Volunteering at my daughter’s high school library reminds me of Mr. Thomas, the librarian at my alma mater located in otherwise Hicksville East Tennessee. Many of the students had dads who worked at “The Eastman,” a sprawling chemical complex whose location could be determined anywhere in a 200-mile radius by massive clouds of chemicals spewing from smokestacks, or, on foggy days, by the smell.
People working at this plant made lots of money, so the rest of us got to enjoy the fruits of their labors by being the recipients of a sparkling new, state of the art high school with carpeting, closed circuit TV’s, a “Little Theatre” that rivaled Broadway, and a library with…CONFERENCE ROOMS.
All you had to do to get one of those rooms during library period was dispatch your fastest runner the second the bell rang to fly up and down the ramps (no stairs), knock down anyone in her path, explode into an empty conference room, slap down her three-ring binder on the table, and yell, “Dibs!” to save it for the rest of us.
My group of three or four friends landed a room nearly every day, and from there we could look through the glass walls at Mr. Thomas as he harassed all the other luckless smucks who didn’t have a bruiser for a friend.
I’m going to describe him because his appearance was half the fun. He stood about 5’6” and weighed a couple hundred pounds, but he was evenly proportioned all over, and had the posture of a ballet dancer. He wore a white shirt, maroon tie, and black suit every single day of the year, had dark brown skin and graying hair cropped close to his head, and had no inkling of a sense of humor. Plus he kept his arms folded across his chest all the time, the ends of his mouth turned down, he took very short, fast steps so his head never moved when he walked, and he could cover great distances with the speed and stealth of a cheetah.
One of Mr. Thomas’s few talents was his ability to spot chewing gum at distances equal to a runway at a major airport. He could sense a jaw movement, invisible to the naked human eye, and be beside the student in a tenth of a second flat, clutching a small wastebasket.
He ran a tight ship, so the least little whisper and he’d come out of nowhere, put his finger to his lips and blast out, “SHHH!” It blew homework off the table at seven feet.
We in the conference room used our library study time to observe and comment on Mr. Thomas’s skills at keeping the library an almost holy place to learn. “Look, look, he’s streaking across the library, who’s he after? Oh! Oh! He’s got the garbage can. It’s Priscilla Abbott. Oh my gosh. Can you see that look she’s giving him? Is she going to spit it out or what? Oh my gosh. I can’t believe she’s just hanging her head over the garbage can and no gum’s coming out.”
Alas, all good things come to an end. I’ve got to go volunteer for an all day and most of the night gymnastics meet, as if vacuuming the whole gym on a Friday night wasn’t enough. Fuzz and little strings stick to those carpeted mats like Velcro. It took me two and a half hours, which is why I didn’t finish my blog yesterday until after midnight, having procrastinated all day thinking I’d write it after finishing the one hour of mandatory set-up time I’d committed to against my will, leaving me plenty of time at 9:00 when I got home, which ended up being 10:00, and then having to shower off all the chalk dust that got sucked into the vacuum and blasted out the back all over me, but since I’ve already written about my complaints on the subject of volunteering, I won’t repeat myself here, but only because I have to stop RIGHT NOW. More tomorrow, maybe.