Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paradise Found

Well, unfortunately, I missed posting last week.

It was kind of crazy, with a lot of out of town travel, and beyond that, I didn't know what to write about.

The two things at the front of my mind lately have been the devastating but beautiful book I've been reading, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (I was
relieved to read one reviewer confess that she too had been revisiting the characters in her dreams every night while reading it) and Ireland voting to legalize same-sex marriage (the #hometovote pictures and posts were extraordinarily heartwarming and moving). Interesting, yes, but nothing I felt like writing about.
Then I attended the big fundraiser luncheon for my local library.
It's a lovely event- really a "see and be seen" of philanthropists and fundraisers and best yet, library lovers. As part of their "21st Century Library Campaign," the Library Foundation has been encouraging library storytellers, people who are willing to share their thoughts and anecdotes about why public libraries are so important to them.

I promised I'd write my library story but I've been a big procrastinator; since I was so inspired at the library luncheon today, I thought I'd write it here.

We moved to Canisteo, NY when I was about five. We had a red brick house that I loved for a variety of reasons- the apple tree in the backyard that could not have been more perfect for climbing, the playroom just off the dining room, the ferns that grew in the side yard next to the storm cellar door, just like Dorothy had in Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. But the best part about our house on Russell Street, which I didn't know at first, was that it was around the corner from the library.

Our little town library, the Wimodaughsian (named after the Wives, Mothers & Daughters of the Civil War, or maybe it was the Revolution, I can't quite remember and I haven't been able to verify this anywhere online) was founded in 1897 and located in a big old creaky white house. There were stairs that led upstairs to a second story where no one was allowed, dark patterned wallpaper in the foyer, and the adult section had an ancient marble fireplace. There were little rooms and halls off rooms, crammed with bookshelves teeming with books. The children's department was a small open room off the circulation desk area with a table and chairs, a beanbag or two. Beyond the children's department was a room filled with glass cases housing various taxidermied birds, a collection both fascinating and frightening, as well confusing (why was there a
room full of dead birds at the library?)

My mom, who passed along her love of reading to me, took me to get our library cards not long after we'd settled in. I remember with a children's card you could check out a maximum of seven books at a time, and only from the children's department. I was in absolute, besotted heaven. I'd totter home, devour my books and be ready for more within a day or two, pestering my mom to make another trip back to the Wimodaughsian. My diligence and voraciousness caught the attention of the librarian, Lu Mlott.

Mrs. Mlott was not a coddler. You had to earn her respect and trust when it came to her library. She expected you to care for her library's books with the same devotion and reverence she had for them. I remember how grave and serious she was when she told me that I had permission to check out any book in the library I wanted; I was free to browse the adult titles in the room with the long-dormant fireplace. I was officially given an adult library card at age seven.

It made such an enormous impression on me that I can still remember it happening- Mrs. Mlott leaning over to carefully look me in the eye as she bestowed this privilege and responsibility on me. I will always treasure that gesture because it was one of the first times I was treated as a fellow or peer, and not just a child. I was a reader, and in Mrs. Mlott's estimation, that made us members of the same tribe.

Eventually, I was allowed to go to the library by myself, cutting through backyards instead of taking the long way on the sidewalk up Orchard Street and onto Main.The library became my sanctuary, my safe place, the "happy place" we're instructed to visit in our minds when we're stressed or scared or upset.

I was convinced for years that libraries pumped anti-anxiety meds into the recirculated air. One foot inside a library and I'd instantly feel better. No matter what was happening in my life, a few moments in a library (and it applies to all I've known) and I'd feel like everything would be okay. Maybe there's some kind of chemical that ink and paper and binding glue give off when combined; perhaps all those books living in one space act together on brain chemistry to soothe and satiate.

Holly Golightly got it wrong. It's not Tiffany's that helps chase away the mean reds; it's libraries. Her line about how she felt at the jewelry store so perfectly describes libraries for me: "the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there."

When Holly (or LulaMae) got the mean reds (not the blues, mind you- "The blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of"), the only thing that did her any good was to jump in a cab and go to Tiffany's.

I go to the library.

PS- And speaking of books, I'm seeing Judy Blume in one week!! Eeeeeee!!!!!!!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"I was the kid next door's imaginary friend." (Emo Philips)

So, this week, a friend of mine posted a story about a man who killed his imaginary friend, then turned himself in to the cops:

"Geoff Gaylord walked into a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and confessed to his crime: he had repeatedly stabbed his friend "Mr. Happy" with a kitchen knife, cut up Mr. Happy with a hatchet, and buried him in his backyard. Let me remind you again that this occurred in Florida, so perhaps it should come as a surprise to no one.

Gaylord and Mr. Happy were friends for seven years but, according to Gaylord, he killed him for a few reasons:

"He left his empty vodka bottles all over the kitchen... never picked up his empty cocaine baggies...He messed up my apartment to the point where I just couldn't get it clean...Before Hap started doing drugs and acting weird he was my BFF...We'd go
dancing, play on the children's park equipment, both huge fans of doom metal – listened to it for hours with the lights turned off."

When Mr. Happy crashed Gaylord's car, and Gaylord got arrested instead, Gaylord had had enough.

"That drunk driving incident I got unfairly blamed for and just how messy he had become put me over the edge and I murdered him."

Gaylord was eventually taken into custody when he threatened police for not giving him the death penalty. Police found drug paraphernalia and a machine gun in Gaylord's house, and was booked on multiple charges.

So much for the BFF bracelets these two exchanged."

Apparently, it's a story from a fake news site, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
It reminded me of my imaginary friends, Mrs. Seal and Mrs. McGillicuddy.

Imaginary friends are awesome- Calvin had Hobbes, James Stewart had Harvey, Big Bird had Snuffleupagus (by the way, only Big Bird can follow Snuffleupagus's Twitter account. No one else that tries to follow Snuffie gets accepted. It's brilliant.)

But my imaginary friends weren't too imaginative. We didn't have crazy adventures or exciting mishaps. They were really pretty boring. Mrs. Seal was a retired schoolteacher, with cat's eye glasses, who always wore plaid wool suits. We tried to win a rubber raft in a radio contest once.

I don't really have an idea of what Mrs. McGillicuddy looked like. I think she was sort of an absentee imaginary friend. I used to beg to buy postcards on which I would scribble barely legible notes to Mrs. G and pretend to mail to her. We were more pen pals than friends, I guess.

With my dad having been a Navy SEAL, I think that explains where Mrs. Seal got her name. I watched a lot of I Love Lucy when I was a small child, and the fact that Lucy Ricardo was born Lucille McGillicuddy is my only explanation for my Mrs. McGillicuddy. I never did learn either of their first names.

Lawrence Kutner, in Insights for Parents: Midnight Monsters and Imaginary Companions says that, 

 "Imaginary companions are an integral part of many children's lives. They provide comfort in times of stress, companionship when they're lonely, someone to boss around when they feel powerless, and someone to blame for the broken lamp in the living room. Most important, an imaginary companion is a tool young children use to help them make sense of the adult world."

I'm not sure how Mrs. Seal and Mrs. McGillicuddy fit into that description. I didn't feel any kind of fondness for them and they disappeared pretty quickly from my life, without much emotion on my part. They weren't particularly fun or jolly ladies. I don't remember having a lot of laughs with them. I don't remember being particularly comforted by either one. I may have bossed them around, but that's not out of the ordinary. I had no need to shift blame to them for my misdeeds, as my brother Kevin's escapades went above and beyond a simple broken lamp in terms of occupying my parents' attention. They were a lot like Mary Poppins without the magic or
the singing- more governess than friend, really. I guess they taught me something about how to navigate the adult world; they were good preparation for the humorless, straitlaced folks you encounter as a grown-up.

I feel like this was a huge missed opportunity. I was usually a very imaginative child- almost too much, sometimes- and I can't believe I wasted the role of an imaginary friend on two such dull women. But maybe it's time to revisit and reinstate the imaginary friend. Today I learned that both my bus driver (Bus Driver Ralph) and our mailman at home and work (Mailman Carl) are getting assigned new routes and I won't see them regularly anymore. Without these characters in my Sesame Street-like world, I'll need someone new to chat about vitamins and the euro's value against the dollar, and to bring the gossip about the people in my neighborhood, the people that I meet each day. I'll be accepting applications until the end of the month.

And a quick link to show that my imaginary friend situation was nowhere near as effed up as it could have been.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I hope that giraffe isn't constipated.

For the past couple of years, my sister and I have taken our brother on a little adventure for his birthday. Last year we drove up to the Syracuse zoo; this year we went to the Buffalo Zoo. It was our most ambitious outing yet- we stayed in a hotel and ate at the Anchor Bar- home of the Buffalo wing. Here are some photos from our trip, along with some choice Kevin comments that were made along the way.

As we passed signs for Niagara Falls, we got talking about the family trip we took there once.  I corrected Kevin that we stayed in Niagara Falls, Canada, not the American Niagara Falls. He seemed to ponder this for a minute, then said:

"Wait a minute- I just thought of something- is our family Canadian?"

I was very excited to see the river otters.

We drove by a surprising amount of cemeteries on this trip. Every. Single. Time. he asked,

"Is that scary old guy from Poltergeist buried here?"

Kate had no answer for why he was obsessed with this, but apparently he asks this about every cemetery he sees.

My siblings love a good poop kiosk.

The baby gorilla killed us with its cuteness.

"Are those restrooms over there? Do you think there's a men's?"

The mama and baby rhino were amazing. This zoo is one of the few to have a healthy baby in captivity. At this and several other exhibits, we'd be looking at fantastic creatures we'd never encounter in our day-to-day lives. Often some small ordinary bird would fly by the enclosure and Kevin would get incredibly excited and say,

"Wow! Look at that bird!" 

Baby rhinoceros in front of him, but what really impresses him is that sparrow that's eating garbage off the walk in front of us.

First of all, how weird must it be to live in that house across the street from the zoo and see a giraffe out your windows? For no reason we could think of, when we rounded the corner and saw the giraffe out in the enclosure, the first thing Kevin said was,

"I hope that giraffe isn't constipated."

The capybara just fascinated me. Katie and I both agreed it reminded us of the from The Princess Bride. Kevin made a point of saying its name over and over, to emphasize that he knew exactly how to pronounce it.

I ended up not purchasing the bison hat. It was too top-heavy.

Kevin outside the Anchor Bar.

After dinner at the Anchor Bar and some celebratory Prosecco in our hotel room, we went to a nearby bar for a drink, then back to the room. Apparently the fact that our hotel was next door to a Walgreens was a huge plus in Kevin's book. He paraded through the store announcing to everyone (whether they cared or not) that it was his birthday, and insisted that Katie buy an 18-pack of beer instead of a six-pack, even though I was done drinking and we'd already been out all night. We all woke up around 3:30am with heartburn (too much buffalo wing sauce?) and Kevin had some more interesting conversational flights of fancy that, to save my parents the embarrassment, I won't share here.

All in all, I think he had as good a time as we did, and we've already started planning next year's adventure. Hopefully, wherever we end up, the giraffes will not be constipated and all the public bathrooms will include men's rooms as well.

PS- Katie reminded me of a story I forgot to include. I was very excited that our hotel was across the street from the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site. It's the house where Teddy took the oath of office after McKinley was assassinated. After one such mention, Kevin asked, "I don't have to go with you to Mark Twain's house, do I?" I corrected him and said, "It's Teddy Roosevelt, not Mark Twain. And, no." He thought that was funny, so he kept referring to my visiting Mark Twain's house, just to get me to correct him irritatedly. "When are you going over to Mark Twain's house?" "It's Teddy Roosevelt, Kevin, dammit!" I'd look over at him and he'd be grinning slyly.