The storage facility now rivals the Smithsonian for content and size, although it was once a lot smaller. The original caretaker was youthful and spry, retrieving facts and needed data seemingly instantaneously. Things have changed…
There is an old man with a walker who wanders the aisles of the Smithsonian-sized warehouse retrieving facts for me. Everything I’ve ever known is in the warehouse. Everything. And the old man moves up and down the aisles pulling random files, peeking at their contents and shoving them back onto a shelf in another place. Sometimes he carries the files around for awhile before stuffing them into a stack on the other side of the building. His walker has those yellow tennis balls on the back two legs and a handmade bag with his name stenciled awkwardly on the front by one of the residents at the nursing home on craft day and hot-glued hook and loop tape to hold it on the front bar of his walker.
He wears a hearing aid with the volume turned down so he doesn’t accurately hear the requests that come in over the loudspeaker. If the overhead asks for “sneakers” he might hear “squeakers” or “peekers” and he’s off down another aisle, pulling files reciting a portion of the contents out loud and moving on.
In the bag on the front of his walker are objects that he has found as he has traversed the warehouse over the years. There is a crystal that used to hang from the rearview mirror of a 1993 Ford Escort 5-speed manual Sports Edition. There is a button from a sweater (might have been his sweater). He won’t give up his treasures and he rarely shows them to me.
The warehouse gets larger every year and he can no longer keep up, although he keeps trying. Pulling the files he thinks I need and never quite finding what I’m seeking until hours later – often in the early hours of the morning or when I’m taking a shower. He works best when I am not under pressure because he can’t stand stress. And since the files are not ordered chronologically or alphabetically or according to any known method of _____ (insert word which he won’t tell me at the moment meaning “sortable” and “orderly”), he works best by wandering around and pulling out whatever intrigues him.
The newer items are stacked in baskets near the front door and every once in awhile he goes up and gets a few items, takes them back into the stacks and shoves them into shelves with a logic known only to him.
When I am actively trying to recall the name of the book that so piqued my interest 10 years ago we play charades and I start guessing “sounds like” “starts with” and tossing in movie titles or song lyrics that are somehow in the same file folder on a shelf he has just accessed. If I am lucky it will be the correct folder although I still have to guess the other objects in the folder before he gives me the information I want. I can’t fire him. He works very hard and he knows these stacks better than anyone else. You see, he is my data retrieval system – my random access memory.