Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Past Five Months: A Children's Story

Once upon a time there was a great, big library with great, big bookshelves filled with great big books, and lots of librarians working to serve the great big population of people who used the library. In one corner of the library was a great big office with a big, metal desk covered in big piles of paperwork, and behind those piles of paperwork was a quiet, small girl called the Dreaded Librarian. She worked hard to help great big groups of teenagers who used the library, and smiled as much as she could, even when she was having a bad day.

She smiled when the teenagers tore books apart and shoved them under the reading chairs.

She smiled when people complained about the noisy kids, and explained that they had a right to use the library just like everyone else.

She smiled at all the people who used the computers, and kept smiling even when they said inappropriate things to her that made pieces of her die inside.

She kept smiling even through sad things, because she knew happy things were soon to follow.

For example, she smiled when teenagers from Maine and New York joined together to paint a beautiful mural of a peaceful and diverse global community on the great, big front windows of the library.  

She smiled when teenagers brought her tasty ethnic food and invited her to their homes for dinner.

She smiled when her  teenagers created lovely drawings in art club and gave them to her to hang in her office.
And she smiled when her teens graduated from high school and moved on to do bigger and better things.

But one day, the great, big library told her that they didn't want her anymore. There was someone better than her. They told her they "didn't just want to hire their friends," and that they had picked another girl from a faraway place who did not know the kids or the community. The new girl would work at the great big library now, but not the Dreaded Librarian.

The Dreaded Librarian tried very hard to smile...but she could not.
She thought of all her teenagers, and how much she loved each of them. She thought of all they had taught her, and all she had taught them. She thought of all the great, big plans she had to fill the library with great, big programs for great, big groups of kids. But mostly she thought about how the kids would think she had abandoned them.
And then the Dreaded Librarian's smile began to quiver...and she cried.

Several sad weeks passed when she had to say goodbye to all of her teenagers. People in the community were very upset, and some of her coworkers were very upset too. Everyone felt a bit betrayed by the great, big library.

Some days later, there was a teeny, tiny library that met the Dreaded Librarian and were really impressed by her. Even though her smile was hidden behind a sad mask, they could tell that she was really kind. They asked her to join their library, to work with teeny, tiny children in their Youth Services department. The Dreaded Librarian had a great, big hole in her heart, but when the little library offered her the job she saw a teeny, tiny glimmer of light...and so she said YES and accepted the job!

The teeny, tiny library had a teeny, tiny Children's Department filled with books spilling out of the teeny, tiny shelves. There were teeny, tiny tables and chairs crammed into teeny, tiny nooks and crannies. The other librarians were kind and welcoming, and taught the Dreaded Librarian all about children's books in their teeny, tiny department. There were warm colors, cluttered posters, happily used chairs, and tousled toys everywhere, which made the teeny, tiny light in the Dreaded Librarian's heart grow just a teeny, tiny bit.

In this place there were also a few small, sad plants in teeny, tiny pots with very little sunlight.  They seemed to droop in awkward places and shed little brown leaves like tears. At first, they were overlooked since everything else was so new and exciting, but after a few weeks the Dreaded Librarian noticed the sad little plants. She saw their drooping limbs and chlorophyll deprived leaves and felt a pang in her chest--a knowing connection with these plants, an understanding of the pain they were going through. She took an interest in them right away. She began by giving them teeny, tiny drops of water to quench their thirst without drowning them, and soon was bringing in scissors for little haircuts--small brown leaves and little dead twigs got quietly snipped away. And, oh! What a miracle! After a few short weeks, those teeny, tiny, sad plants...began to grow! New leaves unfurled bursting with deep green colors, and little stems soon grew into strong, healthy vines and branches reaching towards the light with determination. With a little love, these plants decided to LIVE, and by jove, that's what they did.

It was one day as the Dreaded Librarian was watering these plants that a small girl walked up to her and, with a tilt of her head and a Mona Lisa smile, asked in a wee little voice, "May I hug you?" Such a teeny, tiny gesture, such a teeny, tiny sign of care, like the few drops of water the Dreaded Librarian first gave to the thirsty plants! But it was a gesture big enough to make the Dreaded Librarian's heart unfurl with a new strength, one that said with determination, "LIVE, by jove! Celebrate with joy and know that you are strong!" It was as though a new branch of inner life was formed in that very moment, in those few small words, and that branch was determined to grow into a great, big branch full of great, big life and great, big opportunities.

It takes time, but all that goes around will surely come around. The incident with that darling little girl reminded the Dreaded Librarian of the Aesop Fable, "The Lion and the Mouse." And as the Dreaded Librarian finished watering the lively plants, the phantom of the little girl's embrace still clinging to her heart, she knew that everything would work out. The great, big hole in her heart seemed to retreat and become a teeny, tiny scar, a gentle reminder of the blow that made her stronger, and of the mouse that helped her in her time of need.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being a Children's Librarian Rocks

During my thus-short stint as a children's librarian (as opposed to my time working with teens), I have had several noteworthy experiences that have "warmed the cockles of my heart," as an old friend of mine used to say. Two in particular during the last few weeks have brought a much-needed smile to my face. After all, even Dreaded Librarians get the blues.

The first was an older lady who visits the youth services department every few weeks with her caseworker. I don't know much about her, except that she is a very devout Christian who always bids us librarians adieu with the afterthought, "And I'll pray for you tonight!" She mostly fixates on the other more seasoned and familiar librarians, since I am a relative new-be (my predecessor is greatly missed by staff and patrons alike). However, just last week she came up to me and said in her sing-song voice, "Why hello, don't you look pretty today. You look just like a bologna sandwich and a glass of cold lemonade on a hot day! So preeetty, yes." Undoubtedly the single-most strange compliment I've ever had, but it created a certain delight that I can't quite explain. Sometimes those off-beat comments are the most honest and sincere, and subsequently the most heart felt by their receiver.

And secondly, just today a little girl I've never met before came in with her older sister and mum. They all spent some time looking around in the bookstacks, and asked me about the status of a few books they had ordered through interlibrary loan. Finally, they came to the desk and the older sister checked out her conservative stack of books, followed by the youngest child with her equally small (but carefully selected) pile. She smiled shyly up at me as I stamped each book and scanned her card, and as I handed the books back to her with a great great big grin and a "There you go! Enjoy your books," she quietly said, "Thank you" and turned to leave. Before she even completed one step she whipped back around, and despite having never seen me before in her life very politely asked, "May I hug you?" Well, my weary heart just about melted and I gave that little girl a nice little hug that hopefully made her half as happy as it made me. Such a small gesture, but it made my day. I wonder how she knew I needed that hug?

On an unrelated note, I finally (after 24 years) read "The Lorax" by Dr. Seuss! It was just as excellent as everyone told me it would be. I may just have to use it as a read-aloud for the kids ecology program I'm scheming up!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dreaded Librarians: Good at Kicking Ass, Awkward at Making Friends

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and erase those annoying, mortifying moments that make me want to crawl into the depths of a dusty closet and stay there until my eyes turn white from lack of lighting. Today was certainly one of those days.

For a few weeks now, I have been venturing out from my post at a new library, scoping out the neighborhood for friendly community places, and in particular looking for spots within walking distance to grab a cup of coffee or a juice on my lunch break. Unfortunately, this place lacks a sense of community as much as George W. Bush lacks a grasp of the English language. However, one day I made an unlikely acquaintance at a local Cumberland Farms while I was fueling my gas-guzzling-environment-destroying-car-contraption. He complimented my dreadedness and gave me a warm, non-creepy smile that I saw as "potential friend material." He thus became none other than Cumberland Farms Boy, or CFB for short.

Answer me this: how does a young, badass lady make friends in a city where she knows no one? I pondered and queried until I could barely sleep for all the thoughts floating in my head, then decided, heck, I'll never make friends unless I got out on a limb. What's the worst that could happen? 

Fast forward to today: I walk to Cumberland Farms under the guise of getting a coffee, but really to try and convince CFB to be my friend. I enter the door and he shouts, "hey Molly!" and flashes me a grin, and I shout "hey!" back with a smile, pour myself some coffee, and hit up the register. Thus begins the awkward conversation, that went something like this:

Dreaded Librarian (DL): So, can I ask you a question?
CFB: Shoot
DL: Wanna grab a beer sometime?
CFB: (Starts shaking) Uhh, well, uh yeah. Uh, I get out of work around, like, 3...but maybe not today, hm...
DL: Yeah, cool. Well, um, whenever. 
(Awkward silence)
DL: So, I have a boyfriend...
CFB: I have a girlfriend!
DL: Cool!
CFB: Yeah, wow. I was starting to freak out for a minute
DL: Nah, don't worry, I'm not creepy. I just don't have any, uh, friends.
CFB: Yeah, cool. I mean, not cool that you don't have friends. Um.... so, are you new in town?
DL: Yeah. Kinda. I mean, I went to high school here, but it was a while ago. I just moved back to work at L-- Library.
CFB: Oh really? Where's that?
DL: Um...it's... the library? Two blocks from here?
CFB: Oh.
DL: Yeah.
(Awkward silence)
CFB: Well uh, let me..
DL: Sure, yeah...
CFB: Here's a...yeah, here's some paper.
(hands me a ripped up receipt)
DL: Cool. (Writes phone number). There.
CFB: So... I'll, yeah, let you know if something happens.
DL: Thanks, I appreciate it. I want to meet people. You know, cool people. In the area. (Mentally kicks self in the face)
(Awkward silence)
DL: Well, thanks again. Uh, have a nice day!
CFB: Uh yeah, you too.

Maybe next time I should just stick to buying coffee.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sexual Harrassment is Serious...So Seriously, Knock It Off

Today is a beautiful September day, crisp enough to want to wear leggings with my skirt and sport a modest, long-sleeve shirt. I'm sure I look nice, but am conservatively dressed, not that it should matter.  It's true, I probably care about my appearance more than I should. I was, after all, a bit of a plump kid and was made fun of a lot all through grade school, which left me with poor self esteem in high school and college. My story is, however, in no way unique, but it may explain why I enjoy looking nice sometimes. I like to think that I've grown out of my awkward stages and into a mature, caring, lovely, and professional woman who no longer needs to care what other people think because she knows that how she feels about herself is infinitely more important. So I like to look nice, for myself. I like to wear what I want, whether it is trendy or not, simply because I feel like it. I have a choice.

I don't feel like I dress particularly provocatively, and in fact would feel very uncomfortable doing so, but I do enjoy wearing feminine clothing-- skirts, blouses, and my red leather Danskos at least once a week. Red shoes are kind of a family tradition. Sure, maybe I try to look nice. But that's no excuse for the insulting, demeaning, derogatory comments I'm subjected to on a daily basis. I am not the cause; I am the victim.

It took me a long time to realize how severely the sexual harassment was impacting me. The men always act so suave, making passing comments that they never get called out on, or saying "sweet" things in public places where I feel awkward bitching them out. But after working for two years around dozens of men who hit on me persistently and occasionally cornered me in my office, I realize that it was, in fact, affecting my ability to work. Fortunately, my workplace took my complaint very seriously and made some rapid changes that helped make it more difficult for patrons to harass me: my office was rearranged to provide me with two emergency "escape" routes, and I was given a "code word" so that if I felt threatened I could call another staff member and they would show up at my office to bring me to the front desk, away from the persistent men.

Unfortunately, this could not be repeated outside of the work place, and although I managed to escape the negative comments at work, I continue to be haunted by them in my daily life. Just today, on this crisp, beautiful day, I walked the three blocks to my lovely community garden plot to harvest the rest of my tomatoes before they got frosted, and not ten steps from my front door the comments began. In that short walk there and back, a mere six blocks total, I was catcalled by ten or more men. These are a selection of different comments I heard from complete strangers hollering from porches and street corners:

"Look at that ass! You gonna say hi, girl?"
"Hey librarian, where you goin'? You look nice today."
"Mmm, hey beautiful."
"Hey gorgeous, come here."
"Damn, girl! You're so sexy with them glasses!"
"How are you doing today, beautiful? Lookin' fine, lookin fine."

Plus, even though I was obviously on the phone having a conversation with someone, a man who passed me on the street turned around and started following me, hollering inappropriate and aggressive comments (they went something like, "hey beautiful, mmm you have some sexy dreads! How long you had them? Hey, you're not gonna talk to me? What's the matter gorgeous? Come on bitch, let me introduce myself! You just gonna walk away?" etc, etc for two blocks) while I completely ignored him and tried to finish my conversation. As soon as I was off the phone the man physically obstructed my path by jumping in front of me, and began harassing me persistently. The first words out of my mouth were, "I have a boyfriend, I'm not interested," so he continued in a manner which made me instantly feel guilty: "What, a guy can't make friends? Why can't I just be your friend?" to which I tried my best to reply firmly, "I don't even know you, how can we be friends?" The conversation continued, with him smoothly talking around my every reply, dodging my questions but asking a million questions of me, and mixing in harassing comments (ex: "Where do you work, beautiful?" to which I replied, "Where do *you* work?" to which he replied, "hey, give me a break, I'm new here. We could go smoke some bud sometime, how 'bout you give me your number?" to which I replied, "I don't do that, I'm just trying to go to my garden," to which he replied, "well I like to do other things too, like watch movies. You wanna go see a movie? How 'bout you give me your number? I can't wait to see those sexy dreads of yours again." Etc. Etc. Et fucking cetera.).

I somehow managed to finally walk around him (it took me several tries, with him repeatedly stepping in my path) and I dashed to the Pine Street garden and locked myself in (thank goodness I have a plot in a locked garden!), heart racing, blood boiling. I kept playing the episode over in my head, growing angrier and angrier, and trying to dissect it. Want to know what the fucked up part is? My first thought was, "I shouldn't have worn this skirt today." My second thought: "Was I too mean?"

And then I realized... fuck! I have EVERY right to wear that skirt!! I have every right to walk down the street wearing whatever I want! I have every right to be firm and bitchy to a guy who is only pretending he wants to be friends. What he really wants is obvious, and it's degrading to myself and to other victims to allow that kind of behavior and those kinds of comments to continue. In fact, I wish I had been ten times as mean and aggressive! I wish the badass Dreaded Librarian side of me had reared up and come up with something witty and pointed to say, something that would show him what a strong, intelligent and professional woman I am. Something that would intimidate him in the same way he intimidated me. I wish I had pulled some Lisbeth Salander-style move on him.

But mostly I just wish that I could walk the three blocks to my garden in peace, relishing the sunshine and autumn air. I was raised in the sunshine and crave it, yet too many days are spent inside in our tiny apartment by myself merely because I, Molly Ladd, am afraid to walk out the door. To clarify, I'm not afraid that anyone will physically hurt me. Sure, it could happen, but I'm pretty sure I could kick the shit out of someone just enough to get away if I needed to. I feel physically safe in Lewiston. But what most people don't seem to understand, but what I assume 99% of victims know in their subconscious, is that sexual harassment is terrifying. It instantly makes you feel diminutive, objectified, and worthless. It can turn your bright, September day into a dreary, cold, dark day in March. It makes you feel worthless, and no one wants to feel worthless. So, all too many times, I stay inside.

So I'm writing this to get some of these feelings out. And I'm asking, begging, for two things. First of all, I'm asking for those being subjected to sexual abuse to stand up for themselves. Don't let the abuse continue. Report it, and support each other. Secondly, I'm begging everyone to pay attention and stand up for people who are being subjected to harassment. If you see someone on the street catcalling or following someone, speak up! Tell them to knock it off, and offer to walk with the victim. Call the police. Do whatever you feel comfortable with given the situation, but don't let it just slide by unnoticed. Sexual harassment it serious, and I'm seriously sick of it.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Excellent quote from a patron, relayed by a fellow Librarian: 

"Librarians are like Bartenders for people who don't drink!"

 It's so true, and is one of the (many) fantastic aspects of working in a library. Libraries are not only houses of endless, free, accessible information, but are also community centers where patrons may feel at ease to discuss their every whim, issue, dream, and desire with the lovely librarians behind the desk. It builds connections and friendships, and strengthens the whole community. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Case of the Missing Moonbeam: Part 2

I was sitting anxiously across from a petite woman with short, brown hair and an easy smile, cradling a cup of black spiced tea with milk.  A sitar droned through the speakers at the back of the restaurant. We had ordered drinks together awkwardly, like a couple on a first date trying to feel out the preferences of the other person:

Black tea or green?
How many lumps of sugar?
Yes or no to milk? 

And so on until we were both sipping our tea in silence, glancing across the table at each other with mixed expressions. 

Sy seemed like an unlikely candidate to have secret information about there whereabouts of my bike, Luna Pisces Moonbeam. For a few moments I flirted with the thought that she had simply called in the hopes of getting the reward money in exchange for leading information, but the thought passed quickly when, after nearly 20 minutes of small talk, she hadn’t brought up the reward money once. However, we hadn’t actually talked about my bike at all since we met at the Indian restaurant, and instead continued to engage in a choreographed verbal dance, skirting from topic to topic with general ease and broad, stylish spins and dips. I was anxious, bored, and starting to feel like this was a waste of time when suddenly she lifted her chin and spoke. She preceded her words with a dimpled, nearly apologetic smile.

“So I know this meeting may seem kind of random...” She paused, and smiled again. “The thing is, I’ve heard a lot about you and couldn’t help but be surprised at the fact that your bike got stolen. It was even more surprising when I found out that I think I know the guy who took it.” She looked at me with slightly narrower eyes than before, almost as though she was lost in thought.

When she didn’t continue, I chimed in. “Yes, I was surprised and admittedly quite upset when Luna was stolen. I’ve searched high and low in this city, but I can’t seem to find her anywhere. I figured, with spring here, people would be out riding bikes every day and if I just kept my eyes open I might spot someone riding a lavender 1987 Nishiki Prestige.” I knew I was babbling, but couldn’t seem to stop. For some strange reason, I felt safe telling this complete stranger all about my sad life and even sadder thief tracking ineptitude.  “I’ve looked all over, but haven’t even found the tiniest lead. If you know who took my bike, I’d love to work something out with you to get it back. As much as I want to nab them, I can control the need for revenge and try to...forgive and forget.” Just saying those words made the milky tea sour in my mouth, but I knew that it was true. If there was a way to get Luna back, even if the thief never got properly reprimanded, I would find a way to forgive and forget in order to have my bike back safe and sound.

Surprisingly, Sy chuckled at my speech, a lilting laugh that drifted through the air and blended with the sitar music.

“I think you misunderstood me,” she said. “I know who took your bike, but I’m not friends with him. In fact, I’m hoping you might be able to help me... in seeking revenge.”

I blinked and unconsciously raised my eyebrow in curiosity. “I’m listening.”

“You see, I’m a mindful, community gardening type of gal. I teach people how to garden, how to eat nutritiously, and how to make delicious meals out of the vegetables that they grow. I help maintain a number of gardens throughout the area, and also grow my own food in my backyard using what I like to call ‘extreme gardening methods.’” She paused for effect, practically begging me to ask her more.

I found myself, surprisingly, on the edge of my seat. Thus, I abided her silent plea and asked, “What to you mean by ‘extreme gardening methods?”

She flashed another crinkly smile and her face lit up. Bingo, I thought. This ought to be good.

“Well,” she began eagerly,  “I developed a technique that allows me to plant my garden without ever having to leave my apartment! Wait, that makes me sound really antisocial. For the record, I do leave my apartment, quite frequently, and enjoy doing so...” 

“It’s ok, I understand what you mean,” I replied, politely overlooking her own lapse into awkward babble, just as she had overlooked mine. Besides, I was still curious as to her gardening methods. “Go on.”

“Well, I only garden organically so I don’t use artificial fertilizers or anything, but I developed a way to extract pure nitrogen from organic compost to make small explosives. You know, mini pipe-bomb type experiments. Anyway, after a few years of practice, I invented a mechanical arm that can drop the small explosives out the window with extreme precision, allowing me to arrange them in intricate patterns or simple grids. Since the garden is right outside my window, I use the arm to arrange the bombs in rows, then detonate the explosives and fire seedlings into the smoldering holes with a specially crafted bow and arrow set I designed myself! It’s a very efficient process-- I can plant the entire garden in less than an hour! Besides, it’s exceptionally fun.” She immediately took a sip of tea following her monologue and glanced at me with raised eyebrows over the rim of the cup, trying to determine if I thought she was crazy or not. Obviously, I did. But more than anything, I felt admiration, and possibly even jealousy. 

Brilliant! I thought, trying to keep my face from showing any signs of interest. Why didn’t I think of that idea?? My mind kept fluctuating between blurting out a string of wildly embarrassing praises, and wondering how this had anything to do with the theft of my bicycle.

“I’ve got to admit,” I said, raising my eyebrows across the table and smirking slightly, “that sounds like one hell of a good time!” 

Sy laughed, then said, “I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with your bicycle!”

Damn. She’s like a mindreader!

“The thought may have crossed my mind.”

“Well, several weeks ago I was preparing the garden for planting. I had all my explosives made, seedlings started, and had finished fine-tuning my mechanical arm, when I realized my bow and arrow set was missing. I knew I had seen it just the previous day, because I had to check the alignment of the arrows to ensure accuracy, but that day it was nowhere to be found!”

“Are you suggesting that you think the same person who stole my bike snuck into your apartment to steal your bow and arrows?” I asked doubtfully. “It seems a little far fetched. This is a big town we live in!”

“I know, I know. But there’s more. You see, the very same day your bike was stolen, I noticed an advertisement in the classifieds section.” Here, she started fumbling through her pockets and pulled out a carefully clipped and laminated section of the newspaper. She handed it to me across the table. I read the few sentences slowly.

“Wanted: Archery equipment. Call 777-3445.”

I was starting to doubt the legitimacy of the story Sy was crafting. “Sy, this really doesn’t imply anything about my bicycle being connected with the theft of your bow.”

“No, not yet. But look, here is a clipping from the previous day’s newspaper, day before your bike was stolen, and the day after my bow was stolen.” She handed me another small newspaper clipping that read,

Wanted: Functional road bicycle. Call 777-3445.”

Sy was starting at me for signs of emotion. I think she could tell that I wasn’t buying into her hap-hazard clues. “Before you dismiss me as crazy, just think about it for a minute. Both of these advertisements have the same phone number listed, and appeared in the newspaper the day before our items matching the ads were stolen.”

“Yeah, but this could just be some crazy coincidence! Why would someone list items they want in the newspaper if they’re just going to steal them anyway?” My tea was growing cold, and I was growing tired of this conversation.

“You’ve got it all wrong!” Sy exclaimed. “It’s not the person listing the items who is the thief! Rather, I suspect that the thief saw the ads and thought they could make some quick cash along the way by obtaining the wanted items and selling them both to the same buyer, who could then later be blamed for the theft of the items when the actual thief calls you about the whereabouts of your bike in response to your reward posters!”

She was talking fast and making connections that my still-sleepy brain was striving to keep up with. At that moment I felt my cell phone begin to vibrate in my pocket and pulled it out to inspect the number: Restricted.

Sy eyed me glancing at my phone. “You don’t believe me, do you? Well I think you should answer that.”

“No, no, it’s alright. That would be terribly rude of me, I apologize for even looking.” 

I was beginning to place my phone back into my pocket when Sy abruptly snatched it from my hands, snapped it open and answered with a clipped but polite, “Good afternoon!” Her expression of determined curiosity changed to one of near excitement. The conversation was brief and confusing for a listener like myself only getting half of the dialog, and ended just as abruptly as it had begun, with Sy snapping the phone closed, launching into a standing position with fist raised over her head, and triumphantly yelling, “Yes! We’ve got him!!”

...To be continued.....

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Case of the Missing Moonbeam

I found myself falling out of sleep and into wakefulness. The digital clock glowed menacingly through the dim light of early morning, but my bleary eyes could not make out more than angry red fuzz no matter how hard I squinted. I rolled over and shuffled through last week’s reading--a few books, a tattered art journal, and multiple harassing bills stacked one on top of another-- until my fingers fumbled across my glasses. A second glance at the clock, this time in full focus, revealed the numbers 8:57.


It had been a late night. I was tired and knew I looked like hell, but had approximately three minutes to get to work. I started throwing clothes around hastily while simultaneously searching for my keys. I slipped on some sandals and started rushing out the door, caught myself, and reversed the mad dash until I was in the bathroom clutching my toothbrush and scrubbing my teeth into a feral froth. Then spit, rinse, and the final dash out the door, toothbrush still in hand. I tucked it into the inner pocket of my coat, ready and waiting to combat the next attack of halitosis or stubbornly lodged food particles.

The library was quiet when I arrived fashionably late at 9:03, and I managed to slip unnoticed into my office.  It felt like ants were crawling around in my brain, slowly picking up neglected neurons and putting them into their proper firing positions. Waking up was usually not an issue, but I was trying to function on barely three hours of shuteye. The thinking machine was running a bit slow, yes, but I couldn't help shaking the vague memory of a dream. I could see it rising to the surface, but just as it came into vision it would seep away into the depths, just a blue-grey shadow sinking in the darkness. It annoyed me because it seemed important. I wanted to remember it, but it wouldn’t stay lodged in view for more than a few microseconds, just long enough to distract me but not long enough to catch it in my memory net. 

There was a knock at the door, three soft taps and then silence.

“Yeah,” I said distractedly. Leave me the fuck alone. 

“HEY, MOLLY!” It was Ron, the man who wanted so desperately to take me on a date that he continued to stop by every single morning, disregarding my every attempt to shut him down. “I had to stop by to see your smiling face!” I hate it when he says that. It makes me feel obligated to smile, when what I  really want to do is wallow in the misery of having to explain on a daily basis why I am not interested in him.

“Hi, Ron.” I didn’t even look up from the e-mail I was typing. Call it rude if you will, but after two years of being visited by him I had little patience. I blamed it on being especially tired that day.
“You know, you still haven’t called me,” he replied with a wink.

I sighed. Here we go.

“Yes, Ron. I know.” I looked him directly in the eye, folding my hands together in front of me. “We’ve been over this. I refused to take your number, which makes it impossible for me to call you.”

“Yeah, but you could look it up in the phone book! Or I can give it to you now.” He flashed me a notecard, already prepared with his name and number, and stepped forward to put it on my desk.

“Ron, you can keep that. I’m not going to call you because I have a boyfriend.  You can’t keep doing this, Ron. I need to get back to work.”

He looked at me with hurt eyes walked away. I felt bad-- always do-- but was too tired to respond more delicately, and too impatient with his persistence to care. 

Besides, I told myself, I’m grieving.

Grief is a funny thing. You know on some level that you’ve experienced a loss, and something or someone irreplaceable has disappeared forever. Yet you keep hoping that there must have been a mistake, that they'll just show up on your doorstep one day and everything will return to normal. Except it never happens.

Her name is--was-- Moonbeam. Luna Pisces Moonbeam, to be exact. With a name like that you know she must have deserved every savory syllable of it. Such a pale beauty, lavender veined and slim through the shoulders. When I gratefully came to call her mine, I knew that I had never seen anything as quietly majestic or gracefully swift as her before. 

Luna is--was-- freedom. She was movement and life, a vast road through breezy hay fields baking in the sun. She was a placid lake surface washed with dancing raindrops. She was all this, all this and much more. And then she was gone, and I found myself left with only the ghost-memory of her figure haunting me at every turn. What could I do? Alone, desolate, I walked. I had been walking for weeks now, through our favorite neighborhoods, parks and parking lots, up hills, into shops. I walked aimlessly, looking longingly down every street and alley, behind every  building, through every window and porch railing, hoping desperately to catch a glimpse of her slender figure hiding just out of view.  I couldn’t stop walking, which explained why I was so bone-tired all the time.

I sighed. Luna. Best damn bike I’ve ever had. I was still scowling at my computer screen when the phone rang.

“Ladd here.” I waited for a few seconds in silence, then said, “Hello?” Just as I was pulling the receiver away from my ear to hang up, I heard a voice at the other end of the line. For a second time I mustered up enough energy to say, “Hello?”

“Hello,” said the female voice, followed by more silence. Then, “I have information about Luna.”

My throat tightened. Don’t get emotional, I told myself. I took a deep breath to remove the shake from my voice before responding. “What the hell did you do with her, you thief?! I’m going to track you down and smother your mother with manure, douse your house with hexes, harrass your ass with....”

“Woah, woah, easy!” The voice interrupted, following with a lyrical chuckle. I was breathing furiously hard into the receiver, mouth still ajar mid-sentence. A million thoughts were swirling through my head, words were putting themselves into threats and materializing into complete sentences so quickly that her interruption felt like mentally getting flipped over the handlebars of a bike. “Look, I didn’t steal her, but I may have information as to where she is.” 

I paused, embarrassed now. I mustered enough humility to say, “Oh.”

There was a slight pause on the other end, although I’m certain I heard a muffled chuckle. “Hey, my name’s Sy. I saw one of your missing bike posters stapled to a tree in the park and thought I’d give you a call.” 

Feeling completely deflated, I said quietly, “Oh. I see.” Fortunately my awkward silence did not dissuade the caller from continuing the conversation. 

“Yeah, anyway, I have some information but I’d rather deliver it in person. You see, it’s a bit complicated...”

And before I knew it I was scheduled to meet her for lunch at the very same Indian restaurant from which my bike got stolen. I was incredibly nervous, wondering who this mysterious caller was and what information she had about Luna, but I tried to maintain the well-practiced calm of the infamous Dreaded Librarian. Usually my stints against criminal activities are less personal. It boils down to me obtaining justice on behalf of someone else: defending right and punishing wrongdoings, but always for someone else. I had long forgotten what an emotional occurrence it was to feel personally violated, robbed, threatened and defeated. For the first time in many years, I was having to seek help, and from a complete stranger no less! 

I shook my head. Some Dreaded Librarian I’ve turned into. I can’t even find a missing bicycle. It was then that I realized I was totally, undeniably, utterly and completely down in the dumps. I hung my head in depressed shame and started methodically moving towards the restaurant.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Dreaded Librarian recently had the great privilege of having dinner with author Dinaw Mengestu following a reading he did at the local liberal arts college. He is an Ethiopian-American writer who has been listed as one of "the top 20 authors under 40." His two books, "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears," and "How to Read the Air," have received plenty of praise for their prose and captivating stories. 

Despite working at a library, there are very few authors who I have met. I remember being in 5th grade and realizing that I wanted to be a writer, and that dream stuck with me through all of high school and even into college. My aspirations, though unrealistic, involved being a published novelist by age 16, writing and illustrating a childrens' book, and majoring in creative writing in college. Alas, none of these dreams have reached maturation, and yet my dream of some day meeting and talking with a real live author has been blissfully achieved.

Mr. Mengestu lead an informal writing discussion with several teenage aspiring writers, and his words were both motivational and inspirational. What I liked most about him is that he lacked the pretentious air that I expected to come with fame, and rather spoke with calm strength and down-to-earth wisdom. He was intrigued by our community and the incredibly unexpected diversity found within such a small and run-down city. My library kids were very excited to ask him about his life and his books, trying to find commonalities between their African refugee background and his Ethiopian immigration stories.
Overall, the visit was an incredible experience (for both the youth and myself!), and now that I am in the midst of one of his books (rather belated, I know) I can also highly recommend picking one up and reading it. I am currently wrapping up "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears" and have found his writing beautifully lyrical, with strong imagery and a slow, relaxed sense of melancholia. Get to your local library and check it out-- literally!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tandem Troubles

Sometimes trouble just finds you regardless of how hard you try to avoid it. It's like dank, oppressive humidity, enveloping and suffocating you after you smile at the sunshine on a lovely day. It hits out of nowhere and leaves you splayed on the sidewalk, gasping with heat stroke like a hooked trout in the day's fresh catch basket.

Trouble. I needed it yesterday as much as I needed a plume of tobacco smoke blown in my face from some sucker puffing on a cancer stick. I needed it like appendicitis. Heck, I needed it like a cliche punch in the face! But despite my plans for a quiet day at the library, I found myself faced with a face-smashing bowl of trouble.

It all started when a late night turned into an early weekend morning with a sore throat that could only have been sent by someone as sinister as Shakespear's Iago. Clawing my throat out would have seemed like a mere insect bite in comparison to the endless flaming pain of this latest enemy of my immune system. Yet I tried desperately to ignore it, to pretend it was a slight case of "dehydration" or "seasonal allergies" even though I've never experienced an allergic reaction in my life. I tried to tell myself that dreaded librarians don't get sick-- they just don't. But on those little bacteria marched, destroying my throat, progressing to my lungs within 24 hours, and leaving me coughing until my ribs ached.

Now, any normal person would probably stay home and just wait it out. However, my work ethic is like an iron bar, and the only reason I could legitimize for taking a sick day was that I didn't want to infect others with this bacterial culture brewing in the petri dishes of my inflamed alveoli. I did contemplate staying home sick, but since it is school vacation week and I knew that I would be spending the entirety of the day behind a closed door in the privacy of my office with limited exposure to other individuals, I decided to muck through some paperwork and catch up on all the office duties I've been so negligent about. Thus, my troubles began.

After a few hours, I left my office to meet a friend for lunch. We were to meet at 1:15 at the Indian restaurant down the street, but as I was leaving my office at 1:12 I realized with mortification that I had forgotten my debit card in the pocket of my other pair of pants (where I had tucked it the night before while attending an Iron & Wine concert), and living up to my notorious habit of never having cash on hand, I was faced with a dilemma: I could either go to the restaurant and be on time, but ashamedly ask my friend to cover my lunch with a promised I-owe-you, or I could run back to my apartment to get my debit card to relieve myself from being a mooch, but continue to develop a bad habit of being late. I opted for the latter and started running up the street.

I arrived at my apartment at approximately 1:15, found the card within thirty seconds, and was dashing out the door by 1:16, at which point I spotted by bicycle waiting, beckoning for me on the landing outside the door. Without a second thought, I threw it over my shoulder and carried it out the door where I proceeded to hop onto it and speed towards the Indian restaurant. I arrived barely three minutes late, praising myself for being smart enough to avoid being a mooch or being terribly tardy. I placed by bike against a tree by the side window of the restaurant and then BAM! I realized with horror that I had forgotten my bike lock. But again, the desire to save my reputation outweighed my thoughts of returning home to retrieve my bike lock, and I thought to myself, "Well, we won't be inside long, and my bike will be in full view of our table the whole time. I'm sure it will be fine." I'm sure you see where this is going. Obviously my bike got stolen and my reputation became that of a careless dolt, which is far worse than that of being a tardy mooch. Thus, my tandem troubles of horrendous illness and bike theft rolled together into one of the worst days of the past year.

I'm fairly convinced that I won't see my lavender road bike (named Luna Pisces Moonbeam) again, unless the dreaded librarian rears her crime-fighting head once more in a serious case of revenge-seeking investigative work. Firstly, she must wait in frustration for this cold to leave her lungs, and then...
Luna Pisces Moonbeam


Friday, April 1, 2011

The Mad Crapper

Public bathrooms have long been my cold, dark, nemesis. They seep with discomfort, some more reminiscent of a Dark Ages torture chamber anything else.There are the usual misdemeanors: derogatory graffiti written in stolen Sharpie marker; phone numbers, names and dates etched into walls in pointy lettering; soggy toilet paper littering the corners waiting to get stuck to unsuspecting shoes; and of course the odd smells and stains that beg the question, “What happened here?”

Ah yes, the joys of public bathrooms, with all their lurking shadows, drips and creaks. Yet, surprisingly, none of these offenses have anything to do with my dislike and outright horror towards public restrooms: Until I went to college and discovered a few dorms and buildings with single-stall, unisex facilities, I thought all public restrooms were highly gendered and uncomfortable places wrought with hard feelings.  From childhood to adulthood, exploring the intricacies of public restroom norms has been an exercise in tolerance, terror, and courage.  In many ways, working in a public library has furthered my education of restroom etiquette (or lack thereof) in ways that are so grotesque you’ll probably think I’m making them up. If only that were the case...

As a child, I was terrified of the rest stop bathrooms on highways. Just think about it-- you’re 6 years old, 3 feet tall, and you walk into a giant maze of stalls with your adult monitor (aka parent or other legal guardian). It’s overwhelming! Inside the stall, there are rolls of toilet paper bigger than your head set inside giant plastic dispensers with jagged teeth that never tear the paper off correctly. On the opposite wall a little bit of tissue paper peaks out of the bottom of another strange-shaped dispenser (“That’s the seat cover,” mom later explains. You decide not to mention that you thought it was toilet paper). Plus, in the women’s bathrooms there are those darn metal boxes for disposing of feminine items, which as a child pose yet another mystery. When you ask about them, the best answer you get is, “You’ll find out when you’re older. Let’s go!”

And everything runs on sensors.

There you are, sitting on that cold seat in a mustard-yellow stall covered in phone numbers and obscene messages trying to squeeze your bladder dry before another three hours on the road. From beneath the door you catch a glimpse of what appear to be hundreds of feet right outside, waiting for you to finish. It takes a while for you to get over your ‘stage fright,’ but when you finally do and the satisfying sound of water-on-water begins, you shift your weight the slightest bit to get more comfortable and suddenly--


--so deafening that it sounds like a whirlpool has opened beneath you and you’re going to get sucked down into the depths of the sewer forever to live in the company of the alligators you heard about from the other kids at school!  After the terror subsides (and after you’ve lurched off the toilet in an attempt to save yourself from the sewers), you realize that the whirlpool was, surprisingly, just the toilet flushing itself. But you didn’t even touch the handle! Ah, those pesky sensors that you are now beginning to be enlightened about. Such a strange, terrifying place! You continue to be amazed after you exit the stall and head over to the sinks where your public bathroom sensor education is fulfilled. The electronic sinks, soap and towel dispensers seem to possess a miraculous ability to wash and dry your hands with almost no personal effort. What a strange, terrifying place indeed!

Obviously I am no longer afraid of public bathrooms for the same reasons as a child.  Unfortunately, with age bathrooms became even more horrific. There was middle school, when every girl would cram in front of the mirrors before school to apply make-up, and then cram in again at the end of the day to wash it off before going home. An innocent bystander like myself could get trampled to death in the stampede if they weren’t careful.  And it was around those middle school years when kids first began finding it humorous to write scrawled messages like “there’s a BOMB in the TOILET” on the walls for the custodians to find, causing an immediate forced evacuation of the school. This would only become a more frequent event as school progressed.

Then there was high school when navigating the bathrooms required a degree in high school hierarchy systems: the potheads owned the second floor bathroom, the cheerleaders claimed the one by the front stairwell, the drama geeks used the cafeteria stalls to rehearse during lunch, and the one in the science wing always smelled like a noxious perfume of formaldehyde, lighter fluid and rotting potatoes.  As an unsuspecting and rather unpopular “outsider,” I had the unpleasant experience of walking in on girly gossip in the “wrong bathroom,” and being given the angry eye until I left. On several occasions, I’d push open an unlocked stall door in the lady’s room and find a popular couple (the type waiting to be nominated “Prom King and Queen”) making out with such fierce passion you’d think the world was about to end. Add to that the fact that our school was so old that most of the stalls were missing their doors, and it just made infinitely more sense to hold it until school was out.

And then college changed everything.. Suddenly alcohol was a readily available addition to the public bathroom horrors. Girls would vomit their guts out while sobbing hysterically over the porcelain god about some boy and/or sociology paper due the next day; socially active students surveyed all bathrooms on campus and determined that handicap accessible and gender neutral bathrooms were discriminately few and far between; and bathrooms housed the perfect “hook-up” location for couples seeking solitude from their roommates. When I studied abroad I also had my first peek at pub and bar restrooms, and while I found the drunken mob of female strangers surprisingly supportive of one another, I still couldn’t help but notice that all of the gossip centered exclusively around boy troubles-- jealousy, resentment, cheating, lying. The supportive circle of female restroom users was a necessity to counter the excessive negative vibes loosened by liquor!

When I finally joined the working world, having experienced and dealt with many of my public bathroom demons, I suddenly found myself exposed to “the other side” of the restroom story: the side that deals with the complaints and maintenance of said restrooms. People frequently come up to the Reference Desk and make remarks about the condition of the bathroom:

“Just thought you might like to know that there’s some really offensive graffiti in there.”

“That bathroom’s flooded, someone stuffed paper towels down the sink and left the water on.”

“The smell in there is unreal! That bathroom should be out of order until you guys get some air freshener! I coulda passed out and hit my head on the sink, man.”

And so a maintenance report is filed and the offensive graffiti is painted over again, the young person who flooded the bathroom is suspended because of the extensive damage to books caused by the water leaking through the floor to the bookstacks below, and a canister of air freshener is replaced only to be stolen the following day. These acts become the routine.

What scares me most is when the routine is broken.

We’ve had some scandalous and almost unbelievable things happen in the restroom on the Reference Floor. Reverting back to one of the examples above, when the bathroom was flooded, I almost didn’t understand how such an incident could happen. Why would anyone plug the sink with paper towels, turn the water on and leave? Sure, maybe it gets a laugh from a few friends, but is it really worth the 6 month library suspension? Unfortunately, it is for many of our patrons.  It’s also a routine occurrence for the elevator to be used as a urinal by mischievous youth looking for a laugh.

There was even one day when I was working on the Teen Banner project (described in a previous post) when an older youth tipped me off to the fact that amateur nose piercing was raging through the high school like wildfire. I didn’t think much of it until I looked around and realized that several girls who had just been working on the banner had disappeared rather suddenly, and after a quick sweep of the Reference floor they were nowhere to be found. It was about at that moment that I noticed several voices emanating from the public restroom and approached the door. I knocked and the voices fell silent instantaneously.

“Anyone in there?” I hollered, knocking again. “I’m coming in!”  

At which point a young girl, only 12, opened the door and exited, turning the light off behind her. “Sorry, I was just washing my hands,” she said innocently. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t fool me for a second. I switched the light back on to find 5 teenage girls all huddled by the sink holding needles they had stolen from the sewing project they had been working on in the Teen Room. Two sported small gems in their reddened noses, painfully obvious new additions to their faces.

Being the teen-savvy librarian I am, I refrained from harsh scolding and instead focused on safety.

“Ladies, this really isn’t the place to be doing this, but since I caught you... are you disinfecting your needles? If you took them from the Teen Room--”

“No, we didn’t steal them!”

“--then they’re probably covered in germs from all the kids who have been touching them. I definitely saw someone’s little brother sneeze into his hands and then use some of those needles.”

Ewwwwww, oh my god did you make sure you burned that before shoving it through my nose?? Who has the lighter??” A flurry of worried voices chimes in and some girl mutters something like, “I forgot the lighter, but I’m sure it’s ok. We wiped it off first...”

“And I don’t want you to get in trouble with your parents. If you’re reverting to piercing each other in the public library bathroom, I assume your family doesn’t know you are doing this. I’m not going to tell on you, don’t worry, you guys should think about this, ok? I know I’m not one to talk [since my nose is pierced] but I waited until I was 18 to get mine done, and did it at a piercing parlor where everything was sanitized.” I paused a second for effect while looking around the bathroom sketchily before continuing. “I’m sure you realize this already, but this is definitely not a sanitary place.” The girls glanced around too, and the young 12 year old mumbled, “Eww, is that poop on the wall??”

Mind you, we do have a fantastic cleaning crew that scrubs the place down thoroughly, but everyday wear-and-tear seems to be particularly rough. Just yesterday an older gentleman suffering from incontinence literally ran up to the desk and started shouting rather incoherently that he needed the bathroom NOW, GOD DAMN IT! and the poor librarian at the desk had to essentially evacuate the person who was in there to make way for this man, who was already peeing himself by the time he entered the restroom.  In the afternoons, the bathroom gets particularly messy and slippery because many of the youth who attend homework help are Muslim, and they must wash their hands and feet in the sink (which is quite messy as you can imagine, leaving puddles of water on the floor) before the afternoon prayer. Yes, the everyday wear-and-tear is quite extensive!

There is one final anecdote that must be shared in order for you to fully understand my disgust of public restrooms, but which also merits a good amount of humor just in time for April Fool’s day.  While I was not ‘blessed’ with the opportunity to see this first-hand, I heard a detailed description from my coworker who described it, laughingly, as “the most disgusting thing [he’d] ever seen.” It took a while to figure out who the culprit was, but thanks to our security cameras we managed to fill in many of the missing details. Here’s how events played out:

A patron approached the desk with a horrified look of shock on his face. He simply stated, “You need you place that bathroom out of order. It’s definitely unusable.”

My coworker thanked the patron and said to me, “I’ll go check it out before we put up the sign. A lot of the time it just needs to be plunged a bit.”

Less than a minute later, he emerged from the bathroom with a bemused but disgusted look on his face and remarked, “That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life.” He then proceeded to describe the state of the toilet-- a paperback book had been spread open in the toilet, cover-side up, so that all of the pages became saturated with toilet water. The culprit had then proceeded to take a shit (“the biggest dump I’ve ever seen!!” he said) on top of the book, and had flushed the toilet several times so that the saturated pages dissolved a bit and swirled around in the nearly-overflowing toilet bowl. The whole mess had completely blocked up the system and musked the air with a thick stench that rendered the bathroom unusable for the next two days.

The librarians colloquially referred to the culprit as “The Mad Crapper,” and set off on a mission to identify him. After reviewing several hours of video footage, we finally noticed a suspicious patron who entered the bathroom holding what appeared to be a book. When he exited, the item was no longer in his hands, and he had a maniacal grin on his face. A police report was filed for destruction of library property (the book) and a suspension put in place in response to the poor behavior.

The episode definitely solidified my negative opinion of public bathrooms; they abound with mischievous misdemeanors, poor etiquette, and repulsive acts. Yet I found myself realizing that I no longer was afraid of them. Sure, they are uncomfortable places that I try to avoid at all times, but  I now have a new respect for the endless humor they provide to this unsuspecting, public-bathroom-hating librarian.

Yes, as sick as it was, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the Mad Crapper. His seemingly senseless behavior led to the disgusting and horrific destruction of a book, but he had a sense of humor (albeit a twisted one).

Admittedly, this was one of the most creative book reviews I’d ever heard of.