Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Foreign Language? 400s...

I saw this little pool of sunlight on my kitchen floor the other day, and thought it sort of looked like a glowing, lopsided heart. I’m probably the only person in the world who would think that was interesting enough to snap a picture…

Anyway, I’m reading a great book right now called “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It begins when the narrator, Daniel, is a young boy and his father takes him to a mysterious place called “the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.” I love how the author describes it, conjuring up images of labyrinthine corridors filled with rows and rows of books – so many books you could get lost in the shelves. It sounds like the kind of place I would’ve dreamed of escaping to when I was a child – actually, it STILL sounds like a place I’d love to escape to now and then.

Thinking about rows of books reminds me of my very first job at the public library in Sparta, NJ. I started out as a volunteer the year after high school graduation – something to fill my time while I tried to decide where and when to go to college. But it wasn’t too long before I was offered a paying job as a library page. And yes, that was the actual job title – “page.” I always thought it was funny to be called a page in a library. Just a page among all the other pages. I spent my time re-shelving returned books and getting much-too-well acquainted with the Dewey decimal system. I still know that if you’re looking for a book on religion, you should look in the 200s. Science? Try 500s. Arts? Drawing? Photography? 700s. Classic drama and poetry? 800s. And some of my favorite subjects – maps and geography – 900s.

Sometimes I would work behind the front desk, pointing people in whatever direction they needed to go and helping check out books. (I just loved using that “due back by” stamp…) Dealing with the public has never been my strong suit, and always seems result in awkward moments. One in particular that really stands out in my mind is a day when I was standing at the counter nearest the front door, and a man walked in and stood in front of the desk. He stared at me for a good ten seconds without saying anything, looking completely flustered and confused and apparently attempting to form words that never actually materialized. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, so I stood there with what I can only assume was an encouraging smile on my face. He finally said, “you look really nice in that sweater” (who WAS this guy??) and then proceeded to ask me a question about copyright law. Fortunately, one of the older librarians had overheard everything and came to my rescue. I think this man wasn’t entirely “there,” if you know what I mean. I can’t imagine ever looking so good in a sweater that I literally strike a man dumb – but hey, I guess I can dream… :)

Eventually, I was promoted – well, on Fridays, at least. Friday afternoons I was in charge of the entire children’s section of the library. It was a great job, because it was usually very slow, very quiet, and I was surrounded by reading material. It was while I was working in the children’s section that I discovered books by Chris Van Allsburg – the author of "Jumanji," "The Polar Express," and, my personal favorite, "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick." The latter is a book filled with strange illustrations and equally strange captions – it’s nothing but a book to fuel imagination and spark creativity. I also discovered Ellen Raskin, who wrote the Newbery Medal-winning "The Westing Game" as well as "The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues" and "The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)." All of which I read while I was “working” at the library, and I’d highly recommend them for readers of all ages. (I have no idea when I turned into a literary critic…)

These days, the closest I get to the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” is wandering aimlessly through the shelves of Barnes and Noble. However, Barnes and Noble has an advantage that Carlos Ruiz Zafon dared not imagine for his fictional book repository – a Starbucks. And there’s nothing better than the smell of books and coffee in the morning... :)

This picture has nothing to do with anything... I just like my new Yankee hat...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Uh oh... what did I do?

When I was about 13 years old, my brother started collecting baseball cards. We’d just moved to New Jersey, and we were living about an hour outside of New York City, so there were two teams up for grabs in a bid for his never-ending fandom. In 1986, our first year in Jersey, the Mets won the World Series with the help of the infamous Bill-Buckner-of-the-Boston-Red-Sox-ball-through-the-legs error. The Mets were celebrating on every television set in the tri-state area. So Eric, having never been a baseball fan in his young life, did what any intelligent, reasonable, backyard ball-tossing kid would do – he became a Yankee fan.

My dad took Eric to couple games at Yankee Stadium, but my mom and I had decided we were much too girly to care about a bunch of grown men swinging sticks and running around on a grassy field. We’d much rather stay home and, uh, bake cookies. Or go to the mall or something. And then one day my dad and Eric somehow convinced us to go to a game. Maybe we were promised a nice dinner in the city. Maybe we decided we should go just to experience the history of Yankee Stadium. Maybe we were completely out of chocolate chips and had no money to shop for shoes at the mall. However it was we were ultimately convinced is unclear in my mind. But the four of us did eventually pile into our minivan and made the somewhat perilous trek to the Bronx. My dad drove the minivan in fits and starts, dodging cars and pedestrians and stray dogs, erratically wending the way down Jerome Avenue. We parked in a garage a couple blocks from the stadium, and my first impression was not a good one. I wasn’t even sure I could SEE the stadium from my vantage point, as concrete ran together with concrete and the cover and rumble of the elevated train distracted me. I walked quickly, hoping my family was following me, not sure I wanted to stay for too long in one place in this particular part of town. I power walked past a place called “Boss Tweed’s Pub,” and when my family caught up with me, we crossed the street to the stadium entrance.

Inside, the stadium was just as unimpressive. Vendors selling t-shirts and souvenirs and hot dogs were strategically placed within the cavernous, cold, concrete hallways. Fans mingled about, buying ball caps and beer and talking in loud, boisterous voices. It was noisy and confusing and all the gray concrete was starting to bore me. We walked up a wide ramp (more concrete) to get to the area near our seats, and as we made our way down another long hallway, we could finally see glimpses of green field through open archways. We found the sign pointing to our section, turned through the archway, and walked out into fresh air.

And suddenly, Yankee Stadium – YANKEE STADIUM – was before me. The glimpses of green I’d seen on our way to the seats knit together to form a huge blanket of emerald grass. Yankee players were warming up on the field. Vendors were selling popcorn and sodas. Kids were excitedly leaning over the balcony railing, calling out to Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly and Rickey Henderson. And it’s cliché to say it, but there really WAS some sort of electricity in the air – some kind of energy that was practically tangible. It was so real, and so obvious, that I felt if I swatted at the air around my head, I’d feel something swatting right back. Or maybe I’d be hit in the noggin with a box of crackerjacks, who knows. But I did know one thing for certain at that moment. Before I’d ever even seen a complete baseball game, before I had any clue who Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly and Rickey Henderson were, before I knew what a bunt was or what the infield fly rule meant – I KNEW I was a Yankee fan for life.

As I indignantly wondered why my dad had never brought me to a game before (baking cookies? Shopping at the mall?? How lame is THAT???) I watched the first Yankee win I’d ever seen. I was lucky to see a win – at this time, the Yankees weren’t even good. I’m not sure people remember that the Yankees haven’t always been a very good team, seeing as people seem to think they’ve constantly been in the World Series every year for the last century. But when I first became a fan, they were, I’m sorry to say, pretty horrible. But it didn’t matter, because that crackerjacks-to-the-head feeling was strong enough to counteract lousy batting averages and pitiful pitching. The Yankees were addictive. The Yankees were my team.

And now, having been fortunate enough to see my team win several World Series, I’m living in Texas – land of many a Yankee-Hater. For the last few years, Rick has played in a fantasy baseball team with a bunch of guys at Dell, and I’ve even managed to turn him to the “dark side” so to speak. I don’t usually pay much attention to the fantasy stuff – I just watch my Yankee games and hope they win and that’s about it. But this year, I was unexpectedly invited to join the ten-member fantasy baseball league. And, also unexpectedly (because I’m just not sure what I was thinking), I actually said yes. I’ve placed myself on a fantasy baseball league with nine guys. I feel like I may be entering some sort of foreign territory here. And apparently most of THEM think so, too, as the trash-talking has already begun. Rick forwarded me some email chains from the baseball league guys at Dell, talking about how I won’t have a clue who any of the “5000 players in the league” are, and I’ll finish second-to-last at best, and I’ll be drafting Derek Jeter as my first pick simply because I think he looks good in tight pinstripe pants…

So I have a bit of a challenge during baseball season this year. Somehow, I have to convince these nine guys – or eight, if I don’t count Rick, who I'm assuming already has at least a modicum amount of confidence in me – that I’ve heard of a few players on teams other than the Yankees, that I can make draft picks based on baseball ability and not level of eye-catching hotness, and that maybe I’ll actually be someone to beat, not someone to ignore because I’m no threat whatsoever. And maybe I’ll catch on to this thing pretty quickly. After all, when I was 13 and I thought baseball was something that only boring guys liked to watch, it only took a few seconds to change my mind.

But maybe I should bake some cookies for the draft, just to keep up appearances…