Sunday, June 6, 2010

pneumatic tubes in literature 3

Adam Walker describes his job one summer as a page at Butler Library on the Columbia campus in New York:

"Shelving expeditions eat up approximately half your day. The other half is spent sitting behind a small desk on one of the upper floors, waiting for a pneumatic tube to come flying up through the intestines of the building with a withdrawal slip commanding you to retrieve this or that book for the student or professor who has just asked for it below. The pneumatic tube makes a distinctive, clattering noise as it speeds upwards towards its destination, and you can hear it from the moment it begins its ascent. The stacks are distributed among several floors, and since you are just one of several pages sitting at desks on those several floors, you don't know if the pneumatic tube with the withdrawal slip rolled up inside it is headed for you or one of your colleagues. You don't find out until the last second, but if it is indeed meant for you, the metallic cylinder comes bursting out of an opening in the wall behind you and lands in the box with a propulsive thud, which instantly triggers a mechanism that turns on the forty or fifty red lightbulbs that line the ceiling from one end of the floor to the other. The lights are essential, for it often happens that you are away from your desk when the tube arrives, in the process of searching for another book, and when you see the lights go on you are alerted to the fact that a new order has just come in. If you are not away from your desk, you pull the withdrawal slip out of the tube, go off to find the book or books that are wanted, return to your desk, tuck the withdrawal slops into the books (making sure that the top portion is sticking out a couple of inches), load the books into the dumbwaiter in the wall behind your desk, and push the button for the second floor. To top off the operation, you return the empty tube by squeezing it into a little hole in the wall. You hear a pleasant whoosh as the cylinder is sucked into the vacuum, and more often than not you will go on standing there for a moment, following the sound of the clattering missile as it plunges through the pipe on its way downstairs. Then you return to your desk. You settle into your chair. You sit and wait for the next order"

From Invisible by Paul Auster, p103 - 104

(ear-marked by Thomas)

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