Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"The Indigent And The Haunted...

...cling to me."

That was a Jay Leno line he told to Letterman way back before Jay took over the Tonight Show (and was still funny). He was referring to being on the road doing standup and the types of characters and personalities that would corner him after a show.

I used to work at the local and on for about eight years from age 16 to age 24. I started out as a lowly Junior Page...primarily responsible for putting returned books, records, cassettes, etc. back out on the shelves - though I learned a lot about life whilst 'back in the 'stacks''. See, there were eight of us pages, seven teenage girls and me. The Magnicent Seven were highlighted by Glorious Gloria who was sweet and simple and liked long walk and talks...and Wicked Wanda, who was very well developed for her age and would say so - a young male library workers wet dream.

But I digress...

I was then promoted to Senior Page, and was able to check out items for patrons (and take overdue fines). Next I moved upstairs to the audio-visual dept., and as a Clerk 1 did the above as well as overseeing the records and audio cassettes, plus cleaning and lending the vast collection of 16mm films (before they slowly began to give way to video cassettes). I ended up downstairs in the basement selling tickets and projecting movies for what was essentially the city's only rep film theatre.

Prior to working there I practically lived at my local building of books. Regular readers of Uninflected might recollect I grew up essentially without a television, and so I read like a fiend. They knew me by name as I would trudge, bike, bus each week over to the nearest library and take out at least 8-10 books. I was the kid the librarians would ask the opinion of a book to know whether to recommend it to another patron...cuz I'd read them all.

Good times, my library days. Good times...

And while I was there, either visiting or employed, there were always 'the regulars'. Usually loners, eccentrics, oddballs, kooks...most were homeless or suffering from schizophrenia or mental illness...they were people that lived at the library more than I did. And they would park themselves in their usual chairs or corners around the library and wile away their days in the one place in town they were more or less left alone.

There was Doris, wigged and sporting too much lipstick and mascara... parading around in a fur coat all year long. And Zane, who paced and muttered loudly before spontaneously cussing and swinging wildly at an invisible assailant. And of course, Donny, who carried a large bag of rubber balls and would stack them around his chair and talk to each of them, sometimes even kissing one.

I remember being a bit freaked out by some of these people and their behavior when I first encountered them...but they were harmless and soon became familiar faces. I'd nod and say hello. And most times they'd acknowledge me. Some would take the nod as an invitation for conversation...oh my, some of the discussions I had.

"The indigent and the haunted cling to me..."

I still 'heart' my local library. These days, however, it's less for the books and more for the privilege of borrowing series TV dvd's. A couple weeks ago it was 'X Files - Season 8'. This past week it was 'L&O: Criminal Intent - Season 1' and 'The Complete Freaks and Geeks' (the latter to rewatch...swoon). And when I go I drag my kids along and insist they explore a bit and take out a couple of books. I try to impress upon them how much the library meant to me growing up, but it's tough. They usually grumble and ask 'When are we leaving?' too often.

See, times have changed. Nobody goes to their library like they used to...not with all yer computers and internets and video games and TV shows and movies. Seriously, I've gone and found the library near empty of late. Found it quiet...too quiet...and that's pretty sad if you ask me.

But a lot of the regulars are still there. I recently went through the interesting experience of my son getting freaked out seeing a now gray-haired Donny kissing his rubber balls (yes, still!). I had to convince my son that Donny was 'okay' and to not be afraid and that I actually kinda liked seeing Donny still kicking around joint. My son gave me a strange look. Then Donny glanced over and nodded at me. I smiled and waved back. But instead of responding, Donny looked around a little anxiously and then began putting his balls back in his big netted bag.

And right then and there I wondered if Donny and all the other 'regulars' had been looking at me all these years and thinking:

"The indigent and the haunted cling to me..."

SONG&ARTIST? - "You were caught on the cross fire
of childhood and stardom,
blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter,
come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!"


Marilyn said...

Now THAT sounds like a series.


(Oh, and, uh, hi. Been lurking for a bit and enjoying it immensely.)

Bill Cunningham said...

But there's absolutely nothing like finding a book at the library that's been out of print for years, but is regarded as the resource for all the books after it...

I have prowled the shelves at the Hollywood library (talk about homeless? Now there's some homeless folk) and found works that were cited in articles that I always took to be the last word on a subject.

Old books are great idea generators containing all sorts of arcana...

I think the library system needs a marketing makeover for the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

The thing I love most about my library is I can search books online, reserve them, and they call me when they are ready for pick-up. And its free!!

And like Bill said, there are endless stories and ideas on those shelves.

In fact I'm about to sneak over to the Toronto Reference Library right now to do some writing/editing over my lunch hour.

Good Dog said...

I love libraries. I discovered the books written by people who became my favourite authors in the stacks and shelves.

I loved the peace and quiet as well. Alway having moved to a part of North London that had a decent library up the road I was astounded to discover that nobody gives a damn is mothers bring in their bawling kids.

A sure sign that we're on the fast track to the end of civilization.

Hey, if you did the show as a comedy, after the studio audience laughs someone could sharply go "Shhhhhh!!!"


BTW, much better post than the previous one. Reading about Killer Karla on a Sunday morning really creeped me out.

CAROLINE said...

Libraries are pretty amazing. I don't think younger kids get how they were our portals into the world growing up. I agree with Marilyn ... that is totally a Wonder Years-esque series, Will. Write it ... CBC's lookin'.

Juniper said...

Nice story about the characters that hang out at the library.

I remember at university there was this old fellar (like 90 yrs old!) who would show up in his padded vest and just sleep.

It was rumoured that he had long been retired from the library but had nothing else in his life.

Hmmm... not something I'd recommend you start doing, even if it means you can hang with the ball kisser!