WELCOME TO THE LIBRARY
You talk about what real influences are. I was influenced by books. Being a member of the library was always a big thing for me as a kid.
I remember one time, one of the great early moments of my early life was—we had this teacher see, so she decided that our third grade Warren G. Harding School class would take a walk. It was a nice spring day and the birds were singing. We went for a specific walk, not just to look at birds and grasshoppers. Everybody in line, alphabetically, holding hands, and up in front was Miss Robinette, leading us down the street to the library. That’s something none of us kids ever really did. We never went to the library at that age.
There, sitting behind the big U-shaped desk was this lady who presided over the library. She had a bunch of assistants who walked around with little carts full of books and they had ladders they climbed up to put books on the top shelves, but really, the chief of the library was Mrs. Easter. I never saw Mrs. Easter before but she had the same kind of cache as a teacher. She was an official person. Miss Robinette walked up to Mrs. Easter. Apparently it was all prepared. Mrs. Easter said, “Oh, they’re here. Boys and girls, I want to welcome you to the library. We’re going to show you what the library is like today.”
She took us all around the library and showed us all these books and magazines. She showed us how to use the library! You could look up a book. “If you wish to read, say, Raggedy Ann and the Camel With the Wrinkled Knees. You look up under Raggedy Ann. You see, the books are listed under the author’s name.” We’re all standing around. Boy, this is something! We all went through the various sections and she showed us how to pick a book. Or you can come up to the desk and they get the book for you.
Then she really laid a fantastic surprise on us. “I’m going to issue to each one of you a library card.” From that moment on it was fantastic to be able to go in there and get a book. To me that was like having a life-time pass to go see the Mets or something. “All you have to do is pick out the book you’d like to read. You can take one this afternoon if you’d like.”
At that point I had been into one of the great early things that really hung me up as a kid. I couldn’t get enough of them! I absolutely could not! The Oz books. And they had a whole mess of them. I had only one OZ book, which had been given to me for Christmas a couple of years before. And I had read it about twenty-eight times and it was the only Oz book I had ever seen. It was called The Wizard of Oz.
I couldn’t believe that they had a whole bunch of them! It never occurred to me that there were others in the series. As a kid you don’t think that way. So I picked out an Oz book and from that point on I was an inveterate, total, hung-up customer of the library. I read every Oz book. All the way! They must have had ten of them, maybe fifteen.
One day when I was about nine, I was coming home with this Oz book. This kid, Johnny Anderson, had been at the library with me and he was a couple of years older. He said, “Why do you read that stuff?”
I said, “What? It’s really great!”
He said, “Listen, I’ve really got some stuff that you should really read. You want to read something really funny?”
He showed me this real grown-up book. It didn’t have any pictures in it. By the way, one of the great human transitions is made when you move from a book that is ninety percent pictures and gradually move to a book that is ninety-percent words and then one that has nothing but words. That’s a great milestone. Many human beings don’t make that milestone today.
He had three of these books with no pictures that he had just taken out. “I’ve read everything this guy’s written. He’s fantastic.” At a certain point in your life you don’t think in terms of reading an author. A kid doesn’t know who writes the Oz stories—or care. But he said, “I’ve read everything by this guy.” Wow, a whole new idea!
Years ago I mocked my seriousness with “Devoted to Art and Ice,”
written in an amateur’s attempt at the poetic form called a villanelle.
How pretentious and snobbish can one get? Especially if one doesn’t have the authorized status of a doctorate in the Philosophy of Art?
Disparaging concrete Mexicans in the front yard, pink flamingos, Major League Baseball fields mowed to look like green serge suits. It’s folk art.
And I still say the hell with it!