Tales of Paperback Proportions

I put on my most modest cotton Banana Republic capris and

brown moccasins. I put my hair in a bun for extra effect. It was humid

outside, so curls sprung out from all over my head in a fashion that

ensured I’d be single for months to come, a factor that really drove

the look home. I asked for Jane at the circulation desk, just like she

told me to. I’d arrived on time for my interview at the local public

library.

I am and always have been an avid reader. Anyone who knows

me, even on a surface level, will tell you I am an enormous nerd.

Words in their blissful abundance on fresh pages of crisp paper are my

drug. I took the old adage never judge a book by its cover literally

by around fourth grade. I would read everything that came my way. I

devoured Harry Potter like a bag of colorful skittles. I read Melody

Carlson by moonlight. Judy Blume became my surrogate mother. I picked

up Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius for the

first time in eighth grade. I vividly remember the most popular girl

in school sitting next to me before lacrosse practice. We were sitting

on our sticks, and I could tell she was staring at me out of the

corner of my eye. I looked up and asked if I could help her. I was

offense and she was defense so I couldn’t really make her angry. Not

to mention, my fragile eighth grade psyche was in her very capable

hands. Instead of berating me, she was looking at me with a sort of

awe. She took the book away and flipped to the last page. (If she

thought she was going to read the last page first, it was only over my

very socially dead body I was going to let her do it.) But instead,

she took note of the page number aloud and commended me. She told me

that she wished she was as smart as me and there was no way her mother

could buy her enough Vuitton to convince her to read this. I thanked

her and went back to my book.

Anyone who would need a bribe, even if it was the seductive Vuitton

bag I always admired on her shoulder, clearly wasn’t worth it. I

received a phone call a few days after my feet had recovered from the

moccasins. It was Jane telling me I had the job. And so began a

beautiful relationship between myself and the safe harbor for all the

literature in my Eastern Long Island town.

Upon my library initiation, I was introduced to a very

placid work environment. I was informed I would be serving as a Tech

Page. This position was in the back office secluded from the rest of

the library. The office was one big room that housed fifteen women,

one male, and an indestructible stash of chocolate. I was sat at a big

wooden desk covered in plastic and trained on the spot. Kathy was my

trainer. She was a 43 year old mother of two. She was six years my

mother’s senior and had two boys much younger than me. We quickly

figured out her oldest son was on my younger brother’s lacrosse team

for several years. They were now in middle school together. This

automatically bonded Kathy and me. I had probably sat in the

bleachers, freezing my eyelashes off while yelling at her son to ‘back

off the D’ and then pretending it was directed at my brother. That

will do it every time.

Diane was the page that sat next me. Kathy continued to

train me for weeks to come, until I could finally be trusted to read

the spine labels and decipher fiction from non-fiction by myself. (It

was imperative to remember that non-fiction was not only numbered, it

sometimes had a B on top. This stood for biography, hence clearly not

fiction.) After Kathy had deemed me worthy of biblio-independence, I

was set free to do my craft. I was hired to cover books. I laminated,

covered, taped, glued, and stamped like

a maniac. I still do. Each book is an untouched masterpiece waiting to

be preserved. We pages are the ones to instill this magic.

Diane and I bonded, as she was chomping at the bits to

relive her youth. We traded stories from high school and discussed

inappropriate subject matter. The whole idea is excellent; I am being

paid ten dollars an hour to cover marvelous creations while discussing

underwear style and Vodka induced mini golf. Soon all the women in the

office were ready to take a trip down memory lane. Sixty-six year old

Maggie who sits across from me was recounting her escapades with

Chuck, the handsome Army officer who left for war just as their

relationship was blossoming. She never did get over him and still has

to think before she calls her husband’s name to make sure it doesn’t

come out wrong. They told me about their lives as a natural result of

wanting to hear about mine. What they didn’t realize is that I haven’t

got much to tell them. I don’t drink Vodka, I play mini golf by the

rules, and I would be intimidated by a handsome soldier. Still, they

pried. I gave them what I could and let the blank spaces be filled by

their imaginations. I told them about the dates I went on. They oohed

and aahed in all the right spots. They loved the scandalous age

difference between me and one of the guys I was dating. They were

thrilled when the next one was even older. They offered me advice and

I invited their children (and grandchildren) to the youth group I

lead. They were always prying for more. They wanted juicy details.

They didn’t believe that I had no sex life to speak of, but when I

told them it was voluntary, they suddenly believed in one steady line

of rolling eyes.

I spent several months enjoying the tech atmosphere. I am still sure

that Jane is the best boss I have had and will ever have. She is

intelligent, compassionate, and understanding. She gave me the Adam

Duritz poster that now looms over my library desk, wedged between my

Hannah Montana message board and cutout of a JIF peanut butter jar.

This makes her legendary in my book.

When summer time rolled around, I was supposed to be

studying abroad in Spain. This fell through when my mother lost her

job. I was upset, but Jane had an opportunity for me. She offered me

full time in the children’s department doing registration for the

summer reading program. Due to my naïveté, I accepted eagerly. I was

trained by Meghan, a children’s librarian and coordinator of the

entire program. Meghan is a nervous giggler. She giggles so much; it

makes you as the listener nervous. It only takes as much as a simple

“hi” and she’s off. After a hysterical training session, I was

prepared to take on the patrons.

Children’s is like a different country. Perhaps even

continent. There are these gorgeous stories perched everywhere the eye

can see. Stuffed animals and blocks are scattered around the area. It

all looks very quaint, until there are actually children to utilize

these supplies. Suddenly, there is life. There is laughter. There is

whining, tears, and the smell of diapers. Mothers are screaming while

being assaulted by flying Sippy cups. They are shuffling around in

their Michael Kors sandals with their Coach baby bags throwing their

child’s library card around like it’s their job. The librarians are

also of a slightly different breed. They straighten their hair and

quilt their lunch in Vera Bradley. They drive shiny new cars and

pretend to have patience for kids, but very few of them are

mothers themselves. I sat behind my desk making no noise and avoiding

eye contact with any potential threats to my mental safety. This was

not Tech, and I had no ruby red slippers to bring me back.

Occasionally Diane and our other friend Rachel would sneak out and

bring me supplies. When they thought I was sufficiently stocked with

Snickers and Crunch bars, I stopped seeing them. I was alone.

I quickly learned that there are several ways to

categorize mothers. I will share two of the most prevalent with you.

First, there are the new mommies. These mommies are bright and shiny.

They still have their hair hi-lighted and matching socks. They tote

their firstborn around like a golden statue to be adored by all. The

kid is usually wrapped in some kind of designer sundress. Catch them

in the winter and you will see the smallest Ugg boots to ever grace

the library tile. The perfect example of this Mother A is Melanie

Rose’s mom. Melanie Rose’s mom defines herself by little else. Only

Melanie Rose. Little Melanie has big blue eyes and short curly blond

hair. Her mommy is about 5’4”, weighs maybe 100 lbs. soaking wet, and

is wearing a white wife beater, huge rock on her wedding finger, and

Seven Jeans. She sits down and means business. She has a sunny yellow

folder with her. I eye the front of it and see doodles. Doodles of

roses done in black Bic pen and a loopy drawing of her daughter’s name

in cursive in the middle. I decide to give her the benefit of the

doubt and think that she was bored in the doctor’s office before

coming here. The idea that she took the time out to decorate Melanie’s

summer reading folder is just shy of absurd. A folder is not even a

requirement.

Mother B is, well, seasoned. She has gray roots and Kmart

sweats. She is lucky she found socks this morning as are all of her

kids. She shares their snacks of cheetos and chocolate milk because

what woman wouldn’t if it was in the house? Melanie Rose’s mom feeds

her organic broccoli and Honest-Tea juice pouches. There is no chance

for mommy bingeing. Mother B’s children get to me before she does.

They wait for their library cards and ask what the prizes are. I show

them and they are upset that they have to read books to get the

plastic butterflies. Can’t they have the prizes now and read the books

later? Mother B rolls her eyes a lot and asks if this job is the best

birth control I’ve ever had. I tell her that I worked at a daycare for

two years before coming here. Melanie Rose’s mom winces at the words

Birth Control.

On the last day of my summer duties, I was sad to go.

Mommy watching had panned out to be the best entertainment any

workplace could offer. I met so many new little friends and even saw

some old ones from the daycare. The librarians all turned out to be

super sweet, if not a little catty. But only behind each other’s

backs. It was a hot August day when I dropped my knockoff Chanel

sunglasses into last year’s J.Crew tote bag and made my way back down

to Tech. Oh, how I was glad to be home.

Back at my desk, I was thrilled to find things the same.

My laminate was freshly stocked. The book covers stacked high to my

left. My scissors were sharp and my glue was full. Best of all, there

were shelves and shelves full of unwrapped books, waiting for my

return. I breathed in the stuffy air and saw an outstretched hand with

a bite sized crunch bar in its palm. I thanked Maggie and took the

gift. Biting into the chocolate, I realized this could very well be my

calling. Could it be that this job, this place was where I belonged?

There are days when Jane’s biggest problems are a confused spine label

fallen victim to the evil of the Dewey Decimal System.

I recall the time when the other reference librarian, and

only male in our office, Robert, opened up the delivery for the day.

He had been waiting for this delivery for some time because it

contained The Sports Book, a long awaited addition to our reference

collection. This book contained all the answers to every game play

question one could ever have. What Robert didn’t realize was what the

book looked like. He didn’t pay attention to the back to front, total

absorption of Astroturf. This book was covered in Astroturf. They

asked me what I could do to preserve it and I suggested just putting

polyester corners on all four sides but no, they weren’t having it.

How would they adhere the spine label? What would they do when the

Astroturf started molting? Jane was furious and told Robert to send it

back. He adamantly refused. This book was staying in the collection,

whether she liked it or not. So Jane called every other library on

Long Island to make her point. Not one library had it. Clearly it was

against library ethics and needed to be sent back immediately. Robert

cradled it to his chest, took it to the spine label maker and stared

at them both for a few minutes. He eventually looked back at Jane with

what we all expected to be wistful defeat, but instead his eyes were

alight with a new idea. He grabbed the hot glue gun and the scissors.

In just a few minutes, he had permanently adhered the spine label and

dressed up its corners for safety. Jane nodded her approval and the

book was his forever.

Tech has changed me. When I become an author one day, I

will make sure my bio is in an accessible place, so that it is not

covered by a brown manila due date pocket. I will make my books

hardcover and with no print on the inside because this is the tech

page’s dream. I respect the Master’s of Library Science degree and

hope to even have my own one day. I’d like to join the leagues of

catty children’s librarians. They have the most fun. And I will

always, always accept a book, no matter what is on the cover. Or what

it is made out of.