Monday, October 6, 2014


By Michael A. Nettleton 

When I retired from a forty-three year broadcasting career back in 2010 I had a vision of what post-work life would be like. Sleeping in until say seven-thirty or eight. Sitting on the couch with my feet up, reading or clicking through the cable channels. Playing golf every other day or so.
          “Not so fast, Buster!” Although my wife never actually said these words, their aura hung in the air from the day I hung up the headphones and filed for Social Security.

It turns out that I’m kind of a pain in the patoot to have hanging out around the house all day. Go figure. Plus, penciling out the budget, it turns out I couldn’t afford to play golf three or four times a week without sacrificing some other luxury from our budget. Like, say, food, gasoline, new socks and dog toys.
          Fair enough. I’d pursue a part-time job. After all I was qualified to…to… Well, what exactly what was I qualified to do?
          I spent forty-three years talking into various and sundry microphones in cities in the western half of the United States. I also spun, what were quaintly known as “records:” discs made out of vinyl that emitted obnoxious rock and roll music when spun under a needle that followed the grooves along a counter-clockwise path. I’m not sure, to this day, how that worked. A form of magic, I think.
          Once I discovered people would pay me to talk, I left college to pursue the life of a gypsy disc-jockey. In the early nineties I drifted into what one of my listeners called “argument radio,” where I spent my time bloviating and being bloviated to. I logged sixteen years at KEX radio in Portland to finish things up, mostly enjoying myself until Clear Channel Broadcasting, otherwise known as “The Evil Empire,” sucked all the fun out of the business.
          For two years after pulling the pin on radio, I tutored and mentored high school kids in the AVID program, which works to give young people with college aspirations and potential, but life obstacles, a leg-up to reach their goals of higher education. I figured I was well qualified to talk to kids about college, since I’d spent 5 years at Southern Oregon College and left with 180 credits and only a passing grade in Econ 201 between me and status as a full-fledged Junior.
          Which brings us to the library. I’ve always loved libraries. I got my first library card when I was six. A lifelong bookworm, I’ve spent many enjoyable hours cruising up and down the shelves of small town and big city libraries looking for reading matter and even, occasionally, searching the card catalogue for material for something I was researching.
          Remember card catalogues? See, there was this filing cabinet that…I can hear you saying to yourself: Could this dork be any more of a dinosaur? Vinyl records. Card catalogues. What’s next? Buggy whips? Corsets?
          Anyway, I figured this would be the perfect part time job for me. How hard could it be? I’d check out books, guide people to the relevant section to fulfill their needs and occasionally shush a patron using his or her outside voice. Piece of cake.
          “Not so fast, Buster.” Turns out there’s more to this librarian thing these days than meets the eye.
          Upon interviewing for and being awarded a position with the Battle Ground Community library, I soon found myself (as they say in the South), “Up to my pooter in alligators.”

 In the past two months, I’ve learned about bins, boxes, weeds, holds, transits, interlibrary loans and, yes, The Dewey Decimal System. I’ve sorted and shelved fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, easy readers, large print, DVD’s and audio books. I’ve gaped at enough lurid covers of the bodice-ripper romance paperbacks to give me cold sweats and palpitations. Julie and Harriet introduced me to the Yacolt library, unique in its use of the honor system and the jail cells in the lobby.
          Thanks to the patience, kindness and guidance of my bosses Kim and Julianne and my generous co-workers, I can now help a “tweenie” girl find “The Babysitter’s Club” books without having a panic attack and screaming “Help! Stat!” at the top of my lungs. I can guide an anxious young mother and her twitching two-year old to the shelf where “I’m a Potty Pirate” awaits their perusal.
          In a way, my instincts were right. My job at the Battle Ground Library is a good fit. I love books. I like being around people who love books. I enjoy helping people find the material they need to enrich their lives and accomplish their goals.
          A handful of impressions from my almost two months in Battle Ground. The shy and wide-eyed high school sophomore girl, shuffling her feet back and forth as she submits her entry in a writing contest sponsored by the library. The grateful smile and thank you from the young mother I’d guided to the shelves that held the do-it-yourself home design books. She and her husband had saved the money to buy land—and were dreaming of building their own first home. The older woman, an avid mystery fan who allowed as how she’d try a couple of the authors I recommended, but would have “harsh words” for me if she didn’t like them. Said with a wry smile, the threat didn’t trouble me much. The eight-year old who got her first library card and beamed with pride when she checked out an armload of books and thanked me on her way out with her mother.
          Two memories will stay with me for a long time. A ten-year old boy with glasses drooping down his nose, wandering the aisles of the juvenile section, toting as many books as his chubby little arms would hold. I had no doubt he would read them all. He triggered a flashback that catapulted me back in time more than half a century. He was me at about nine or ten, struggling up the hill to my house with an armload of magic from my small town library. Seven books, the limit per visit, to be devoured over the next week or two. I watched the boy stagger out to the parking lot with his books and couldn’t wipe the grin off my face for the next hour or so.
          Finally, there was the little girl, maybe five or six, who found me shelving books in the kid’s section one day. With big-eyed solemnity she handed me a Video Play-away and said, almost apologetically: “I decided I didn’t want to watch this.”
          “Thank you,” I told her. “I’ll make sure it gets back where it belongs.”
          She beamed back at me and gestured with a tiny hand. “C’mon.” She said. “I’ll show you where it goes.”

          Lots of people have “shown me where it goes.” And with a lot more hard work and just “doing” it, I have hopes of becoming a competent Public Service Assistant 2 at the Battle Ground library. For a writer and semi-professional people watcher like me, it’s the perfect part-time retirement job.
          Meanwhile, in my free time, I think I’ll flop on the couch and read or channel surf. My wife comes down the hall, takes one look at me and the thought bubble appears over her head.
          “Not so fast, Buster!”

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