Saturday, November 29, 2014

Suitable Punishments

These are the secrets we librarians will not tell you.

It takes a very particular sort of person to be attracted to the proud profession of Librarian, the sort of person, for example, who naturally gravitates towards draconian rules and finicky organization systems. Librarians who may be fun-loving and slightly disorganized people at home become dictators when it comes to library rules. We process the books just so. We follow these procedures in just this way. We do not deviate. Ever.

It shocks and amazes us that other people can use the library with such callous disregard for the rules. When people return our books – our books, mind you! – in poor shape or several weeks late, we judge them. We sit in silent censure, dreaming of suitable punishments…

We dream that someday, when we are in charge, people who underline in their library books will be marked. It will be an unflattering tattoo, in a prominent place, and so their sins shall be known to all.

We bristle at the people who place twenty holds on books that are in, forcing us to hunt for them on the shelves before the library opens in the morning, and we imagine telling these people they can only have the books if they can cross the room with all twenty balanced on their heads.

We debate the proper penance for people who dog-ear pages: Do we make them walk a mile, doubled over with wrists tied to ankles OR give them an unflattering haircut?

We seethe at the people who circle all the items in the I Spy books and we picture them locked in a windowless room wall-papered with Where's Waldo pages. We’ll tell them they get to come out when they find the purple hat. (We do not tell them there may or may not actually BE a purple hat.)

We may pray our immune systems hold as we greet the obviously contagious people, the coughing people, the people with sick children who should have stayed home, but inside we imagine such people being dunked in sanitizing solution and made to breath deep.

We imagine telling people who use something gross as a bookmark that it's fine. We'll even take it out for them if they forget to do so before they turn in the book. But they have to eat that bookmark.

When people don't put the audiobook CDs back in the case in the proper order, we want those people to know: We are coming to your house. We are taking every individual thing you own - every single item - and putting each one in its own unlabeled box. And we'll stack the boxes in your garage. In no particular order.

We curse people who complain about small late fees, curse them to NEVER have exact change for any transaction EVER AGAIN, curse them to a lifetime of asking “Can you break a larger bill?” and being told they’ll have to wait for management approval, and we dream of the day, not far off, when our curses will WORK.

We dream of a dystopian future where we sit in prominent thrones at the races where inconsiderate people – such as those who checkout bestsellers and keep them for THREE MONTHS even though there are WAITING LISTS and the other patrons COMPLAIN – are made to run twice around a large and dusty track as they are chased by rather small but exceedingly angry dogs with shrill, yipping barks and with very pointy teeth.

We believe in the just and perfect world we will shape, of the favors we will grant to our favorite patrons (the nice ones, who either return their books on time or promptly pay their late fees). We continue to smile as we serve the guilty and innocent alike, but you will know if you look into our eyes that we are dreaming (silently, because this is a library after all) secret dreams of suitable punishments.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

An Unexpected Phone Call

It was Saturday night and I had no plans. (That’s not meant to sound as pathetic as it does: It sometimes takes very careful and deliberate planning to have no plans like that. I plan to have no plans all the time.) A bowl of ice cream and I were going to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and only one of us would come out of it alive. In my pajamas by 6:30PM, with my hair in a lazy bunch on top of my head like a Who from Whoville, I was under strict Lockdown Protocol, by which I mean, although we weren’t expecting company, if there was a knock at the door, I intended to ignore it until the interloper went away.

Somewhere around the escape from Goblin Town, my phone rang, buzzing loudly next to the now empty bowl.

Delighted to see that the caller was Randi (who never calls anyone when a text will do), then disappointed to realize it was a Facetime request rather than an ordinary call (during a Lockdown dress rehearsal, of all times!), I answered. “Hello?”

On my screen, Randi had her phone tilted slightly so that I could also see her four-year-old daughter Ari in her lap. Ari, fashionable in a string of fake pearls and a long t-shirt over tights, waved frantically at me, smiling fit to startle a dentist. Randi’s smile appeared to have been dropped a few times and reapplied in haste.

“Hi,” said Randi, stopping Ari’s wave with her free hand. “So, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you, but Ari cosplays as you sometimes. This is her outfit for today.” In the time it took Randi to gesture at her daughter’s attire, Ari resumed her waving.

“It’s lovely,” I said.

“There’s a hat that goes with it.”

“Is there?”

“And also a jacket.”

“How practical,” I said. I wondered briefly what Ari must think of my Batgirl pajamas.

In tones of mild desperation, Randi said, “Would you tell her that you’re a librarian? She never believes me when I tell her you’re a librarian.”

I opened my mouth to say that, yes, indeed, I am a librarian, but stopped short. “What does she think I am?”

Randi sighed, rolling her eyes slightly as if to avoid eye contact. “She thinks you’re a princess.” Ari nodded enthusiastically.

I kept a straight face. I even sat up a little straighter, ensconced in the recliner as I was. It made sense, though. The only time she ever saw me was at parties and ren fair, occasions for which I took the greatest care with my appearance. “Well, Ari,” I said, looking into her big bright eyes through the phone’s unflattering camera. “As it happens, I’m a librarian princess.”

“Really?” Ari said in a breathy gasp, drawing out the syllables.

Behind her, Randi face-palmed.

I nodded. “Because princesses can be whatever they want to be and I decided to be a librarian.”

“Wow!” said Ari.

“I suppose that will do,” said Randi.

We said our good nights and hung up. I went back to my movie. Later, Matt passed by on his way to the kitchen, regarded me in my pajamas, and asked, “Having fun?”

“Yes,” I said. Because princesses can be whatever they want to be and this one had decided to be a hermit for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rejected Resignation Letters

“I know you told all of us that you’re leaving, but I need a resignation letter from you,” said Karyn. “Just a formality, that I can put in a file somewhere.”

“Okay,” I said.


My dearest library,

I'm leaving you.

It's not you, it's me. I just don't see a future for us together. We're only going to continue to grow apart. Like, 198 miles apart, if you want to get technical. The odds against long distance relationships just aren't good.

I just think it's time for both of us to see other people. Or rather for you to see other people and me to see other buildings full of books.

Listen, what we had was beautiful and special, but I think you and I both know it wasn't meant to last. A love like ours burns too bright and too brief.

I will hold your memory in my heart forever.




Dear library management,

I refuse to put up with these shenanigans even one more day.

You may look sweet on the outside, Andover Library, but I'm onto your games! Behind the giant books with the adorable napping bunny beats a heart of darkness. And just where is the tortoise, I ask you? "Late" indeed!

I see all manner of vile and evil schemes running beneath the seemingly placid surface of this place. The Friends "book sale"? Obviously a front for smuggling…something. I'm unclear on what exactly. But it's very definitely going on! And do you really expect me to believe that you aren't brainwashing the youth of Andover during these so-called "story times"?

Now, if you're thinking you can "hush me up" or make me "disappear", you're too late! I've taken steps and I'm going into hiding. Soon, everyone will know what I know!!!




Dear library management,

I've had it! That whiny patron this morning was the last straw!

What is it with the PEOPLE around here? Are you all crazy? It's getting to where I cringe every time the phone rings, wondering what fresh hell it is. There must be something in the water!

I just can't take it anymore! Cheri and her crazy questions, Tom's unrealistic expectations, the way Karyn's always silently judging me (and the way she raises one eyebrow when she looks at you – YOU KNOW THE LOOK, KARYN!). the way Benjamin is the "golden boy" and is always treated with such obvious favoritism, and how Kathy and Kristina are always talking about me behind my back... (Cathy's actually okay, but I can't handle how the patrons are always comparing me to her with her perfect hair and her Mary Poppins personality.) It's all too much!

For my health and sanity, I am resigning my position.

And good riddance to you all!



“What’s all this?” Benjamin asked later.

“My resignation letters.”

“Letters? Plural?”

“It took me a few tries to find the proper tone,” I admitted.

“So there’s a real one somewhere that you actually turned in?”

“Yes, right. Of course.” Because I didn’t turn these ones in. That would have been silly.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Second Book of Benjamin

For the First Book of Benjamin, click here.

Chapter 7 - Unlikely Sequels

On a Monday morning as we prepared to open the library, the return bin was overflowing. “This is going to take hours,” I predicted. It seemed everyone had returned the movies they’d checked out over the weekend, leaving us with stacks of DVD cases, each needing their discs removed and filed behind the circulation desk.

“I can help until my meeting starts,” said the director, Tom, grabbing a pile to check in and suddenly exclaiming over a movie he must not have known about. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2? What’s the story there? ‘Now with more meatballs’?”

“Maybe there was a higher chance of meatballs?” I said.

Benjamin nodded. “It's good that it's meatballs, or else it might be Cloudy with a Chance of Sugar 2: Everyone Gets Diabetes.”

“Still, how long can this go on?” Tom asked.

“Well,” said Benjamin, “there could be Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3: The Reckoning…”

“Or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 4: Atkins Revenge,” I said.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 5: The Paleo Protocol…”

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 6: Rise of the Gout!”

“I’m sorry I asked,” said Tom.

Chapter 8 - Maybe We Don't Know...

“So then I learned it works better if you actually read the directions,” said Benjamin as we emptied the return bin after lunch one day.

I nodded sagely. “Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!”

There was a moment of silence punctuated by the dual beeping of our handheld scanners as we each checked items in. Then Benjamin asked, “What's the other half?”

I stopped, mind drawing a complete blank. “You know, Joe never did say.”

“Who?” said Benjamin

“It's from the old GI Joe cartoons. 'Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. Go Joe!'”

“Okay,” said Benjamin, obviously unimpressed, “But that still begs the question of what the other half would be...”

“I don't know. Fighting the battle, I suppose.”

Chapter 9 - Flight of the Money Bird

I turned toward the cash register but Benjamin was already standing there. I would have to wait until he finished his patron transaction before I could input my own. Oh well. My patron had paid three dollars even and then left, so I had time to wait. It was a good thing, too, as Benjamin hit the wrong button and had to start over again when the register squealed in protest.

As I waited, I pinched the bills in my hand by their centers so that the long edges flapped about as I waved. “Look, Benjamin!” I said. “It's the rare and majestic money bird! Note the glorious green plumage!”

Benjamin looked first at the money bird, then at me, then at the patrons as if to say “Do you see what I have to work with?” To me, he said, “There is something seriously wrong with you.”

Elbowing him out of the way so I could put the money bird in its nest in the register, I said, “It's not the first time I've heard that... today…”

But after the patrons left, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Notice I didn't offer any suggestions on how to fix it.”

I sighed. “Probably because you know it's beyond fixing.”

He shrugged. “Or I just like it. But, yeah, it's probably not fixable.”

Chapter 10 - Historically Accurate

The new fiction books for the week had arrived and Benjamin was not impressed, perhaps even offended, by several cheap paperback romances with beefy male models on the cover.

“I mean, really? Are you kidding me?” he asked, semi-rhetorically. “He’s practically naked! What’s he planning to do with that sword?”

“Well, I assume, based on the summary on the back,” which I read purely for argument’s sake and not because I might have been interested, “that he’s some kind of highland warrior and he’s going into battle.”

“Why? What’s the point of going into battle with nothing but a pair of tourniquets on your arms?”

“Oh, armbands like that were really popular among the Celts, so that bit’s historically accurate. And they had these sort of necklaces called torcs…” I said, pleased that I had managed to pick up some useful knowledge in my years of working the ren fair.

But Benjamin interrupted me. “Fine, whatever. Maybe the no-armor thing is historically accurate and that’s how the nerds managed to survive. Because, you know what? I don’t care how many ladies that ‘no armor’ gamut is getting you. I’m going to encase my entire body in metal.”

I set the book back on the processing pile. “You’re right,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that’s how I’d do it too.”

Chapter 11 - Crown Pigeon

Someone had changed the desktop theme on the circ desk computer again, so, as is traditional, the circulation librarians all had to sit around admiring the vibrant background pictures.

“Awww! Kitty!” said Benjamin in a high pitched voice as a mountain lion appeared on the screen.

“I like how this set tells you where they’re from,” I said, pointing to the zoo logo in the corner of the photo.

“Yeah, but not what they are,” said Tiffany as the picture changed. “Like, what is this fabulous bird?”

“Oh, that?” I said. “That’s a Victoria crown pigeon.”

The two of them regarded me with suspicion. “No, really,” I said. “Look it up.”

Benjamin got on Google and typed it in. “Oh, wow! They really are!” said Tiffany. She leaned in for a better look. “Haven’t I seen these at the zoo?”

Benjamin clicked through to zoom in on one of the images. “Hey, yeah! They chase you in the jungle exhibit. I didn’t know they were called Victoria pigeons.”

I said, “My name is Victoria so I would remember something like that.”

Benjamin gasped, throwing his hands up in a hallelujah gesture. “When you become evil, you will slaughter hundreds of these to make a headdress for yourself!”

“I like how he says ‘when’ instead of ‘if’,” said Tiffany.

I sort of do too.

Chapter 12 - Friends and Anemones

It wasn’t terribly funny, but I couldn’t stop giggling about it. “That’s it,” I said, working on my book-review article for the local paper. “It’s break time.”

“You have been at it for awhile,” said Benjamin. “What’s so funny?”

“I started to write ‘enemy’ and it ended up ‘ememy’.”

He smiled. “Ha! That’s great! ‘Ememy!’”

“You know what they say: ‘Keep your friends close and your ememies closer.’ … and your anemones in the fish tank.”

We shared a brief chuckle over it before I closed the file and grabbed a few items from the processing shelf to work on.

Benjamin, hard at work processing some new audiobooks, asked, “Do anemones even have natural predators?”

I thought it over. “I think you mean: do anemones have enemies?”

He nodded. “Or if they’re rivals but on good terms, would it be the anemone’s frenemy? How do we regard the enemy of the anemone’s enemies?”

“Maybe that’s where the ememy comes into it?”

It wasn’t terribly funny, but we couldn’t stop giggling.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Night of the Cardboard Dead

With a Star Wars beach towel over my shoulder and a suitcase full of swimwear, I waited by the stairs up to our condo while Matt unloaded the ice chest from the car. At the top of the stairs, Matt’s parents stood smiling in greeting. It was the same condo we’d used last year, and the year before. And the year before that, as well.

“We’ve been coming to this park for more than thirty years, you know,” Matt’s mom likes to remind him. “Since before you kids were born, back when it was just the one water slide and a mini-golf course.”

This year, however, was bound to be different. We’d received a postcard from Matt’s folks well before our trip in June declaring that this year’s Hamilton Schlitterbahn trip would be themed (yes, we are THAT family), and the theme was zombies (we are also THAT family). “Oh my,” I said, stepping into the condo’s living room. “You weren’t kidding.” There were zombie apocalypse novels on the end tables, a red rubber brain on the countertop, a stack of zombie board games on the coffee table, even zombie-themed cups and napkins in the kitchen. “Where did you find all of this?”

“The internet,” said Matt’s dad. “Why don’t you put your suitcase in your room and we can play Zombie Dice.”

The moment I entered the room I saw him, all piercing blue eyes and a blood-spattered maw: a life-sized cardboard cutout of a zombie. “What?” I said.

“Nice,” said Matt, entering the room behind me.

“The internet again,” said Matt’s dad from the doorway, having followed us to see our reactions. “Were you surprised?”

Yes. For, you see, few things are ever as surprising as a life-sized cardboard cutout of a zombie.


In fact, there were three of them, and within a few hours Matt and his siblings were debating names. “I’m calling her Lucinda. Nurse Lucinda. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” said Matt’s brother, Curtis.

“I’m leaning toward a J name for this one. Justine or Josephine or something,” said their sister, Julie.

“What do you think, dear?” said Matt. “Want to help us name one?”

“I like Francis,” I said. “I think he looks like a Francis.”


They were the walking dead. Francis, Lucinda, and Genevieve (a J sound, though it starts with a G) moved around the condo all week long. We hid them behind doors and around corners, first to scare each other and then to relieve the monotony of the cleaning staff: You’d open the shower curtain and there would be Genevieve. You’d close a door and there would be Francis behind it.

But as the trip wore on, we’d become numb to their presence. What at first had been shocking soon faded into the background. Just another piece of furniture, a bit of the scenery, something to step around on our way to the fridge. Even the cleaning crew seemed to take the zombies’ presence in stride, with only a bit of resigned head-shaking at the strangeness of their guests.

On the last day, Matt’s dad gathered his children before the packing up began in earnest and said, “Your mom and I have decided that each of you can take one of the zombies home with you.”

“Dibs on Francis!” I said.

“I guess we’re taking Francis,” said Matt.


“I’ll just put him here out of the way until we decide what to do with him,” I said when we got Francis home. “Here” was “prominently in the living room, behind the armchair, posed as if he’s about to feast on the chair’s inhabitants,” where we again promptly became accustomed to his creepy presence. We ate dinner in front of Francis. We played board games in front of Francis. I sat in the armchair reading in front of Francis, like the oblivious victim in a zombie movie.

Only when other people came around did I remember he was there.

“That’s mildly disturbing,” said Benjamin, stopping as he stepped in the front door one night. “You know that, right? That this is not something normal people keep in their living rooms?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I honestly keep forgetting he’s there.”

On another night, Kristina stopped just inside the door and said only “What?”

“That’s exactly what I said the first time I saw him.”

“But… why?” she asked.

“He’s not staying there forever,” I assured her. “I just don’t know where to put him yet.”

The mild surprise of my friends was totally worth it. Complete strangers, though, are another matter. When the pizza delivery boy stood traumatized on my doorstep, hands locked in a death-grip on my dinner, too stunned to tell me what I owed him, I began to rethink my ways. After sending the delivery boy away with a generous tip, lest Papa Johns blacklist my address, I finally relegated Francis to the spare room.

“This isn’t forever, Francis. But in the meantime, no guest is ever going to inadvertently run across you in here.”


Crap, I thought, realizing only after I let him in that the exterminator is exactly the sort of guest who will visit an obscure room of the house that no guest would ever see, a room in which Francis was still prominently displayed. “Do you have any pets I need to worry about?” the exterminator asked.

“There are two cats, but they’re no problem. Just be prepared for the zombie in the spare room.”


“We keep a life-sized cardboard cutout of a zombie. For reasons. His name is Francis and he will not harm you.”

“Sure, lady,” he said, shaking his head at me and starting his job.

I sat on the living room couch listening to the sounds of his pump sprayer as he progressed down the hall: Pump, hiss, hiss. Pump, hiss, hiss. The door to the master bedroom opened – Pump, hiss, hiss. Pump, hiss, hiss. – and closed again. The upstairs bathroom: Pump, hiss, hiss. Pump, hiss, hiss. Then the spare room door opened, Pump, hiss… and the noises stopped.

There it is, I thought.

I waited.

Finally, the noises resumed, traveling around the spare room and back through the hall where the exterminator gave me a long-suffering look before he headed downstairs. “I’m not gonna lie,” he said, “but even with the warning, that was creepy as hell.”


When we moved from Kansas to a new house closer to family in Oklahoma, Francis was among the first things to go. Being lightweight and able to fold down flat, conveniently the same size as the seldom used space between the backseat and the rear window, we loaded him up with the Christmas decorations, seasonal clothing, and other things we knew we wouldn’t need during the transition between homes.

“I’ll leave a key with you,” I told my mother, “and I know grandma already has one ‘cause she has a handy-man coming by later. We might bring another load up next weekend, but the official moving day isn’t until the end of the month.”

“No problem!” said Mom. “I’ll come over and clean your kitchen for you, and air the place out a little.”

“Okay, but Mom, there’s just one thing,” I said. “I’ve set up our life-sized cardboard zombie in the smaller bedroom where I piled our stuff. Don’t forget he’s there, okay? I know how easily startled you are.”

“You’re so silly,” she said.

After moving day, though, we got a mild lecture and “silly” wasn’t the word for it. “When you said ‘cardboard zombie’, I was expecting something cartoony! He’s really realistic! He about gave me a heart-attack! I forgot you told me about him! And did you hear about grandpa?”

I winced. “Was it bad? It never occurred to me to tell grandpa he was there!”

“The handy man too!”


As Halloween approached, I was still unpacking, and although I knew precisely where the Halloween decorations were, I didn’t decorate. With every available surface covered in boxes and things being sorted from boxes, I figured the decorations would only have added to the chaos.

What I did have was my porch light, my bowl full of candy, and one life-sized cardboard cutout of a zombie.

At first I worried that he would frighten the little kids, but that wasn’t the case. As it happens, Halloween is the only time of year when it’s appropriate to greet your guests with a realistic cardboard zombie.

“Oh my gosh! That’s awesome!” the trick-or-treaters declared.

“I was going to compliment your friend there on his costume, but I see now he isn’t real,” said a mom.

Late in the evening, I opened the door for a tiny cowboy and knelt down to his eye-level, with the candy bowl propped on my knees.

“Happy Halloween!” he said.

I complimented him on his costume while his dad looked on from the end of the driveway. “Now what do you say?” I asked.

“Thank you?” he said.

“Aren’t you supposed to say ‘Trick or Treat’?”

But instead of “Trick or Treat,” he pointed over my shoulder and said, “Who’s that?”

“That’s Francis. He’s a zombie.”

“Is that a costume? Does he live here? Is he your dad?”

“No, he’s my friend.”

“Your zombie friend?”

“Yes,” I said, giving the tiny cowboy a generous helping of candy, though I had to open his bag myself as he was too preoccupied with Francis to be interested in sweets.

He leaned in close, narrowing his eyes first at Francis and then at me. “Is he real?” the child whispered.

“No, he’s not real,” I whispered back.

“Okay,” he said, running off toward his dad and the next house.


When the candy bowl was nearly empty, I turned off the porch light and settled in for a (mildly) scary movie. It was well after midnight before I decided to turn in. Candy wrappers, candy bowl, a few LED tealight candles, all could wait until morning.

However, I did move Francis from his post by the front door to the out of the way place behind the chair in the living room, for old time’s sake. “I’ll put you away in the morning,” I said to Francis and to myself. “I’ll remember you’re there, and I will not be alarmed.”

But in the morning, I was alarmed.

Because in life few things are ever as surprising as a cardboard cutout of a zombie.