Wednesday, November 28, 2012

let's talk about school choir.

Ask my parents: I used to sing ALL the time. I sang the classics, like “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but I was quick to incorporate songs from whatever Disney movie I had seen most recently. My singing didn’t end with mainstream music: I would also make up my own songs and warble them horribly off-key. Dad loves to tell me that “there wasn’t a bucket big enough” for me to carry a tune.

I’m not sure when or why, but one day, I stopped singing. There were no more concerts from the back seat of the family car (and I’m sure my parents weren’t disappointed), and I stopped composing my own lyrics to serenade whomever would listen. When my solo career stopped, it stopped for good.

In elementary school, choir was a required class. I didn’t mind; all we had to do was sing simple songs in a group so our parents could ooh and ahh over how cute we were. As the years went on, we got less cute, but we still sang the cute songs for the elementary school concerts. We never learned anything too out of the ordinary, and nobody was complaining. Choir was a cakewalk of a class, and we all wanted to keep it that way. Sadly, all good things must end.

At the beginning of sixth grade, things took a turn for the worse: we got a new choir teacher. He was a plump, angry man with fingers like sausages, and (due to lack of imagination) I shall refer to him as Mr Chubs. Mr Chubs had a whole closet full of Cosby sweaters and a glare that was slightly distorted through his Coke-bottle wire-rimmed glasses. It didn’t take long before the whole class developed a profound disliking for him, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.

Mr Chubs would begin each and every class by scowling at us as we filed into the choir room. He would never say hello to us: to signal that he was ready for class to begin, he would clap a series of a rhythms. We would then clap the rhythms back to him, and he’d bark that we’d better start behaving or we’d be sorry.

It’s not that we were poorly behaved; at least, not any worse than your average energy-filled preteens. Unfortunately, Mr Chubs was not blessed with a single ounce of patience. By bellowing at us as soon as we set foot in his room, he figured that he was being proactive.

In fifth and sixth grade, our classrooms had adopted a rudimentary capitalist system. Each student had a job in the classroom, and jobs that entailed more work paid more. Yes: paid. We got little laminated pieces of fake money that we could spend at the “store,” which stocked erasers and pop and the like. Every member of the class got a set amount of fake money every week (sort of like passing Go on a Monopoly board), but a job was a way to supplement your income. The jobs ranged from animal caretaker (of the class hamsters) to janitor (which nobody wanted) to accountant (who distributed the fake money). To get a job, you had to apply, which was simply writing down why you’d be good at said job. Every so often, the jobs would switch, so everyone would get a chance at every job.

The most sought-after job was the job of the police officer, only because it paid the most. The police officer was in charge of keeping track of the fines. Yes, our capitalist system included fines: you could be fined for bad behavior or for not turning your work in on time.

So that was a rather lengthy explanation for a rather small part of my story: whenever Mr Chubs felt that we were getting a bit too rowdy, he would jab his chubby finger at us and yell, “FINE!” Not “fine” as in, “fine, now you’ve done it,” but “fine” as in “I am threatening to hand out fines if you don’t shut up.” Nope, he’d just roar “FINE!” and hope that the threat of losing some of our hard-earned fake money would be enough to get us to behave. Normally, it would’ve been, but Mr Chubs’ specialty was the empty threat: I don’t remember him handing out a single fine.

As we migrated into junior high, the fake money and fines were left behind in elementary school. Instead, little pieces of paper called referrals became the new disciplinary measure. Referrals were given out for the same reasons as fines: tardiness, missing assignments, and bad behavior. If you were given a referral, your punishment was to write some smarmy garbage to appease the principal: you had to write about what you did wrong, WHY it was wrong, and what you will do better next time. The more referrals you got, the more questions they added on. Too many referrals in a set period of time meant Saturday school, which was a fate worse than death (unless you were a member of the Breakfast Club, but we weren’t so lucky in small town SD).

Mr Chubs had a tough time remembering which form of punishment he was supposed to dole out. He started off the school year shouting “FINE!” as he always had, but it eventually hit him that we no longer received fines. Mr Chubs would then try and play it off as a “fine, now you’ve done it” fine and add on “referrals FOR!” like he was about to list off the names of people who would suffer the wrath of the referral. He would huff and puff and jab his finger like usual, and he’d holler “FINE! Referrals FOR!” as his face turned red and his crazy eyes darted around the room. Once again, I don’t think anyone ever actually got a referral (except for maybe my friend Sarah, who loved nothing more than to push Mr Chubs’ buttons).

Though he was slow to hand out school-approved punishment, there was a time with Mr Chubs enacted a penalty more terrible than any of us had anticipated. We were singing a corny song called “I Love Ragtime”: I can still remember most of the song thanks to this traumatic experience. 
(this is some other choir, but now you can get an idea
of this painfully dorky song. you're welcome.)

Just like every other day, the class was ignoring Mr Chubs’ threats. Finally, he snapped. He spluttered that every student must come up to the piano and sing their part… INDIVIDUALLY. My face went white. I stopped singing alone in front of an audience before I entered kindergarten. Even now, I have nightmares about being forced to sing solos. I would rather drink sour milk and pet tarantulas than sing by myself.

Most of the class shared my feelings about Mr Chubs’ sadistic singing, and we showed our displeasure by giving him a collective stink-eye for the remainder of class. He called us up in alphabetical order, so I was one of the first to be put on the chopping block. I snaked my way out of it by claiming I had a sore throat, but many of my compatriots weren’t so lucky. Some sang in a dull monotone, while others whispered or mumbled with their heads lowered. One poor kid even cried. Mr Chubs loved every minute of it.

Choir was still a mandatory class in junior high; otherwise, we all would’ve dropped it right then and there. We slogged through the rest of the year and rejoiced when we found out that Mr Chubs would not be returning for the next school year.

During the three years I suffered through choir with Mr Chubs, I don’t recall learning a single thing. Thanks to the previous choir teacher, I knew very well how to read music (I even won the contest we had to make as many words as possible using only note names: ABCDEF), and I knew the order of sharps and flats like the back of my hand (Fat Cows Graze Daily And Eat Bales!). If I hadn’t been in band at the same time, I could’ve very well forgotten such basic elements of music: we NEVER went over notes or rhythms, besides Mr Chubs’ clapping at the beginning of class. I would bet that this man had no idea how to teach a class: this was the teacher who set aside an entire week of class so we could do the Macarena.
Every self-respecting pre-teen circa 1995 already knew the Macarena.
We got a new teacher in eighth grade. Choir was still a required class, so we were all stuck. The new choir director was a bit of a whack job, but she was nothing compared to Mr Chubs. As soon as high school rolled around, choir became an elective, and we dropped like flies. Between being rid of choir and FINALLY not having to take PE any more, I was loving high school already.

Was this the end of my choral career? As a matter of fact, it wasn’t. Whack Job teacher only lasted a year or two, and yet another choir director entered our midst. My still-in-choir friends ranted and raved about her, so I rejoined choir during my senior year of high school. I sat with all my friends (the altos), and we had a great time. This director asked for our input on concert music, which was unprecedented. She taught us vocal exercises and a bit of solfege, and she managed to make choir fun.

My last foray into the choral world was in my sophomore year of college. I’d decided that I wanted to pursue a music minor, and that involved taking two semesters of music theory. Once I learned the magical circle of fifths, music theory was all peaches and cream… except for the sight-singing tests. We had little books of folk songs, and we were supposed to study so many of them for two or three sight-singing tests per semester. We tested in groups of two or three, and I was usually lucky enough to get put in a group with loud singers. I mumbled my do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-dos, and it was good enough.

Nowadays, I refrain from singing when possible. The only exceptions are a.) in church when nobody can hear me, b.) in the car when I’m alone, and c.) when there is alcohol involved. Trust me: it’s better this way. My fiancée James, the music/band/choir director, enjoys singing and is really quite good at it, so he just doesn’t quite understand. Thankfully, he has me around to provide a voice of reason when it comes to all this choral: during his first year, James was planning a class and casually mentioned that he was thinking of having each choir student come to the front of class and sing their part. “NOOOOOO!!!!” I shouted. “DON’T! They’ll hate you for it!” My story about “I Love Ragtime” and the ensuing humiliation was enough to convince him. Hear that, James’s students? You can thank me later.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

top ten Tuesday: childhood clothing flashback.

Not too long ago, James and I were enjoying a pleasant Saturday afternoon in Sioux Falls. We’d been to a parade in the morning, and we had just finished a leisurely lunch. Our day was going well… until we made a grave mistake: we went to the mall.

The Sioux Empire mall on a Saturday is a death trap. It’s bursting with hyperactive teenagers and aggressive stroller-pushing moms who will not hesitate to run you over. Despite having to stay on our toes to avoid injury, James and I did manage to do a little window-shopping. Between our stop at the mall and our subsequent visit to Target, I noticed a pattern: the new clothing in stores looks an awful like my closet, circa 1994. I realize that the clothing industry has been experiencing a flashback for a while now, but never have I seen so many 90s clothes concentrated in one place.

This clothing flashback is certainly not limited to the 90s. Many of the resurrected trends are straight from the 80s, and in some cases, even the 70s. If you look around your average cheap/trendy store, you would find it very difficult not to cross paths with jumpsuits, crop tops, and those goofy plastic sunglasses with the stripes. Mercifully, I was either a.) nonexistent, or b.) too young, so I was spared those particular fads. However, the 90s and early 2000s were not as kind. I did my best to find pictures of myself wearing each of these items when I was a kid, but alas, photographic evidence doesn’t exist for each and every one. You’ll have to take what you can get.

So here I am, wandering through stores and recognizing their offerings as items I wore when I still played with Barbies. For this Top Ten Tuesday, I’d like to present the top ten clothing items I wore as a kid that are experiencing a comeback in stores. Let’s go through the list, shall we?

puffy neon coats
A puffy coat is a Midwestern necessity. Our winters tend to be long and brutal, and the least you can do is have something warm and marshmallow-like to shield you from the bitter wind. There were a great many puffy coats on the market, but if you were an elementary-aged girl in the mid-90s, it had to be neon. If it wasn’t, you were tragically uncool and inevitably subject to ridicule. I avoided such mockery with my hot pink puffy coat: a faithful winter companion for many years. Before long, though, neon coats had joined the ranks of the lame. The must-have coat that followed was the Arlington Cardinals coat with your name embroidered on it. 
Like so.
After that, you had to have a Columbia coat. In any case, it’s been many years since neon coats were in style. Apparently, now is their time to (re)shine.
You can buy this coat RIGHT NOW.
If it doesn't scream 1990s,
I don't know what does.
floral dresses
I got lots of hand-me-downs as a kid. “But Calla,” the attentive reader might say, “aren’t you the oldest?” Why yes, I am the oldest; hence, my hand-me-downs didn’t come from an older sister. My mom had many coworkers with older daughters, so she’d lug boxes of clothes home for me to try. The clothing in these boxes fell into two clear categories: the things I liked, and the things my mother liked. 
Above: a dress my mother liked.
The flowery dresses contained in these boxes almost always fell into the latter group. These were the frilly, lacy, poofy, tent-like dresses in which I suffered through many a church service. 
I shudder at the memory.
Happy was the day when I got to donate these dresses to Goodwill. Lo and behold, fifteen years later, similar dresses are appearing in stores. These dresses are more grown up (read: slutty), but I still wouldn’t be caught dead in them.
No thanks.
lace-up boots
Thankfully, denim dresses have yet
to make a comeback...
Wearing my lace-up boots drove me nuts. They were impossible to get on, and they took forever to tie. Plus, I thought they looked super dorky. (My mom insisted otherwise, but looking back, I was totally right.) During winter, I was coerced into wearing these boots with tights and dresses. Besides my floral dresses, this combination was my mom’s go-to church uniform for me. The lace-up boots of today are certainly more stylish than the pair I loathed fifteen years ago, but they still bring back plenty of dorky memories.
At least these have zippers.
colorful and/or patterned pants
Suddenly, colorful pants are EVERYWHERE! As a dorky pre-teen, I was a colorful denim connoisseur. I had a pair of red jeans and a pair of maroon jeans that I wore to death, as well as my lime green denim overalls. 
So much maroon.
When I was a little younger, I tended more towards patterned denim: stripes were my favorite. 

I did own a pair of black denim overalls (what’s with the overalls?) patterned with bright white flowers, so I’d occasionally stray into different patterns. While overalls are not terribly prevalent in store fashion today, you won’t have any trouble finding colorful or patterned pants.
Target, NOOOOOO!
I will admit, this is one flashback fashion that I have tried: Target lured me into buying a pair of red pants and a pair of purple pants.
However, I promise you, I’m staying away from the patterned pants.
Once was enough.
 maxi skirts
I just HAD to add
the denim vest.
The maxi skirts of today are really not too bad, if you know how to wear them. Today’s maxi skirts give off more of a bohemian vibe, whereas the maxi skirts of my day made you look like you belonged in a religious cult. By the time I started wearing these long skirts, I’m ashamed to admit that I was picking out my own clothes: I can no longer blame my mother. I’m sure I thought I looked fantastic, but my sense of fashion clearly wasn’t fully developed.
Nothing says
fashionable like
a flowery maxi skirt
and a sparkly
sweater, right?
Nowadays, I have been guilty of wearing a maxi dress or two, but as long as I don’t look like a sister wife, I think I’ll keep it up.
I don't think sister wives are allowed
to wear shoes like that, anyway.
Whenever I think of corduroy, I think of a joke our college jazz director used to tell before concerts: “did you hear about the new corduroy pillows? They’re making headlines!” Har har! I couldn’t dig up any photos of me wearing corduroy, but you’d better believe it was a wardrobe staple. I had a pair of black corduroy overalls (again with the overalls!) that I wore long after they had become too short. I had some tan corduroy pants from a rummage sale that served me well as part of my go-to oral interp outfit. I may have owned a corduroy jacket at some point, but my memory is a tad hazy. But now, from the hipster jackets at H&M to the skinny pants at Target, corduroy is back. Thanks, but no thanks.
Double whammy: colorful AND corduroy!
Remember my second grade obsession with The Lion King? It should come as no surprise that said obsession extended to my footwear. I owned not one, but two pairs of Lion King shoes. Both pairs were white, and one pair may have been Velcro. The possibly-Velcro pair had a little picture of a nuzzling Nala and Simba on the sides, and I wore them to death. The second pair also had a picture on the sides, but this time it was Simba. These, my friends, were a pair of hi-tops. 
This is not the pair I had, but these are awesome.
For that reason alone, they didn’t get near as much wear as the Velcro shoes. Hi-tops were way too much work for my eight-year-old self: you had to loosen the shoelaces, for crying out loud! Even though the loosening and subsequent tightening of the shoelaces added, at most, sixty extra seconds to me getting ready in the morning, every second counted. I never got out of bed with time to spare, so a whole added minute to get my shoes on would probably be enough to make me late for the bus. Hi-tops (with the exception of Converse All-Stars) fell out of favor in the mid-90s, but they never totally went away. Recently, though, I’ve been seeing a lot more of them in stores and out and about on people’s feet. Will I be reliving my past with a pair of hi-tops? Not if that means I have to get out of bed any earlier.
Not even for hot pink.
The resurgence of flannel has been going on for a few years now, and I have allowed select pieces to infiltrate my closet. The flannel of today, thankfully, is nothing like the flannel I wore in my early teen years. Flannel never completely went away, but the flannel that has made its way back into stores is far superior to the manly flannel I wore back when I still had braces. My flannel of yesteryear made me look more like a lumberjack than anything, but the new flannel is fitted and much less lumberjacky. I am more than happy to embrace this trend the second time around.
I don't think lumberjacks embrace graffiti and
drink Caribou coffee, anyway.
I'm the one in the middle: the purple Keds should give me away.
(When I say “Keds,” I mean all shoes in the style that Keds made famous.) Keds are seeing a comeback, thanks mostly to their popularity among hipsters. You can get them in every color and pattern under the sun. I loved my childhood Keds, and I know for certain that I had at least three different colors (black, purple, and lime green, of course). Though I am no hipster, I find myself sorely tempted by the new Keds/shoes that look like Keds but actually aren’t. It probably won’t be long before you’ll be able to find a pair in my closet.
Like these Target brand faux-Keds!
big old headbands
Do you spend much time in the hair accessories department of your local shopping center? If you do, you may have noticed the abundance of headbands with something decorative (and usually sparkly) attached to them. It could be a flower, a bow, or some unidentified sequined shape. I distinctly remember wearing headbands a lot like these when I was a youngster. One in particular comes to mind: it was a white headband with a giant bow made out of red, white, and blue shoelaces. Nowadays, headbands aren’t as delightfully tacky, but they still remind me of the days of the shoelace bow. As a kid, I had more headbands than I care to admit: skinny headbands, fabric headbands, butterfly headbands, and headbands with little teeth that were supposed to make them stick to your head. I gave up on headbands sometime in my preteen years when I realized that they just didn’t look good on me/I was too dumb to figure out how to make them look good. Several years later, I seemed to have forgotten, as I purchased a headband with one of those unidentified sequined shapes attached to it. Turns out that I STILL can’t make a headband look good. Some things never change.
Even crazy art museum backlighting couldn't help me.

Are your eyes bleeding from all these dorky childhood pictures? Man, what were my parents thinking? Unfortunately, I can’t always blame my parents: I’m a little ashamed to admit I’ve fallen prey to the second coming of more than one of these trends. Let’s just hope they don’t come back to bite me. Again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

let's talk about The Room.

The Room is the greatest film of all time.

I realize that this is a rather bold statement to make, I have no qualms in doing so. Allow me to clarify right off the bat, though: The Room is the greatest film of all time only because it’s so bad. Mind-numbingly bad, but in such a way that watching it is simply hilarious once you figure out that yes, they’re for real.

The plot is your basic girl-having-affair-with-fiancée’s-best-friend situation, but The Room takes this cliché to another level: nonsensical garbage peppered with bad acting and terrible dialogue.

This 2003 production stars director/writer/producer Tommy Wiseau as Johnny, a successful something-or-other with a “fantastic” life. He’s got an apartment in San Francisco (as we know from the endless spanning shots of the Golden Gate Bridge) and a really swell girlfriend named Lisa (played by Juliet Danielle). Little does he know, Lisa really isn’t that great: not only is she one of the least attractive leading ladies I’ve ever seen, but she’s cheating on Johnny with his better-looking best friend Mark (played by the possibly plastic Greg Sestero). Toss in a random neighborhood kid named Denny, a bossy mother with cancer (which is only mentioned once in passing), some drug problems (which are also only mentioned once), and a truly awful soundtrack, and you’ve got The Room.
From left: Lisa, Johnny, Denny, and Mark. You will enjoy
this article more now that you know what they look like.
The movie begins with Johnny bringing Lisa a red dress, and the dialogue rockets right into the uncomfortable sentences you will come to expect: “Wow, you look so sexy, Lisa… anything for my princess!” Of course, this leads to some really disgusting kissing, which leads them up to the bedroom. At this time, Denny the random neighbor kid bursts in, joins the sexy foreplay pillow fight, and declares, “I just like to watch you guys” – a mere five minutes into the movie.
Not making this up.
This is only one of four terrifying sex scenes: terrifying mostly because of what the two leads look like. All four scenes involve Lisa, who is not much of a looker. Her hair does not match her eyebrows, and there’s something about her mouth/nose combination that just does not work.
No, she did NOT just have her wisdom teeth taken out.
With the snotty personality to seal the deal, it’s a wonder she got one guy, let alone two. Johnny is involved in two of the four sex scenes, and he’s got a face like the love child of Bela Lugosi and a shar pei. 
It’s also worth mentioning that both sex scenes with Johnny use about 90% of the same footage. Mark, who is responsible for the other two scenes with Lisa, is the best looking of the trio, if you don’t mind an expressionless face and a baby mullet.
He's dead inside.
The thing that really pushes these sex scenes over the edge is the music. Each scene is as long as its accompanying background song, which about as well written as you would expect. One employs such stunningly original lyrics as “you are my rose, you are my rose, you are my rose,” while another wails, “I would stand in the way of a bullet/I would run through a forest of flame.”

The plot is weak, at best. Nothing lines up, and major plot points seem to get thrown in and quickly brushed off. In addition to all this monkey business involving affairs, Lisa’s overbearing mother (is there any other kind in movies like this?) randomly and casually mentions that she has breast cancer. This is the one and only time that it is mentioned. The neighbor kid almost gets tossed off a roof for not having money for a drug dealer. Luckily, Johnny and Mark arrive JUST IN TIME to pull the drug dealer off Denny and TAKE HIM TO JAIL. Whew. That’s the end of that. And let’s not forget Lisa suddenly claiming that Johnny “got drunk last night… and he hit [her].” Four outfits later, it was still “last night.”

The following clip is only nineteen seconds long, but watching it will give you a perfect idea of what The Room is all about. The lines are off, and there really is no point to it - like much of the movie. (The fat pug sitting on the counter is the only thing holding this scene together.)

Oh, and did I mention that Lisa is pregnant? But not really. She tells Johnny that she’s pregnant, and he happily announces it to a group of their friends. Two of Lisa’s friends are aware of the affair she’s having with Mark, so they pull her aside and ask her whose baby it is. Lisa snottily states that she only told Johnny that she was pregnant to “make it interesting” and justified doing so by saying, “We’re probably going to have a baby eventually anyway.” No matter if a baby doesn’t show up in nine months – since they’ll have a baby “eventually,” Johnny will never suspect a thing, right?

The dialogue, though, is what puts this movie over the edge from “bad” to “amazingly bad, and therefore awesome.” To begin with, Tommy Wiseau has the strangest accent of anyone I’ve ever heard. There’s really no way to describe it. When he says “sure, it’s yours” in reference to Lisa’s red dress, it comes out as “shurr, iss yurrrrs.” The rest of his dialogue is peppered with such gems as “if a lot of people loved each other, the world would be better place to live.” Slurrily delivered by Tommy Wiseau, it comes out more like “eef da lot uf peepul luhved eech odder, da worr would be a beddah place to leev.” And this is supposed to be a great moment in the movie, showing how deep the character of Johnny is. Really, Johnny? If people were nicer to each other, the WHOLE WORLD woud be nicer?!! NO WAY!! Tommy’s speech oddities and gag-inducing lines are the least of the worries, though. None of the actors have any discernible talent – I firmly believe that even Pauly Shore could act circles around each and every one.

The script itself seems to have been written by a gaggle of giggly pre-teens on a sugar high and with little or no insight as to how real couples and friends interact. The phrase “Johnny’s my best friend” is used no less than fifteen times, as is “I don’t love him anymore.” Every time someone enters a room, they are greeted with "Oh hi," generally a few beats too late. And let's not forget the initial seduction of Mark! Lisa’s first attempt to seduce Mark is one huge cliché, right down to the candles, champagne, and Lisa removing articles of clothing, saying breathily, “It’s hot in here.” Mark, of course, doesn’t get it. 

The end of the movie is properly soap opera-esque. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will tell you that you really won’t be that surprised. 

The funniest part is that Tommy Wiseau thinks that this is absolute genius. He believes that “everyone in America” should see this film, but we “must see it twice” – because we poor simpletons won’t get it the first time.

Since its release nearly a decade ago, The Room has been elevated to something of a cult status. They’ve been having midnight showings in San Francisco for years, and much to my absolute joy, Minneapolis has done the same. I first went to a midnight showing of The Room on my 23rd birthday. James, ever the good sport, took me, and it was HILARIOUS. There was actual audience participation! There are a number of scenes where Johnny and a handful of his friends are standing about two feet apart, tossing a football back and forth. 
Moviegoers actually bring footballs and throw them around during such scenes. The other major audience participation comes in the form of plastic spoons. In Johnny and Lisa’s apartment, there’s some curious art: a framed picture of a spoon. It shows up ALL THE TIME, so whenever you see it, you’re supposed to throw plastic spoons at the screen.

In November of 2010, something incredible happened: Tommy Wiseau came to Minneapolis to attend a midnight showing of The Room. I begged James to come with me, and he reluctantly agreed. (I think I had to buy him off with dinner.) I got to meet Tommy Wiseau himself, accompanied by the fake-baked Greg Sestero. It was AWESOME.
Life = complete.
All in all, this movie is unbelievable. It has brightened up my day each time I have watched it, and I’m always discovering new ridiculous tidbits that I hadn’t seen before. I share it with friends, who are stunned that such a travesty could exist. I wish I would’ve kept track of how many times I’ve seen this film… but at the same time, I think I’m glad I didn’t. I have never watched it alone, though: The Room is only good when shared. So after all this, if you’d like to experience it for yourself, I’d be more than happy to watch it with you. I’ll bring the popcorn.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

adventures in Brookings: the public library edition.

When I was a kid, I loved spending the day in Brookings with my grandparents. To me, Brookings was a metropolis, and spending an entire day there was heavenly. Whenever my siblings and I were at my grandparents’ house, no destination was off limits. As long as their Buick had gas in the tank, we had the run of the town. McDonald’s for lunch? Of course! Afternoon at the park? Why not! Ice cream at the Dairy Bar? Not a problem!

The only real requirement was that my siblings and I all had to agree on said destinations. Agreeing on a place to eat was easy – if it had a toy in its kiddie meal, we were happy. The hard part was figuring out what to do with the rest of the day. If my brother wanted to go to the pool, my sister wanted to go to the gardens. Were we going to watch Nickelodeon all day, or were we going to go explore the local mall? The possibilities were endless, and to compromise was to show weakness. There was, however, one place upon which we could all agree… one magical place that promised something for everyone, young and old: the Brookings Public Library.
I hear the Hallelujah chorus.
I don’t remember the first time I set foot in the library, but I’m sure it was love at first sight. Where had this place been all my life?! I had exhausted the resources at my school library, and I had no idea that there was this mecca of knowledge within my grasp. My grandma was nice enough to let me use her library card, and I would check out as many books as I could carry.
LeVar Burton would be so proud.
During that particular stage in my life, I was obsessed with the supernatural. I watched the skies for UFOs, and I bemoaned living in an obviously non-haunted house. All the books I checked out dealt with the same kind of thing: Bigfoot sightings, alien abductions, ancient curses, you name it. I was a weird kid. Grandma was less than thrilled to have these bizarre titles showing up on her library card, but she bit her tongue, and I continued to learn about chupacabras and poltergeists and the like. After a while, I switched to reading nothing but Calvin and Hobbes collections, and I’m sure Grandma was relieved.

One of the best things about the library at that time was their computers. We didn’t have a computer at home until I was twelve or so, and I was immensely jealous of my friend Allison’s iMac. We had computers at school, but our time on them was very limited. At the library, all you had to do was sign up on a sheet at the desk, and you’d get to spend some time on the computer. You could also check out a game to play while you were on the computer, which is what I always did: Oregon Trail, baby.
Someone always died of dysentery.
For the longest time, I assumed that library cards were for the older elite, like driver’s licenses and mortgages. Imagine my surprise when Allison informed me she had a library card. All I needed to do was get Mom to sign for me: I was nine, and even I knew that nine-year-olds can’t be trusted. I cajoled Mom into taking me to the library one afternoon when she got done with work, and just like that, I became the proud holder of a library card. I carefully printed my name on the back of the card and held it in my hands: the possibilities were now ENDLESS.

I took my new library card very seriously: as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. I made a calendar of the due dates, and I never let one slide. I took impeccable care of my library books, making sure not to get food on them or tear their pages. The library had deemed me worthy of a card, and I was not about to betray their trust.

I spent so much time in the bookshelves on the library that it took me years to realize that I could check out movies, too! At that time, you could check out a video (yes, a VHS) from the library for two days. I had to plan carefully around Mom’s work schedule, as she was the one who would have to return the movie on time. The Brookings Public Library introduced me to some of the best movies of all time: I checked out The Seventh Seal from the library, as well as The Graduate and Harvey. Sure, there were less-sophisticated choices – I’m sure I brought home Blazing Saddles more than once – but the library allowed me access to all these films that a.) weren’t on any of the channels we had, and b.) I couldn’t afford to buy, or even rent from Mr Movies. What a deal.

As I got older – and gained a driver’s license – the public library was still one of my top Brookings destinations. I began hosting movie nights for my friends, and most of my film selection came from the library. I worked right across the street from the library for a couple of summers during college, and many a lunch hour was spent perusing the library shelves. They even proctored a test for me when I took an online course that summer.

When I moved from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls to start a new job, the Brookings Public Library was invaluable. My job started in September, but my apartment wouldn’t be available until October. I needed a place to stay, and one of my options was my grandmother’s house in Brookings. She had moved to assisted living about a month prior, so her house sat empty. Of course, there was no internet or TV, so I turned to the public library to help get me through those few technology-free weeks. At the library, I could check my email, pick out a movie to occupy the rest of my night, and snag a few books to read over my lunch hour.

This life-long love of the library has led to a seemingly inevitable conclusion: I now work at one. I spend my days surrounded by books and movies, and I now help the public access them like someone once helped me. Every once in a while, I’ll hear someone say that the library system is obsolete: you can get everything on the internet, after all. Maybe they have no use for the library, but perhaps no one introduced them to the magic of the library like my grandparents did for me. The public library provided hours of free entertainment, and I was able to access materials that I never even knew existed. I never would’ve been able to write my college papers without the help of my campus library and the interlibrary loan service. Now that I’m out of college and into the real world, I couldn’t imagine life without the library – and not just because I work in one. I still take home stacks of books, and I always have something to read over my lunch break. I love libraries, and I’m happy to spend time in any one of them… and it all started with summer days at the Brookings Public Library.