Friday, August 14, 2009

A Direct Hit

At the strenuous urging of someone I know, I have taken to the public library for digital research and document retrieval. Inertia was holding me back, but probably like most people, once I get the hang of something and like it, I keep going back for more. This of course explains a good deal of why things are the way they are in the world, but that's in another portion of the library.

Last week the mission began with microfilm. Certainly not digital, but it was what I knew. Or, it was where I thought I had to look. After nearly two and a half hours of focusing and feeding microfilm for one month's worth of Wall Street Journals I still didn't have what I wanted. I only knew the approximate date, not the exact date.

A little more research and I learned I could access a digital database and probably find what I was looking for. If the cotton enGINe changed the world, then the Search Engine surely has made its contribution to change. Disruptive technology, they call it.

Two days later I was in the digital portion of the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) on Madison Avenue, a sleek looking space where books aren't immediately seen. The library is in the old B. Altman department store, where I once worked, many, many years ago.

Positioned at a computer and accessing the WSJ full text database it didn't take me long to find what I wanted. A few mouse clicks, and I was nearly back out on the street. I felt like what George Carlin described confession to be like with Father Rivera. Father Rivera, not being an Irish Catholic priest, didn't quite seem as disturbed by the confessions of teen-age boys. To him, things didn't seem so bad. (I once read one of those ridiculous statistics that said the average teen-age boy thinks of sex every 14 seconds! Honestly, with distractions like that I've always felt we're not given enough credit for ever getting done what we did, like graduate.) Carlin describes confession with Father Rivera as warranting a few Hail-Marys and, "you're back out on the street. You could see the line move." Even though I'm not Catholic, I've always appreciated someone who can move a line. I call them Father Riveras.

So now I'm hooked, and was back at it today. I wanted to get a reprint of a Russell Baker column I know I saved, but good luck finding it, about power vacationers in August. I didn't know the date, but at least I knew the author. I had been telling someone about August being the Power Person's month and wanted to test my new skills.

A direct hit. 1 of 1 came back when I filled out the search engine form and put in a two word search "power vacation," along with Mr. Baker's name. I was ready to be back out on the street so fast I could have had a cab waiting. I printed it too. The powder burns from my two word search remain in bold on the printed copy.

The column was written August 4, 1982, much longer ago than I would have guessed, and was titled The Power Suntan. What struck me was how many things were in the column that I appropriated as fitting other observations in life.

Mr. Baker tells the tale of vacationing on Wampum Island (read Nantucket), where the July crowd has to leave the island first so the August crowd can get on. It's China. I've used the same observation about getting on a evening commuter train that first has to empty a trainload of people before I can get on. I've got to get out of Manhattan so they can come in and party. I always knew my observation came from something of his I read, but I didn't know which column.

We once used to vacation in nearly a similar spot for two weeks in July. In July, it's not dark until well after 8 o'clock. But then we moved vacation to August to coincide with a road race in Falmouth. The night comes quicker. That July and August comparison is in the column as well.

But August has remained the vacation month. Not because of personal power, but because even though Saratoga is open at the end of July now, the racing is even better in August.

Mr. Baker turns 84 today. V-J Day. Proof, August is better than July.

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