“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”Maurice Switzer, Mrs. Goose, Her Book
All I want to do at the moment is shush people. From listening to public officials to overhearing conversations from complete strangers, I have this vast desire to hiss out colossal “Shhhhh!”
No, this is not a sly way to discuss my career as a librarian. Although I looked the part (frightfully so sometimes), I thankfully never acted it; in any stereotypical way, to my knowledge. For instance, I’m positive that I never once shushed anyone in reading rooms, at the reference desk, or in the stacks. Truth be told, aspiring raconteur in the making, I was probably the loudest one in all those rooms.
But all of that is behind me now anyway. I’m just looking for some peace and quiet at the moment. Besides, I’m told that keeping my mouth shut is sexy. I know this because Gorgeous reminds me of it at regular intervals.
So, please raise your hand if you also wish people would just shut up already.
My earliest memories of being shushed in public was at age nine, when my mother did so in a grocery store. My crime was singing Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” out loud in a shopping aisle. The song was infectiously popular at the time. Those glorious harmonies, and in particular Paul Simon’s exceedingly cool lyrics, made it a persistent earworm for me. Hey, hey, hey.
I knew next to nothing about the movie from which the song originated, “The Graduate,” starring Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. That it was about a young man having an affair with an older married woman wasn’t even on my preadolescent radar. I just loved the song, and I sang it endlessly while riding my bike, standing behind second base while playing baseball, and I assume in my sleep too.
Back in that grocery aisle, however, my mother was having none of this. It may have been 1968, but no amount of Life Magazine covers displaying expressions of free love and the coming sexual revolution would permit her to look the other way when her youngest son is singing about Mrs. Robinson. Inside the neighborhood A&P no less.
Of course, I also remember that it was just a year later when a copy of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint sat in our living room for anyone to pick up, thumb through, and digest at will. I didn’t fret about the contradictions at play here; one merely took advantage of what was offered at that age. I do recall, though, that it took years before I could eat liver and onions again,.
I’m thinking about all of this (the shushing, not Portnoy’s Complaint) because as she often has throughout my adult life, I am again keenly aware of my mother’s reproving presence. Forget the so-called monkey on the back, I instead have a Jewish mother sitting on my shoulder and whispering advice in my ear. In our current environment of hyper-partisanship and outwardly expressed rage, I hear her telling me to keep my mouth firmly shut.
I see people in stores not wearing masks, and I’m tempted to walk up and say something to them.
“Shhhhh!,” whispers that familiar spirit voice in my head. “And clean your ears too!“
She’s right. About staying silent.
A younger version of me, perhaps with questionable ear hygiene, I assume would be speaking out right now at those people who ignoring safe practices. I have no doubt that young man, striding with his own sense of purpose, would be making a nuisance of himself (along with anyone else who had the unfortunate circumstance of being in his company). And we can also guess what the end-result of such “missionary work” would be: a return fire of hostility, coupled with the very real possibility of some dude nearby firing up his phone and filming a video of it to post online. Look ma, I’m famous!
After the 2016 election, I created a Twitter account in an attempt to find solidarity with those who share my same outlook and outrage. Being on that platform gave me a glimmer of the former… and unfortunately boatloads of the latter. In hindsight, I should have known better. So no matter the outcome next month, I plan on deleting that account. It’s served its purpose.
I also bet I won’t be alone in creating some 2021 New Year’s resolutions that will have a lot to do with navigating to calmer waters. Our country itself may not, but this particular boy will definitely be searching for it. Woo, woo, woo.
And that young librarian? The one who never shushed? I told you he at least looked the part. Scary, isn’t it?
Blogger’s Note: I will be taking some time off until late November. Buckle up and stay safe, my friends.
Until next time…