Photo by Jeanne RiceAl Milo is director of the Fullerton Public Library. Yes, he likes books, and yes, he talks softly. When we spoke to him over the phone about the connection between food and books, we assumed from his tone that he was sitting in the middle of the reference section.
"No, I'm in the administrative offices. This is just the way I talk."
The result of incessant shushing?
"No, I think it just goes with the personality of librarians. Most of us are not very loud . . . except for children's librarians, and I have a Bookmobile librarian who's very outgoing."
Quiet he may be, but Milo, who has been with the library since 1986, had more than a few things to say about cookies, earwigs, The Diary of Anne Frank, frozen turkeys, Martin Buber and pie.
What is it with Buber and pie, anyway?
OC Weekly:No eating in the library. Al Milo: Excuse me? No eating in the library?
Oh, no. Unfortunately, no, we don't allow it. Some libraries have started to open up coffee shops.
Kinda like Borders?
Yes, they believe it will attract people. They usually have them off to the side, separated from the library, but we haven't done that. We don't allow food or drinks.
Because of the mess?
Because it's bad for the books. Food attracts earwigs and silverfish, things that eat paper.
But say you're a hard-working librarian in the middle of an eight-hour shift, and you're hungry. Whaddaya going to do?
We go back to the snack room. We don't want to show it to people. We actually have a snack machine in there, though I try to avoid it. I'm trying to eat a little healthier. Sometimes, I'll go to a restaurant. I like Polly's Pies.
You're trying to eat healthy, and you're going to Polly's Pies?
I know. But it's very wholesome, and they actually have some very healthy dishes. I love the atmosphere: very friendly, and you can see the old Fullerton there. Their turkey chili is delicious and very healthy. Of course, the pies aren't, but I still order a slice every now and then.
Do a lot of people come into the library for cookbooks?
People do come in for them. Many times, they'll call the reference desk and ask for recipes. You know, they'll call for the recipe for chocolate chip cookies, things like that. Actually, given some of the things that people call for, it's one of the easiest things to look up.
Easier than checking Martin Buber source material?
Exactly. During the holiday season, we get a lot of calls for, you know, turkey and hams. I remember I got a call once asking how long a frozen turkey can be frozen before it turns bad. We had to call a turkey industry person—they have them, you know—and he gave us the information.
When I was working the reference desk (in the 1980s), I got a lot of calls for ethnic foods. Mexican food is now so mainstream, but back then, people called a lot because they didn't know how to make tamales or enchiladas.
Do you like Mexican food?
Oh, yes. I really like Anita's; it's a Southwestern restaurant in Fullerton. They have a sauce called New Mexican Red Chile Sauce, and it's just delicious. They put it over burritos. I go in for breakfast, and I get something called carne adovada with eggs with it. It's really good.
Well, I don't think so. Though the meat is pretty lean. Of course, the quantity of the meat makes up for that.
You have any favorite food literature?
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Well, I liked Like Water for Chocolate very much. And I remember a scene in The Diary of Anne Frank where a man is thrown out of the group because he's found to be taking more than his share of the food. I remember reading that when I was young and being very affected by it. I remember thinking, what I would have done?
You'd have been in trouble if the Franks were serving pie.
I probably would.
Polly's Tasty Food and Pies, 136 N. Raymond Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-7741; Anita's New Mexico Style Mexican Food, 600 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-0977.