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The librarian’s bun — A ‘tail’ for the High Holy Days

That time I tried to escape the high price of an overdue library book

We landed in Jerusalem in early June, and I made the mistake of taking out a book from one of the local libraries not long after we’d finished unpacking. And so, not surprisingly, after I’d barely gotten past the first chapter, the book got lost in the cosmic vastness that astronomers refer to as “the Big Balagan.” I turned over the room where I’d last been reading it, but nothing. Days turned into weeks, and then the dreaded return date came and went.

To make matters worse, this wasn’t just any book, but the nonfiction best-seller of the year, Micha Goldman’s “Milkud ’67” (“Catch ‘67” — New York Times author interview here), and I imagined that with each passing day, more and more people were putting the book on reserve. Gulp. But it had to be somewhere in the house.

Alas, weeks turned into a couple of months, still no book, and I began to fear that at some point, it had somehow been thrown out with Last Week’s Newspapers. And then I received a notice in the mail threatening that if I didn’t return the book post-haste, I’d receive a visit from the dreaded Hardcover Hit Corps, librarians specially trained in the martial arts, each capable of instantly severing the jugular with a mere flick of her unfurled hair-bun. I realized that I’d have to bite the bullet, show up at the library, and admit that the book had somehow gotten lost.

And then, amazingly enough, my wife happened to discover it, hiding in the very room I’d searched several times.

I still had to face the music, though, and as I drove to the library with the two-and-a-half-months’ overdue book on the seat next to me, I expected that not only would I have to pay a fine that would probably exceed the cost of the volume, but I’d also probably be wrist-slapped and tongue-lashed. Maybe even horse-whipped, book-bonked and hide-tanned!

As I parked across from the library, ready to face whatever fate had in store, I realized that the only way I might get out of this unscathed would be if were somehow to avoid Sour Puss, the senior librarian, and deal instead with her assistant, Ever-Smiling Elderly Person.

As I entered the library though, I saw to my dismay that Sour was behind the main desk, whereas Ever-Smile was off to the side researching something on one of the library’s computers. But as luck would have it, there was a gentleman in line in front of me, with a complicated request.  He and Sour proceeded to walk off together into the bowels of the library, and Ever-Smile, seeing that the front desk was unwomanned, hied over to help me out. I sheepishly explained the situation while handing over the book, and without so much as a hint of a scowl crossing her face, she wordlessly took it from me, entered the book’s information into the library system, and blandly announced that I would have to pay a five-shekel “knas” — a fine of a somewhat over $1.25 at current exchange rates.

I couldn’t help but recall the oil-rich Arabian Sheikhs in the Austin Powers movie when Dr. Evil demands that they collectively pay him a ransom of “ONE MILLION DOLLARS!” But unlike the sheiks in the movie, I somehow prevented myself from bursting out laughing, though it took all the willpower I could muster.

Still, I wasn’t entirely out of the woods. I searched my pockets for a five-shekel coin and came up empty. Searching my wallet, I could find nothing smaller than a 20-shekel note, and the library didn’t have change. So Ever-Smile called over Sour to see if she could help out, and as the latter approached, I expected that she’d spot the book on the table, realize what was going on, and scream, “You’re getting off with a mere five-shekel knas? Why, we’ve put miscreants like you in front of the Librarians Firing Squad for less! Begone, or I may decide to unfurl my hair-bun in your direction.”

But she simply took the bill, fished out a 10 and two fives from her purse, and gave a five to Ever-Smile and the rest to me. I quickly absconded from the premises.

So my New Year’s wish for you, dear reader, is that if during the course of 5778 you should find yourself in Deep Doggie Doo/ anticipate being in this situation, may it turn out to be a mere tempest in a teapot — or if you so prefer, an inverted Aeropress filled to the brim with premium coffee and water just off the boil, gently stirred.

And may your Book of Life be a riveting best-seller, all of whose chapters finish on a joyous upnote.

Shana Tova!

About the Author
Lawrence Feldman made aliyah with his wife, Nettie, back in 1982. Both native New Yorkers, they have four children and currently reside in Jerusalem .
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