Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gremlin Duty and Library Friends

February 7, 2013 – Gremlin Duty and Library Friends

My sister-in-law and I settle into a routine.

After the niece wakes and patters in to tell me “Hi” and then climbs up into my bed to play with everything on the nightstand or pull me out from under the covers fingers first to get her something to eat, read books, turn on the computer, or twirl around together like ballroom dancers I follow her around and do her bidding until roughly noon when my sister-in-law takes back over (after hopefully having uninterrupted time to paint, draw, pay bills, answer emails, read or do whatever it is she wants to do).
Once relieved, I pack my computer, earphones, snacks, water, and any relevant books and/or notebooks I might need and walk the handful of blocks to the library where I don’t have to fend off a Gremlin with oatmeal/hummus/chocolate/mud/juice hands from “helping” me write.

It’s a friendly library. The books whisper secrets to me as I pass through the children’s area, scoot by the nonfiction shelves, and head back into the fiction room to find a free spot at one of the four tables. The shuttered windows and stained glass let in enough light to lend a cozy warmth to the room no matter what temperature sifts down through the vents, and the dark wood doors offer an aged respectability. It’s a good place to work. Sometimes I have to share a table. Sometimes I get the space to myself. My second or third day I start to take notice of the regulars. The three guys who come to use the library computers to play video games or check their social networking sites, the baseball capped, dark mustachioed guy who charges his phone in between conversations, the library staff, the mid-thirties guy who brings a rolling basket full of mathematics texts along with his computer, the older man with white hair and gray frame glasses, the afterschool crowd.

It doesn’t take long; I become a regular too. When I arrive, the mathematics guy and I exchange nods. One day the older man makes the universal eye contact and hand motion for the gentlemen’s agreement between computer users in public places, between travelers in bus stops for the nearest (or most honest looking) stranger to watch one’s things. I nod my acquiescence and stay vigilant.

This is nothing unusual, I get asked a lot. Here in Small Town Texas it’s no different than on a train in Italy or a Greyhound bus station in Eugene, Oregon. I have an honest face, I guess. Also I’m honest.
When the older man comes back I give him the All Clear nod and put my full attention back into my work.

The next day he stops by my table long enough to tell me about how his laptop isn’t up to par and he’s going to have to use the library computers to get his taxes finished up. 

“Ah,” I say. “Good luck with that.”

“Are you studying?” he asks me.

“I’m working on a book,” I tell him.

“I thought so,” he says. “I saw the Chapter One at the top of your screen. What’s it about?”

Since I’m not really exactly sure at this point, since what I thought the book was about hasn’t even come up yet, I tell him, “The Kennedy assassination.” And it might be true.

“I’m 54,” he tells me (and I hold in my surprise. I find it interesting how someone can be a young 54 or an old 54. A young 34 or an old 34. I wonder what I am.), “I was just an adolescent during the ‘60s. But what do they say? ‘If you remember the ‘60s you weren’t there.”

I raise my eyebrows and shift my head. It’s an agreement. I’ve heard that before.

“How was work?” Marie asks me when I get home that evening.

“Good,” I say. “I already have a library boyfriend.”

“Didn’t I tell you to watch out for the freaks and perverts?” she asks.

“I know,” I say, and we put dinner together and settle down for the night.

The next day I get my favorite table nearest the stain glassed window where I can put my back and computer screen to the proverbial wall. I can watch all that happens and work at the same time. My buddy arrives a little later and goes to the library computers where he gets to work. I breathe a sigh of relief, I won’t have to talk. I won’t get interrupted from my book. That’s the drawback to public spots and an honest face.

When he’s finished he stops by my table and I prepare myself for human interaction.

“I was thinking about your book,” he tells me. “I wrote a… it’s not a poem, it’s more of a sentiment.” He stands a little straighter to recite and then says, “You can’t memorize it.”

“I won’t,” I say, wishing that I did have the brain capacity to recall words on a once heard basis.

He recites the sentiment and it’s nice. It’s about change and life and taking roads that come and not regretting.

“That’s really nice,” I tell him.

“I’ve thought about sending it to Reba McEntire. It’s like that song she has.” I nod like I know the exact one. “It’d fit right in.”

“You should do that,” I say.

He agrees and stands reflecting a moment before he says, “I forgot to ask you if your book is fiction or nonfiction.”

“It’s fiction,” I tell him.

“Is it your first book?”

“It’s actually my third,” I tell him. Then explain that the first one was writing practice and the second one is collecting a nice assortment of rejections. 

“I remember the Kennedy assassination and Watergate and the riots.” He says it in a way to offer the information to me as a tool. “You come here to do your research?” He looks at the library books I’ve collected and have stacked and scattered over the tabletop. None of them have anything to do with my project, but I don’t mention this.

“I come here for the quiet. There’s a little one at home that likes to interrupt.”

He nods. “The thing I like about Grisham and Gene Roddenberry is they do research and then they become experts on what they write about. Are all your books about the same thing?”

“No,” I shake my head. “They’re different.”

“I bet you become an expert on things too.”

I turn up a hand and think about the little pockets of expertise I’d garnered, written about, and forgotten. The conversation winds down and he takes his leave.

Morning after morning, the Gremlin and I do the dishes—this means I try to do the dishes while she has a ripping time pouring water from cup to cup or to the floor and clanging silverware against the pots. We read books—which means she points at objects and I tell her what they are, or we take turns making the correct animal sounds to the pictures. We run around outside shouting “Ohnoohnoohno,” for fun pretending to be chased by something dire, stopping to wrap our arms around each other in mock fear—which only serves to prove she has more energy than I do. We push the beaded frog and gnome down the slide and laugh diabolically with a “Waa ha ha!”

Then I head off to work.

I like the schedule. I like the structure and the fact that my mind seems to recognize that being in the library means working. I don’t even mind my new friend who sits down across from me at the table and plugs his computer in.

“My name is Dave by the way,” he tells me and we shake hands over the table.

“Amanda,” I say.

An hour or so later he packs up. “I’ll give you my number and maybe we could go get a coke sometime,” he says. I shrug. But I’m grinning wryly on the inside. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked out for a coke. At least not since I was a kid and used to save up all my dimes to go with my friends to get a burger and fries or a coke from the old style hamburger joint that even had a jukebox where we’d always play the Beach Boy’s Kokomo or Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy. I’m brought back from my reminiscing to remember what Dave had told me that other day: “If someone isn’t a woman or a mechanic I don’t need to know them.” and think I’m probably heading into the same kind of trouble I always berate myself for. I don’t even drink soda.

Today he sits at my table. “I missed you yesterday,” he says, noting my absence not quoting a sentiment.

“I got some work,” I tell him.

“Good for you,” he says. “That’s great! I’m glad you got something. How’s the book coming?”

“It’s coming along,” I tell him. “Little by little.”

He gets his computer out, plugged in, and turned on. “I’ll get this done and leave you to work,” he says, falling into silence. I put my music back on and wonder if writing about someone while they’re sitting across from you is the same as talking behind someone’s back. I don’t have time for an ethical study, I’m busy working and I keep on with it.

Not long later, Dave packs up to go. “What chapter are you on?”

“Chapter four,” I say.

“Well, keep on the course. After this one gets taken up then they’ll want your other two books too, won’t they?”

“That’s the hope,” I say.

He tells me about his persimmon and peach trees, about a potential job coming up for him, about the murky film coating a wall in his house from his smoking, about the impact of JFK’s assassination on him even at the young age of five, about life’s hard times.

“I’m just glad to be here,” he says, meaning on this earth, alive, still alive.

I smile. He stands, takes up his bag, and turns as if to go. He pauses—the pause an unspoken “Do you mind me asking?”—before he asks, “How old are you?”

“Thirty-four,” I say.

“Thirty-four. Never been married? No kids?”

I shake my head to both. There it is, all the questions. Those universal questions. Name, age, status. At least he stretched them out over a series of meetings.  

“I’ve never been married. No kids either. I messed up with some good women.” I watch him recall the regret for a moment then he’s back here in the fiction room of the library. I don’t know if he’s listing these things as a preamble to a try at courting, or if he’s just divulging information. I hope he’s just divulging information. “Life happens. Shit happens. But you stay the course.”

“Take it easy,” I tell him. “See you around.”

“I may not come back. I got all my taxes finished up today. I just have to wait about three weeks for the check. But you’ve got my number.”

I nod. I do have it. I don’t know if I’ll call him or not. I don’t know if my book will have anything really to do with Kennedy. But I do know I enjoy writing and appreciate having a place to settle in and work.


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  2. What a charming library. It seems it would be too distracting to try to write there with all the books whispering their secrets.......I love that you are still having adventures!