Well, according to The Daily Beast, the latest trend in torturing status-climbers in our nation’s capital is to omit the indexes at the end of political best-sellers. What this means, in case you’re not a D.C. player, is that you can no longer streak to the end of a book to see whether you’re mentioned in it. In fact, you are actually going to have to read “books” like Going Rogue by Sarah Palin to see whether you’re mentioned in it.
Oh, the pain. The word on the street is that this is a passive-aggressive little act to tweak the sensibilities of the power-hungry. It’s a conspiracy.
God, I hate conspiracy theories. I have a hunch that the same people who find conspiracies everywhere are the same people who fix you with a soulful and bovine look when you get diagnosed with cancer and intone, “Well, they say there’s a reason for everything.” They find meaning, I find chaos, our conversations never last very long.
In the missing-index conspiracy theory, though, I have a very simple explanation: Putting an index together is horrifyingly, numbingly boring. Somebody somewhere simply got a smart idea for once and decided to deep-six the whole idea. Why bother? Why torture some peon with having to come up with an index? Why not skip it?
Listen, for once I know what I’m talking about. When I was young and neurotic — which I firmly maintain is worse than being old and neurotic — I worked for several months as a legal indexer at the Michie Publishing Company in Charlottesville, Virginia. I almost lost my mind.
I was supposed to sit in a chair and dictate the index into some kind of recording device. I was horrible at it, I loathed it, I hated it, I wanted to die. That was the year I learned to smoke, which some people might find horrifying, but it was really the only positive aspect of the experience. At least it kept me going. When I finished a line or two of indexing, I rewarded myself with a cigarette and tried to ignore the fact I was wasting my life. Inhale, exhale, focus on the smoke.
Around me, people were always having nervous breakdowns at the Michie Company. That, in fact, was one of the blazing topics of conversation among the smart, well-educated and potentially suicidal staff: Did the Michie Company hire fucked-up people or did they become fucked-up because they worked at the Michie Company?
One day — and I swear to God I am not making this up — I had a heart-to-heart talk with myself. I needed to improve my attitude about the Michie Company. The place and the people weren’t that bad. It was me and my crappy attitude that stood between me and a fulfilled life. I was going to start anew.
A knock at my door. It was my supervisor, who had an amazing comb-over I could never take my eyes off and who liked me, even though I never did any work. He introduced me to a new employee, also destined (not doomed! Destined!) to be an indexer.
Oh! A new friend, I thought in my positive-thinking mode. Chirpily, I asked her what she’d done before she came to the Michie Company.
“I just had a nervous breakdown,” she said, as our supervisor beamed in the background at our growing camaraderie. “I’m manic-depressive. I had to be institutionalized.”
Again, this is true and I’m not even getting into the co-worker whose eyes bulged out like Don Knotts’, or the guy whose psychotropic drugs caused him to wear winter clothes the year around, or the secretaries who boycotted the Coke machine because of the note I posted about how the machine proceeds were being used to support the Shah of Iran. No, this was just a little give-and-take on the first day of an employee’s job, just a relatively normal day at the Michie Company (a nearby psychiatric hospital was, in fact, referred to as the West Wing of the Michie Company).
I recovered enough to say I’d heard that lithium was a wonderful drug. Then the two of them closed my door and I went back to brooding in a not particularly positive frame of mind.
So, you see where I’m coming from. This is why, to this day, I cannot read an index without hearing the piteous screams of the damned howling in the background.
Deleting an index from the back of a book might not be a conspiracy. It might, just might, be an act of mercy.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about a local woman who refused to come out of fetal position