Prologue 5: A Day at the Library

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times...

That's what Fall is like for librarians.  Students flock to the libraries, and that makes it good.  Unfortunately, as Fall steadily moves toward Winter, the students who are flocking to the libraries become more and more panicked as they realize their teachers might just be as tech-savvy as they are. Or they discover that Wikipedia might not know everything, can't necessarily be trusted, or is a forbidden source for their term papers.

And every single student in a state of high panic is sent in my direction; apparently, I'm the only one at the downtown Denver Public Library with the patience to deal with them.

Well, it's probably true. But it also has to do with the fact that I can manage to talk to them in a way that seems to drain their panic rather than exacerbate it. Today, a freshman from the University of Colorado comes in with a notebook, a couple of pens, and fear written large across his face. Julia, the lucky person at the main desk, sees exactly what I see and before he can stammer out a sentence, she points him in my direction. He looks like a deer in the headlights when he walks up to the map cases where I'm filing away some new — though rather old — maps the library has recently received.

"History...  Cripple Creek...  No Internet!"

I lead him over to the catalog terminals. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you're taking Doctor McGilpin's History of Colorado Mining Towns class at CU. That the paper is due in less than forty-eight hours. And he told you today that you weren't allowed to use anything on the Internet as a source."

He blinks, then stares.

"Are you a psychic??"

I have to laugh. They all say that. I don't know why, but it never gets old. Of course, Doctor McGilpin probably thinks his little joke never gets old either.

"Nope, it's just that I've been working here for five years, and this is a little trick Doctor McGilpin plays with his students every semester. Whenever a panic-stricken college-age person walks through the door and says the magic words 'history' and 'no Internet', I know it's McGilpin again. This semester it's History of Colorado Mining Towns.  In the Spring, it will be Denver History.  By the way, now that you're wise to his devilish ways, I highly recommend that class... especially if you're a History major."

He nods, looking slightly more relaxed, although his eyes are still a bit glassy.  "History major, yes.  But... but... but... TUESDAY!  Due THURSDAY!!"

I pat his arm.  "No problem.  History majors understand this kind of research, right?  And Cripple Creek is one of the easier ones.  Come on, let's get you started."

Though the catalog search engine is less forgiving than Google, he quickly grasps the most efficient ways to extract the information he wants and inside of five minutes has a list of a dozen books to check. I grab one of the handy maps of the library and circle the areas in the stacks where he'll find the books. He wanders off looking not only relaxed, but enthusiastic.

"I don't know how you do that," Julia says as she walks up behind me and watches as the young man wanders off in search of history.

I shrug.  "I guess it's just a matter of figuring out what's got them so scared, and then working to eliminate the fear.  He's one of McGilpin's, and a History major to boot, so he was easy."

"Ugh, McGilpin!  That man is the Devil!"

I grin at her.  "No, no... he just wants to make sure you and I keep our jobs.  He wants his students to know what a library is.  Look at it that way, and you'll gain a different perspective."

Julia shakes her head but returns the smile.  "Andrea, you certainly do see the world in a different way.  I still think the man is evil."

"Well, I'll admit the way he goes about ensuring our job security and of introducing his students to the wonders of the library is a little bit evil."

"And you, Ms. Yazzie, are splitting hairs," she says with a laugh.  "You've got Story Hour today, so if you're going to get lunch, you'd better do it now."

"Yes, oh harsh taskmistress!"

In truth, I'll miss lunch entirely for Story Hour, but missing too many meals tends to worry people. They worry that there's something wrong, they worry that I'm not making ends meet... heck, I think my coworkers sometimes worry just for the sake of worrying! I love them dearly, but their constant concern is enough to drive a sane person crazy. I guess part of it is that I'm the newest librarian, even after five years. The economy fluctuates in Denver more than other places because we rely so much on tourism and conventions. When the economy is... less healthy than at other times — we never say recession, it's such an ugly word — there are talks of budget cuts and layoffs and furloughs. Furloughs affect everyone, but budget cuts and layoffs affect the newbies first. It's funny to still be the newbie after five years... but that tells a lot about the people who work for the Denver Public Library: We're dedicated, we love what we do, and if we were independently wealthy we'd probably be working for free. Is it any wonder I love working here?

I walk the couple of blocks up to the Panera's Bread on Grant Street and order a bowl of French Onion soup and half a roast beef sandwich. I love to watch people, so I find an empty seat by the windows to take in the view of the people who work and live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. During the day, most of the people are dressed for success. Being half a block up from the Capitol Building, there are lawyers aplenty, as well as pages who work for the legislators. There are secretaries from the Capitol and many of the office buildings on Broadway and Colfax. Every now and then, I might catch a glimpse of a few representatives from the state legislative branches. After dark, this is an entirely different sort of neighborhood where you're more likely to see a plethora of men in leather. The neighborhood isn't quite as safe after dark; there is always going to be someone who takes exception to the patrons of the gay bars up and down Colfax.

The walk to the library — from any direction, but especially coming from the east — is always a slightly jarring experience. Despite the acclaim Michael Graves received for his design of the building, many residents of and visitors to Denver see the building as a confusing conglomeration of building pieces that don't quite seem to fit together. I'll admit to being in that camp. Despite Graves' claim to fame as a co-founder of the postmodern school of architecture, many people wonder what sort of drugs the man was taking when he was designing the library. Others wonder if perhaps he was suffering from some severe mental disorder at the time. The outer shell of the building is a polar opposite of the beautiful, well-designed and soothing interior, however. Somewhat surprisingly, given the constant threat of budget cuts and the occasional follow-through of such cuts, the Denver Public Library is the largest library between Los Angeles and Chicago.

I had the opportunity to wander through Chicago's Main Library last year when I visited Justin. While the architecture is considerably more traditional and its Grand Lobby is truly grand, I have to admit to an enormous bias toward Denver's library. Perhaps it's the homier feel to the interior. There's no denying that Chicago's library is beautiful, but it's also... pretentious. Well, at least it feels that way to a Navajo from New Mexico who spent most of her life living in Asia!

Story Hour is the highlight of my week. I still can't understand why some of the other librarians dread the hour spent reading books to the young children. Mothers with infants as young as three months have come to have stories read to their babies. Children as old as eight or nine are left alone in the reading area while their parents go in search of books for themselves. I always have several books to choose from to fit the story to the audience. Once, my lone audience member was a high school freshman who was, as I later learned, just looking for a place to get out of one of our rare raging snow storms after a fight with his parents. He was treated to an act of Romeo and Juliet, and I could tell from the look of amazement on his face that I'd just given birth to another fan of The Bard.

Today's audience is fairly small... two girls and one boy who seem to all be about four or five years old.

"Have any of you ever heard the story of a pesky little person named Sam who very, very much liked green eggs and ham?"

They all shook their heads, and one of the little girls said, "Ew.  Green eggs are icky!"

"Well, then let's see if Sam can convince someone that green eggs and ham are yummy instead of icky!"

Ah, reading Dr. Seuss books to the young ones is so much fun! Older children will usually be treated to a short story by Edgar Allan Poe or, as I said, a bit of Shakespeare. Unfortunately, it's getting to be more and more of a rarity for anyone over nine or ten to attend Story Hour. It's not just about reading the stories... you have to be a bit of an actor, as well. The younger the children, the sillier you can get. With Green Eggs and Ham, a person can get plenty silly. And, of course, the three youngsters are giggling with delight before I am halfway through the book.

All too soon, though, Story Hour is over... smiling parents emerge from the background where they've been patiently waiting and thank me for the entertainment... and it's time to start closing up.  

"Hey, Andrea!"  Julia waved me over to the front desk where she, two of the other librarians and all three of our pages are gathered.  Ah, this can only herald one thing...

"We're going out to Casa Bonita for dinner," Clarence declares.  "Come with us!"

I look around at the expectant faces.  Casa Bonita doesn't have the best Mexican food in town, but it's always a lot of fun going there.  And my coworkers make it even more fun.  So I'm understandably distressed when I have to say, "Oh guys, I'd love to!  But I promised Bobby I'd go to dinner with him tonight.  He wants me to meet The Boyfriend."

Ruth Kumata — Mrs. K — a tiny Asian woman in her 50s and our head librarian, just clucks at me. "And this is why you are still single, Andrea. Always hanging out with the gay boys!"

I laugh.  "And I'm supposed to find a husband at Casa Bonita while hanging out with you crazy people?"

"I'm sure stranger things have happened," Stephanie chimes in.

"Only in science fiction novels, I'm sure," I retort with a chuckle.

"Or fantasy," adds Kevin.

"You can find some pretty unrealistic plots in the romance genre," Julia says helpfully.

I roll my eyes at them and look at Anna, who hasn't said anything.  Yet.

"I suppose you think I should be trolling for a husband at Casa Bonita, too?"

"Oh, hell no!" the fiery Hispanic says.  "Husbands are more trouble than they're worth.  You go hang out with your gay boys!"

"Well, I'm glad to see one person is not trying to get me romantically involved."

"Oh, I didn't say that," Anna replies with a mischievous grin.  "You should get yourself a boyfriend.  Or a girlfriend.  Don't matter."

I throw up my hands in defeat as I laugh along with them.  "Good night, people.  We'll have more of this fun again tomorrow!"

Leaving the building with a smile on my face, I walk up to Colfax to catch the No. 6 bus, which is pulling up to the corner just as I arrive. Ah, such impeccable timing! In the fifteen-minute ride to my stop, I manage to finish a chapter in the latest book I've downloaded for the Kindle app on my Xoom. After a short walk up the block to my small house on Fifth Avenue, I arrive at my door just as the telephone begins ringing.

Of course.  Isn't that how it always works?

As I step inside, I look at the caller ID box on the table beside the door and grin broadly.  I pick up the phone before even closing the door.

"Justin!  It's so nice of you to call.  How are you?" I ask as I shut the door behind me.

"Doing great, oh most magnificent of sisters!"

"Oh boy. When you start a conversation like that, I know you want something," I say, half groaning and half laughing while walking into my home office to deposit my backpack. "What is it this time?"

I can hear the delight in his laughter; he does so love teasing his big sister. "Only advice this time, oh wise one. You know I finish up my Masters in the Spring, and I'm trying to decide where to go for my PhD."

Wandering back into the living room, I kick my shoes off and sprawl out on the sofa.  "I thought you were going to stay at the University of Chicago."

"Well, yeah.  Maybe.  But CU has an awesome program, too, and I miss being out west."

"I'd love to have you living closer, little brother. But wouldn't a PhD from Chicago look better on your CV than one from a state school, even if it is the top state school in the country?"

"It depends on whether I want to teach or do research. If I want to mostly do teaching, then Chicago is better. I could get a job just about anywhere. If I want to do research, CU is better. Again, molecular biologists from CU can get a job almost anywhere."

Well, it sounds like you need to decide if you'd rather teach or do research.

His fake scream, although not terribly loud, is dramatic... perhaps overly so.  "But I want to do BOTH!"

I laugh; I can't help it.  "Justin, you never change.  Always wanting everything."

"Is there something wrong with that?"  He chuckles.  "I know, I know... I can probably do both, I just need to figure out which one I want to do more."

"If you decide to transfer to the CU program, when does your application need to be in?"

"Oh, not until next week."

"Gee, it's not like you're leaving things until the very last minute, huh?"

"Hey, it's what students do.  You should know that, Miss Librarian!"

"You have spoken the truth, brother dear.  I'm afraid I can't be a whole lot of help, though."

"Aw, just chatting with you helps, Andi.  Gets my mind to stop spinning in circles, you know?  And I know you'll always be straight with me."

"You got that right!  And I want what's best for you, even if it means you need to stay out there in that big bad city for another couple of years."  I really do mean that.  Though... damn, I sure miss him!  We've spent more time apart than together, and that just doesn't feel right.

"Well, I'll get it figured out in the next couple of days and let you know.  I need to run... soccer practice in half an hour.  Love you, sis!"

"Love you, too, Justin..."

I sit quietly for a few minutes just holding the phone after we disconnect. We had been nearly inseparable for the first six years of his life, but then he moved back to the States with our parents and I'd gone to China for another six years. Our only contact was by mail; Chenjiagou had no Internet and only one phone line that only functioned half the time. When I finally returned to the States, I'd spent a couple of months in Flagstaff before coming up to Denver for school. I'd gone home every summer and school break; it seemed like every time I had seen him, he had been a totally different person... well, physically. Inside, Justin is always Justin... smart, caring, fun-loving.

He had gone off to Chicago while I was still in grad school. When I found out that he had not only been admitted to the University of Chicago but had been awarded a full academic scholarship, I was dumbfounded. I had always known my little brother was smart... but apparently he is actually brilliant! His choice isn't going to be an easy one. He wants desperately to make a difference in the world; since he can't make the kind of difference his big sister does, he'll do it his way. Just as he always does, my Justin. He can make a huge difference either path he takes... research or teaching... and I can easily see why he wants to do both. And that soccer practice he's running off to make? That is just another way my little brother makes a big difference... he coaches soccer for the grade school kids in the poor neighborhoods around the University.

Am I a proud sister?

Hell yeah!

I get up and put the phone back on the charger and go to change into a more appropriate outfit for dinner. Bobby had said "casual" and had needed to verify three times that my idea of "casual" and his idea of "casual" were in alignment. Finally, he'd just said, "Oh my GOD, Andrea! Just wear jeans and a t-shirt, OKAY? We're only going to Beau Jo's!"

Just as I'm putting my sneakers on, the doorbell rings. Ah, as always, Bobby is early. Now, I know there's this somewhat mythical thing called "Gay Standard Time," which — according to legend — is precisely twelve minutes late. Every time I go to see the Denver Gay Men's Chorus or even Harmony, the mixed chorus, the concerts start twelve minutes later than publicized. Apparently, lesbians don't have to abide by the GST convention, as the Denver Women's Chorus always start their concerts on time.

I open the front door with my typical greeting.  "You're early, Bobby.  I don't believe you're really a gay man."

He gives me one of his looks as he sashays into my living room. "And that, Miss Thang, is not a t-shirt," he says with megawatts of attitude.

"I don't own a t-shirt, Bobby.  A polo shirt will have to be casual enough."

He laughs as he leans against the archway into the kitchen and dining area, arms crossed, dropping the attitude completely. "No, that's fine, Andrea. As long as you don't put a blazer on over it. Too dressy, and Beau Jo's can be messy." He pauses for nearly an entire second. "Oooh, listen to me! Rhyming my way to dressing you properly!"

"I was going to grab my windbreaker in case it gets cold after sundown.  Does that meet with your approval, your highness?"

"It does.  And my chariot awaits.  We're going to meet David out there."

"Oh?"  We go out and walk the half block to where he'd parked his car.  "In case things go horribly wrong and you want to make a quick getaway?"

He looks at me with a devilish grin. "No, sweetie... in case I decide to go home with David. You can have my car for the night and drive yourself home."

I can only roll my eyes and shake my head.  

Oh well.  At least he isn't trying to get me married off.


© Kelly Naylor