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.  Dowtown 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.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yelp for Roy

Los Angeles Public Library - Fairfax Branch  

Category: Libraries
Neighborhood: Mid-City West
5.0 star rating
After reading the reviews of Roy the head librarian there I am sad to see him being so poorly rated.  In my dealings with the man he has shown qualities that are indeed extraordinary.
Roy counted to infinity...twice in answering my child's homework assignment
His tears can cure several terminal diseases...just one drop
He is so efficient he can watch an episode of 60 minutes in half an hour
He was once declared a Los Angeles city monument but could not accept the trophy because he was on the phone on Union business
He once taught a German shepherd to bark in Spanish.
When it is raining, it is because he is thinking of something sad.
His shirts never wrinkle. Only the back of his neck
You can see his charisma from space.
if there were a monument built in his honor in the Fairfax district, Farmers Market would close... due to poor attendance.
His hands feel like rich brown suede.
He once made an obnoxious Mime say shut up at the Grove
He does not snore, not even a little
On every continent he has visited, there is a sandwich named after him.
Sharks have a week dedicated to him.
Google uses him for reference
When he throws out the branches trash it is already recycled
Babies ask to have him kiss them.
He once cured a leper with library paste and some lox could go on but...

Wednesday, July 03, 2013



Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.

Your name was the food I lived on;
now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.
To say your name was to be surrounded
by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,
I touch glass and barbed wire.
Your name was the thread connecting my life;
now I am fragments on a tailor's floor.

I was dancing when I
learned of your death; may
my feet be severed from my body.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gracie 1999-2013


     My earliest memories in the family mostly include dogs in the mix, all loved and most treated as pert near equals in the household. We heard about Stormy the spaniel, then Fritz the doberman and we knew Pretzel, the first dachsund leading to Hansel and Gretel who stayed on into the 1960’s when the reign of poodles began. This love of dogs never wavered over five, then six decades with the branches of the family tree emulating Mom and Dad. Pets always brought joy and love to every child, grandchild and even great-grandchild in the family.  Every celebration in our extended tribe has almost always included a beloved pet and in particular a dog that played a major role in the fun. There were Dachsunds, Poodles, a Beagle, Airedales, Cocker Spaniels, Shih-Tzus, a Golden Retriever and the mutts named Freddie and Tickets who made us laugh and caused us to cry when their time came to leave. Other families followed suit: there was Maniac, Daisy, Missy, Scruffy, Tuffy, Buck, Bandit, Mae, Napoleon, Zeka, Dodger, Slippers,  Macy, Fido, Rocky, Bella, Peewee, Jadie, and many more that were loved and loved us back. Some of us turned down a shady street and took up with cats but the devotion was similar, just more one-sided.

      Yet, no animal touched the entire family like Gracie (sometimes pronounced Gwacie), the once full-figured dachshund who sat by my Mom’s side dutifully through her worst times and then moved on to Colorado for a wonderful retirement where she was showered with love by a family who was steeped in dog adoration. Gracie had a face you could hardly say no to and in her Long Beach life she rarely heard the word. She was fed treats for her one simple trick, the balancing of her large wiener dog frame upright to beg with bent paws until  liv-a-snaps were produced and shoveled into her sweet mouth. Gracie was gentle, loyal and sweet; the best characteristics you could ask for in a dog. What made her so extra-special in light of her place among a hundred other dogs was that she carried my Mom’s kindness and love forward after she had left us behind. The old “kids” could hardly look upon Gracie without tearing up since she represented so thoroughly our Mom and such was the case for the grandkids and great-grandkids. Gracie had her life extended by loving care and despite illness and eventual blindness she had a great life, one that was given bonus time by the addition of Bella to her last days. It might have been slightly embarrassing that when I visited those loved ones in Colorado it was Gracie I longed to meet again right along with my blood kin. She will always be remembered as shining a light where one had gone out and will be loved in a special way by our entire family. If old Gracie is to journey on to Rainbow Bridge I have a pretty good idea who is waiting for her, treats in hand.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Papa Romo 1913-2013

             Papa Romo 
    Like everyone here my heart is heavy and there are tears still unshed but I won’t cry today because I am indebted to this truly great man and he would hate sorrow on this day of remembrance. I owe him so much it could never be expressed with these few words but in representing the families connected with the Creasons I would ask for your indulgence in adding a few memories that might make you smile the way he always did when you saw him enter a room. To Myrna, Freddy, Nastassja and all of Romo’s blood kin I offer the kind of condolence that can only come from one who knew Romo’s love and cherished almost every single minute I spent with him over the past 30 years.
Where could I go for inspiration, to turn my sorrow back around to joy but to Al Jolson where I knew Papa Romo would be with me too and there I found a strange kind of peace listening to “among my souvenirs.” I heard the familiar voice and wrote down a few of my own memories. There are so many souvenirs I can only choose a few but every one will linger in my family’s hearts and mine until it is our time to leave.
It began for me back in 1983 in the fancy, mirrored, master bathroom of 2026 Serrano when Nastassja…sometimes known as Karen and I announced our engagement as Naomi gasped, “Thank God I thought you were just going to just live together!” From that moment on Romo treated me like his own. Being Chernoff family meant a lot of things, mostly good things except maybe for the trip to Elsinore for Hover crafting that involved inhaling carbon monoxide and hearing endless lectures on the future of hover-transportation. Being part of the family meant I got to hear Romo’s whistle at Passover and learn to “enjoy” matzo and pronounce hard Hebrew words at Pesach.  It meant I got to go to a surprise drag queen show for my Mother-in-Law’s birthday and thrill to “The Song of Norway” live on stage and learn about the joys of Grant Griffin’s powerhouse singing or Jackie Mason’s humor. It included some of the wonderful roller-coaster rides of dinners out with twenty family members who once they got past the orders for two pots of hot water and the bread extra crispy …. enjoyed great times at the Fish Shanty or Vitello’s or the Tam O’ Shanter or other kinds of meals at Kingsley Gardens. It meant sea sick adventures to Catalina or the Channel Islands and bus rides with giddy family who were never allowed to even reach in their pockets to pay for anything once. It was spending unforgettable weekends at the cabin in Skyforest with not one but two Jacuzzi’s, snow a foot deep outside and Santa’s Village a short walk away. I guess it helped that I participated in giving Romo a beautiful granddaughter but for one amazing week he even loaned me the Sunday Go to Meeting Cadillac Coupe de Ville that had a front end bigger than my entire car.
      Even after the judge said I was no longer family in 1990 Romo refused to let a piece of paper end our relationship and he never, ever treated me like anything but his son in law. I am sure he never realized just how great this made me feel.  I think he had a knack for making everyone in the family feel loved and the trick to making that work was that it came straight from his heart which was as big as the front end of that Cadillac.  Yet, there was much more to him, including great wisdom and comfort in times of need. From him I learned about Boyle Heights in Los Angeles History and what it was like to be a scared kid standing at Ellis Island without a word of English. He preached the gospel of Pritikin and the value of exercise… plus some Russian or Yiddish sayings that I still love to repeat”: “the first time it is funny…the second time...not so funny…the third time I punch you in the nose!” Or what man here doesn’t exclaim when standing up from a long sit-down in a hard chair “Oy…my alta beyner!” Because of Romo (and Auntie Teresa) I know what “Shtarker”, and “tchotcke” or when something is “ungepatchka.” It used to make him laugh to hear me attempt to pronounce these words with my Catholic mouth but he would pinch my cheek like I was a kid and give me a hug that tested my ribs just because I tried. I may have come into this play for just the last couple of scenes and I missed out on the hard parts of making his fortune and raising his family but the man I knew was one of the kindest and sweetest and finest I ever knew…in every respect.  He showed me what a real man was…even through the greatest sorrow… through the agony of losing two wives and a child he stood tall…twice as tall as any man should ever have to be. I know he was tough and stoic in the face of hardship and he drove himself to the hospital after a heart attack but what truly defined Romo was his kindness, his gentility and his boundless generosity.
     I would be remiss if I did not mention the huge role Romo had in my extended family that he sort of adopted, especially after my father died in 1992. Because he was so revered we decided one year we would draft a proclamation and make him an official Creason that we presented to him on Christmas Eve. In a group that defines the term “herding cats” I was able to get that proclamation signed by 30 family members in ten minutes because every single one of them loved that man and wanted to make sure their names were on the paper where he could see their devotion.  He was our guest at Christmas Eve for three decades and the traditional group photo of the family that was taken annually always centered on the smiling Jewish man in the suspenders.  To this day, at that celebration, we have a Christmas tree and a menorah that seems right for everyone.  I could go on for pages on all the help he afforded us and how he always stood tall when the chips were down because this man was like the rock of Gibraltar to the Creason family but the most precious thing he ever gave any of us was the light in his eyes when he greeted us at birthdays, ballet recitals, graduations, Father’s day brunches, free-throw shooting contests, parties at Laguna Woods or just a visit to Heritage Pointe. Everyone has said they cannot believe he is not going to live forever but he participated so thoroughly in life and love that his legacy will burn long after our flames flicker out.
      Back in the Serrano days I occasionally sat in his den holding Katya, marveling at the clocks and weapons while watching him pet Finder… just listening to some reel-to-reel tapes of music quite contentedly in between phone calls.  A sweet lyric I heard back then with him keeps repeating in my heart “there will be other songs to sing/ another Fall, another Spring/ But there will never be another you”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Freegal finds

                             Freegal All stars 

Aretha Franklin: “Sweet Bitter Love” from a Dutch re-issue (of all things) reminding us of one of the greatest of American blues singers
Barbara Lea: “Killing Time” just a starter song to meet the sadly under-sung heart-breaking ballad mistress
Barry Goldberg: “More Soul” Capturing the feel of a smoky 60’s room full of rocking blues is the grooviest organist you never heard of…
Basil Rathbone: “Masque of the Red Death” The greatest interpreter of Poe that ever lived.
Big Bill Broonzy: “I Feel Good” An amazing celebratory blues song!
Chet Atkins “Bouree”  Chet Atkins could play the theme of an ice cream truck and make it sound great.
Connie Francis “Who’s Sorry Now”  Once the brightest star in America,  her fame has  faded somewhat but not the bittersweet cry in her wonderful voice.
Darrell Scott “Colorado” Folkies know him as a great songwriter and performer and it is time normal people did too…
Dawes “A Little Bit of Everything” One of the few contemporary bands that will make even old hippies happy.
Etta James “My Dearest Darling” A voice so full of power and conviction that she could break your heart and be heard several counties away…
George Jones “My Favorite Lies” IMHO the greatest living American singer, even with the corniest of lyrics he makes it all work.
Hoagie Carmichael “Memphis In June” a voice, a song and an arrangement so rich and sweet you could pour it over a waffle.
John Hiatt “Homeland” The more you listen to his high voltage vocals riding over actual thought provoking lyrics the more you wonder why he is not on the currency or something.
Jose Alfredo Jiminez y Amalia Mendoza “Llego Borracho El Borracho” Two of Mexico’s greatest singers tell a tale of terrible tragedy brought on by good liquor and bad judgment.
Ahn Trio “ Magic Hour” These ladies are adept at interpreting the most avant-garde of classical compositions but they can also make a simple lullaby into something remarkable.
Joshua Bell “the Girl with the Flaxen Hair” The great violinist can sculpt even a warhorse into a masterpiece with this silky touch.
Kris Kristofferson: “From Here to Forever” If you have children and listen to this without tearing up there is something very wrong with you.
Neko Case “Middle Cyclone” Once in a while she writes a lyric you want memorize and quote in a bar but you are always too drunk to remember it when the time comes.
Ricky Nelson “Lonesome Town” A truly dreamy ballad singer who gets ignored by the critics because he was Ozzie’s son.
Simone Dinnerstein (Bach) Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor BMV 1056 With unreal expressiveness within her exquisitely disciplined approach Ms. Dinnerstein makes you see Bach in a different way, even at half the speed of Glenn Gould.
Sviatoslav Richter “Well Tempered Clavier” (Bach) the master…nuff said.
Thomas Newman “Little Women” Probably the greatest film score composer in the world who can do more in two minutes than some cannot in two hours.