Feature Writer Lynne Tatum – A Writing on Readers

This piece has been on my mind for several years and now I am finally allowing it to flow from my fingers.  Do you believe in readers?  Are you comfortable with someone knowing your personal affairs?  Do you trust people to that extent?  Our unqualified answer to those questions is a resounding yes, but we have had reasons to question our sanity as we have had readers who could barely read on a first-grade level, much less the complex mail and documents we present.  On the other hand, we have waxed poetic on readers whose voices and delivery were absolutely stunning.  We would have allowed them to read our contacts list had they agreed.  Okay, perhaps I am exaggerating just a bit.  Allow me to tell you about some of the more interesting personalities who have crossed our reading path.  I will do my best to organize the piece as chronologically as I can.

Our reader adventure began with a young woman from South Africa who had a most pleasant voice and demeanor.  She eased us gently into this unknown realm with her dulcet tones and efficient reading style.  What a pleasure it was and I shall never forget her.  Ironically, I cannot recall her name, only her lovely voice.  I know, that is just too pitiful.

From the same organization, we were then paired with an effervescent gentleman from Italy.  His name I do remember, but I shall not name names in this article.  This man had the most wonderful Italian accent and his reading skills were excellent.  We will always recall a particular evening when we asked him to read a recipe.  He read with great enthusiasm and vigor and we were rolling along quite calmly until he came to the passage where we were to “Beat the hags.”  Beat the hags?  Wait.  Why would we want to do that?  Additionally, we did not know any hags at that time.  Things have changed since then, but I digress.  Now, readers are volunteers and you do not want to offend them, but we simply could not hold it in and broke into uproarious laughter. He asked ever so innocently what was so funny.  When we told him, he burst out as well.  We were very sad to see him go and wish him great fortune wherever life has taken him.

We feel a spark of pride in knowing that we have educated two young people in the fine art of check writing.  They were volunteering as part of their school’s community service program and at the urging of their parents.  We talked them through it and their smiles of accomplishment brought satisfaction to our mature hearts.  Our first young lady probably went on to an Ivy-League college as she was attending an elite school here in Manhattan and our latest young male reader is experiencing his first semester at the renowned Brown University.  Highly proud, you would have thought we were their parents. Imagine a young woman with dulcet tones and a young man of seventeen with a wonderful resonant baritone voice.  We discussed boyfriends and all things social with her and the highly popular American Idol television show with him.  As he admitted at a volunteer awards ceremony, it took two hours to read twenty-minutes worth of mail.  I promised to keep the Idol chatter down and not bring up that highly frustrating show.  Thankfully, no one was taking bets.  Maria put forth a valiant effort in trying to keep us on track but it was a losing battle, to be sure.

This young man also helped us complete the 2010 Census, over which I had a head-scratching moment as to what to call myself.  Well, it really just came down to Black or African-American.  I am still thinking about it.  I knew that I did not feel comfortable with Negro, although I was advised by representatives of the 2010 Census that some older Americans wanted that designation included.  Kudos to them for attempting to satisfy as many citizens as possible.  I think I am leaning towards an American of Caribbean and Southern heritage.  Cari-South, perhaps?  I will keep working on that.

Is it not reasonable to assume that readers should be able to read?  Perhaps you are thinking they should be auditioned, and I agree with you whole-heartedly as we have suffered through volunteers who fairly mumbled and stumbled from one sentence to another.  It was torture by reading, I tell you, and it was not pretty.  One particular session was beyond tedious and caused Maria to fall asleep, leaving me with the grueling task of slogging through it.  Oh, how cruel. I must also mention the fact that you never know what readers will find boring or engaging.  I am under the assumption that when they sign up to read, they agree to read just about anything, barring erotic material.  Who knew that reading a catalog would send a reader practically under the table?  The man fairly flew out of the room when the session was done.  He did not even stop to say goodbye.  We sat there speechless for ten seconds and then broke into uncontrollable giggles.  Starting out upright, he ended up slumped over the table almost foaming at the mouth.  We never saw him again.  Good thing.

Another memorable reader entered the room; meticulously arranged three cups of coffee and proceeded to drink from each in turn.  Reading all addresses, he commented on every state he had visited.  I need not tell you that the session took a painful year and a half.  Help!

Years ago, we were indeed fortunate to be paired with one of the most organized readers we have ever known.  She used colorful markers and folders to identify and hold our important documents.  She located all manner of services and had us in tip-top shape for the length of her service. We learned that she not only organized us but was a craftswoman who made detailed cabinets and other furniture.  We do miss her. We stayed in touch for a few months, perhaps even a year, but sadly, we did part and have not heard from her since.

It really is a horrendous situation when readers insinuate themselves into your personal and financial life.  This was the case with a controlling volunteer who made unwanted and unsolicited judgment calls.  Opinionated to the max, she felt it her duty to advise us on most aspects of our lives whether we needed advice or not.  I am thoroughly glad that we only knew her for about a year.  Once dragged through the mud of her manipulative nature, I became justifiably gun-shy about ever having another reader.  The problem was that my vision was becoming worse and I was procrastinating with regard to sitting down and getting the job done.  This situation could not continue.

Would you believe we have had a reader who was a host on QVC? We have caught her on television a time or two.  Maria more than I, as she is practically glued to that channel.  She is a lovely lady and we remain friends and see her on occasion for dinner.  She reminds me of a Charlie’s Angel type (a 70’s television action show) as she is slightly built but proudly admitted that she can use a gun.  We all chortled as she pronounced 92nd Street Y as “92nd Streety.”

The reader prior to the young man I have come to call Mr. D. Brown, was a kind, young woman who left us once she became pregnant with her first child.  She had a beautiful baby boy and resigned from her job because she could not bear to leave him for long periods of time.  We regretted losing her but no one could blame her or stop her.

Our current reader is the most artistically inclined, if you will.  We saw her perform a stand-up routine at a comedy club here in New York City.  She was quite good.  We will, no doubt, discuss her fabulous performance in greater detail when next we meet for our reading session.  She warned us about eating any food at this establishment as she thought it might not be safe but, of course, we did and I am glad that I am alive to write this selection.

It has been a pleasure recounting some of the more interesting and humorous facts about our readers, but in all seriousness, they have performed a priceless service that we could not do without.  Their time, energy, and efforts have been greatly appreciated over the years and we would be in a hopeless fix were they not around to assist with both trivial and important matters.  Yes, we could accomplish reading tasks using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software such as the Kurzweil 1000 and Open Book.  Speech synthesizers are lovely things, but they definitely lack a certain warmth and humor in their delivery.  Bottom line:  As long as reading volunteers will have us, we will definitely have them.

One Comments

  1. The catalog that caused the guy to leave the room: what was it for?