Sunday, May 1, 2016

228. The Judson City Public Library: Scandals and Irregularities Galore

     Here at last is a brief account of the Judson City Public Library, not the library of today, which is functioning smoothly and serving the public well, but the library of yore, back before computers and the Internet, when readers smudged their fingers turning the pages of real books, and a series of library directors who failed to engage with the staff encouraged certain deficiencies and even made room for small scandals.  (Don’t look for Judson City on a map; the name is invented, since I have no wish to taint the reputation of today’s library, located in a city in this general area.)

      Among the staff of that era were Mrs. Blaustein, whose lipstick preceded her through doorways, and whose ample bosom was agleam with jewelry; she worked in Circulation and was one of the more functioning employees.

     Mr. Wu, a Chinese American, had been shunted to the Catalog Department because his English was a flow of gibberish that no one could understand.  Years later he was still in Catalog and his English was still gibberish.

     Mr. Stevenson was a gentle, roundish man of some years who, sometimes, presided over the Local History Room, whose stately albeit somewhat musty confines were rarely penetrated by patrons.  On the wall above his desk, squeezed in incongruously among formal portraits of governors and mayors, was a photograph of his mother, who smiled benignly down upon him as he toiled minimally.  I say “minimally” because, alas, he was a bit too fond of the grape and struggled manfully to get through the day, never really drunk but not quite sober.  One Monday morning at five of nine, as other staff members strode briskly toward the entrance of the monumental library building, Mr. Stevenson was seen looking at the entrance with a wan, worn look.  Slowly he shook his head and sadly turned about and retraced his steps toward home.  He didn’t last much longer at the library.

     Amanda was a lady of middle years whose job was to sort out material to be sent to the branches, but much of her time was devoted to caring for stray cats that she plucked from the alleyways and gutters of the city.  With a caring heart and no authorization whatsoever she nested them in boxes in unvisited nooks and crannies in the stacks, feeding them generously and supplying them with ample amounts of kitty litter.  These activities might have gone unnoticed, had not a subtle scent of cat food and kitty poop spread throughout the stacks, provoking objections from coworkers.  Adamant in defending her strays, she defied orders from superiors and continued to clutter up the stacks.   Finally, one day when she was home nursing a cold, her supervisor recruited a team of coworkers to restore the strays to the street, clean out the cans of stacked cat food and litter boxes, and purify the air with scents.  When Amanda returned a few days later, she registered utter shock and dismay, and defiantly began reaccumulating strays and cat food and litter boxes.  So formidable was her compassion for felines that the staff gave up the fight in despair, and strange odors continued to pervade the stacks.

     The geography of the library building is of interest, ranging as it did, vertically, from the sodden depths of the basement to the airy heights of the Eaves.  The basement was the domain of the maintenance men, and a merry bunch they were.  Rarely seen above ground, where they appeared reluctantly at times for repair work, they found those depths congenial, for few of the upstairs staff ventured down there.  Stored in the basement stacks were government documents, tons of them – full Congressional records and quantities of statistics from various bureaucracies – which practically no one ever felt the need to consult.  So there the documents sat, year after year.  Then one summer a torrential rain flooded the basement, soaking some of the documents, which from then on emitted, instead  of a musty, dry odor, a soggy one  further spiced by a subtle hint of alcohol, since the maintenance men, in their splendid isolation, found frequent opportunities to imbibe.

     Meanwhile up in the celestial heights of the Eaves, the very top floor of the structure, two genteel elderly ladies toiled diligently, pursuing some noble project, though no one below quite knew what.  It was a special program funded by some benign foundation, perhaps to give useful employment and a sense of purpose to seniors, and it somehow involved archives; the two ladies, as sweet and silent as can be, sat at a table up there, quite alone, diligently copying or recording something.  So it went for days, their gentle presence barely discernible to those below.  Then one day one of them was absent, and the other toiled on in solitude.  Toward the end of the day the staff realized that they hadn’t seen or heard her all day and went to investigate.  They found her lying on the floor, no one knew for how long, pen clasped tight in her fingers, but quite unconscious, a victim of some medical mishap.  An ambulance was called and she was rushed to a hospital, though word never came of her ultimate fate.  The other daytime occupant of the Eaves, hearing of her companion’s fate, was so disheartened that she declined to continue the project, following which the lofty Eaves remained vacant for years.  

     A new note was struck in the library with the arrival of Maisie, the supervisors’ new secretary, who got the job through some obscure political connection.  She was young, vibrant, outgoing, her make-up a bit too bold, her skirts a bit too short, and from the moment she appeared, she added to the library atmosphere the one element missing: sex.  The females of the staff eyed her with suspicion, while the males – especially the younger ones – were smitten from the start.  Though she proved to be an excellent secretary, she was also an excellent gossip; with her on hand, few of the staff’s secrets remained secret.  Be that as it may, everything about her – her expression, her clothes, the way she walked – was just plain flat-out sexy.  Yet Maisie was no wanton: she tempted, but never delivered; she enticed subtly, but remained maddeningly elusive.  The high point of her brief library career came at the annual winter holiday party, where she did a wild dance to savage music (recorded) that elicited from the maintenance men wild outbursts of cheers and applause.  Soon after that she left the library, no doubt in quest of further conquests elsewhere.

     Without Maisie things were dull for a while, but the Judson City Public Library system was never devoid of scandal, and if not the hard core of it, at least a gentle whiff.  No, I can’t offer the director deserting his wife to run off with the assistant director – nothing so spectacular; but scandal nonetheless, inspired by murky doings at the Foster Street branch.

     Presiding over the Foster Street branch was Wendy Paterson, a diligent but slightly erratic librarian who served the public adequately at the front desk in the rooms open to the public.  But the library truck was parked nearby a little too often, sparking rumors about what went on in the back room of the library.  The truck driver, a stud named Joe, was charged with transporting books to and from the branches, but in the course of these duties he found time for extracurricular activities, especially at the Foster Street branch. 

     Hearing the rumors, the branch supervisor visited the branch, found all in front quite proper, but investigated the back room where the public never penetrated.  There, among the scant furnishings, was a large couch with plump pillows, and in the air the faintest trace of Ms. Paterson’s vibrant perfume.  On that couch, christened the Couch of Passion by gossipers, Wendy Paterson and Joe the truck driver were said to have tangled rapturously on many an occasion.  Of this there was no evidence, only the persistent rumors.  And in the very back of the room in question, there was a door leading to the basement.  When the supervisor opened it, he saw a stairway leading down into darkness, but made out, on the floor below, a teeming, writhing mass of waterbugs, outsized roaches so repellent in appearance, so shocking, so frightening, that the supervisor shut the door at once, locked it, and departed.  Rarely, before then or after, was the door opened, for the staff knew too well what lay behind it.  The supervisor had confirmed, insofar as possible, that in the nether back reaches of the Foster Street branch there was indeed a surfeit of biology, human and otherwise, but there was nothing to be done about it.

     A lighter, albeit sadder note was provided annually by Amelia Hudson, a spinsterish librarian who served diligently but cheerlessly throughout the year, and at the annual holiday party in December, by popular demand that became a little less fervent each year, did her legendary comic performance of “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home.”  Throwing herself into the role of a grieving woman pleading with her estranged boyfriend to return, Miss Hudson pulled out all the stops, a little more each year, ending up kneeling on the floor, arms outstretched, pleading with tearful resonance. Though she hammed it up outrageously, hilarious laughter followed, tempered with the embarrassed realization, a little more poignant every year, that this was her one chance to let go a bit, to express a surge of bottled-up emotions, to do what she had longed all her life to do: to be passionately human.

     So much for the annals of the Judson City Public Library, proof indeed that life in a library can be anything but dull.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The book:  My selection of posts from this blog has won first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards.  Sheri Hoyte, in the accompanying review, calls the book "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City….  I highly recommend it to all fans of entertaining short stories and lovers of New York City.  It would also make an interesting travel guide for people who just want to learn more about the city that never sleeps."  (The full review is also included in post #223 of March 27, 2016.)  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  

     Coming soon:  Computers Are Stupid.  Also possible: little shops of New York; New York graffiti; construction in New York: ubiquitous and maddening, and won't it ever stop?

     ©   2016   Clifford Browder

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