I consider my library card to be my second most important possession, right after the First Amendment. The day I got my first library card was arguably one of the greatest days of my life. Sympathy cards may be sent care of this newspaper.
As far as I know, there is still no Rosetta Stone for my hieroglyphics. In fourth grade, I received four A’s and a D. The D was in “writing,” which during the Dark Ages when I attended school meant penmanship. The teacher made me wear a bib that read “World’s Worst Writer” to the cafeteria every day. I was supposed to wear the bib until my writing improved. Oddly enough it never seemed to, although the teacher no doubt received numerous awards for her pedagogical innovations. I am now regarded as something of an accomplished writer, so I (twitch) sure showed her (twitch, twitch).
My poor mother devoted months of her life to teaching me to sign my name. Finally the big day arrived, and my father walked me down to the Kenmore Public Library where I saw more books than I thought existed in the world.
My ecstasy was ended by the librarian, who gave me the first of many “shooshes” and a stern lecture on library deportment. Choking back the tears, I apologized profusely and promised never to speak again. Anywhere.
“Does that mean I can’t get a library card? I’ve been learning to sign my name for weeks,” I sobbed.
“Well, seeing as though this is your first time in public, we’ll make a note of it in the secret librarians’ file. I assure you the penalties increase substantially for subsequent infractions.”
“Oh thank you, Ma’am,” I sniveled and groveled. I was begrudgingly presented with a library card application. Unfortunately, the desktop was level with my eyeballs. The resulting signature was even worse than usual. You can look it up in “Guinness World Records,” where it still stands as the third-worst signature of all time.
The librarian squinted disapprovingly at the resultant scribble. “OK, little Eye of Horis Raven Ankh Jackal-Faced Boy in a Skirt…”
“It’s a tunic.”
“ … you may take out up to seven books on this temporary card.”
“Seven books!” I exclaimed. “I’m rich! Rich I tell ya’!” and then I made a mad dash for the stacks amid a symphony of shooshes.
Recalling my recent admonition, I sheepishly looked back, but the librarian didn’t seem to care. She had taken off her Buddy Holly glasses and undid her bun and the top button of her blouse. She shook her hair, and said to my Dad, “I had no idea you were Egyptian, Mr. Schwartz. How fascinating!”
I don’t know if those were her exact words, but I do remember she took an inordinate amount of interest in Dad.
“Look lady,” said Dad. “I already got a wife, mother-in-law, four kids and an unemployed brother-in-law sleeping on the couch. In other words, I’m extremely married,” at which point she ran off crying. She was soon replaced by a very similar-looking librarian who, knowing Erie County as I do, was probably related to the first librarian.
I quickly grabbed seven Dr. Seuss books in thick plastic covers that slipped and slid and fell to the sidewalk two or three at a time all the way home. As if my crash course in book juggling weren’t enough, Dad’s skyward plea of exasperation indelibly burned itself into my amygdala.
Thank God (and Mom and Dad) for books.