8FOLD/CONTEST: Journey Into... # 11, "The Leon Czolgosz"

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sun Apr 25 12:51:53 PDT 2010

The following is a work of fiction, and more than that, it aims to be
a work of comedy-- of exaggeration and invention.  I have been
employed at a municipal library for over a decade, and so I can safely
(and unequivocally) say that it does not to my knowledge reflect the
actual workings of any library, public or private; its events and
personages are not based on any actual events or personages that I
have observed.


   Months before the retirement of the City Librarian, it fell upon
the Mayor to appoint his replacement.  This was, of course, a
formality, a going-through-the-motions, as everyone knew the post
would fall to the Leon Czolgosz Memorial Library's second-in-command,
Rebecca Schwartz, who not only had the requisite experience but was
also a voracious reader and prone to bouts of fascism, these being the
two qualities upon which everyone agreed to be most vital to the
success of any City Librarian.  So, of course it was to be Rebecca
Schwartz, how could it not be?
   Whenever the City needs a new something, they always have someone
in mind for said something, but they can't just say, here, you, yes
you, have this job that we made for you.  Instead, they need to draw
up a list of duties and qualifications, and said list must be posted
for all to see, and the Human Resources department must interview the
applicants before giving it to the someone they created the something
for in the first place.  That's the whole point of Human Resources, to
expend as much time and energy as possible without ever having any
actual effect.
   Of course, because the City Librarian serves at the pleasure of the
Mayor, Human Resources is cut out of the loop altogether, which in
turn makes them altogether a little sore.  Which is why, as a
formality, the Mayor consults with Human Resources to create a list of
applicants.  Said list he brings first to the Public Library
Commission, who (as a formality) must approve all changes to library
policy but who-- since they, too, serve at the pleasure of the Mayor--
have no real power that he doesn't have already, and then to the Leon
Czolgosz Memorial Library Historical Society, which while twice the
size of the Public Library Commission and serving at no pleasure but
their own have even less power-- that is, no power whatsoever.  Still,
as a formality, the Mayor consults with all these august bodies before
offering the job to Rebecca Schwartz, who then enthusiastically said,
   She had suffered a stroke.  From that point on, everything became
an "orange", presumably as a fruit and not a colour.  A book was an
orange, her nephew was an orange, that ambivalent sense of quiet,
desperate joy that accompanies a gray, raining afternoon-- that, too,
was an orange, and on rare occasions, an "elbow".
   Briefly, the idea floated about that they might give her the
position anyway, because, really, how much trouble could she get into
running a public library in a village with a population of less than
two thousand people?  Then someone brought up the City Librarian for
neighboring New Keweenaw, who had set one of his branch libraries on
fire while in the throes of arsenic poisoning, with no less than
sixteen adorable puppies trapped inside.  "And while they all
survived," the Mayor recalled, "no one quite knows where he got the
puppies from in the first place.  No, Schwartz will not do."
   The next logical choice, of course, would have been the fashionable
spinster librarian Dorcas Wilkins, second-in-command to the second-in-
command, and if she was offered the job, she surely would have
accepted it.  But since she hadn't entered her name for
consideration-- counting instead on her promotion from second-in-
command to the second-in-command to second-in-command-- she was not,
strictly speaking, applicable.  That is, having created a list of
suitable candidates and having their first choice rendered moot, they
had to offer the job to the second name on their list.  And, having
simply arranged the names of the other candidates in alphabetical
order, the job fell into the lap of Peter Ascot.  Yes, that Peter
Ascot: he who had served as the head of three different library
systems in four years, the very same.
   To his first library he added a coffee-house and café, weeding the
collection down to a few popular best-sellers and a handful of
classics.  A neighboring system was so impressed with the revenue the
café had generated that they offered him twice his salary to do the
same to theirs.  Seeing that he could improve on his previous stroke
of genius, Ascot weeded this collection to best-sellers only; removing
the classics made more room for the various video game systems, arcade
cabinets, and Dance Dance Revolution machines, thus greatly increasing
the number of children using the library.  This also increased the
number of pedophiles using the library, which in turn led to scandal
and Ascot's dismissal.
   For his third library system, however, he had delivered the piece
de resistance.  No café, no coffee-house, no video games.  Indeed, no
books, best-sellers or otherwise.  Instead, the entire collection went
"digital", which is to say, a collection of some 100,000 materials
were reduced to fifteen e-books.  The building, now empty, was to be
rented out for storage.
   Peter Ascot, yes, that Peter Ascot, the very same.  By an accident
of alphabet, he was offered the position, and because it was twice his
last salary, he accepted it.  Consider now the role of providence in
the preceding, for it extends beyond Rebecca Schwartz's stroke and the
lazy habit, soon to be corrected, of listing the dummy candidates in
alphabetical order.  For example: Ascot's last name came about when an
Ellis Island official found his great-grandparents' names too
difficult to pronounce; that name, it will no doubt chill your blood
to discover, was forty letters long and began with two consecutive
Z's.  Another example: the only reason the City Librarian position for
the Leon Czolgosz Memorial Library paid so obscenely well-- that
payrate, again, being Ascot's primary motivator for taking the
position-- was because the position was originally created, years and
years ago, for the mistress of a city councilwoman so that the former
could support their secret out-of-wedlock bastard child.
   And I tell you all this not because I think that the hiring
practices of the Leon Czolgosz Memorial Library and the city in which
it resides make for particularly compelling reading, but to explain
the significantly more important matter of how Mr. Ascot attempted to
obtain his library card.
   It was by now a ritual for Ascot to enter his new domain
unannounced, unknown, and unnoticed on a Friday afternoon, getting the
lay of the land, so to speak.  He would then apply for a library card,
the staff would notice his name, perhaps ask him if he was the new
City Librarian, and then he would reply, yes, as a matter of fact, I
am.  And then he would leave, and they would chatter and wonder until
he began his great work the following Monday morning.
   Both floors of the Leon Czolgosz were filled to the brim, one long
rectangle stacked on top of another.  There was a large collection of
magazines, newspapers, and yearbooks-- ephemera that should have been
discarded years ago; music CDs and audio books, but also cassettes,
eight-tracks, and vinyl-- all of them irrelevant in the age of MP3;
DVDs and videos, and upstairs, a collection of crinkly old sixteen-
millimeters used by the local film club-- they would fetch a few extra
dollars online; and there were, of course, shelves upon shelves upon
shelves of books-- those odious things, the bane of his existence.
   His tour completed, he stopped at the Adult Reference Desk.
"Pardon me," he said, clearly and precisely, "but I'd like to apply
for a library card and I'm not quite sure where to do it."
   The reference librarian sent him to the Circulation Desk.
   "I'd like to get a library card."
   "A replacement card, or a new card?"
   "A new one."
   "Well, then, who you really want to talk to is Herb, over at
Registrations."  The circulation clerk pointed towards the other end
of the library.
   "Well, I was at the reference desk, and they sent me over here."
   "Really?" The clerk turned her head towards the reference desk.
   "Yes, that chap at the desk, in the green sweater, said to come
   "Well, I don't know why he would have done that," said the clerk.
"You really have to talk to Herb, over at the Registrations Desk."
   "Alright," said Ascot.
   En route to registrations, he passed by the Reference Desk again.
"She told me to go see Herb."
   "Oh," said the reference librarian, "you wanted to apply for a
library card!"
   "Yes, I thought that's what I said."
   "I misheard you."
   "What did it sound like I said?"
   "I thought you had to pay a fine."
   "See, that's rather queer, because none of those words that I said
sound like 'fine'."
   "Well, that's what it sounded like," said the reference librarian.
"I dunno, you have a gift."
   Ascot squinted, studied the nametag, memorized the name.  "So,
Benjamin Treehorn, I'm to see Herb?"
   "Herb at Registrations," said Benjamin.  "You do want a card,
   "That's what I've been saying, yes."
   "Well, I just wanted to be sure, because there's also Herb the
Notary Public.  We call him Bert, generally, to tell them apart."
   "Then why would I call him Herb?"
   "Well, you shouldn't," said Benjamin.  "He doesn't answer to Herb.
Only Bert."
   "Then why-- okay.  You know what, I'm just going to go see Herb."
   "At Registrations.  Not Bert the Notary."
   "I'm already on my way there.  You've been extremely helpful."
   "No, she's probably in Children's."
   "Who-- who-- what?"
   "The cat," said Benjamin.
   "Who said anything about a cat?"
   "I thought you asked where the cat was.  Miss Grumpy, the library
cat.  She even has her own card.  They signed it... with a paw print!
It's adorable."
   "None of the words I said sounded like cat!"
   "Sir, you're going to have to modulate your volume, this is a
   Ascot threw up his hands and walked away.

The registrations desk.  "May I help you?" asked Herb Hettinger.
Well, perhaps not "asked"; perhaps it wasn't a question at all, but a
flat statement, a meaningless pleasantry like "have a good day", only
without the pleasantness.
   "Yes," said Ascot, undeterred, "I'd like to get a library card."
   Herb took a deep breath through his aquiline nose and exhaled
through the same. "Have you had a card before?"
   "Not at this library."
   "You should probably go to the circulation desk, as they handle
   "But I just said I never had one before."
   "And everyone says it and it turns out they did, even just a year
before, and so I have to send them to Circ, and so it wastes less of
your time-- and less of my time-- if you go there first and they
check.  Otherwise, there'll be a duplicate record, and then I have to
get in touch with IT to remove the duplicate record, and chances are
they're going to end up removing the wrong duplicate record.  And at
that point, it gets messy, and very labour and time intensive.  On my
part.  You, on the other hand, would be blissfully unaware of all
   "Circ sent me over here.  Because I've never had a card before."
   "They checked if you had a card?"
   Ascot hesitated. "Yes."
   Another deep breath, this time exhaled through the mouth.  "Then
let's see if you're eligible for a card.  May I see your driver's
   "Yes, let me get it."
   "Do you live in this city?" Herb asked.
   Ascot handed him the license.  "Yes."
   Herb inspected the license.  "I don't see the name of our city on
your license."
   "That's because I just moved here.  That's why I'm wanting to get
the card."
   "We'll need to have something with your name and your address, in
our city, on it.  A utility bill or a bank statement current within
the last twenty-eight days, a lease agreement, a deed."
   "Well, I don't have any of those, because I haven't bought a house
just yet."
   "So, you haven't moved here yet."
   "Well, I'm staying in a motel..."
   "So, you haven't moved here yet.  You lied to me, sir."  Herb
foisted the license back to its owner, and proceeded to grow two
inches.  This, I understand, will require some explanation.
   Herb Hettinger was biologically just over five feet, but he always
looked tall.  His tallness was not fixed but rather relative to his
temperament, increasingly in direct proportion to his indignation.  In
fact, every time he suffered an indignity, however slight, he made
himself taller in very much the same way an agitated bear does when he
stands on his haunches and rears himself to full and fearsome height.
   Bears, unfortunately (poor creatures!), have nowhere else to go;
true, they might follow up that intimidating sight with a gruesome
growl, but if their agitators somehow remain unimpressed, the bear has
more-or-less exhausted his bag of tricks.  Herb, on the other hand,
could make himself taller again and again, multiplying his height with
each fresh indignity (and they were legion).  Just when you thought he
couldn't possibly stretch his meager frame any thinner, he'd nearly
double it.  Sometimes, people wondered if he mightn't stretch himself
so thin that he might snap cleanly in two.
   "You lied to me, sir," Herb had said, taking two inches worth of
   Ascot, unaccustomed to being called a liar, took umbrage himself.
"Are you always this rude?"
   "I'm not being rude, sir," said Herb, "I'm simply following the
policy, and I'm afraid you're just not eligible for a card.  So
sorry.  Have a good day."
   "Just residents?" said Ascot.  "There's no other way to get a card,
then to be a resident?"
   "Well, if you worked in our city..."
   "I'll do you one better, I work for our city," smirked Ascot
maniacally.  "I'm Peter Ascot."
   Herb nodded politely.  "We'll just need a letter from your
   "From your immediate supervisor.  Signed, and dated.  On a
letterhead.  Then I can give you a card."
   "Are you serious?  I'm Peter Ascot!  I'm the new City Librarian!"
   "Well, I just can't take your word for it, sir," said Herb.  "I
need proof."
   Ascot rushed away from the desk, and returned with the local
newspaper.  He pointed to a small photo of himself on the front page,
underneath the stop-the-presses headline, PETER ASCOT NEW CITY
   Herb looked at the photo, then at Ascot, then retrieved a thick
binder of registrations policies.  He scanned the table of contents,
then the index, then flipped through a few sections of the book.  "I'm
quite sorry, sir," said Herb, "but a photo in the paper isn't
currently listed as viable proof of employment.  We'd really need a
   "Who's going to write me this letter?"
   "Where do you work, sir?"
   "I work here!" said Ascot.
   "I suppose it'd have to be signed by the City Librarian."
   "I am the City Librarian!"
   "Oh, well then," said Herb, flipping through his policy binder
again.  "I'm afraid you're in a bit of a pickle, then, because I can't
accept a letter written by your own hand.  I'm sorry, sir, but my
hands really are tied."
   "You-- you psychotic twit!  What's wrong with you?"
   Herb grew another three inches.  "I'm not psychotic, sir, I'm
merely following the rules.  If you take issue with the policies of
the Leon Czolgosz Memorial Library, you'll have to address your
complaints to the Public Library Commission."
   "Oh, you bet your ass I will!"
   "Please, sir, mind the profanity," said Herb.  "After all, you are
in a library."
   Ascot exhaled sharply through the bristles of his moustache and
made his exit.

   He did not return until Monday, having had an entire weekend to
dissect, evaluate, and otherwise obsess over what had happened.  Forty-
eight hours-plus of this activity meant that he did not greet his
second-in-command, Dorcas Wilkins (recently promoted due to the
retirement of Rebecca Schwartz) with a smile but with a grimace.
   "I came in on Friday," he said.
   "Yes, I heard about your visit," said Dorcas.
   "The first thing I noticed," said Ascot, "is that there seems to be
an awful lot of desks and departments."
   "Eighteen, Mr. Ascot," said Dorcas.  "Would you like it in
alphabetical order?  Administration (that's us), Archives, Children's
Programming, Children's Reference, Children's Registrations,
Circulation, Custodial, Notary, Periodicals, Processing, Purchasing,
   "Benjamin Treehorn."
   "Benjamin Treehorn, I had quite forgotten about him.  He works in
   "Yes, sir."
   "He's to be sacked."
   "Canned.  Pink-slipped.  Fired."
   "Benjamin Treehorn?"
   "Yes, he's an absolute dolt, completely useless, thrillingly
   "The mayor's nephew?"
   "A fine lad, probably just having an off-day, we'll leave him where
he is.  Pray continue."
   "Reference, Registrations, Requests Processing, Security, Shelving,
and Suicide Prevention."
   "Suicide Prevention?"
   "We have a high turn-over."
   "It seems that there are some redundancies in the current system."
   "Oh, I plum forgot Redundancies.  Let's see, yes, that makes it
   "There's a Redundancies department?"
   "Yes, and they've been quite busy.  This time last year, we had
twenty-three departments."
   "I find that hard to believe."
   "Well, Circulation used to be comprised of both a Check-Out and a
Returns department, and then the Library Card Renewal department was
merged when it didn't prove feasible for either of the Registrations
departments to take it on.  And Suicide Prevention used to be two
separate departments, one for depression-related suicides and one for
   Ascot nodded, thought for a moment.  "The ideal, of course, is one
department.  And you know where that one department's desk is
located?  A virtual cyber-scape for our fast-paced, digital world."
   "Yes, sir," said Dorcas.  "I am familiar with your past...
   "Oh, we won't be going quite that modern, not just yet," said
Ascot.  After all, his previous position had only lasted four months.
This one-- and the paychecks that go with it-- he intended to make
last just a little longer.  "I rather had some difficulty on Friday
obtaining a library card."
   "I... had heard something like that."
   "It seems to me first of all that the process is too difficult,"
said Ascot, "and that certain policy guidelines, which I intend to
bring up with the Public Library Commission this very evening, seem to
be far too inflexible.  At least, as they're currently enforced.  In
fact, looking at the records this morning, there hasn't been a new
card registration in nearly a year.  Seems rather a waste to have a
whole desk, a whole department, for something that hardly ever
occurs.  If we were a university library, and we had hundreds of new
cards every semester, well, that'd be a different story altogether.
Do you follow me?"
   "I think so."
   "Of course, I could be wrong," said Ascot.  "It could be that the
policies aren't so stringently enforced, that my first impression was
erroneous.  Perhaps there is a need for a separate Registrations
Department, and its staff.  Maybe at the end of the day, I'll pop over
there and try again.  Do you follow me?"
   "I do."

   And the reader is probably wondering, why doesn't Ascot just fire
Herb Hettinger?  He was, after all, ready to fire Benjamin Treehorn
just like that.  (Here, I snap my fingers.)  And the difference is,
naturally, that Benjamin Treehorn had merely irritated him.  Herb
Hettinger, on the other hand, had the effrontery to think that he was
right and that Ascot was wrong.

   Dorcas went to Herb.  "So you met the new City Librarian on
   "Yes, I was thinking of asking him about reinstating the card
catalogue," said Herb.
   "You of all people know the benefits of a card catalogue," said
Herb.  "If you want a book, just any book, you can just open any
random drawer and pull out any random card and, there you are,
something to read.  These computer catalogues that we have, you have
to search for something in particular.  There's no more browsing.  No
more possibilities.  A card catalogue is boundless knowledge, a search
engine is a narrow little laser.  A card catalogue is library
incarnate.  Ergo, we should reinstate a card catalogue."
   "Are you on crack?"
   "Dorcas, that's rather uncharacteristically crass of you."
   "First of all, this man hates card catalogues almost as much as he
hates books.  And secondly, he's not going to listen you, not after
   "What happened on Friday?"
   "He tried to get a card."
   "And he didn't have the proper documents."
   "And you don't think that that's going to negatively impact his
opinion of you?"
   "Why would it?" said Herb.  "I was right.  He has to be able to see
that.  If anything, it should positively impact things, because I
followed the policy to the letter, and you're giving me that queer
look of yours again.  What is that look for?"
   "He's coming back at the end of the day," said Dorcas, "and he
wants a card."
   "Will he have the proper documentation?"
   "I don't think so, no."
   "Then I'm not going to give him his card."
   "Then he's going to close down your entire department."
   "He'd have to go to the Public Library Commission for approval."
   "And he will.  And he'll get it, because you haven't registered a
new card in nearly a year.  Your job is on the line.  Give him the
   "Has it been nearly a year?" said Herb, brimming with a certain
pride.  "We should put a counter on, like they have at hazardous work
places.  'No new cards in x number of days.'  It'd keep me motivated."
   "Good-bye, Herb," said Dorcas.  "It was nice knowing you.  You've
been here nearly as long as Miss Grumpy, and you were less likely to
throw up on my shoe."
   "Oh, I won't be going," said Herb.  "Because I have a cunning
plan.  I'm going to be out for most of the day."
   "Not on the clock, you won't."
   "Oh, it's work-related, I assure you," said Herb.
   "You're still going to punch out," said Dorcas.
   "And you'll be back before Ascot comes to get his card."
   "I'll be back, alright."

   And to make a long story short (too late), Herb was indeed at his
desk when City Librarian Ascot and Dorcas came a-calling.
   "I'd like a library card, if you please," said Ascot.  "I do not
yet reside in the city, but I work here.  No, I don't have any proof
of that with me today.  Is that going to be a problem?"
   Herb looked at Dorcas and sucked his teeth.  "No, sir, it won't be
a problem."
   Ascot cackled, which, as you can gather, was rather disconcerting.
   "Just fill out this form," said Herb, "and I'll register your
information just as soon as I've finished registering the other
   "Other applications?" said Dorcas in disbelief.  "From today?
Applications, plural, as in more than one?"
   "Three-hundred and forty-eight," said Herb, patting the stack of
papers next to him.  "You'll understand, Mr. Ascot, that it wouldn't
be right for your card to jump the queue.  Morally, and also, image-
wise: how would that look, CITY LIBRARIAN CUTS IN LINE, it wouldn't
do, would it?  When you're finished, you'll be the three-hundred and
forty-ninth in line.  And, unfortunately, we don't have that many
physical actual cards in stock, so you'll have to wait for the next
shipment.  Sorry, my hands are tied."
   Ascot folded his application in a rudimentary paper airplane, and
sent it through the air; it remained aloft for only a moment before
crashing into the carpet, engulfing its imaginary passengers in
horrible imaginary flames.  Indifferent to the emotional toll he had
inflicted on their imaginary family members, he turned and went to his
   Dorcas eyed the stack.  "I can't believe you found over three-
hundred people without cards and registered them.  By which I mean not
'I find this hard to believe and am pleasantly surprised', but rather,
'this is completely impossible and I think you've likely done
something illegal'."
   "Nothing illegal about it," said Herb.  "I personally met and
vouched for every individual application, verifying their residence in
our city, and thus their eligibility, by eye.  Because it is within
the boundaries of our registrations policies that I can vouch
personally for someone that I know is eligible, to my discretion."
   Dorcas picked up one of the applications.  "Muffins Sharp?  Is that
Mrs. Sharp's cat, the one with the gout?"
   "I vouched for every individual.  I never said every person."
   "I repeat, this can't be legal."
   "Check the book," said Herb, producing the policies binder.  "It
does not say that the cardholder has to be a homo sapien.  And there
is the Miss Grumpy precedent."
   "You found over three hundred pet owners that wanted to fill out
cards for their pets."
   "Well, this one guy had a lot of fish."
   "You realize, Herb, that you just had to give him a card," said
Dorcas.  "You spent more time and effort and, since you weren't on the
clock, money, to not giving him a card than it would if you had just
gave him his card."
   "But I was right," said Herb.  "I won."

   Indeed, the Public Library Commission could not, in good
conscience, agree to dismantle a department that had done record
business on that very same day, nor did they find the policies that
enabled such a flood of applications to be too restrictive.
   "It seems to us, Mr. Ascot, that you're just wanting to change
things willy-nilly, and we don't take kindly to willy-nilly in these
   One of the commissioners suggested that the very word "willy-nilly"
was a little too risqué, and the commission as a whole voted
unanimously to strike it from the record.
   "Furthermore, we are not only going to dismiss these proposed
changes with prejudice, but we are advising that the Registrations
Department grow to help deal with its increased work load."

   A week later, Ascot asked to see Herb in his office.
   Said Herb: "I hear you'll be adding three staff members to my
   "Four," said Ascot.
   "Four?" said Herb.  "But the Commission only authorized three."
   "Four, and it's no longer your department," said Ascot.
   "You're not firing me?" said Herb, growing eight inches in a single
   "No, that'd be unwise," said Ascot.  "How would that look?  It'd
look like I was punishing you, and I'm already on thin ice with the
Commission, as I'm sure you're aware."
   Herb nodded, stopping short of taking credit.
   "No, I am not punishing you, but rewarding you," said Ascot.  "A
man of your ingenuity and talents shouldn't be wasting his time filing
applications.  No, we need something that will call on your ability to
improvise, keep a cool head under pressure, and deal effectively and
expediently with bodily fluids."
   "Bodily... oh, no.  Not..."
   "Welcome to Children's Programming," said Ascot, "Herb Hettinger,
Senior Staff Member In Charge of Toddler Story-time and Nap Jamboree."


More information about the racc mailing list