Deborah Duke LibrarianSometimes Deborah Duke wonders if...


Deborah Duke Librarian

Sometimes Deborah Duke wonders if she's wearing a sign that says "Ask me."

She'll be walking through a grocery store, minding her own business, when another customer will approach and out of the blue say something like, "Where are the grits?"

Funny thing about it, though, she'll often know. Or, within seconds, she'll find out.

It's second nature when you're a librarian, says Ms. Duke, supervisor of the Enoch Pratt Library's new night owl telephone reference service.

Since late November, Marylanders have been able to call (800) 325-NITE for directions to the Rotunda, the recipe for snow ice cream and help with homework.

On any given night, she and her four-person staff will field roughly 25 calls, leafing through 1,000 reference books as they ,, try to answer everything from "How tall is Saddam Hussein?" ("Just under 6 feet") to "What is cilantro?" ("A parsley-like herb").

"There's no telling what's going to come in next," says Ms. Duke, 37, who lives in Towson. The service runs from 9 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. Mondays to Wednesdays and 5 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays.

While many people assume her new job has turned her into a whiz at Trivial Pursuit, she says the opposite is true. "It's amazing the things I don't remember," she says. He knows what you're thinking.

Balloon artist? Yeah, su-ure. Rembrandt with a helium tank, right? Snort, chortle.

"It's a no-respect kind of thing," confesses Bill Reeder, who makes his living turning balloons into art. "You get people who think you're crazy and say you ought to be wearing a cone-shaped hat."

Laugh all you want, because while most of America is tucked behind a desk from 9 to 5, Mr. Reeder is in his Glen Arm studio/home attaching balloon after balloon to an aluminum frame with paper clips, creating everything from palm trees and time tunnels to sea serpents that spit confetti.

He counts IBM, McCormick & Co. and HBO among those who have decorated various parties and fund-raisers with his sculptures, which cost between $400 and $2,000.

"Often, meetings are cookie-cutter," says Mr. Reeder, 30. "People who organize the events feel pressure to come up with something new. That's where I come in."

Because of environmental concerns, however, he's reluctant to do balloon releases.

He learned the business through a friend in Hawaii and decided to give up his job as an accountant two years ago to pursue a full-time career as a balloon artist. So far, he's had no regrets.

"It's one of the few jobs where you can talk shop with an 8-year-old," he says.

Have someone to suggest? Write Mary Corey, Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or call (301) 332-6156.

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