Showing posts with label retirement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label retirement. Show all posts

20 October 2022

An Era Ends…

I sent this a couple of weeks ago to everyone I work for/with at the pen, and also some friends, so I thought I would update my SleuthSayers family as well:

"Dear Friends,

"This is a difficult letter to write. Due to my increasing arthritis* and the physical therapy that requires, as well as Allan’s multiple health issues, I’ve decided that I can no longer perform my volunteer activities at the penitentiary. My last date with the Lifers’ Group will be Saturday, November 5th.

"Barring a miracle of recovery, I will no longer be doing AVP. Nor can I continue with the Lifers’ Group. Both of these have been fantastic, nurturing, vital experiences for me for 12 years, and I will miss them. I will continue to be on the AVP Board and, given better health come warm weather, would be interested in helping to expand AVP into the community."

*I'm having a major flare-up in my neck which is, of course, influencing the rest of my spine. Damn it.  But let's hear it for acupuncture, cortisone shots, physical therapy, and massage!

What I didn't mention in the email is that there have been a host of significant changes to what volunteers can and can't do at the prison, and more are coming. We can no longer visit inmates at an inmate's workplace, to either drop something off, or tell him something important. No more. Not allowed. It used to be fairly normal to stop by the cell hall, especially if an inmate had been sick or returned from hospital, and visit with them. No more. Not allowed. Not even for pastors. And that's just the surface.

Basically, all volunteers are questioning what the changes in policies and rules – which are by no means complete - will mean to their ability to actually do what they're volunteering to do. Or if they'll be able to come in at all.

So, now what?

Well, I had to retire from teaching 12 years ago because of a major arthritis flare-up. It was my first, truly hideous and painful, and I was in fear that I would be incapacitated for life. Since then, I've learned the hard way that physical therapy really does work if you actually do the exercises, along with patience, hope, perseverance, and a significant amount of pain-killers. (Still waiting on that medical marijuana that's legal in this state to actually get out to the masses…) So, with this new major arthritis flare-up, I'm getting on with my physical therapy and trying out all sorts of new ways to do things from sleep position to typing these words. I'm good at grim determination once I've been convinced that whatever I'm grimly determined about has a chance of working.

I've also learned, give yourself time to mourn. When something you loved with all your heart is gone, you're going to miss it. I missed teaching, and the students. Never missed the administration - especially the bean counters - for one minute. I already know it will be the same with the pen. I'll miss the inmates very much.

I've also learned to not go looking for the next project, job, whatever. Every time I've ever done that - and I did it a lot back in 2009-2010 - it didn't work. The real deal will find you, as long as you stay open to what comes. That's how I ended up at the pen in the first place. Allan and I were doing Quaker meditation once a week, and one of the leaders asked me if I'd like to do an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in prison one weekend. So I said "Sure," not having any idea that it would lead to 12 years of volunteering in prison.

The main thing is to always remember that what you're doing today may not be what you will be doing or be able to do tomorrow. The mind changes (hopefully), the body certainly changes, and God knows life changes. (Heads up, everyone who back in 2019 had a world-wide pandemic on their next year's probability card! Yeah, me neither.) 

Meanwhile, we could all do worse than loll like a seal for a while: 

Shamelessly stolen from Heather Cox Richardson's blogpost © 2022

And then get writing. I've got a lot of stories to tell. 

Also, BSP:

Happy to say my story, "The Closing of the Lodge" is in this issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine! Along with fellow SleuthSayers, Janice Law, O'Neil De Noux, Leigh Lundin,  and Mark Thielman, whose stories are in it, too. Can't wait to get my copy and read them all!

05 September 2018

Lost in the Stacks for 41 Years

by Robert Lopresti

Gonna get a little off the main track here today.  I hope you forgive me.  You see, as of the first of September I am retired. I am going to tell you about some of my most memorable moments in forty-one years in the library mines.  Most have nothing to do with crime or writing.  So indulge me or go read something else.  I hear they have a lot of terrific stuff at MySpace.

When I was getting my Masters in Library Service degree the school urged us to call them as soon as we got our first jobs and tell them the salary.  So when I did I called them and gave them the big number: $10,300 a year.

"That's great," said the clerk.  "It will bring up the class average."

That first job was at a public library.   I was the government documents librarian but occasionally  I worked in the children's room.  I was at the desk there one day and two women walked in.  Obviously mother and grown daughter.  The mother marched up with a determined expression that said: I am going to get the answer if it takes all day.  Librarians love that look.

She fixed me with her steely gaze (why aren't gazes ever aluminumy?) and said "There's this book."

"Okay," I said.

"It's about a tree."  

 And that was clearly all she had.  No author, no title. Just a subject, a memory, and a burning desire to share it with her daughter.

I stood up.  "Follow me."  We marched to the Easy Readers.  I pulled out The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein.

Her eyes went wide.  "That's it!  How did you know?"

I shrugged.  "I'm a librarian."

My assistant was Sue.  Between us sat a file cabinet and by the time I left every drawer had been neatly labeled with a misspelling of my name she had clipped from an envelope received in the mail: Robert Lopreski, Roberta Lopresti, Robert LoPresti, Robert Loparesti...

When my first short story was published I brought the magazine in and plopped it down in front of her open to the right page and pointed to my name.  "That's by me."

She tossed it back on my desk.  "No, it isn't."

Oh ye of little faith.


One day at the reference desk I got a phone call from a woman who wanted to know if we had The Power of Positive Thinking by Phyllis Schaeffer.

Now, a librarian is supposed to rely on sources.  If you ask me to spell cat I am supposed to check the dictionary.  But in this case I said "The Power of Positive Thinking  is by Norman Vincent Peale."

"No," she said with complete confidence.  "Phyllis Schaeffer."

So I checked the card catalog.  (Yup, that's what we had back then.)  Peale, yes.  Schaeffer, no.

Then the penny dropped.  The Power of the Positive Woman, by Phyllis Schlafly.  Well, the woman had been positive, all right.


One of the longest-running science fiction fan organizations in the country used to meet at that library.  They held a special event to celebrate an anniversary and I graciously volunteered to be the library's representative.  Possibly this was because the guest speaker was Isaac Asimov.

He was, naturally, great.  His subject was a recent editorial in the New York Times saying that setting up a system to watch out for asteroids was a waste of money because, as I recall, no huge meteor hit the earth for many thousands of years, and therefore another wouldn't hit for thousands more.  Follow that logic?

Asimov gleefully reported on past NYT editorials on science.  One was an announcement that rockets wouldn't work in outer space because there was a vacuum.

This library was the largest in our part of the county and when one of the small libraries had a reference question they couldn't answer they bounced it to us.  One of those smaller institutions had a director named Miss D.  Her main characteristic, as far as I could tell, was that she was terrified of the members of her library board.

One day she called up and asked for the government documents librarian.  It seemed one of her  board members was looking for some government statistics about drug abuse.

I wrote the questions down. "Some of these I can answer," I told her.  "Some of the data I don't think is available."

"Well, do what you can."

I did.  This was long before the Internet and I had to dig through a whole lot of books.  Finally, after several hours of toil I called her up.

"I was able to find most of your answers, but not all of them."

"Oh," she said.  "Then never mind."  And hung up.

One day a patron (that's what librarians call customers, by the way) wanted to know what the phrase "the beast with two backs" meant.  I knew but I damn well wasn't going to tell her off the top of my head.  Fortunately Shakespeare's Bawdy by the brilliant Eric Partridge was at hand.

My next job was at a college library.  It was there that I found a report from the government of New Jersey that mentioned that the name of a small community in the southern part of the state, Mauricetown, was pronounced the same as a larger city in the northern half, Morristown.

Hmm...  That's the sort of thing my Atlantic City private eye Marty Crow would definitely know.  The result was "The Federal Case," Marty's first appearance in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.


Each librarian worked as a liaison for an academic department.  The acquisitions librarian told me there were several openings.  Naturally I chose English.  An hour later she was back with a file the size of a phone book.  "Read it and tell me if you still want the English Department."

Turned out two professors had come almost to the point of suing each other over an argument that involved the library.  One had written to the school paper complaining about the library and his colleague had written back, as I recall:  "Pay no attention to him.  We in the department have all had to hear him banging his spoon on his high chair before."  They eventually signed a joint statement agreeing that academic disagreements should be settled out of court.

I did take on the responsibilities for the English Department.  Didn't get sued.

One night a college student came up to the reference desk and asked: "Is Nicaragua in Europe?"  This was during the Reagan administration when it looked like we might be invading that country any day.

I think I kept a straight face.  "No, Nicaragua is in Central America."

"Oh," she said.  "Is Central America in Europe?"

It was my Sunday to work at the reference desk.  It was snowing like crazy.

I was thinking about the next day.  I was the head of the search committee and we had a candidate coming in for a job interview.  In fact she should be flying in around now.  I hoped that the driver sent to pick her up got to the airport on time.

Then I remembered who had been given the job of arranging her transport.  Uh oh.
Speaking of search committees, I once went to lunch with a candidate.  He asked who was paying for the meal.  When I told him it was the college he ordered the most expensive thing on the menu.

I told the search committee: "Don't offer him the job.  He won't take it."

They did.  He turned it down.  We lost the position.

Nobody likes Cassandra.

One day the boss called me and another librarian into his office.  "I've been thinking about that meeting we had on Monday," he said.  "I want you two to run the project."  And then he spoke for several minutes about what he wanted, while we nodded solemnly.

Outside his office I turned to my colleague.  "Boy, I hope you were at that meeting on Monday, because I have no idea what he was talking about."

She said: "I was hoping you knew."

We went to the assistant boss who was outraged.  We soon got an apology for the confusion.  I never did find out what the project was about. 

This was the time when computerized databases were first trickling into libraries.  One of the first we got (on a free-standing computer) was a list of all doctorate dissertations.  Another librarian, Barbara, and I both wanted to check out our father's PhDs.

"My father always insisted on people calling him 'doctor,'" I said.

Barbara is African-American.  "My father never cared whether people called him 'doctor' as long as they called him 'mister.'"

Which rather  put things in perspective.


Most computer databases were expensive and you paid by the search.  Therefore only librarians were allowed to do the searches.  I remember one student asking me to search PsycInfo for peer-reviewed research articles that tested the theory that mental illness was caused by demonic possession.

I didn't have much luck.                            

One day I was at the reference desk and the president of the college walked in.  I had never seen him in the library.  He looked around, spotted me at the desk, and walked over.

I sat up straight, ready for action.

"Do you have a waste basket?"  By gosh, I knew the answer to that one.

The first computerized databases (i.e. periodical indexes) we got came from a company called Silver Platter and were literally on shiny discs, larger than LP records.  One day I was showing them to a group of adults (i.e. not college students) who seemed quite awed by the new technology.

The database froze.  I knew what that meant; a static electricity build up.  I also knew how to fix it.

While they watched I opened the case, took out the disc (by the edges!) and shook it vigorously.

"Do you know why I am doing this?"  Head shakes.

"I'm chasing off the evil spirits."  Nods.

The director of that library was Dr. Robert L. Goldberg.  He could be insanely frustrating but I learned more from him than any other boss.  For example, he told me approximately this:

"A good manager shares credit and hoards blame.  If the college president tells me he likes something in the library I always tell him who  did it, because it's important he doesn't think  this is a one-man operation.  But if he hates something and wants to know who is responsible, the only answer he gets is: me.  Because whoever did it, I am responsible."

And that was the first ten years of my career. Tune in on September 19th when we will cover the remaining thirty-one years.

In the mean time, please save your files as the computers turn off automatically.  Please bring material to the circulation desk to borrow.  Safe travels.