AN ALLY

 

As we were exchanging updates on our children over dinner my friend across the table suddenly started waving. Following her gaze I looked back over my shoulder and saw a woman quickly approaching. Our husbands swiveled their heads in that direction as well.

It came out that she (let’s call her Mary) was a neighbor of our friends. Soon the neighbor’s husband (let’s call him John) joined us as well. A six way conversation flew around the table. Into one of the rare pauses my husband threw out the fact that I was an indexer. John stared into my face.

I prepared myself for the typical response of “What’s an indexer?”

Instead I received “An indexer!” Said something nice then threw at me “Ice-nine.”

“What?”

“Ice-nine. As an indexer you must have heard of it.”

In desperation I scanned the rest of the audience.

Blank faces.

I turned back to my interrogator. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Ice-nine. A Kurt Vonnegut story with a section in it about indexing.”

I felt chastised.

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A few days passed. The incident was not forgotten.

I visited my local library in search of this story that all indexers must know.

I searched on “Ice-Nine”. Nope.

I searched on Vonnegut, Kurt. Nope.

In desperation I went onto Wikipedia. Bingo! There is no story called that. Or short story either. It is a chapter in Vonnegut’s book “Cat’s Cradle.”

Not having said book on their shelves I submitted to my library a transfer request.

Within a few days the book was in my hands.

Of course I immediately looked up the chapter on indexing for enlightenment. It was titled “Never Index Your Own Book.” Instantly I was taken with it. Here was an author who was on my side. Someone who understood the need for professional indexers. I read on.

Three (small) pages later I was done. “Well. That was interesting.” Vonnegut had used an excerpt from a fictitious index to further his story by providing background for a character. Brilliant! Yes, one can skim through an index to get a good idea of what is in the text—providing it is well written of course.

To better understand the context of this chapter I decided to read the complete story. Which, by-the-way, actually did help me better understand the indexing chapter.

And so now I would like to share a few passages from that one small chapter.

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Chapter 55

Never Index Your Own Book

     As for the life of Aamons, Mona, the index itself gave a jangling, surrealistic picture of the many conflicting forces that had been brought to bear on her and of her dismayed reactions to them.

     “Aamons, Mona:” the index said, “adopted by Monzano in order to boost Monzano’s popularity, 194-199, 216n…xylophone virtuoso, 71.”

     I showed this index entry to the Mintons, asking them if they didn’t think it was an enchanting biography in itself, a biography of a reluctant goddess of love. I got an unexpectedly expert answer, as one does in life sometimes. It appeared that Claire Minton, in her time, had been a professional indexer. I had never heard of such a profession before.

     She told me that she had put her husband through college years before with her earnings as an indexer, that the earnings had been good, and that few people could index well.

     She said that indexing was a thing that only the most amateurish author undertook to do for his own book. I asked her what she thought of Philip Castle’s job.

     “Flattering to the author, insulting to the reader,” she said…. I’m always embarrassed when I see an index an author has made of his own work.”

     “Embarrassed?”

     “It’s a revealing thing, an author’s index of his own work,” she informed me. “It’s a shameless exhibition—to the trained eye.”

     “She can read character from an index,” said her husband….

     “Oh?” I said. “What can you tell about Philip Castle?”

    She smiled faintly. “Things I’d better not tell strangers.”

     “Sorry.”….

     “He’ll never marry her.”

    “Why not?”

     “I’ve said all I’m going to say,” she said.

     “I’m gratified to meet an indexer who respects the privacy of others.”

     “Never index your own book,” she stated.

 

06/19