The Day of the Jackhole

The Day of the Jackhole

Celebrating 40 years on this earth

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1995. Decomposition. The final frontier.

September 20, 2011

I am working in a library. It’s a high stress job, fraught with sharp danger. No, really.

My job is to read newspapers. Every day. The actual purpose is to read and subject categorize articles. The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian and The Financial Times, I read them all with my speed-reading, hungry eyes. Multiple times. Read read read. Categorize categorize categorize. I write on them in red pen. What’s it about? Who wrote it? Who’s it about? All these things are noted. I know more than I have ever known in my life about current affairs.

Obscure foregin politicans? I can name them on sight. When journos and sub editors come in to ask questions, I point them to the correct files every time, or if I have the time, help them research stuff. Gotta draw a caracature? Sure, I can help you find some photos for reference, Political Cartoonist. Is that the phone ringing? Must be the press gallery wanting to know when Prime Minister Keating mentioned that the Honourable Member for Bennelong was simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.

I’m a boffin. I’ve always wanted to be a boffin. And now I am.

But there is the danger. Every day. Because this is a cut and paste library. It’s not that computers don’t exist, it’s just that they don’t exist here. In this room. In this dingy little compactus-filled room with a window that looks out, not on to the street, but right at a jolly journo’s back. He has a computer, albeit an ancient thing with green type on a black screen.

But the danger, I’m talking about the danger.

After this boffin subject categorizes these stories, the boffin whips out an x-acto knife and with precision most admirable, slices the articles out and puts them in a tray. Only a few times does she cut the tips of her fingers. A few is enough.

The second danger is the compactus themselves. Heavy and fact filled, they roll along with angry determination and the sheer weight of them is making the corner of the room sag a little. So they sometimes roll of their own accord. Sometimes journos come in and throw their weight behind moving them so they can get their ‘most important’ file for their ‘most important’ story. It’s all fun and games until they realize the squeal they’ve just heard is a boffin being crushed as they file.

The third danger is more long term. And not really dangerous. My hands turn black from the newsprint. One inspection of the hands of myself and my three boffin colleagues would reveal the common black print fingers.

“We will never decompose in the earth,” says Sue. And I laugh. But it’s an uncomfortable laugh. Too many chemicals spoil the Janeen broth.

When I’m on night shift, I don’t get to subject categorize, only paste the day’s articles into the right files using old-fashioned CLAG glue and a heavy glue brush. It’s a lonely job. Just me on shift, reading as I paste each article to a colored piece of paper—to designate the year—and file it away.

It’s the night shift that gets me obsessed with Star Trek: The Next Generation. I make it home just in time to hear the deep and handsome voice of Patrick Stewart say “Space. The final frontier” every night. When the borg arrive on the scene, I am amazed by the simplicity of it all.

“They’re flying a cube around in space!” I say. “It’s a flying box!”

For an article about the new ST:TNG movie, John Tiedeman, an illustrator, makes the skin of the borg queen positively glisten. He comes into the library one night and I shyly ask him if I might be able to, perhaps, I dunno, if it’s ok, buy it? He agrees, then sells me a second one he’d done for another article a year or so ago. I get them both for $60 total.

I think I have ripped him off, but say nothing. His money will be assimilated. Resistance IS futile.



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