In junior high school I worked in the library. No computers. I stamped your due date on the card after you signed it and put it back in the book. So you wouldn’t forget, you see. I put books away. I made “dittos” for teachers and I was one of the few people allowed to use the Xerox machine. I had been trained by Xerox, in fact, to not only operate the Xerox machine but clean the drum with alcohol and detect and fix many different paper jams (copies came off a roll of paper, not sheets). I could also bind folders and operate the lamination machine. As a student librarian, I was on the cutting edge of technology.
I spent a full day at a Xerox training center learning how to operate a Xerox machine that was the size of a Mini Cooper. They told us that one day all our copies would be full color copies. Peshaw, we thought. The truth is at the very moment I was sitting in a random Xerox training room Xerox could have owned the future of personal computing if it had been focused on commercialization of the work being done at its PARC lab. If I could go back in time I would tell them, “Hey, tell the people over at PARC they should lock everything down and stop letting everyone come look at their work, especially people from a company called Apple, that won’t exist for another year or so. In fact, put a clause in everyone’s employment contract that they cannot leave to work for any company named after fruit.”
But I meant to write about C.S. Lewis.
In 7th grade while working at the library I discovered Narnia. I plowed through the series in no time at all and I was so impressed I decided to write the author and tell him how much I loved his books. I told the librarian about the letter I was writing and because I was so enthusiastic she made me sit down before she told me that C.S. Lewis was dead and had been dead for 12 years. I held it together but walking home from school that day I cried.
I have always been fascinated with time and what it looks like at different points. When I started writing that letter to C.S. Lewis his death was closer to me than 9/11 is to me now, but at the time the distance seemed so insurmountable. I’m not comparing the two events, just talking about markers in time. I loved a writer who had been dead almost as long as I had been alive. It was a first for me. I had yet to discover Shakespeare.
C.S. Lewis died the same day President Kennedy was assassinated, by the way.
The path by which I arrived at thinking about C.S. Lewis and my belated draft of a letter is convoluted, so you’ll have to stay with me if you have remained this far. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, which led me to watching the Kennedy Center Honors for Led Zeppelin (and speaking of crying, watch the Stairway to Heaven portion of that tribute). I noticed that David Letterman was an honoree the same night as Led Zeppelin, so I watched his segment of the ceremony and during that portion of the show Ray Romano tells the audience that he allowed his father to die without telling him he loved him but he wasn’t going to let that happen with Letterman and he tells Dave that he loves him.
I suppose, if I am honest, I would have to admit I love David letterman too and add that I am a sucker for Carl Sandburg poetry and have been since high school. I am also a sucker for Gene Kelly. Sandburg died when I was four years old but Gene Kelly didn’t die until I was 33, which is why, when I was 30 years old I sent him a letter asking him about a poem that Carl Sandburg wrote titled “Lines for Gene Kelly to Dance to.” I guess I wanted to know if he ever did. But I also wanted him to know that I loved him.
Gene Kelly, or his people, never responded to my letter. But the point is I wrote it and I told him how much I loved him. More people should know that I love them. Carl Sandburg asked the following questions in his poem for Gene Kelly to dance to:
Lines for Gene Kelly to Dance to
Can you dance a question mark? (I think the answer here is, yes)
Can you dance to an exclamation point? (The answer here is also yes but with the caveat that you may be mistaken for a period on occasion).
Can you dance to a couple of commas? (The answer here is, yes always, but sometimes no one will notice).
Can you dance to a finish with a period. (The answer here is, you can try).
I’m not much of a dancer. When I dance I feel like people are looking at me and thinking that this is how I look when I have sex. Question mark. Questions mark. Period. Period. Period. Comma. Comma. Comma. Comma. Exclamation point!
Still, I’m glad I asked Gene Kelly about the poem even though he didn’t answer. I love you Gene Kelly. I love you Carl Sandburg. I love you Ray Bradbury. I love you Led Zeppelin. I love you David letterman.
In English the word “love” is massively abused. I’m sorry, it is. If I were writing this in almost any other language, there would be multiple words available to me for every time I’ve used the word love. Oh well. Love love love love love love. It’s not all you need but it covers a multitude of holes in the human need arena.
Putting away books in the junior high library when I was twelve I had nothing other than the cover by which to judge a book. Well, that’s not completely true. I had a list of people who had already read the book, or took it home at least. I learned that books that had been checked out by teachers were almost always worth a read. But also, books checked out by people who I knew to be shop rats (wood shop, metal shop, electric shop… the nerds of 40 years ago). Working in the library I learned, in more ways than one, that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I also learned how to look up whether or not an author was still alive.