Al Batt: When Googling was nothing more than just goofy giggling

Published 8:10 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


The first vehicle I fell in love with wasn’t a Corvette or a Mustang. It was a bookmobile.

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I miss libraries. I know some are open, but the ones I haunt offer limited services. I still get books, but I do so without entering a library.

My screen had gone wavy, so I knew it was a flashback to a day in high school, back when girls introduced me to their mothers, “This is Al from school.” One mother’s shudder caused an earthquake in Alaska.

I’d made my way to the big study hall. It was the first day of school. I wasn’t early getting to the study hall because I’d been shooting baskets in the gym and had nothing that needed studying.

It was as today. Each day was a test for which I’d not studied. Yet I expected a surprise as if life were a box of Cracker Jack.

I walked around the room and being as sharp as a tack, I quickly surmised there were no seats available.

The bell rang and everyone found a chair but me. I was a loser at musical chairs forced to stand at the front of the room. A seated friend smiled mischievously and showed me a handful of steel ball bearings.

It was the teacher’s first day of his first year of a lucrative career at our fine school. Kids were tested regularly. It was only fair that we tested new teachers. He was finishing reading the Minneapolis paper. My friend lobbed the ball bearings in the teacher’s direction at the back of the room. The ball bearings hit the paper. Pow, pow, pow!

The teacher folded his newspaper, placing the sections in the correct order. He looked out at the room. He saw the backs of student heads and me. I stood at the front of the room, facing the teacher. I was a tall drink of water with a goofy grin. I would have wiped that smile off my face if I hadn’t been an idiot in search of a village. I stood straight and tall as if I were a nail in need of being pounded down. I wasn’t standing up for what I believed in. I was standing up because there was no place to sit down.

The teacher asked my name. I wanted to give a false name, but it would have been dark in the hole I’d have dug for myself.

“Go see the principal. Tell him what you’ve done, Batt,” he ordered.

That was no hill for a high-stepper like me. The principal was my pal. At least, that’s how I remembered the correct way to spell “principal.”

It wasn’t a long walk to the office and much of it was downhill. I didn’t expect a medal, but I hoped for a punishment fitting the crime. I considered plausible outcomes. Maybe double the portions of tater tot hotdish, hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes or beanie weenies at lunch. Maybe I’d be given a capable assistant to eat my beets for me. Maybe someone would tell me finally what “x” equaled. Perhaps I’d receive a much-needed day off each week. Maybe Monday. There should be something good for taking a bullet for a buddy, even if it was merely a figure of speech.

My pal the principal was being tormented by teachers regarding scheduling snafus or overwhelming student numbers. He was put upon. He asked me what I’d done now. I said I’d done nothing more than being unable to secure a desk. He said they’d overbooked the room and I should go to the library. He’d deal with me later when he was less harried.

That was a sublime punishment. The library offered an available awesomeness. I read desired books and The New Yorker before anyone. I tried to make sense out of The New Yorker cartoons featuring sophisticated people. I lived on a Minnesota farm, but those cartoons sewed my world together.

I told fellow students the books on paranoia were all around them and asked for their help in finding books about Houdini. I helped the wonderful librarian (who never once shushed me) put books on shelves as I tightened my grasp of the Dewey Decimal System. I did a good job except for insisting all political science books be put in the horror section.

I relished my time there as I waited for my pal the principal to come and remove me from a library.

I was still waiting when COVID-19 hit the world.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.