Quiet, Please

QuietPleaseGotham Humor teacher Scott LaCounte just saw the release of Quiet, Please, his memoir about life as a librarian. (To protect not the innocent but himself, the book is published under the name Scott Douglas.) If all this sounds just a bit familiar, you may have stumbled on Scott’s “Dispatches from a Public Librarian” column, which appeared regularly on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Take a peek behind the stacks in this passage showing Scott’s early years as a library “page.” 
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By my second day of work I had set out to prove myself to my new library coworkers. I wanted to give them insight into just how well-read I was, which, in turn, would make them deem me worthy of working in such a literary place.

I choose my weapon carefully: a tattered and carefully marked-up paperback copy of The Crying of Lot 49. At precisely 12:14, I entered the staff room and bravely pulled my paperback novel to my face and began to read. The room was empty, but I knew someone surely would join me before my fifteen-minute break ended.
As it happened, a librarian entered not even two minutes later. She looked at my book oddly and asked, “What’s that in your hand?”

I proudly said, “The Crying of Lot 49.”
She studied the cover curiously and then asked confused, “You’re reading it?”
I took her confusion as intrigue…”Pynchon writes like a dream—his words, his ideas—they’re so absurd, and yet equally real—symbolic, no doubt, of the pathos of man.”
I had formed my words perfectly in my mind, and I knew they must have deeply impressed her, maybe even moved her. Then I looked up. She wasn't staring at me impressed; she wasn't staring at me at all.
She was looking in the refrigerator door behind me. “Is that ham and cheese sandwich yours?” she asked me.
“It’s been in the refrigerator for two days now. No one’s claiming it, and I don’t have a lunch. If anyone asks where it went, tell them it was probably someone on the cleaning crew.”
I wasn’t sure what to think as I watched her get the sandwich...With her mouth full of food, Edith asked, “Is Pingkong a new writer?”
I tried not to show surprise. She was messing with me—she had to be messing with me. She had to know who Pynchon was. I decided it was best just to play her game. “He’s been writing books since way before I was born.”
She studied my face and seemed to be sizing up how old I was. Then she announced proudly, “I'm not much of a reader—I don't have time for it.”
“And you're a librarian?” The question came out as insulting, but I didn't mean it that way.

“What's that supposed to mean?” she asked. Before I answered, she took the book from my hand, looked carefully at the front cover, and then asked a question that still echoes in the back of my mind. “I’ve heard the name before—isn’t he the guy that’s going out with Julia Roberts?”
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Excerpted from Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas (Da Capo Press, 2008).  To learn more about Scott and his book, visit www.scottdouglas.org