I’m the Man Who Makes Mistakes Go Away
As the pile of books burned, the embers from each page softly floated from the pit, above my head, and into the exhaust shaft.
“Hey! Would ya back away from that?” the concerned young man shouted.
“I’m fine where I stand.” I assured him. “You know, you don’t need to stay. This is my job. I can handle this on my own.”
I stood near the edge of the ten foot diameter fire pit and tossed book after book into the flames. Each time a book hit the pile, the ash puffed up and the flames grew taller. The boy stood as far back from the pit as the confines of the room would allow.
I’ve been at this for a long time. I’ve burned hundreds of thousands of books. Novels, anthologies, encyclopedias, and – I pray it doesn’t came back to burn me – a few thousand Bibles and other religious tomes.
Before you get sanctimonious on me or decide it’s your position to tell me what I can or can’t burn, it’s important that you know the title of my position: Disposal Coordinator of Erroneous Product.
Simply stated, when these publishers make a mistake, I destroy the books. It’s a matter of quality control, not censorship. The corrected and fully complete texts are still sold when it has been reprinted.
I make mistakes go away.
My role has not stopped a single person from reading the King James Version of the Bible, just the one that inadvertently auto-corrected a few words and would have left many readers enraged with the evils of satin. Surely, satin is no more evil than cotton or even the luscious texture of silk. Nevertheless, mistakes happen, people are fired for those mistakes, and then said mistakes are brought to my incinerator.
“Is it always this hot down here?”
Really? I think they only send me the new guys to deliver the pallet of books. The rest must be sitting at their desks missing more egregious errors before sending them to the printers.
He’s young, probably fresh out of college. I can tell that he isn’t used to tying a necktie and that the pants he’s wearing were last hemmed for a funeral he was probably forced to go to five or so years ago. He’s also nervous. This is probably his first task here and he doesn’t want to screw it up. I shouldn’t let my salty attitude make his day worse.
“Yes. Obviously, it’s the fire that makes it hot down here.”
“Of course, I mean,” he stuttered, “ the whole 451 degrees Fahrenheit, right?”
I could have made this a teaching moment. I really could have. You see, I didn’t go to a fancy school, I didn’t study at a prestigious university, but I have a smart phone and internet access to Google. The truth of the matter here is that with the quality of paper used in today’s books, paper ignites closer to 480 degrees Fahrenheit. After that it actually increases when burning more books around it. I could have told him that at the center of this pile of books ablaze the temperature could easily near 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Sure, but it’s much hotter than that, I’ve just never been able to hold the thermometer in there long enough to find out!”
The new guy chuckled. Incinerator humor gets them every time.
“So, what’s wrong with this set?” I asked him.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, the defect, the error, what’s wrong with it?”
“Oh, the sheet they gave me says they printed too many. Gotta get rid of them.”
“Kid, if they aren’t defective, I’m not supposed to burn them. I’m – Christ – I’m halfway through with this. You were supposed to bring it to the Redistribution Center.”
Tailspin. This kid’s day is falling faster and faster into a fiery disaster.
“Dammit! Don’t say that! I can’t lose this job!” he shouted. “I just can’t. My wife and I just moved here. She’s expecting our first child.”
We’re all like books. We come in different shapes, sizes, genres, and formats, but we all burn the same. I’d say the biggest difference I’ve noticed, is some books can be salvaged from fire because of the thickness of their covers. The thinner covers need to be pulled out quickly or else they get destroyed forever.
“Take the rest of the pallet to the Redistribution Center. Tell them they were left on the loading dock and half got destroyed by rain, so I voluntarily destroyed them.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, “why are you—“
“Get out or you’re next.”
He wiped the tears off his face, smiled, and wheeled the half-pallet of books out.
Like I said, I make mistakes go away.