The few days between leaving that slop mound of a burger joint and joining the ranks of the public library, was mostly spent sleeping and getting groomed for a "real job".
I lobbed off most of my long luxurious 'Metal Mark' hair and bought a nice pair of chino pants. Chinos. How amazingly honky could I get?
One thing I forgot to purchase, which I discovered the night before my orientation, was to get a decent pair of shoes; shoes that weren't Vans skate style. At the 11th hour I found a fairly unused pair of SFCs (shoes for crews), the norm for restaurant folk, especially those in HOH (heart of house, aka kitchen) as they are slip resistant and nondescript. These were slip on loafer looking things, so after a few beers I scraped off some kitchen crust, shined them up and set them with my outfit for the morning: a blue button down I got on sale at Old Navy, those chinos, dress socks and an actual clean under shirt. I was to be at the main library downtown at 9am. So my last beer was around 9, took a nice hot shower, watched a bad movie with the wife and slept.
The main library is a four level structure on the corner of Stone and Alameda, a big shapeless thing among a wide courtyard with this red, jutting, angular "art" thing in front of it. A place where bums converge and drug deals are made. Every city I have lived in or visited that housed a "main branch" library, especially the one back in San Francisco, was a magnet for the homeless, the sober-less and the less than bathed. But, whatever. I was so stoked to leave the confines of the kitchen and enter the confines of a public library. Even though it was only part time.
The position I got was something called Program Instructor, basically an extension of the library where I do classes such as job assistance, homework help for kids, stuff like that. I was still pretty shocked that I got hired. I hadn't really done anything like that since losing my manager job at this kids dinosaur and science "museum" called the T-Rex Museum. It was run by a weird hippie couple and was filled with fossils, activities, a movie theater, an outdoor dig space and a big gift area. You entered and exited though the gift shop. They were horrible with money and let me go just a year or so after hiring me because they lost all their non-profit cash. Then I started working in kitchens. Now the library came a calling.
I went upstairs to the 4th floor and entered a large meeting room with a big round table, sort of like that war room scene in "Dr. Strangelove". But I wasn't alone. There was a good dozen or so other people sitting and looking like they just got hired. After finding a seat and chatting with a nice guy named Wayne, he told me that the library hired close to 20 program instructors to be distributed among the near 28 branches. I knew that some of those branches were pretty far and because at the time the wife and I were a one car unit, I got kind of nervous.
After a bit, some official looking library people all brandishing laminate IDs entered and began their spiel. They thanked us, welcomed us before going into a lengthy measure, that I wont bore you with here, about the details of the job. Its part time, 19 hours a week (which I thought was an odd number) and we help people on computers, do workshops, like I said earlier for jobs and stuff, being a sort of library sub-teacher. Didn't seem that bad. Sure it's been a while but conducting classes in a library sounded a lot more mellow than dealing with ex-cons on the fry line who are yelling at you because you can't let them go into overtime. I was ready.
We were all then herded into a room where they took our picture for our laminate, had us sign a ton of paperwork, scheduled us for training and then, this was the big one, telling us which library we would be stationed in.
Of course they went alphabetical, so it took a hot second to get to me. People were getting sorted, yeah, kinda like in Harry Potter, to libraries with names like Nanini, Columbus, Valencia, Woods, etc, all of which I had never heard of. Except Woods. That one was the branch near our house, in a pretty crappy location, so I was glad to not get that one. Trying to teach Word to a homeless meth mess didn't seem like a good way to earn my $20 an hour.
"It's Whittaker. Two Ts. I think I'm British or something."
The lady laughed. "Okay. Well Mark your library is...here! At the main branch. Congrats!"
WHEW! I so dodged a creff and/or long commute bullet. The main library was near a bunch of downtown restaurants and it just felt, well, more austere to be working at the main library. I don't know why. Probably because a) it is the main one you know, b) its got 4 floors and this is where the library big wigs reside and c) there was a nice employee lounge where I could bunk off if nobody showed up to my class that day. I was then assigned to a three day training course and my first real day would be next week.
Alright, I thought.
Let's do this.
Afterwards a bunch of us mingled and talked about our backgrounds. Turned out a lot of people had degrees in library science, as that was the only way to get a librarian position.
"Really?", I said to someone named Kate. "A master's degree? Don't you just need like experience and such to file books and do storytime? Because I've done all that. I could be a librarian."
Kate just laughed.
"Oh no. Being a librarian is so much more than that. It's a pretty involved job. Community outreach, planning events, scheduling...there's a lot that they do."
Huh, I thought. And here I was thinking that this was step 1 to being a librarian. Masters degree? I don't want a masters degree. Especially in library science. Just seems excessive to spend that much on an outdated degree and not make all that much a year. Oh well. I guess I'll just be a program instructor. Whatever.
The library job only being 19 hours meant I had some extra time to write and goof off. But that didn't last long as I got another part time gig helping out with an after school program at an elementary school. So after I would finish my classes I would just drive up to the school and basically babysit kids till their parents got off work. All I had to do was be a responsible adult. What I did was play with the kids out in the playground, help with homework, do art projects and play educational video games. It was chill.
After my training, three days at some county facility to get certified in something called "employability skills" then some time at other branches shadowing other program instructors, who have either been doing it for a while or were on their way out, I was finally (I guess) ready to tackle my own classes. Seemed simple enough. Just like the elementary school, I'd be sort of babysitting old people who know nothing about computers (like zero, this one lady had no idea what the mouse was for and kept talking into it saying "In-ter-Nets") and general people that hangout at libraries all day in a room on the second floor a few hours a day. Could be worse. I could be back working in kitchens for low pay and long hours. This gig seemed like a cinch.
Although, over the weekend, before my first real day at the main library as a program instructor, I did have one observation:
Most of the people that worked in the library, either training me or the various rotation of randoms donning lanyards dotted with library buttons and those standard issue county laminates with their name, number and face on it, looked exhausted. Haunted even. There was this general patina of glazed over with a lot of the other program instructors, librarians, clerks or even the pages, which are part timers, usually teenagers, that shelve books and do menial tasks all day. There didn't seem to be a lot of joy. Only some kind of sheathed struggle. I don't know. I was probably being a bit over analytical. My thought was that they had just been working county jobs long enough and never had a real struggle such as busy kitchen work. I was stoked to be working for the library. I was going to bring my energy and humor to work with and for me. No need to be a sad sack at an easy job. What's the point in that?
After my first week of working at the library, I soon discovered why everyone looks so defeated. It didn't take me long. I got it.
Thing was, I had just gotten started. And there was no turning back now...
Coming soon, part 3