Monday, August 24, 2009

What To Be or Not to Be

I've been an librarian for 10 years now. That's the longest I've done any one thing in my entire life besides breathe. I know that I'll never be on the Librarian All-Star Team or make the Librarian Hall of Fame. I seriously doubt I'll leave any mark whatsoever on the profession. Librarianship just doesn't move me, there is no fire in my belly for what I do. When the work day ends, you won't find me reading, writing, talking or even thinking about anything library-related. I believe I have the best job in the profession, but even then I'm just not into being a librarian. I mean, being cooped up inside all day, smothered by air conditioning, facing a godless computer (well, Google is sort of like a kind and benevolent God), and helping people? Ugh. Add to that the fact that I lack THE librarian requirement: a love of reading. No, librarianship is just not what I saw myself doing.

Forest Fire Fighter: A life-long fascination with and appreciation of fire led me to believe I could spend my life fighting it. I'd get to be outdoors, work hard and live life on the edge. I was smart enough, however, to realize that seasonal work has limited benefits. Besides, the legally blind shouldn't be allowed to fight fires. Can you imagine my fate if I'd lost a contact lens? Reason won out on that one.

Pool Player: I'd have dropped out of college and hit the pool circuit had I been good enough. I just love to play pool. Who knows, maybe with time and practice my game could've had tournament potential. There was one major obstacle to my pool hall dreams, though: beer. I drank beer better than I shot pool and since the two go hand-in-hand in my world, you can see why I didn't get very far in that endeavor.

Flower Shop Owner: I like flowers. I imagined "Thad's Flower Shoppe" somewhere in NYC. Turns out the entrepreneurial spirit is not strong in this soul. Other small business ideas included Thad's Maple Syrup (patent still pending) and a fleet of garbage trucks.

Religious Studies Professor: This was doomed from the start, but it was strong enough of an idea to move me from OR to TX. I am not a leader of men nor am I a molder of minds. It's important to know who you are.

Journalist: It's why I went to college to begin with, and yet I never took a single journalism class. Piss poor advising and misplaced principle on my part (I blamed the media for Gary Hart's political fall) led me to the English department. Maybe I, too, could've been an loud-mouthed ignoramous hosting a talk show on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. That's the state of "journalism" these days.

Veterinarian: Looking back on missed callings, this is the one that hurts the most. Early on, I was inspired by James Herriot's books. I even kept a little notebook of diseases that I came across in his stories that I then researched in Collier's Encyclopedia in the event I was ever called upon to diagnose hoof-and-mouth disease amongst all those bovines roaming suburban Aurora. But I lacked (and still lack) the mental acuity and discipline to pursue anything scientific or medical. I ended up in the humanities, which naturally led me to many years in food service and, ultimately, to libraries. Librarianship is a far cry from the good I could've done.

Lament as I might my ultimate choice of professions, I have no regrets. Had I taken any other path than that which I took, I wouldn't have the life I have now, and I have a pretty good life. I'll probably retire as a librarian and shelve books on a volunteer basis well into my golden years. Eh, so be it.

Then again, maybe someday you'll find Thad's Maple Syrup sitting next to Mrs. Butterworth's and Log Cabin. Organized by bar code, of course.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Sometimes I like to listen to Cat Stevens on my way to work. His music is simple and soothing to my racing and perturbed mind and has been known to help me be less critical of my fellow man. Some hippie girl I knew in high school said one should listen to Cat Stevens while watching the sunrise and drinking a cup of coffee. I chuckled because I figured someone with with a name like that had to be a black blues guitarist and that just isn't good waking up music. That girl never had much to do with me after that.

So, yeah, I've listened to Cat Stevens for a long time. I like 10,000 Maniacs, too, and as you might know they removed their version of Stevens' "Peace Train" from an album after he (then and now known as Yusof Islam) didn't denounce the fatwa against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses. I didn't think much of it then and I don't think much of it now other than occasionally wondering if they, 10,000 Maniacs, have gotten over their indignation. It just seems silly to me. The artist known as Cat Stevens has a whole body of work that actually transcends the artist himself, even to the point where what that artist subsequently says, does, sings, or writes can't blemish what he's already created. To me, his work is that good, and I would've hoped the members of 10,000 Maniacs (OK, just Natalie Merchant) would have realized that it is the music and the words that count, not the man who penned them. "Peace Train" is a good song, regardless of the fatwa. I think it was the royalties that moved them more than the principle.

I feel the same way about Michael Richards, aka, Kramer, from "Seinfeld." The man gave life to one of pop culture's all-time great characters, and yet because of something he did years after the show was over, many people refuse to watch "Seinfeld" reruns. That's so juvenile. I don't condone his onstage rant, but I'm not going to stop watching and laughing at the character he inhabited for so long and made so great. "Kramer" transcends the fallible human who gave him life.

And, yes, the same is true for Mel Gibson. If you let it, art can transcend the anti-Semitic. I don't think bigotry should be a career-ending offense. I mean, if you've ever laughed at a joke that starts "A rabbi, priest, and ..." then you, too, are a bigot; should you lose your career because of that? I think the drinking and driving was worse than any filth that came from his mouth (and, yes, it was filth). But should we never hear from Mel again, I'll always have Mad Max and "Signs." Sure he's done better work, but I like those two a lot.

But going back Cat, I really like "The Wind." It goes like this:

I listen to the Wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up well, I think
Only God really Knows

I've sat upon the setting sun
But never never never
I never wanted water once
No never never never

I listen to my words
But they fall far below
I let my music take me
Where my heart wants to go

I've swam upon the devil's lake
But never never never
I'll never make the same mistake
No never never never.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care Reform

The day started pretty much the same way it started all days that June in 1992: I got on my bike to ride to campus for summer school. This time I wasn't able to make it to campus, though, as after the first hill I had to stop. I was dizzy, short of breath, and my heart was beating like mad. I coasted into The James, my favorite watering hole and my then place of employment, to rest before trying again. I didn't get to the end of the block. I called a cab and went to the hospital.

I told the woman at Reception that my heart was beating very quickly and that I was dizzy. She asked for my insurance card, and I told her I didn't have insurance. She told me they only took people with health insurance. So, I went to the lobby pay-phone (early 90's, no cell phones), looked up hospitals in the Yellow Pages (no Google) and began calling around to see who would take me. A nurse who'd been near Reception came up to me while I was on the phone, took my wrist and felt my pulse. Within seconds she was leading me into a room. I said I didn't have insurance and she said they'd worry about that later. The vacant room was soon filled with dreamy medical types and tubes and wires. I remember looking at the white tiled ceiling and wondering if I was going to die. I didn't but it was a close call.

The doctor told me that my heart had jumped to 220 beats a minute and that had I not been young and physically active, I could have died. Heart Arrhythmia. Said I had a good heart. A cardiologist would later explain that these things sometimes happen to young men and that he saw no reason for me to expect it to happen again. As such, he recommended that I never disclose this incident on any medical forms because it would be seen as a heart-related pre-existing condition and no insurance company would take me. The only thing worse to them would be cancer, he said.

Almost two months later I would crash on my bicycle one night and wake up in the hospital to a nurse picking gravel out of my arm and hands. I broke my arm, wrist, and a finger. To this day, I still don't know what happened and I only have limited use of my arm. In any event the resulting medical bills were too much for an uninsured student to handle, so I moved back home. The James employees had a fundraiser that paid for the ambulance bill. They were good folk.

I don't know the specifics of the proposed health care reform legislation because I don't base my knowledge of issues on what FOX News or Sarah "Hotty Moose Killer" Palin have to say. Nor has anyone consulted me. All I know is that my experience tells me what we have doesn't work and our health care system needs a major overhaul. I have employer-sponsored health care now, but there are millions who aren't so lucky. That ain't right. I'm willing to pay a bit more if it means my neighbor's kids can get medical attention when they need it. As a society, we have a responsibility not only to ourselves and our families but also to those less fortunate. At one point in my life, I was one of those less fortunates and had it not been for one nurse who basically said, "Fuck it," who knows if I'd been writing this today.