Wednesday, November 12, 2008

safe and sound....sort of

So I'm now carrying around a "Researcher" card as a souvenir from the National Archives. Whoo-hoo. It has my picture on it and everything. I should probably stop carrying this thing around today but the whole trip and experience was so surreal that I guess my access card proves to me that it all really took place.

I had to go to the archives in College Park, MD for the things that I needed after confirming at the D.C. archive site that they were, indeed, in CP. A free shuttle scooted through the city to get there from downtown DC. I didn't know what to expect, so what I encountered, I'm guessing, will shape all other archival experiences, yes? Puh-retty interesting....

Lockers provided space for all of our stuff. Nothing could be brought into the research area. Paper and pencils were around, if needed, for notes. My computer could have come in, but I chose not to bring it so I could focus on scouring the archives, making photocopies of what I needed, and taking notes later. Which means the next two weeks of sorting, writing, sorting, etc.

The initial smaller "search room" had binders and binders along the walls that pinpointed what the archives actually contained. One folder had "Federal Music Project" on it. Score! So this one told me what file number I needed and gave a quick summary of its contents. Then another binder told me where these things were: Record Group number, shelf number, box number, etc. A "pull slip" served as my "order" form. I could take out enough boxes to fill one cart at a time, which turned about to be about 23 or 24 boxes per cart.

"24 boxes at a time!??!?!" you say? "How many can there be?" Yes, I hear ya. My thoughts exactly.

The order form goes in and is picked up only at specific times by the "runners." This is my term for the perky grad students, college locals, or budding researchers who work at the archives and keep that place running in accordance to all the friggin' rules.

The "pull times" are 10am, 11am, 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30. This is the tricky part of the whole sha-bang. You are guaranteed to get your materials within one hour of picking them up. But, you can only have one cart at a time signed out. The book that summarized the contents was VERY GENERAL in its summary, and I quickly learned that an entire "file" (of 24 boxes) could be useless after a quick glance in a few files. So then I had nothing to do until another pull time. And so on.

Mon dieu!!!

I quickly learned to overlap my materials. One cart would come out but another pull slip was already in. Once pulled, those carts could sit in the back for up to 3 days, so I figured I'd gather a whole "Brady" area and at least be able to pick and choose what I needed rather than wait for it.

To put it MILDLY, this was an exhausting process. Two 9 hour days in College Park and my eyes were playing tricks on me, my dehydration level was dangerously low, and my multi-tasking nature had been shut down. Focus. Find any document that even MENTIONS Buffalo. Copy it. Return it to its place in the folder. Return folder to its place in the box (marked with a special Archives place marker. For real. I got yelled at for not having my place marker in a box that moved chronologically by YEAR. Sheesh!). Return box to cart. Grab new box. Repeat the last seven sentences. Again. And Again.

We stayed with my cousin the night we arrived in Baltimore and the night before we left to come back to The Buff. While unwinding on Weds and getting ready for the next big day, he asked me (like most good family members) what the hell I was working on (in a nutshell). I told him. He asked me if I'd be disappointed if I didnt' find something in particular (since I mentioned that no less than three professional archivists made it clear that they were not sure what I'd find "in there"). I said that there were a few "golden nugget" holes in my argument that COULD be cleared up IF the evidence is in a box somewhere and IF I could find such a box. Gulp.

And nuggets I found! This was the thing. I was exhausted but completely wrapped up in piecing this chapter together. It was like a soap opera unfolding with names and places and people coming along on all of this official letterhead. What has been written in Buffalo about the story I am trying to tell seems anecdotal or filled with conjecture. Some even contradicts each other.

Well, I've got the story, baby! It sits next to me on my desk, freshly sorted into color- coordinated folders (in chronological order according to the rainbow--red, yellow, green, blue, purple). Five years of federal documents explaining the painstaking process of implementing the New Deal in Buffalo's orchestral circle. Complete with turmoil, backstabbing, scandal, hand-wringing, pleas for more jobs, and heart-felt appreciation for the FMP.!!!!!! Whoo-hoo!!!! Holy f@ckin' moly.

I hope someone will care about this someday besides me (smile).

On the other side of things, we returned to home Monday to find one of our Beta fish doing weird things (he is Rojo, a feisty deep red one. Usually a tough little sucker) and floating around strangely in his little bowl. He didn't even respond when we held Psycho (short for psychedelic, a beautifully tie-dyed sort of Beta) up close. Hmmmmm....

One of our TVs shut itself off after 5 minutes. Won't turn back on.

My wireless router is "connected" but my computer isn't gettin' it. I've tried everything except a phone call to Verizon. I don't have that kind of time. Out came the DSL cord.

My microwave clock was set at "0:00." No other clocks were blinking or wrong.

My washing machine refuses to spin on its own. It simply stops at "spin." We have to go down in the basement and manually push the dial a bit more into the "spin" cycle for it to work.

But, I found the Nano.

I can only guess that my little house missed us and is pitching a fit. Now that we're back home and I have two weeks off from the greenhouse to write all this stuff into a chapter, maybe my home will become familiar, once again, with the sounds coming from my office......quick clicks from my computer keypad, the pouring of coffee, Groove Salad internet radio, me talking to myself, my slippers shuffling around the hardwood, etc. I cannot stop what I'm doing to call maintenance people and I have faith (oh, yes.....) that the kinks associated with Extreme Research (a new cable show, perhaps?!?!?! Hours and hours of bleary-eyed, frantic members of the Nerd Kingdom searching for that golden nugget!?!?!) will work themselves out as my chapter comes together.

Come on, lil' house. Let's get ourselves back in order. Deep breath.......exhale. Let's go.

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