ASSOCIATES (2006, March, v. 12, no. 3) - associates.ucr.edu
A Column Of Eclectic Rantings*
Katie Buller Kintner
Let me start out by saying this column is very hard to write this month. I have lost a friend. I never saw her, didn’t know what color her eyes were, what color her hair was, but she was a friend. The trouble was, I only knew her voice. She was a writer that I did research for, almost my only reason to enter a library for the last couple of years. But she lived in Brooklyn, New York and I lived in California, then Illinois, then Wisconsin all the time I worked for her.
Her name was Rose and she was a published author. I’m not going to tell you her last name, as she has no family to get permission from.
How we found each other is rather odd. I was at a local league basketball game in California. A friend of my husband’s was playing and her sister Bobbie was sitting near us. During a break between games, Bobbie and I were chatting and I mentioned that I was working at Los Angeles Pierce College Library. Her ears perked up and she told me that a friend of hers was looking for someone to do research for her. Was I interested? Well, I said, sure I was interested if it involved payment. She took down my phone number and that was that. I never expected to hear anything.
To my surprise some time later my phone rang and on the other end was one of the strangest voices I had ever heard. It was dry, reedy, and almost nonexistent except for a pronounced Brooklyn accent. “Is Kate theah?” (She would rarely call me Katie). After confirming that she was asking if Kate was THERE, we spoke and this was the start of a relationship that existed only over the telephone wires, yet lasted for almost seven years.
Rose was an eclectic writer. Along with a writing partner, she wrote under contract to publishing houses, writing mostly what we would recognize as children’s non-fiction. She wrote about famous people, places and things for elementary school level reading. This would be what we would mostly work on during our relationship, although Rose had also done some ghost-writing for television and was not above calling stars’ mothers to get information. I did most of the periodical researching and some book excerpts.
In the beginning, communication and work habits did not mix. Rose liked to call me at all hours asking me how I was doing, when would I be done, when could she expect it in the mail. I would respond almost like Scotty on Star Trek—it will be done when it’s done and I’m working as fast as I can, captain! But then I would turn into a construction contractor. What would it take me to research ten names? Two weeks. Twenty names? Two weeks. One name? Two weeks. Time was irrelevant—it would take what it would take but Rose felt more comfortable if she had a timeline. “When can I call you?” she would ask and I would always answer “Sunday night,” knowing this would give me the following weekend to work on it too.
Computers and Rose did not mix. She was suspicious of my researching on the Internet. “You can’t get everything off the internet” she would protest while I tried to explain to her what a database like Lexis Nexis or JSTOR was. Then she suddenly turned around and got very worried when I moved away from California and my connection to the Los Angeles Public Library. She was concerned that I was moving to the hinterlands of Urbana, Illinois and what could I use there for a library? The fact that the University of Illinois Library was one of the largest academic libraries in the country didn’t quite sink in. It was in Illinois so how good could it be? Fortunately, the UI Library’s habit of collecting everything on earth was an advantage for us when we were researching older articles and books. They had pretty much everything we needed, though I tripped over books stacked on the floor more times than I care to remember while doing it.
Then Rose suddenly decided to join the computer age and got a laptop. The phone calls changed in timbre—“Kate, how do I search for articles on the internet?” This is something that I would sit a student down at the computer and spend twenty minutes on just one or two search engines. How could I explain it to Rose, who thought America Online was the whole Internet and was sitting in her apartment 1500 miles away? Several times over the years, I suggested that she find the nearest twelve-year-old child to explain it to her, but then I would get the history of her apartment building.
Rose lived and worked in a rent-controlled apartment that she inherited from her parents. I don’t know how big her apartment was, but it must have been just large enough for a family. She never told me what her rent was, but did mention that it would shock me if I knew. The neighborhood changed over the years and went from being a mix of Jewish, Italian and Hispanic to being mostly Hasidic Jews and Rose.
Well, at least that’s what Rose said and that meant she couldn’t find a twelve-year-old boy to help her because Hasidic Jews didn’t use computers. They also had children that left unbelievable numbers of germs in the halls and on the stairs so Rose was always getting some strange mutated school-bred viruses. Also, since Rose was the only one home during the day, the super would turn down the heat. That didn’t help. Eventually she found a college student who helped her set up the computer and showed her how to use it. But it didn’t stop her from calling me every time she got a screen she didn’t understand or didn’t know how to close a “Window.”
Rose must have left Brooklyn at some time during her life, but never when I was working with her. She didn’t understand why we left Los Angeles, and then really couldn’t comprehend how we could live in an old farmhouse outside of a small town in Wisconsin. When I told her that there were cows grazing just across the road and the nearest neighbor was a guy living in a trashed out trailer, she was incredulous. The fact that I drove to the grocery store or to the beauty shop seemed impossible to her since she lived within easy walking distance of pretty much everything she needed. When she did need a ride, she had a friend who would come and drive her where she needed to go.
She was always working on ideas and complaining about publishers, who seemed to get younger by the minute. Wanting to break into adult non-fiction was tough for a children’s writer, even though she was fairly well known in that field. I did some initial research on the “Tonight Show” for a proposal she was putting together but that never seemed to sell. It seemed it was too ‘dry’ according to the publishers she contacted and she didn’t want to get an agent, as she preferred to do her own legwork. The “Tonight Show” book would have to wait.
Our latest project was researching all aspects we could think of for the abortion issue. It was a long tedious one that involved getting all sides of the issue, finding information about the various groups involved with it and getting it all printed out and organized for mailing. I now had to mail two copies of everything, one to Rose and one to her writing partner. It seems that when I first started working for Rose, I was a secret, as she didn’t want her partner to know she was using a research assistant. But then somehow word must have leaked out and her partner got wind of it. Contrary to what Rose thought, her partner wanted to use the material I found too. Until then, Rose had just copied everything I sent her and then sent it on to her partner. Hmmm…I guess it’s hard to keep a secret in Brooklyn.
Last week I was just finishing our latest project when I got an email from her writing partner. Rose didn’t do email much, but when I saw the subject was “Rose” I knew it was bad. I had been expecting a phone call from her that evening, wanting to know if the abortion research was ready to go. The phone call would never come.
Rose died that morning of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her writing partner had called her the previous morning, but instead of Rose’s dry voice, she heard only strange noises on the phone when it was picked up. Knowing something was terribly wrong, she called 911 and Rose was taken to the hospital but nothing could be done. She survived one day.
Rose would be buried quickly according to Jewish tradition, far too quickly for us to get to the funeral. I didn’t even know where to send a card. Then it occurred to me that perhaps Bobbie didn’t know, as Rose had never once mentioned Bobbie in all the years that I worked with her. Perhaps they were estranged as friends. When we finally reached her, Bobbie became distraught as she hadn’t known, but also surprised that it was I calling her. Rose had never once even mentioned that to Bobbie that she was working with me and as it turns out, Bobbie and Rose saw each other regularly.
So I guess in the end, Rose was Rose and had the last laugh on both of us. Wherever you are, Rose, I hope you are okay and the computers don’t have America Online on them. We never met face to face, but in you I still found a friend. God bless you and see you on the other side.