Monday, February 9, 2015

God Forbid the Inconsiderate Should Feel Unwelcome

I’m pretty close to admitting that the battle might be lost. I’m in the beautiful Beverly Hills Public Library, and too adrenalized to write well. I came in 15 minutes ago, walking past the lunatic who’s perpetually seated in the library’s middle section giggling at jokes he tells himself, and found in the big study room adjacent to the periodicals area a table occupied only by a serious-looking young woman writing something on her laptop. Bliss!

An old duffer with a cane and a golf cap creaked into the periodicals room and curled up with the latest k. It remained lovely and silent. But then an acquaintance of his, a bronze-colored black man with a golden pompadour, came into the periodicals room, and recognized him, and what a lovely loud, distracting reunion the two of them had, at a volume they might have used at the beach, or at Dodger Stadium. After a while I exclaimed, “Shhh!” They both ignored me. One of them made the other laugh, not quite uproariously, but pretty close. I tried another, slightly more emphatic Shh! They continued to ignore me. I went in there and, in the most cordial tone I could muster, pointed out that we were in a library, and that others in the vicinity were trying to read or study. “We pay taxes too,” Mr. Golden Pompadour said, sneering.

Little Ms. Interim Manager
(artist's conception)
In other words, the whole thing has been a replay of my recent experience at the jaw-droppingly gorgeous West Hollywood Public Library, which I no longer go to in spite of its jaw-dropping gorgeousness because I can’t work effectively with the librarians chatting with each other and assisting patrons at a volume that suggests they wish to be heard over on Santa Monica Blvd., two blocks north. The last time I was there, a woman came up to the librarians’ desk on the second floor and asked, very loudly, if she could reserve such-and-such a book. As the librarian laid out all her options for her, even more loudly, I exchanged incredulous looks with several of those around me, readers and writers, and candlestickmakers, but possibly not candlestickmakers. After their conversation ended, I went over to the librarian to ask, as I have done before at the same library, why he had spoken so loudly, and why he hadn’t encouraged the woman to pipe down. The look on his face suggested he wanted to demand, “Yo, you wanna make something of it, biblioboy?”

It wasn’t the first time I’d had such a conversation at WeHo. My earlier one had actually been with its interim manager, who seemed genuinely embarrassed by my observation that she herself had been conducting a negotiation on the telephone at a volume better suited to getting someone’s attention the width of a crowded bus station away. I went back 48 hours later and observed that she’d apparently forgotten our conversation entirely. If I remember correctly, the record company biography accompanying the first Led Zeppelin album noted that Robert Plant didn’t really require a PA setup to be heard over drums and amplified guitars. I suspect that little Ms. Interim Manager could have given him a run for his money.

I emailed the mayor of Beverly Hills, pointing out what a shame it is that WeHo’s, surely the most beautiful library on the West Coast, is largely unusable because its staff will neither pipe down themselves nor encourage its patrons to do so. He wrote back immediately to say that he was going to look into setting up a quiet area in the library where people count count on not being disturbed. I wrote back just as immediately observing that he had it backward — that it would do better to set up small soundproofed areas in which the inconsiderate could bray at each other at the top of their lungs if they so chose. Airports, I noted, don’t have small areas in which nonsmokers can seek refuge from nicotine addicts. Rather, they have small, fantastically malodorous areas in which said unfortunates can satisfy their ugly carcinogenic craving without befouling the air of those of us who quit, or were wise enough never to have started in the first place.

His Honor has not yet seen fit to reply, and it’s been a couple of months. But maybe I should mention that not longer after my confrontation with LMIM, I contacted the Los Angeles County Library directly and volunteered to design a handsome sign — Please keep your voice down — that it could display around its premises. Somebody wrote back to say thanks, but no thanks. Such signs, he theorized, might make the library seem less…welcoming.

Some will surely tell me I sound like an old man yelling at teenagers to get off his lawn. Fuck 'em (both those who say this, and the teenagers, though it's been years since I had a lawn). There are a great many things against which I've made a career of rebelling — organized religion, traditional conceptions of manliness, traditional conceptions of acceptable eroticism — but considerateness never goes out of style, and neither does tranquility. As I asked Little Ms. Interim Manager during our first confrontation, "If I can't come to the library to work or study, where should I go — the mall?" 

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