MR. HOWITZER AND THE NEW LIBRARY

MARCH, 29, 2007

It's been a busy week on the Island, our hometown set on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. The Sherman Street flasher has been at it again, engaging in Suspicious Circumstances, perhaps featuring a wardrobe malfunction. A site manager clearing out an abandoned storage unit found an unexpended artillery shell. That's for those of you who never throw anything away. Never know when you might need a live howitzer round; could come in useful some day. A fellow was arrested for driving his bicycle DUI. Officer O'Madhauen on the job again. This is, after all, a town where people can get tossed in the Tank for walking DUI. A fellow was arrested for defrauding an innkeeper on the 1300 block of Park Avenue. And possessing white powders and paraphernalia of seriously illegal status. Can you say, "Harbor Motel"? I knew you could.

Typical March madness. Always happens when the weather improves and people come out of doors unthinkingly, and forget to stow away that crack pipe or methamphetamine works.

Its the flowers that do it. They have some kind of magical power. Just re-examine the story about Hester in the sidebar and ponder the mysterious powers that be. Pollen is known to have potent effects; it can bring some people to tears. In fact, it just that to thousands each year about this time. Tears, wheezing, sneezing, coughing, all sorts of mean, nasty ugly sorts of things. You dont believe this you just watch. Don't underestimate the power of flowers.

Trent has been hiding among the stacks of the new Island Free Library, trying to avoid the critical eye of Ruth Johnson, Reference Librarian. Ruth is no ordinary Librarian -- we think you could have guessed -- for she possesses the vision of a hawk behind those bifocals, and has the uncanny hearing capacity of a Spotted Owl at nighttime in the woods, which can hear the furtive scratchings of a woodmouse in the woods from two miles away. In addition, she is a master of Librarian Martial Arts and can bring down a Late Borrower with a single karate chop. Not that she resorts to such crude tactics in the day to day, for she also possesses the savvy wiles of a fierce jungle cat. Such is Ruth Johnson, Reference Librarian for the brand new Island library on Oak Street.

No wonder Trent often hides among the Unitarian Psychoanalysis Section, a place Ms. Johnson, a devout Lutheran, seldom frequents, by reason of its several texts that contain explicit, shall we say, amoral and potentially erotic analyses.

Mr. Howitzer comes into the building. That, in itself is a surprise. Mr. Howitzer has no use for the Island Free Library, or libraries in general. Indeed, anything that has the name "free" attached is anathema to Mr. Howitzer. Mr. Howitzer has designs upon the old Carnegie building that used to house the Island Free Library. Some, spit, snarl, disgust, "artists" want to turn the place into a studio for dance and music and, shockingly, operettas of the most trivial kind imaginable. When property values are so valued! Toscanini! Tosca Ninny if you ask me! Simply a smaller version of that scamp Tosca! All of them shiftless Italians, no doubt. What good are musicals except entertainments. Waste of time. (Here he pounds his cane upon the brand new flagstones of the Island Free Library in front of the Main Desk) I have no time for that; I am busy being the captain of industry. Managing serious things. Serious things like property! Tangibles! Things you can rap your stick on! (Here he raps his cane again for emphasis upon the abused flagstones). Unlike certain ungrateful secretaries who cause eruptions of mean disorder, I am the very pillar of Society and stand upon Solid Principles! (Rap! Rap!) I demand you turn over the keys to the Carnegie or face utility shutoff! (Here he misfortunately rapped upon the grate near the Main Desk)

What happened next was not expected.

Because of Mr. Howitzer blocking funding during the final days of construction, that particular grate was not made as sturdily as designed. That grate happened to be the main access to the steam line mains. And with a solid RAP! his cane finally busted right through and punctured that main which was doing all it could to contain pressure of some 300 PSI. Not large by engineering standards, but sufficient enough to blow a jet right up Mr. Howitzer's pantleg and rocket his cane through the glass atrium ceiling a couple stories above.

Mr. Howitzer, howling like a scalded boar, fell across the main desk, knocking the barcode reader to the floor, to the dismay of Librarian Assistant Maria Contoza who shrieked. Understandably so, as a jet of steam now geysered a full two stories in front of her, drenching the winding middle stairs and the upper floors: history, geography, archeology, and, due to quirks of the dewy decimal system, tapestry and basket weaving with a bit of science thrown in for good measure.

The cane, meanwhile, descended with great velocity to punch a second hole through the atrium roof, showering those still dry and reading about the bonobo tribes of Tanzania with broken glass.

Ruth Johnson siezed Mr. Howitzer by his collar and, rapping his head smartly upon the tabletop, broke his nose, while exclaiming "What is wrong with you?" This did not resolve the steam problem. Nor did it help Maria to stop shrieking.

Trent, seeing these events, thought he knew exactly what to do. The thing to do was to shut off the steam supply. Of course! Immediately behind him was a pipe running up the wall with a big red wheel upon it. Clearly this was a main water valve. Leaping to the act, he manfully turned the valve, fully intending to save the library, or at least the second floor.

Ah Trent, this was indeed a main water valve, but not for the steam mains. No, this valve on the second floor was the valve for the fire sprinkler system. Trent, turning this wheel, managed with his youthful vigor to break it right off. Yes, he did. Which was good, in that jets of water did not spurt out all over the library to ruin every last single book garnered painfully over the course of nearly one hundred years. Nope. When it broke, the same thing happened, more or less, which had happened down below, albeit with cold water. A great jet shot out and propelled Trent's body over the railing of the second floor and, cartwheeling through space, much to the wonder of those down below who gaped open mouthed at this apparition of a flying man in the library at this time, sent him smashing into the Master's Dissertation stacks across the way.

The errant cane, meanwhile, came down hard into the poetry section, sending up a geyser of Emily Dickenson, Edward Dorn, and a little known Irish poet by the name of Paul Durcan. Some of these pages floated up through the holes in the roof and drifted out over the estuary not far away, where an Iranian submarine passing beneath the surface took notice of these cryptic messages and, with a robotic arm retrieved them before passing out through the channel into the Bay and then out through the Golden Gate to the Pacific Ocean entirely unnoticed, there having been insufficient funds allocated to Homeland Security to monitor such traffic. The fight was being taken to them after all, at great expense, so that they would not bother us at home and the Coast Guard units that ordinarily patrol the coast had been sent to the Bay of Basra.

Officer O'Madhauen, seeing great billows of steam emitting from the library across the street from the station, manfully called the Fire Department, then, as no traffic ordinances appeared to be involved, continued about his day. The Fire Department arrived and shut down the water systems, tersely and effectively. Using a cherry picker, they extricated Trent from the Dissertation Stacks and Mr. Howitzer was delivered to the Island Hospital in fine style, waving his retrieved cane in the air above him. An army of volunteer Library Assistants generaled by Ruth, and supplied with Robert Hellenga's Sixteen Pleasures, repaired all the damage within twenty-four hours.

To this day, the Iranians are still trying to relate the Belle of Amherst to the Apaches with some connection to the Troubles without success.

That's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.