As I go through my work routines as a quality inspector for Mid-American Cleaning Contractors, I see a pretty generous slice of humanity because my time is largely spent in other people’s work environments as they’re going through their labor paces. I see them at their computer screens and at their coffee stations interacting with one another.
And, as I assess the quality of our cleaners’ efforts and take my notes, I’m in and out of a lot of areas, from vestibules and lobbies to corridors to stairwells and elevators to restrooms and on to conference rooms.
A short while ago, while in Columbus in a large office building, I was in a conference room and saw in a trash can something that first amazed and then saddened me. There, in the bottom of the cylinder angled off to fit, was a perfectly good dictionary, one bearing the title, “Webster’s New World Dictionary.”
I recognized the edition with its distinctive red cover immediately, having, once upon a time, petitioned my administration at St. Marys Memorial to allow for the purchase of 30 copies, one of each I would place in the storage space of each of my classroom desks.
Yes, it certainly appears in this age when both Siri and Alexa await our next question as to the spelling or meaning of the words “hegemony” or “ameliorate” or other building blocks of our diction, it appears a once-indispensable writer’s tool has become so obsolete that the use or even the sight of one has become anachronistic.
While my writing table at home, cluttered with sundry items such as travel notes for pieces I’ve yet to write and outlines for future stories and papers containing ideas for columns, still has both a dictionary and thesaurus at the ready, it appears I am, at best, in the minority, and at worst, someone who has to be dragged kicking and screaming into modern times.
As I gazed down sadly at the discarded book in the trash can, noting it was still very much intact, with only a slight rip at the top of the binding, I thought of how much the world has changed since I arrived in Passavant Memorial Hospital on Superior Street in Chicago.
Of course as a former language teacher, my almost uncontrollable urge was to snatch the book out of the trash can and count it as a found treasure. I wanted to add it to my list of found desirables such as those seven slightly water-logged baseballs I found on a summer day during my 10th year in a field just beyond the outfield of a Little League baseball diamond while on vacation in my father’s birth city of Lynn, Massachusetts. Also on my list are two sweatshirts, unlike those baseballs, ones I still have, one promoting the Dallas Cowboys, and one proclaiming “Baseball Forever” with a picture of an early-era base stealer sliding under a tag, both left behind by my daughters’ former high school boyfriends. Also, there was that $10 bill I once found frozen into a gutter puddle while taking a neighborhood stroll a couple of Januaries ago.
However, in the commercial cleaning business, there is a hard-fast rule for all quality inspectors, and that is, under no circumstances, are you to remove anything, from a piece of candy from a dish to a discarded item in the trash, when in a building and leave with it. After all, we aren’t in buildings as some sort of Fred G. Sanford looking for salvageable items.
So, the best I could manage was fishing that dictionary teaming with so much neat information out of the cylinder and placing it on a nearby table in the room, perhaps to allow for a reprieve of some sort following a change of heart for whoever threw it in the trash in the first place. While I’m, no doubt, naïve to think so, I choose to believe the book wasn’t redeposited in the cylinder.
It seems as I age, there are certain items and traditions from which I am unwilling to part, such as using reference books like Roget’s Thesaurus, the crowning achievement of British lexicographer Peter Mark Roget first published in 1852, and Noah Webster’s creation, the first English version of which came out in 1806.
Even though most anything is Google-able, I’m the type that still can’t part with that set of encyclopedias on my shelf as well. And, while I suppose many would accuse me of living in the past, I prefer the term “old school.” And, come to think of it, I’m proud of it.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.