Archive for October, 2013

“DOUBLE, DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE”

Here’s your Halloween treat — the tale of three strange women librarians I encountered during my motley career. They’d all be at home around a cauldron.

The first was the Children’s Librarian at the Rockville Centre Public Library. I’d known her since my sonĀ attended pre-school storytimes, and when I casually mentioned I was enrolled in Queens College’s graduate library school, she asked: “Would you like to work here?” An offer I couldn’t refuse! I didn’t know I was qualified to work as a librarian trainee as long as I was enrolled in an accredited M.L.S.graduate program.

She disliked many children and parents. Mothers waiting for youngsters in the children’s room got on her nerves, so she banished them to wander in other areas of the library. One small boy who limped annoyed her, and she changed the storytime schedule, knowing when he was in pre-school, so he couldn’t attend.

She sat in her cubicle reading and writing book reviews while I often took care of patrons. As I helped a mother pick books for her son — he’d been hit by a car while riding his bicycle and was in the hospital in a body cast — she wasdarting me churlish looks. So when the woman left I told her about the accident. “Good thing he’s so fat!” she snarled.

After a year and a half of this sourness I resigned, applied, and was hired by the gracious director of the Oceanside library, Soma Finnell, who told me my first mentor had spoken unkindly of me. “Who’d believe anyting she said?” commented the second coven candidate, who became assistant director, and after Soma’s untimely death, replaced her as director.

She, too, was sharp-tongued with a face to match. It was obvious to the staff that Sol, a former policeman, now custodian, was her ally and informant. No one dared cross him — it was whispered that he still carried his gun. Between the two of them the atmosphere was decidedly unpleasant.

I handed in my resignation after an incident involving a painting falling from a high wall, scattering glass shards on patrons seated below. As one of his chores, Sol peridically climbed a ladder and humg the paintings way up in what was called “Gallery Above the Shelves,” grumbling loudly every time.

That fateful day, seeing Sol and the director duck into her office as the picture crashed, I left the reference desk and walked to the scene, asking if anyone had been hurt. No, thankfully. But the next day she lectured me for possibly giving anyone the idea to sue. I’d been managing the art exhibitions, but she would handle them from now on. Some years later I heard she’d been fired for absenteeism and escorted from a Board meeting — and I tasted schaudenfreude. Sweet and sour. Delicious!

While at Oceanside, I completed my degree and was licensed as a New York State Public Librarian and School Media Specialist, and soon was hired as a public librarian in The Sewanhaka High School District. Perfect timing — my son had just started high school. The senior librarian was pleased with my work in my first year, and approved my appointment as a School Media Specialist the second — shorter hours, more money, and a schedule matching my son’s.

But this woman was the strangest of all. She had an extensive collection of books on the dark arts — many more than needed for any study of Salem. Library Club aides told me these had been mysteriously removed just before a teachers’ conference in the library. An English teacher questioned her purchase of “Queen of the Damned,” a vampire novel by Anne Rice — she defended its suitability for grades 6 to 12.

Students weren’t allowed to smile at each other in the library, let alone whisper. One of my tasks was enforcing this proper behavior, bobbing my head up and down to watch as I sat and catalogued in their midst. She had a long list of those banned for such infractions. Several teachers asked me if I could try to persuade their students to enter the sacrosanct premises again.

When I told her of an argument with my husband, she said “You need a girlfriend. Come home with me — we’ll drink some scotch.” Her invitation made me queasy so I answered “I’ve got enough girlfriends. And I don’t like scotch.” Then changed the subject.

When I later saw an incriminating snapshot on her desk I realized she was having a fling with a lovely Indian girl, a member of the Library Club. “She’s 18 years old,” said my boss when she saw my startled look. By the way, she called a large, droopy plant there “Henry,” her husband’s name.

There was much more — enough to make me blow a whistle. Not wise before tenure, I learned.. Of course, she denied mine in my fourth year. The first year as a public librarian didn’t count. She gave a coffee party for staff the day after I left to celebrate my departure, and was observed occasionally talking to herself in the hallways..

She retired soon after, had often said she never would –“Someone will find my body lying in the stacks someday” — of natural causes — possibly murder. A smart, pleasant young librarian transferred from another school in the district to take her place. And I next worked as a reference librarian at the East Meadow Public Library, under the tutelege of the renowned Irving Adelman, Head of Reference. In a safe harbor at last.

As a parting treat, I’m tossing in a poem I wrote, inspired by the foregoing:

Upward Mobility

Did you ever wonder
How someone rose so far
Without apparent talent?

Well, go to the bay
Someday at low tide
And see what floats.

Or go into the woods
Some dark night and
Watch for a witch.

When you see one
Stirring a cauldron
Observe what bubbles up.

Then you’ll understand
It’s not always cream
That rises to the top.

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“BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN”

      Sunday was brisk and sunny, a perfect day to visit The Baltimore Zoo. I’m not completely back to normal — no more congestion, but still too tired, and I now have a very dry mouth, especially on waking in the morning. But I try to stay active, and it was a good time to further explore this beautiful part of the country.

I owed my son and his wife September birthday presents, wanted to get them something original. When I asked for ideas, my daughter-in-law suggested a family membership in the zoo. Done! They’ve taken my grandson there several times recently, and I’ve got a darling picture of him and his mommy looking joyous as a giraffe bends down to eat out of his hand.

So I drove to the zoo to inspect my gift, and bought a senior membership for myself. I often enjoy myself on my own, people watching and sightseeing. Would have loved to bring Honey with me, but only service animals are allowed. There’s a danger that dogs may disturb the animals — and some people are comfortable only with creatures in cages or behind barriers.

I miss my friends on Long Island, and try to keep in touch by phone, mail and e-mail. When I was in New York City in March I was happy to see Therese and Christina again, and enjoyed meeting Kathy in the Hamptons last August. But I haven’t seen Anne, Eleanor and Kris for over two years.

Residents in my building are friendly acquaintances. I’ve gone to parties at the condominium, but people come early, save seats for their friends, and get right down to eating. Not really sociable. A group of condo ladies eet monthly for lunch at restaurants on on Thursdays, the day I mind my grandson.

Courses I’ve taken at the senior center — zumba gold, line dancing and digital photography — were too fast for me, and I dropped out after several weeks. While I was still trying to figure out which foot to use, others danced like pros, having taken beginning classes multiple times. The camera class was over my non-tech head.

My Honey’s always up for an outing — forever cheerful and lively. She thinks I’m wonderful and never disagrees with me. A New Yorker cartoon caught my eye a while back, and I taped it to my refrigerator. My thoughtful son transferred it to my kitchen here, along with other clippings and optimistic fortune cookie predictions. A woman sits at a dining table opposite a dapper dog dressed in jacket and tie, each with a glass of wine in front of them. Underneath it says: “Pehaps I’m asking too much of you in the way of companionship.”

Now my faithful friend is beginning to show her age. She’ll be 12 on January 20th — 84 in people years. Besides diabetes, she has cataracts, her back legs are bowed and sometimes wobbly with arthritis, and she wears doggie diapers at night. I know it won’t be long before we’re parted — if I go first, my son has promised to take care of her. And I’m hoping God has arranged for people and their pets to be together again in spirit.

Animals can teach us. So can children. St. Matthew wrote that Jesus said: “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Children, with their open eyes and hearts, seem to see some heaven here.

At the zoo that day I watched rhinos, penguins, chimps, gazelles, cheetahs and lemurs going about their natural, innocent lives — and the children’s natural, unaffected response. As a chimp swung gracefully from tree to tree, little ones squealed with delight, and a boy cried out: “Look, look what he’s doing!” I breathed “Wow.”

In the Farmyard area I asked a volunteer standing near an fenced enclosure if I could pet a donkey. “Yes,” he said, smiling, “but not too close to the mouth!” So I took my turn with excited youngsters to stroke the gentle animal’s back. The zoo invites you at certain times to bring a brush and groom a goat. Will try that another day. I’m thinking of volunteering in the spring when training sessions begin again. Sounds like more fun than work. There are perks for volunteers — and you get to be helpful and feel virtuous, too. I didn’t continue the story-times at daycare centers this fall because of my ailments.

It was a pleasure to see so many people of different races, colors and ages together in a happy, bustling place — lots of toddlers and babies, had to stop and admire several. Next Saturday I’m going with my son and his family to a Halloween event with a children’s costume contest — my angelic grandson will be dressed as a vampire!? I’ll be wearing long black hair extensions under a witch’s hat.

Which reminds me — I’ve been meaning to compose a post: “Double, double toil and trouble.” When I was a librarian I worked at various times for three credible candidates for covens. That scary story will be my treat on Halloween.

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