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A Memory Regarding Crane Safety

We still don’t know where memories are stored. The brain is an odd and awe-inspiring machine. How else to explain the memory that just occurred to me, years past the experience?

I was on a plane coming back from a talk in California. Soon, a drunk man sat next to me. He was already a little sniffly, but by the time we were taxiing he was crying with real conviction.

“Why is it?” he said, tapping my shoulder.

“What?” I said.

“Why can’t I get anyone to, to…to buy into this culture of safety that I’m selling? I’m selling, but nobody’s buying. Nobody at all.”

“Where did you just come from?”

“A crane operator’s conference. And now I’m upset because I can’t get anyone to buy into this culture of safety that I’m selling.”

And all I could picture were destructive cranes, whirling in the city streets, smashing everything with wrecking balls, all because no one would listen to him.

A flight attendant made him quiet down by the time we reached cruising altitude. He cried quietly from then on, but he never stopped.

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  • John J. Ronald August 19, 2015, 6:15 pm

    Hi, Josh. Just finished your memoir in Audiobook format, and really enjoyed it as a fellow librarian and fellow UNT SLIS alumnus. I earned my MLS in December 2004. At one point in my life I could’ve been the @sshole atheist you describe in one of your early chapters, but I’ve mellowed a bit since then. I’m still a non-believer, but a bit more chill about it. I laughed out loud at that part and thought how I would respond were I in your shoes at that moment. I think I’d point out that the Dewey Decimal system doesn’t actually distinguish between fiction and non-fiction, that’s just a shelving convention borrowed from bookstores and adopted in public libraries for the convenience of patrons rather than shoving all the literary fiction in the 800s and subdivided by author cutter. Moreover, it’s a “category error”; Religions themselves exist as a cultural phenomenon, and the study of them (sociology of religion, psychology of religion, etc) are real academic subjects. The classification system is about that, not about trying to assess the individual truth claims of religions themselves or of new-age woo-woo.

    I especially liked your chapters about training with Adam and getting into Highland Games…I too have an affordable gaming Kilt from SportKilt.com; It pleased me moreover to learn that Adam was himself autistic. I have Asperger’s, a milder form of autism. I wasn’t diagnosed until the summer of 2010, after 2 unsuccessful attempts to become an academic librarian (cataloger) at two separate institutions. I sought my diagnosis because I was at my wit’s end and willing to try anything. I’m so glad I did, because although after 6 months of unemployment I got lucky to be hired by my local public library system, I had a tyrannical bully of a boss who belittled me, shattered my confidence as a cataloger, and was on the verge of firing me when, pushed to the wall, I reluctantly disclosed my new Asperger’s diagnosis. County HR effectively put a leash on that supervisor and the system reluctantly made ADA accommodations for me in the short term. I had an advocate from the local ARC organization (Association of Retarded Citizens, but who now also advocate for autistic people as well) and though I had to accept a demotion to Library Clerk and transition to more full time Interlibrary Loan work (which I now LOVE by the way), I was at least able to keep my full-time job with benefits. My bullying supervisor remained terrible but I learned to just survive. She eventually crossed swords with our system director and got fired. Morale in our department improved greatly from that point forward. I feel like my autism has been a great hindrance in negotiating the office politics of being a professional librarian. It’s been frustrating moreover to keep applying for new Librarian I openings in the local system and constantly get passed over by younger candidates with fewer credentials (MLS vs. my MLS + MA) and less actual work experience as a librarian than me. I do have fun doing my job, but I’m underpaid for my level of education and work experience and live with my parents because I can’t realistically afford rent in this area and still live well.

    After finishing your book I was sad to read this post about your divorce; They say there are no bad divorces, only bad marriages. I’m divorced myself, with few regrets. My marriage was fun while it lasted but long term we were just incompatible and separation was best for the both of us. I’d taken a big gamble when I’d gotten together with my now ex back in library school. She was a UNT undergrad senior going through a “crisis of faith”, and she didn’t care about my unabashed atheism to begin with. We were more united by our opposition to the Iraq War and the Bush administration (though for vastly different reasons as it turned out), i.e. more by what we were against than anything we were for except in the most vaguest terms. Unfortunately, she had a “born again” experience and doubled-down on her religious convictions (including crazy creationism, which she kept hidden from me at first, probably because she knew how I’d react to that view, as the son of a retired science teacher). I knew after reluctantly watching Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ together, which transfixed her utterly, was the beginning of the end of our relationship. She was also bipolar (but not medicated for that) and incredibly emotionally abusive. When she decided to give up on any form of birth control and would get sour with me for using condoms, I decided I had to get out and did very soon thereafter. She chided me for my worries about unplanned pregnancies despite our being poor students with little money, that I should throw caution to the wind and “just have faith”. That was irresponsible crazy-talk to me and my final straw. We separated in early 2004 and divorced in September of the same year; I left Denton and moved back to my hometown and finished my MLS online from UNT.

    When I read your chapter about being honest to your mom & wife about your doubts regarding Mormonism, etc., I was simultaneously impressed with your bravery & honesty but also worried about the long term prospects for you and your spouse, since it struck close to home and triggered some memories of my own experiences. Anyway, I totally respect your still being a “seeker” and “investigator”, etc. For what it’s worth, some of my favorite atheist podcasters today are former Mormons…they are some of the funniest people and I get a real kick out of their stories. If you want to possibly understand the mentality better of your former “angry atheist” patron, you might want to look at Greta Christina’s book _Why are you atheists so angry? 99 Things that Piss Off the Godless_(2012).

    In my own library system, I’m just glad I’ve been able to persuade our system to buy some of Guy Harrison’s books, especially his very approachable and gently worded _50 Reasons People Give for Believing in A God_ (2008). My small bit of activism for shelf-space for Freethought on the library shelves. We have the copy of your audiobook in our Overdrive Media digital collection but I eventually had to break down and buy it on CD so I could more easily listen on my daily commutes.

    Anyway thanks again for your book, apologies for my long-winded post here, and glad to hear a fellow autistic was able to help you along at one point in your life. Adam sounds equally awe inspiring and terrifying. Hope things are better for you now and good luck with everything going forward!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 25, 2015, 6:43 pm

      Thanks for the comments and all the recommendations! I’ll pass your message on to Adam.

  • Debbie Rudell September 9, 2015, 11:41 am

    after reading John J. Ronald’s comment I have a comment for him – he is talented and might think about writing a book himself

  • Rebecca Dann October 26, 2015, 11:20 pm

    One of my book clubs just finished your World’s Strongest and we all liked it very much. I am a retired librarian and my favorites were mostly your library anecdotes. I see in your picture you are reading Vonnegut. If you haven’t already you should visit his museum/library in Indianapolis. You would like it.