Old Blue Eyes, by Bo Keely

November 7, 2006 |

Anyone who has moments of feeling sorry for himself should read the uplifting Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself. It must be opened slowly and read like a healing sore. As with any autobiography, I advise to bypass the introduction and go straight to the 100-page narrative. Douglass had a black mother and white father, lost both, slept in a gunny sack and grew familiar with both northern city and southern field slavery. The oft touch of the whip isn’t part of my anecdotal review and must be experienced first hand through the book. Fredrick Douglass rose through labor, education and sheer will up and out of slavery and, following an exciting 1838 escape by sea to New York, became the Lion Abolitionist. He is the best known of the fugitive slave autobiographers and this is the first of three memoirs that he wrote after the escape. I feel this narrative is the only one you need to read because it covers his twenty years as a slave while the sequels are the gravy of his victories.

The sole drawing of Douglass at the time of this narative’s publication shows a square jaw, heavy brow and tight curls, and the close-set eyes that are hard to gaze into even after 150 years. So I dim the computer screen to see my reflection and wonder how I can think myself suffering in this mayhem. This spanking new Palo Verde College Library in Blythe, California, the ‘jewel of the desert’ opens doors each 8am and the meager students- public welcomed!- weave a hundred signs, Quiet Zone, No Cell Phones, No Food, No Chat, No Porn, to the 12-computer carousel.

Chat and porn account for half the overall computer time. Cell phones are continually in use and someone’s always crunching chips next to a radio. The assistant librarians assist them, but the head librarian is apart, a grand dame and import from Yuma, Arizona a year ago. She, now graying and fifty pounds heavier, seemingly has thrown in the towel from her office to ponder my first day’s warning (having suffered a like fate as the night supervisor of the tutoring center for one term), ‘Dolly, there’s an indirect correlation between longevity and competence at this job, and I’m afraid you’ll last a year.’

There are three exceptions to the library bedlam, duffer authors who live independently out of their vehicles. The sci-fi man types around a two-foot bead and lives in a ’70’s camper in the parking lot; the bald Oklahoman is 230 single-spaced pages into his second Christian book and parks a battered van in a nearby BLM campground, and I type snips like this and crash nights in a hallowed Ford when away from my Sand Valley home.

My reverie is broken by a handicapped student twirling his cane overhead at a phantom and screaming, ‘I’ll flatten the bas___!’, even as I wonder if my peers too incorporate it into their works. The assistant librarian asks me, as functioning reference librarian until the real one arrives at 4pm, ‘What is an Almanac?’ I show her, and the Oklahoman confers for the proper capitalization of pseudo-Christian. I find it, and a behemoth adult student with a tattoo necklace of chains takes #12 with the smaller screen (to discourage pornography) and scowls across at me as usual. Ironwood and Chuckwalla Prisons lie across the desert from Palo Verde College. When he does that I reflect back to a morning a few months ago_

A blue eyeball appeared in my computer toolbar. Odd, I thought, and at noon picked a hematite from my private collection and slipped it into the mailbox of a computer technician who carries stones in his picket to polish for good luck. That evening he whispered over my shoulder, ‘They’re watching you,’ and quickly summarized that the eye means remote monitoring by one of the techs. The necklaced giant, he said, ratted me to administration claiming, ‘He sits from 8 to 8 daily and must be looking at girls.’ Disquieted, I moved to another monitor where the blue orb blinked on periodically wherever I sat for three days, and finally disappeared.

A far more serious incident a few years ago cost me a snowflake obsidian and trip to NYC to visit the Chair. For one month in 2002, many others thought I was going crazy with the stress of daily writings at the college but I knew that someone was breaking into my Email account. The hack reordered my list of addressees, greeted me from my own address with, ‘This is your morning cup of coffee’, and one time typed my password while my fingers floated above the keys. A couple friends got Emails from my address that I didn’t send and I received ones that they didn’t mail. The meddler caused no real harm but I sweat at the screen and cast sideways glances about the library until one day realizing that the pirate was probably too clever and charming to be operating from Blythe, and I began to look outside. Moreover dismayed that the invader could be affecting the moneyed people of the SpecList, I drove to Phoenix and flew to New York to settle the matter.

I climbed the outside stairs leading up to the trading office where day and night I knew I would find the Chair trading, studying or running in place next to the computer, and silently entered the screen door. His head was bowed before the screen and though we hadn’t seen each other in many years his blue eyes only flicked up and then down. I sat at a computer across from him and wrote an Email, ‘Vic, how are you?’ He immediately replied, ‘Fine. You’re looking well.’ I responded, ‘There’s an issue.’ He smiled typing, ‘Let’s meet on the outdoor court at midnight.’ I left and unpacked in a downstairs room, and in a few hours went out to the racquetball court to hit. Soon he burst under the sodium-vapor lights and embraced me crying, ‘Show me your new backhand, and then tell me why you’re nuts.’

The upshot is that without really saying so the Chair didn’t believe there was an invader inside my Email account, and felt there was no danger to the Speclist. After an otherwise pleasant week’s visit I returned home to the Sonora desert and Palo Verde College. Maybe I really was going mad; I finally thought to slip the prized obsidian into my friend’s mailbox and that evening he materialized behind me at the library computer. ‘They caught a disgruntled computer tech hacking the college systems and staff’s Emails. He generated your Email password with a special program, but has gotten fired and you’re safe. ‘ Then he walked off with the stones polishing in his pocket.

And today, months after the blue eyes and years after the visit to New York, I glance up from the screen where I occasionally escape and look around at the same troublesome library. I’m not going to read this drivel any more and feel sorry, and I suggest you cut your losses short too. I’m going to break away and read the last chapter of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and then go for a hike.





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