’re asking for money.”

I blinked at him. “We ARE asking for money.”

“Most institutions don’t seem to realize this,” he told me, leaning in to whisper words of secret wisdom. “But it’s asking people for money that turns people away. You get a lot more people coming to give you money if you don’t ask for it.”

I looked both ways to be sure no one was overhearing all this wisdom. “Most institutions don’t realize that because if you don’t ask people for money they don’t give you any.”

He sighed. “You’d understand if you had any money.”

I offered to swap bank accounts with him, but he had gone back to alphabetizing. I started to tell him that M comes before N, but felt he probably had some answer for that.

There is one volunteer who went to business school and knows that you must always agree with the boss. In fact, she came to me once and said she had told another volunteer, “Sure, that’s a stupid way to do it. But it’s the way he wants it done, and he’s the boss.” So she agrees with everything I say. The problem is that she never listens.

“I’m going to fix this,” she told me once. “There’s a novel in the Humor section and I’m taking it to fiction.”

“Well, it’s in Humor because it’s a humorous novel.”

She nodded. “Yes, so I’m going to put it with the novels. Is Fiction still in Room 5?”

“Actually, I want that in Humor,” I said. “That’s why I put it in Humor.”

“Oh, yes!” She nodded again. “That’s where I found it. So I’m putting it in Fiction.”

You see what she learned in college? SHE wasn’t arguing with the boss at all. I was the only one doing any arguing.

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