Jodi Lea Stewart

Loving and Writing About the Southwest and the South

The Day the Public Library Stole My Feet

Thanks to John Wayne, most of us remember the Alamo.

British Museum Reading Room, London, Great Britain

And because of Bodeen’s lovely screenplay adaptation of I remember Mama, lots of us, well, remember Mama.

But get this.

I remember *gasp!* before the Internet.

Let me tell you a story . . .

Once upon a distressing day, in a faraway time we called the ‘80s,

I went solo to the downtown public library for a day of hard-core research.

Before Google. Before Yahoo. Before  *diabolical laugh* cell phones!

Picture it!

Jodi is . . . 

. . . driving downtown to *please use Piers Morgan’s voice for the next five words* the Grand Poo-Bah Public Library.

Okay, put Piers’ voice away now.

Ahem. As I was saying,

Jodi is . . . 

1) driving around and around a monstrosity of a downtown public library on one-way streets getting quite desperate for a parking spot AND A POTTY.

2) snortling (which is a cross between a chortle and a snort) and slapping the steering wheel when she finds a just-vacated parking spot in front of the library and won’t have to park eight blocks away in the seedy parking lot run by a guy named Lefty.

3) ignoring angry faces of two drivers who arrived at sacred parking spot two seconds later than she did. Hard to ignore ugly hand gesture of one angry driver.

4) attempting to fit her Chevy Suburban “tank” into a parking space the size of a kitchen sink. Result: Failure.

Now Jodi is . . . 

1) stomping away from Lefty’s parking lot muttering about her lousy parallel-parking skills and the eight-block walk to the library.

2) loading up her shoulders, arms, wrists, and back with STUFF as if she’s a Grand Canyon pack mule.

3) walking and huffing and glowing (because women don’t sweat) all the way to the library on numbed-out, but very cute, high-heeled feet.

4) climbing the steps into *grab that Piers voice again* the Grand Poo-Bah Public Library.

Put Piersie’s voice away. He’s done.

Inside hallowed library halls, we’ll discard the third-person narration and switch to first-person narration. 

As usual, I was hungry to pounce on every fragment of information inside that lofty, pseudo-Roman-Greek-pillared structure of learning and its tens of thousands of yellowed tomes.

I still needed to use the potty. I unloaded all MY STUFF inside the tiny toilet enclosure, reloaded it to walk to the sink, unloaded it to wash my hands, and reloaded it one more time to walk out the door.


I emerged at last from the ladies’ room into a Pantheon of Brilliance. Deeping inhaling the library fumes circling my nose gave me a natural endorphin high. Or was it all the dust mites floating in the air from page-turning currents?

Not sure. Nevertheless, just absorbing that cathedral of knowledge invigorated me.

Achy feet? What achy feet? I was in literature heaven, baby!

I dug my bag of bricks out of the two-inch groove in my shoulder and unloaded it on the blond wood of a nearby library table. Of course, I actually unloaded a bag of ancillary books, notebooks, paper, 3×5 cards, pens and a turquoise nylon lunch sack with a sandwich and a juice box, but it felt like bricks.

Obsolete card catalog files at Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University

Zealously grabbing pens and a stack of notecards, I headed to the catalogued card drawers, giddy with research ecstasy. Two or three steps later, rationale reared its ugly head.

What about MY STUFF?

I looked over my shoulder at my STUFF sitting innocently but tall on the library table. I caught movement from the corners of my eyes. Were furtive characters slithering around the perimeter walls eyeballing my heap of treasure? It certainly seemed so.

I mean, we are talking DOWNTOWN.

What choice did I have? I reloaded my STUFF and took it to the nearest Dewey Decimal lounge.

This was before computerized book cataloging. The few dark-age relics vintage screens in the library had wrap-around lines of people waiting to learn how to operate them.

The lucky few currently in front of the terminals were flanked by two or three library assistants pulling their hair out patiently explaining the mechanisms to minds not yet accustomed to absorbing cyber information.

Really similar to explaining nebulae to your great-great granny.

I know. I know. It’s far too much for some of you to imagine this kind of antiquity without envisioning dinosaurs grazing out on the library lawn. Just because I’m a little jealous of you right now, I’m not going to tell you if dinosaurs were out there or not.

Back to my story.

After bloodying my cuticles STANDING and searching through the overstuffed card drawers and pulling out fuzzy-edged cards with Dewey’s special number codes and compiling a list, I reloaded my STUFF and limped – more like a step-drag-step – to the first aisle of books on my list.

That’s when the fun really started because I . . . 


1) dropped my STUFF on the floor between my feet.

2) hunkered over it protectively since aforementioned duplicitous characters ventured ever closer to my personal space.

3) perused book after book.

4) wrote furiously on note cards with one eye on my STUFF.

5) scooted STUFF further down the same aisle.

It became a pattern.

  • Drop STUFF.
  • Scan immediate area.
  • Select books.
  • Stand, bend, squat.
  • Write notes.
  • Put books back into place.
  • Gather pens and cards.
  • Reload STUFF.
  • Next aisle.

Write with both eyes on the disheveled man with trousers rolled up to his knee on one leg. Try not to stare at man’s hairy, pasty leg or listless socks banding his ankles.

He shot me a bet-you-don’t-have-LifeLock stare.

Hold it!

LifeLock wasn’t invented yet!

Okay. I remember now.

It was a bet-I can-run-faster-than-you glare. I scowled at him with and hovered closer to my STUFF, especially my purse.

This went on for about three hours.

Task completed

Factoids painfully gathered, I stumbled out the magnificent double doors of the downtown public library, down the steps and back to my Suburban dragging my derrière and, of course, my STUFF.

After the eight-block walk, I threw all that crap STUFF into the back seat. Sitting under the wheel, my key in the ignition, I rummaged through my purse for the precious index cards full of research gold.

I dug and dug. I jumped out and flung open the passenger door. I tore through my tote bag, books, notebooks and turquoise lunch sack.

No cards.

Miserable as a hound dog in a corset, I had to face the facts. I’d left my cards on a bookshelf back at the library. Had to put them down, you see, to reload all my STUFF.

I stood there grasping the side of the Suburban, teetering on my fifteen four-inch heels and arguing with myself. Should I trek the eight blocks back to the library on the off chance that my cards were still sitting there undisturbed, and not being crinkled *softened* that very moment to use as roll-yer-own cigarette paper?


I drove home blathering something like wub wub-wubbie woo. In retrospect, I believe that meant the public library had stolen a lot from me that day – my back muscles, my research cards and , most especially, my feet.

My feet weren’t feet any more, but numbed out blocks of wood suffering from a blister epidemic.

That’s my sad story.

Lesson learned – when I go to the library these days, *which, incredulously, I still love to do* I take a human STUFF watcher along.

AND I NEVER, NO NEVER, wear high heels to the big downtown public library!

What about you? Do you remember the prehistoric days before the Internet? Did you ever get into a mess like this one with no one to help you out of it? If you’re a writer or researcher, what percentage of your research do you do inside an actual library?

Done with Dewey by Tali Balas Kaplan at the ACLS  Blog (Assoc. for Library Service to Children).

USC Doheny Library card catalog room. Four walls lined with small drawers, all empty. Replaced by the Internet terminals at left




Just for fun . . .


Stop with the unauthorized media, Tony, and one day, you'll be a big shot like me.
Stop with the unauthorized media, Tony, and one day, you’ll be a big shot like me.

24 thoughts on “The Day the Public Library Stole My Feet

  1. What an adventure! I love my town’s library and doing research there is a treat for me, though I tend to do much of it on my computer from home. I like to go by myself so I can spend as much time as I need to without anyone saying, “Ready to go?”. I do try to limit what I bring so I can manuever easily through the stacks.

  2. Gosh, I can’t remember the last time I was in a library! I need to rectify that situation, obviously. I spent a lot of time in the library in college…and I remember (and this is funny) when I had to take a required class on library type stuff and the grad student teaching the class introduced us to this “NEW” search engine called “Google”. HA!
    Wow I feel old now. Thanks, Jodi! 🙂

    1. Oh, I aim to please, Laird! But…tsk tsk! Do not worry your pretty little head about age. It’s like I told Christopher one time…huh? Christorpher who? Oh, Christopher Columbus, of course! Anyway, one time we started discussing…Oh, sorry. You’ll have to read the book to find out the ending of the story. It’s in the library under “ANCIENT WORKS OF ANTIQUITY.” So, now you have an excuse to visit a library again, right?

  3. Didn’t do too much research in the library. I ended up buying books to draw info from (I would take hours doing research in my living room with a cup of tea and a note pad–more expensive, but worth it). Those times when I went downtown, I was always irritated by somebody doing something irritating.

  4. I used to LOVE going to the library as a child. I still remember how proud I was of my first library card. It lost some of its luster when it reached the have-to-go-for-research-purposes stage, perhaps because I was forced to ignore the sections I really wanted to hang out in.

    Losing those research cards? Let’s just say you used great emotional restraint if wub wub-wubbie woo was the extent of it!

  5. I LOVE the library! My best friend and I went to the library constantly when we were little. Then I worked in libraries for a total of five years. There’s just something about being surrounded by all of those books.

    I remember the good, old card catalogs. I always found them to be such a pain in the booty, but now I kind of miss them. OH, and if I were, say, a research assistant *hint* I would still utilize the library as well as internet resources. 🙂

    1. I loves ya, Elizabeth, and when I get rich and famous, you will indeed be my first choice for a research assistant. I am confident in your skills!

      Now wait a minute, you have yet to see three decades of life and you remember the old card catalogs? Wow. When you said you and your best friend went to the library constantly when you were little, I didn’t think you meant in diapers! Good for you!

  6. I still go to the library to do a lot of my research. The internet just doesn’t cut it beyond superficial information, and if I relied entirely on it, I wouldn’t have gotten many of the ideas I did. I pack light though. No index cards. They’d make me nuts. Just a moleskin notebook and a couple of pens.

    1. I’m completely on board with that, Linda, but I’ve admitted now to Barbara Forte Abate now that I’m a STUFFaHAULIC and can’t help taking lots of STUFF everywhere I go! 😀

      I agree that deep research still comes from the library, and thank heavens for that! I would die if they withered away.

  7. Hahaha – funny story! The last time I was researching in an actual library was over a decade ago and I was reading technical periodicals for my thesis. That was definitely before they were online, although I think the catalogs were available in some DOS-based search database – LOL. I had to lug massive tomes of bound periodicals to and from the photocopier. I don’t think I took much stuff though, and I have never worn 4-inch heels in my life.

    1. Ellen, you cracked me up with a visual of you lugging “massive tomes of bound periodicals to and from the photocopier.” Oh, how I feel your pain. I remember how difficult it was to make copies at the library. Chances are, we also had others waiting to use the hard-to-find machines, so we had the added joy of feeling rushed and guilty. Gosh, I hadn’t even thought of “DOS” in so long, but I remember taking some course on it at the library once. One more thing…no four-inch heels? Well, shoot, you can’t be part of my “Oh-Why-Did-We-Ruin-Our-Feet-For-Beauty Club, girl!

  8. Yeppers, I remember a time before the internet, libraries, phones attached to the walls, etc. Yes folks, I’m that danged old. I can remember a time before microwave ovens, color TVs, cablevision, and the good old days when you could just walk onto an airplane, get real service and real food. Oh dear, let me see, there was that time when the meteor hit and the dinos started to die off, then there was…

    1. …that time you fell for the hottest caveman ever to wear an animal skin. We all tried to talk you out of it, knowing perfectly well he’d take you for a fast ride on his Quetzalcoatlus (the last one still alive)and drop you like a hot potatorinkle the first time Marilynopolee winked her eye. Oh, yes. Those were tough times in the cavemunity, for sure. So happy you survived so intact and lovely!

  9. Giggling.

    I’ve experienced the sore feet, the watching the stuff, the olden days without internet, squatting without supportive footwear, losing valuable newly acquired stuff, parking spot wars, but never all in the same afternoon.

    Love the library, love your post.

  10. Although I’m currently wearing my uber comfy Converses’ while reading this post, your description is vivid enough that I kid you not when I say it’s seriously making my feet hurt! And your cards–I will eternally wonder what became of those cards…

    I so love going to the library (and not just because my own book is at long last there on the shelf!). Particularly one in an old building with thoughtful architecture, reading nooks, and lots of windows–all of which exist in my childhood hometown library, but not here where I live now. HOWEVER, ambiance aside, I won’t lie and say I don’t love perusing the shelves for pleasure in these modern times, and doing my research comfortably at home where the notecards can’t roam. Great post, Jodi 😀

    1. Barbara, I’m going to the library and stare at your book in awe. I’m so proud of you. You are in some lofty company, love!

      Yes, it was horrendous losing my research cards that day. I never got over it – they were so hard-earned! But I did learn a valuable lesson, and I never did heavy reasearch alone again.

      I still carry almost enough STUFF to start a small research lab…to the library, to doctor appointments, on the plane. When we go on a road trip, I have to have my “project” bag (current WIP stuff), my sack of reading material (books & magazines), possibly a bag of research material, a tote of FUN stuff like crossword puzzles, car games, vocabulary books *yes, vocab is fun* and snacks. Iknow…I need to confess and go to meetings. All right. I’m Jodi Lea Stewart and I’m a STUFFaHAULIC. 😀

      Thanks for visiting! It’s always fun when you stop by.

      1. I’m not sure I’m doing this correctly BUT you caught my attention when I saw; “Grand Canyon pack mule !” Then of course I’m going to read it !

        1. Ooooh, John! Now I know I can lure you to my blog anytime I have a mule in it…that could be dangerous! I just posted about picking blackberries as a kid and have a scrumptious blackberry cobbler (two-crust) recipe in my Chuckwagons & Campfires section. Can I lure you with good, Southern cooking as well as with our beloved long-earred friends? 😀

  11. I can’t sit out in the backyard without stuff. And I cannot parallel park. I just circle like a buzzard till I find a normal space. I can drive a stick shift though. I never wear heels. Well, I actually sorta wore sandally heels a couple of days ago, you know how that turned out. ouch. I’ve never lived in a town large enough to have more than ten parking spaces near it until now. Frankly, the library is not a hot spot downtown so I can park in front if I need to. I think that’s just sad.

    1. Another thing we have in common, Vickie…STUFF! And lack of parallel parking skills. Once in a blue moon I can slide a long vehicle into a slot slicker than a piece of boiled okra. Most of the time, I can’t. It’s ridiculously frustrating, and I’ve actually considered buying one of those new Ford jobbies that do it for you by computer. However, I don’t need it as much as I did when I used to go downtown a lot (and now we all know what happens to Jodi downtown). I agree that it’s sad that libraries are losing traffic. I can’t imagine a world without them. Hey, thanks for taking the time to stop by, Miss Vickie! You look like you belong here, so hurry back now, ya hear!

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