Working near Disneyland, I see a lot of people walk into the library from out of town—people visiting the city for the conventions, amusement parks, or (though they certainly won’t admit it) the motels with … hourly rates. Most of these patrons never come in long enough for me to remember their name, but there are exceptions. One such exception was Zelenka, a homely Czechoslovakian, and Veronica, her drop-dead-gorgeous (also Czechoslovakian) friend, who were both working for a hotel for the summer.
Veronica never once came into the library unnoticed; whenever she entered the building, it was like seeing a model do her thing on the fashion runway, putting on a little show for every person in the library (male, female, and even small children). It was fun watching all the desperate old men (who normally were occupied in Internet chat rooms and posting personal ads on dating sites), trying their best to communicate with the Czechoslovakian vixen, who knew little English and really just wanted to check her e-mail. There were even one or two requests for books on learning the Czechoslovakian language. Library pages, in their own attempts to get to know the wondrous lady better, would accidentally tap their book cart against the back of her chair, then apologize and engage in small talk, not seeming to notice that she probably understood only 10 percent at best of what they were saying. Sometimes the pages would say something she understood, and she would smile and joyfully repeat whatever word she had picked up: “Ah, yes, pancake!” Then, believing they had established a common connection, they would use the word in every sentence that followed.
I, of course, kept it professional (a hazard of the job being that all librarians must pretend to be boring while working … except children’s librarians, who, I’m pretty sure, take pills to maintain their abnormal amount of energy and perkiness). I felt a little sorry for Zelenka, who got no attention, but it was her own fault for this—there was no dazzle in her step or charm in her smile, and she had a horrid sense for fashion; to be quite honest her name only comes to mind when thinking of Veronica, but that’ s beside the point. As their stay progressed and it became certain that they would soon leave for their homeland, the pages made mad attempts to have just one date.
Ultimately, however, it was I—the librarian—who had the last waltz … though not literally, of course. The library was closing one night and Veronica was the sole patron in the building; I had not seen her companion Zelenka all day. As best as I could tell, she was supposed to have a ride home, but something happened; how anyone could have left such a beauty abandoned at a library in the night is beyond me, but they did, and I knew it would be up to me to protect the damsel in distress from the dangers of Southern California. I used gestures and slow speech to try to tell her that if she stayed outside the library alone she would surely die and that she should let me give her a ride home. And she did. I tried to make her feel safe as we drove; I told her about my country and asked her about hers—it was the same corny small talk I observed patrons using on her in the library. The same corny small talk that she never seemed to understand. She smiled mostly and stared at me confused. Once, she said, “I am Veronica,” and another time, “The bus stop is near, no?” but mostly she smiled and said yes to things that didn’t exactly warrant an answer. Before taking her home, I had never had any sort of conversation with her; the only thing I’d ever asked her was “How are you today?” and “Would you like to use the Internet?” Now that I had her in my car, and I was asking her less generic questions, she seemed less attractive. Seeing her stare at me confused, as I did my best to make her feel comfortable, made her seem a little … dumb. I realize this feeling was caused mostly by the language barrier, but nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d violated something a little sacred, and had stolen forever that beauty she had once given to me. She was like a store mannequin meant to be adorned but never touched. When I pulled into the parking space in front of her motel room, I thought of all of the pages and patrons who had dreamed of such a moment—to be here, in front of her room, in the right seat to make a move. They probably would have had pickup lines that she would not have understood, or perhaps tried to charm her with their looks or incoherent ramblings that passed as humor in English, but there was only one thing I had in mind to say to her. I told her good night. She told me, “I go. The bus stop is near, no?” and then she waved and ran to her room. From that moment on, I did not view her with the same admiration that I had when she first came into the library; all I saw when she came into the building was the friendly woman who had said “I am Veronica” when I asked her, “Do you like California?” I learned an important lesson with Veronica: I realized that some patrons were special, and should never be touched; they were given to the library to be mysterious figures who walked through the doors and were never meant to be known; people who were meant to be recounted through the ages in breakrooms as legends and myths of the library.