Monday, September 28, 2015

Bruckman Award...


      Recently my atheist brother gave me a book on Buddhism and the subject of gratitude is foremost in the themes.  So while I am here to accept this award today I want to say how grateful I am for all the gifts I have been given by LAPL over the past thirty-five years.  This award gives me great pride, knowing the reputation of the truest of hard-copy librarians- John Bruckman and his influence on the intellectual life of Los Angeles. I am humbled to be mentioned in the same breath with such a man. I am grateful for so much and to so many. Through the good and the really bad I have sought refuge in the wisdom of the people and place of Central Library. Basically, those people and that institution have given me almost everything and after decades I finally understand how much gratitude is owed. Albert Schweitzer said “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” That flame, that light of learning has flickered more than once and certainly in recent months was threatened with extinction but there were sparks that kept me going forward...just as the library and the library staff has reached out to me countless times and showed me what I could do if I participated in the culture that surrounds me in those halls.
      Central Library gave me the opportunity to be useful in this world and to help nudge the IQ of Los Angeles upward a tick… that is all I ever wanted for my life. Not just to write a book or talk about maps but to make some converts to public libraries and to bring joy to total strangers over thousands of hours on the reference desk. I have met movie stars, great musicians, literary giants and prominent politicians but I learned as much from eccentric MCs and clerks and library assistants as I did from the celebrities and eggheads. I have fallen in love three times thanks to the library so some of what I learned were lessons of the heart. I have also lived through profound losses and managed to come through them by holding fast to the strength made known to me at Central.  I may not drive a nice car, in fact I drive a terribly beaten up car but I have a storehouse of memories that is more filled with gold than the Lizard People’s tunnels under the library. The blockbuster sized cast of Central staff and the colorful patrons have taught me so much over the years I would shudder to think where I would be if I had done something to get rich, although that has crossed my mind a few times. From the moment I reported to the old History department with the rotary phones,  Lampson tubes and dumbwaiter for periodical delivery… being part of Central Library was all I ever wanted to do in my life. Where else could I meet the Rubber Man, the Prospector, Heckle and Jeckle or Peterson who passed me the note that said “You get smarter and smarter.” Where else could I have gathered pearls of wisdom from M.J. Campbell or Tom Owen or Billie, Helene, Renny and the pre-fire old world of superbly gifted and dedicated library staff at every level. They made me what I am today for better or worse. Most of what I know about the History department reference collection I learned from Diane McCarry and Bettye Ellison here today.
     I am also grateful to my family who has put up with a lot… from my  generous Dad to my wonderfully supportive Mom to my truly great brother and my two patient sisters who actually think I deserve an award. Then there is my daughter who has been my inspiration from June 30, 1984 every day, even when she shows up to inspect my pantry at home. I hesitate to name names at LAPL since there are so many who I owe a debt to and unfortunately many who I can no longer express my love to since they have moved on to another reading room in paradise… where there are no problem patrons and it smells like lavender and sage. I would like to mention Roy who I pretend to insult and who pretends to insult me but we love each other. What I have done for maps at LAPL Roy has done for every librarian working now and in the future. I mentioned the living legends here in this room but I must allow a moment to salute the fine folks of the History and Genealogy department who have literally carried me through thick and thin without complaining…too much. Cindy, Christina, Debbie, Kelly, Julie, Wendy and the most excellent Nelson Torres along with the clerks, MCs and  security staff who know my voice by heart. Despite being older than dirt I still have young friends at  Central: in every department: Jim Sherman, Sheila Nash, Emma Roberts, Mary McCoy, the man known only as Timmermann, the Social Science neighbors and even some on the 4th floor including the Foundation folks who have treated me so well.
     I remember like yesterday the phone call I received from dear Miss Pratt when she offered me the L1 Job in the History department. Believe it or not my salary was doubled by LAPL from what I was making at the Herald-Examiner newspaper which made my creditors happy. I could not believe my dream job was to begin in November. When I hung up the phone I did some cheerleader jumps with my knees tucked up under me with joy in my new life. While I cannot do cheerleader anythings now,  there is still some of that joy left in my doing the job I apparently was born to do and will continue to do at least for a while longer. When I  walked over the asphalt in the parking lot and through the Flower street door I had a feeling I might never want to leave and 35 years later it has all seemed as quick as a heartbeat. On November 19 it will be 36 years since I first showed up at Central with a bad hangover but full of wonder for a place that can be an anecdote for the darkness in the world. I am still grateful for the opportunity to shine the light of learning here and to be the first in a line of deserving Bruckman Award winners. Thank You

Monday, July 27, 2015

Why I disappeared...

Saturday, May 24, 2014

So Much of the World

So Much of the World

by Gregory Djanikian

So much of the world exists
without us

the mountain in its own steepness

the deer sliding
into the trees becoming
a darkness
in the woods' darkness.

So much of an open field
lies somewhere between the grass
and the dragonfly's drive and thrum

the seed and seedling,
the earth within.

But so much of it lies in someone
standing alone at the edge of a field
with a life apart

feeling for a moment
the plover's cry
on the tongue

the curve and plumb
of the apple bough
in limb and bone.

So much of it between
one thing and another,

days of invitation,
then of release and return.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Flashback- Mother's Day another time...

                                     Shouting Isn’t Necessary

          “One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade.”
                                         -Chinese proverb

                                           By Glen Creason

It’s been a while since my Mom has been able to hear the normal sounds we take for granted. Sometimes that is good as in the bass thumping “music” that thunders from kid’s autos. Sometimes it is sad as in the subtle softness of rain on our roofs. After eighty-five years of screaming kids, blaring televisions, loud car radios and several million phone conversations with friends and family the hardware of her hearing apparatus just gave out. Like always, she doesn’t complain or blame others for this affliction but it can be alienating. People with all their physical senses tend to become easily frustrated with those who don’t and often the hard of hearing get shut out of the fun. Speaking at a higher volume really doesn’t work but nine out of ten folks believe they can overcome hearing loss by screaming to no avail. Since my Mom has always been at the heart of every family affair for the past century this makes our gatherings centralized and very loud.
     Still, some things don’t need to be said and just a look can communicate a chapter. Each year brings me increased appreciation and understanding of just how treacherous the twists and turns of parenting paths can get. How could she make it all look so easy? How could she go years without giving up and erupting like a volcano at our tomfoolery? How did she ever make it to this place where she is beloved by several generations of family members? I want to know. I want to be like that.

      She can tell fascinating stories, put history in perspective, add color to family lore and plop all of us in our place with just an upturned eyebrow. She has seen more, done more and witnessed more changes than we can imagine. At eighty-five she continues to be the omnipotent force who doesn’t miss a trick with or without the hearing that once could identify you opening the cupboard where her hidden chocolate chip cookies lay from the other side of the house. Yet father time takes his toll on all of us. While hearing aids bring pieces, bits, small parcels of the world of sound she once knew we can no longer assume that she is part of a conversation. We must face her and speak to her, not mumble, as is our custom and continue to the end of our speaking. As my generation stumbles forward we experience first-hand just how difficult it is to hear in crowded restaurants, acoustically brittle rooms and moving cars.  Then again, most of the affection we express isn’t dependent on the senses and as the ears fail we turn to actions to express our devotion.  If our shouts don’t reach then we have our presence, our physical support, hugs, kisses, family photographs, e-mails and even those old fashioned customs of yesteryear: the written card and letter. My Mother has planted the trees and we have enjoyed the shade she created with her patience, gentility and wisdom. Now we must speak to her in ways that leap over her ears and into her heart. It just takes the words “I Love You Mom, “ written somewhere, read sometime, preferably on Mothers Day.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Jose Paiz August 22, 1960 – April 24, 2014


     I was thinking all the way back to when I first met Jose in 1983 and I was struck by the fact that he made me laugh every time I saw him. Even when he knew just a few hundred words of English he used those with humor and humility. It might seem odd but despite this terribly sad occasion I am determined to laugh with him one last time today. Despite his desperate struggle to come here from El Salvador and to get a job with the library, he never lost that twinkle in his eye and he was never intimidated by a screwed up system that made it as difficult as possible to assimilate. He had a sense of humor that was rare and refreshing along with a spirit that lifted those around him. He took our differences and differing status in the library hierarchy and laughed at the silliness of it all, thus making us equals. Like everyone here who worked with Jose, I feel like he made me a better person, a more understanding man and a more compassionate worker in a place that gave us glimpses of the best and worst that mankind has to offer. He was tested many times but never defeated. We had a running joke that lasted over thirty years that I was the white oppressor and he was the Latino victim but in reality we were peers from the minute we arrived late to... the walk up the hill to the Savoy garage after work. I think I truly bonded with Jose when we shelved and shifted the entire (and I do mean entire) History department book collection in the dank Spring street basement by ourselves back in 1989. During that time he exchanged many a bit of Salvadoran philosophy with me and the evil brought upon our world by the character known as Chepito.  I told him when I saw him the last time a couple of months ago that in 34 years and hundreds of co-workers he was in a small group of my favorites.  I really want to keep this brief and I can hear Jose saying to me “hey Creason, cut the bullshit, let’s get on with it man” but I would like to mention just a few of my favorite things about this unforgettable guy.
     He taught me how to curse in Spanish. While many of these phrases I cannot repeat here it was Jose who gave me verbal ammunition to take to the streets of Los Angeles where I surprised many a Latino driver with my observations. His tutoring allowed me to say with no hesitation “NO MAMES! Or…oh never mind.
     When we shelved and shifted together with our other pals like Miguel or Ricardo or Teresa he taught me about all the nicknames in Central America…of the Catrachos, the Ticos, the Chapin, the Nica, and as Jose said the pince Gabachos. During that time I tried to bring in music for the crews to listen to including wonderful salsa, meringue, cumbias and for Jose some live Foghat! We got to hate “slow ride.”  Just to bate him sometimes I would bring in “folk music” and then we would howl with laughter hearing him say “Folk music” which sounded very much like a well-known curse in English.
    We had thirty full years of insults back and forth as to futbol or soccer as I call it versus baseball which Jose called a sissy sport. Eventually, he got me to pay attention to the World Cup and several times he even took Van to a Dodger game on Library night. I even have pictures of Jose at the stadium! We used to joke that I would ride with him to Huntington Park after Mexico lost to the US in 2002 but luckily he never called me on that one.
     Probably the funniest running comedy act in Central history was Jose and Koala the parking lot attendant at the Savoy garage. Jose gave as well as got- each day trying to outdo each other with practical jokes and I remember being doubled over with laughter seeing him driving out the driveway unsuspectingly toward home with a string of twenty noisy tin cans trailing behind his car like a newlywed. Koala left us a few years back so I would assume he will be waiting in paradise with some prank to welcome his old pal-nemesis.
     I could go on but I wanted to add one last note about Jose that always struck me. About 90% of the time we talked it was banter but sometimes we talked about family and our kids. There was glow he had when he mentioned his children and a soft light in his eyes when he talked about his wife Ana, even when he mentioned her watching how many beers he had had. He worked at the library and was truly beloved by his peers but everything he did was for his family. That, to me, is a pretty good man.
    Adios muchacho.

“You Learn”

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn…
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong

And you really do have worth…

And you learn and learn…

With every good-bye you learn.” 

Jorge Luis Borges

Después de un tiempo, uno aprende la sutil diferencia 
entre sostener una mano y encadenar un alma;
Y uno aprende que el amor no significa acostarse 
y que la compañía no significa seguridad;
Y uno empieza a aprender que los besos no son contratos 
y los regalos no son promesas;
Y uno empieza a aceptar sus derrotas con la cabeza alta y los ojos abiertos;
Y uno aprende a construir todos sus caminos en el hoy, 
porque el terreno de mañana es demasiado incierto para planes 
y los futuros tienen una forma de caerse en la mitad.
Y después de un tiempo uno aprende que si es demasiado 
hasta el calorcito del sol quema.
Así que uno planta su propio jardín y decora su propia alma, 
en lugar de esperar a que alguien le traiga flores.
Y uno aprende que realmente uno puede aguantar, 
que uno realmente es fuerte, 
que uno realmente vale, 
y uno aprende y aprende…
y con cada día uno aprende.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Days Dwindle Down to a Precious Few

     My first day as a librarian at Central was a happy and boring one. I was starting my rookie year with Magic Johnson who had joined the Lakers but I was no point guard but more of a kid from nowheresville at the end of the bench. "Apocalypse Now" was the smash movie, "Taxi" was the television show everybody talked about around the water cooler and "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson boomed out of car stereos.  Downtown was kind of half shabby, half cool but the city was guided by the strong hand of Tom Bradley, he of the Bradley Wing. To get a fashion sense watch the movie "Argo" and think big eyeglasses and lots of hair. To gain some perspective on that day,  younguns now would hear me say  I began in 1979 like I would hear the old hard shells who trained me say  they started in 1945. There were only a few World War II vintage folks at desks when I started but the staff stories reached back to the 1930’s. I heard about Mary Helen Peterson chain-smoking Lucky Strikes in her office in History and knew Saunders in Lit actually lived in the Engstrom across Fifth Street. I was told that Jane Ellison had brought a live turkey to a Board of Library Commissioners meeting and let it loose, pissing off a lot of administrators. I actually worked alongside people whose kids have now retired from LAPL. I remember when you called the Principals "Miss" and the legendary Tom Owen sat in the California Room typing on an old Underwood. Where computers are today there were catalog cards and p-slips and the new-fangled micro-fische readers. The phones were rotary, connected by a  charming switchboard operator named Pearl. We requested magazines from the pool run by Miss Williams in Lamson tubes and 90% of the collection was in closed stacks. It was deliciously busy and stimulating on any reference desk in Central. I was complimented ten times a day by grateful patrons. Scholars, kooks and drunks called at all the hours we were open and the most interesting people came past the desks every day. There were a couple of brothers we called Heckle and Jeckle who were never apart and made the same jokes every day. In History we had "the Prospector, the Pacer, the Cat in the Hat, the Rubber Man,  Madame Fifi, and Peterson the school teacher gone mad. The regulars were stinky and crazy but more entertaining than scary. The librarians were exceedingly eccentric and very often brilliant. The closest these folks got to a computer was the punch cards that sat in sleeves of circulating books. After dinner for late shifts in some departments there was a distinct whiff of spirits and mean the liquid kind. At the center, Central was really one helluva fun place to work. It was not the flashy destination it is today but the place had a deep and abiding beauty, despite the scuffed up surroundings. Some day I may do the decades behind the desk at "dear dirty" justice but on this oddball anniversary I will just give twenty things I learned.


I. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I haven't hit the finish line yet but I know I don't look much like the photo at the the top of the page. You hit the wall, you keep going and you have your creditors to urge you on to greater glory.

2. "It aint my wife and it aint my life so fuck you" may have been uttered by an illiterate baseball player but it works at LAPL too.

3. No matter how bad it looks now it can get a lot worse and you can adjust to whatever that is.

4. It really is a better job than the private sector, trust me because I worked in the private sector and it isn’t so great.

5. If you are ambitious, go to that private sector. Do it now.

6. When you least expect it something great will happen but pretty girls/boys don't want you, they want the reference book.

7. No matter what people say when they leave, you will never hear from them again.

8. There is nothing on this job that is more important than your kids or significant other. Go home if they need you. Also text them or make calls within reason. Yes, that is against the rules...see #13

9. Call in sick at random and go to Disneyland or the race track or lay in bed half the day. No one will really notice or suffer that you were not there that day.

10. Be nice to all library staff and especially branch librarians because someday they might be your boss or the person that hires your kid.

11. Try like hell to be kind to patrons, it is not their fault they are really are clueless about a lot of simple stuff.

12. Participate. While you might feel silly wearing a Cat in the Hat hat you will thank yourself later.

13. Ignore most rules, make up your own. It works, I have done it for 34 years.

14. Training is 95% earnest attempts at making the job easier but you forget after a few days.

15. Go out to eat, leave your library and maybe have a drink. Let it go, enjoy at least your late shift dinner hour.

16. If your supervisor takes themselves serious, go somewhere else, they are not going to change.

17. Tell co-workers they are good, especially if they are good.

18. Speak to groups, eventually it gets easy and fun.

19. As horrible as it sounds, go to Guild meetings occasionally.

20. Say something ridiculous to a patron or co-worker every shift.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Glen...uh...there is something on the TV...that is incredible...oh

For the Falling Man 

By Annie Farnsworth

I see you again and again
tumbling out of the sky,
in your slate-grey suit and pressed white shirt.
At first I thought you were debris
from the explosion, maybe gray plaster wall
or fuselage but then I realized 
that people were leaping.
I know who you are, I know 
there's more to you than just this image
on the news, this ragdoll plummeting—
I know you were someone's lover, husband, 
daddy. Last night you read stories
to your children, tucked them in, then curled into sleep
next to your wife. Perhaps there was small
sleepy talk of the future. Then,
before your morning coffee had cooled
you'd come to this; a choice between fire 
or falling.
How feeble these words, billowing
in this aftermath, how ineffectual
this utterance of sorrow. We can see plainly 
it's hopeless, even as the words trail from our mouths
—but we can't help ourselves—how I wish
we could trade them for something
that could really have caught you.