Friday, March 21, 2008

Day eighty one...Hello George.

It's 1977.

You can smoke on public buses.

Disco is in full swing and its trademark "mpt-sa! mpt-sa!" bass drum, hi-hat combo occupies a bandwidth in any given city on any given day.

Television is putting out some of the finest programs it ever has, and possibly ever will.

Everybody drives huge American cars.

And I am in love with the library.

It's funny the way in which I remember certain places that I frequented as a child. I oftentimes recall the way the sun hit a building on that particular time of day.

I always had a bunch of free time to do just about whatever I wanted, but I spent a lot of my day doing fun things at a consistent hour. That way it's easier to make sure you actually do the fun things rather than getting caught up in maelstrom of daily hum drum activities like school and chores. Hence the sundial consistency of my important appointments with leisure.

The library, to me, was like the greatest church bazaar one could imagine. Every day new items would arrive which, if your timing was right, you could snag before anyone else. The woman at the register always gave you the best price imaginable: free. And you could return any item after fully enjoying all it had to offer. If you weren't done, you simply brought the item back in and asked for an extension. They actually encouraged you to keep it longer. Heck, if they didn't have what you were looking for at the moment, you could reserve it. And if they didn't have said item there, they would ask around and procure it from one of the other affiliated municipal church bazaars.

You only had to pay if you forgot that its lease was up. Still, the fee was a mere pittance compared to the treasures contained between the covers. Oh, and they had a bubbler and a bathroom and a fun little round ladder which you could push around the floor like a droid, but which would lose its mobility when you stepped or sat on it and attempted to repeat this activity. How odd and unfortunate.

I went to the library about 4pm almost every day. During the warmer months the sun would be at my back. I remember the way it always would shimmer and shake in the reflection of the large tinted windows of the front door as I pulled it open. It had an unfair advantage over my short, stubby, Weeble of a frame and it resisted twice as hard as I could pull. Regardless, it always eventually gave in to my advances.

Inside, to the right, past the short inclined rubber covered ramp, was the large magazine wall rack. Next to that were some cushioned benches and overstuffed chairs. There you could sit and endlessly flip through thick pulpy pages in relative solitude.

There were a few kiddie toys with which overworked mothers would occupy their brats with while they signed out the latest Harold Robbins. I remember looking on in horror when, on occasion, a child would inadvertently begin wailing for attention as their mom furiously tiptoed to the desk. This reaction always amused me, as if by doing so would somehow not only quiet the little terror, but add emphasis on the fact that she knew it was supposed to be a very quiet place; it wasn't her fault. Spoiled little brats. I vowed then and there to never have children if their only preoccupation was to desecrate the sanctity of the quiet, peaceful, and powerfully intelligent library.

At the present time my books outnumber my children by an exorbitant ratio.

That perfect sitting area is where I would endlessly devour classic monthlies like Dynamite magazine. I remember its bright neon rainbow design. And, of course there were the big cover stories; the first Steve Martin issue complete with arrow thru the head and rubber chicken; the first Mork issue, followed shortly by the Mork and Mindy special double issue; the Kristy Mcnichol issue (my tomboyish love), Battlestar Gallactica, and later, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Each one burst at the stapled creases with games, pictures, cartoons, interviews, room decorating tips, and stories from kids just like me. The magazines were colorful, frenetic, and got banged up really fast; not unlike their readership.

The Flint branch of the Fall River library was near perfect in almost every way. Standing at the end of the ramp ,with the aforementioned magazines on your right, you could see 5 long stacks of books. In front of the tall stacks were several slightly too high bins filled with wonderful and mysterious records protected by thick, clear plastic overcoats. To the immediate left of the record bins was the checkout counter where a lovely curly gray haired woman in her 70's worked each weekday. Her name was Mrs. Fiore. She spent her days flipping countless plastic lined back covers open, and stamping both required peach or green colored cards with restrained authority.

Well, that, and calling me George.

Yes. George.

I don't know why, and I never corrected her. She saw my library card each time I took a book out (which was often) and if she didn't see it then, I was just going to let her run with it.

"Hello, George."
She'd say, as I ambled in on my flat feet.

"Hi Mrs. Fiore. How are you?"

"Just fine thank you. That book on magic just came in. I put it aside for you."

Oh boy.

The illustrious magic book. It sounds as wonderful as that which it purports to instruct. What child in their right mind didn't want to at least have a magic act on the side. I mean, being a doctor or a fireman was all well and good, but you had to have something to impress your party guests with. You don't want to come off as dull and predictable now do you?

Of course not.

I loved to take out records too. It was the preferred medium for musical consumption in the 70's. It was, and still is a thoroughly enjoyable process. It's an experience which enables the participant to make a solid connection of where the sound comes from, what it's turned into, and where it ends up; quite unlike the cup and ball trick.

Magic and music. The man who can lay claim to both skills is rich beyond explanation.

As far as records go, the Flint library had a lot of good titles, but there were a few which I must say I was not just disinterested in, but actually scared to death of.

Now, granted, I was into some pretty tame stuff in the seventies; John Denver, The Beatles, The Captain and Tennille, and Christopher Cross. All with simple, sometimes clever, sometimes sentimental record cover art.

Enter the Grateful Dead.

Oh my god.

Now, it was bad enough that I was afraid of dancing skeletons ever since I saw Jason and the Argonauts, but here was a band which adopted the motif and even went so far as to portray said skeleton as capable of playing music. And not just any music:

Violin music.

Behold, Blues for Allah c. 1975.

Somewhere along the way I was given the distinct impression that The Grateful Dead was a heavy metal band. I can't imagine why.

It would be many years before I would make the connection that the gentle beta sounds of California's freakiest hippies were the same group responsible for such an unsettling album cover.

I remember flipping through the records in their thick plastic covers complete with pocket for one's library card. I would get a bit faster with my fingers upon the inevitable approach at the end of the "G" section. And then it was over. I was safe. On to bigger, better, and less horrifying things.

I brought my magic book up to the counter and waited for Mrs. Fiore to check it out.

"Magic is such a fun thing to do, don't you think George?"

"Oh yes, Mrs. Fiore. And someday I'll be able to cut a woman in half."

"That sure would be something. Practice makes perfect you know."

"I know Mrs. Fiore. Goodbye."

"Goodbye George."

I opened the glass door to the loud, hectic, unpredictable Fall River day. The now oncoming sun was hovering right above the tenement buildings in the distance. A flash of it caught me in my eyes and I squinted and clenched my teeth. I clutched my new magic book in my hands, took a sharp left, and walked hurriedly home.

It was almost time for violin practice.

Magic would be a nice cushion to fall back on.

That is, if music didn't make me famous first.

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