Winter 2012, #18


In the Library

     by John Delfino

There’s something about being in a library, or a bookstore, or really any place with a lot of books that makes a man really need to take a shit. I bet it has something to do with how men always feel the need to read while sitting on the can, a byproduct of some genetic deficiency that makes a man’s trip to the toilet lengthier than the average woman’s. As any man-or his wife-will tell you, the longer he takes on the toilet the more reading material he needs. When I discovered Pavlovian Conditioning on Wikipedia not long ago, I finally understood why it works this way. It’s conditioning that makes men have to poop when they’re around a lot of books. Just one book or magazine at a time isn’t going to bring the meerkats out of their holes or ready the torpedoes in their chutes, but being in the presence of hundreds or thousands...

After working in a library for something like thirty-five years I’ve become mostly immune, but I know it’s still a problem for everyone else. Lines form, sometimes, especially when finals roll around and all the college students populate the place, reeking of sweat and coffee and prescription meds they’re not supposed to take. It’s interesting to me that there are only three places you’ll ever see a line for the men’s room: at an entertainment event, like concert, movie theater, or sports game; in a restaurant with one of those uncomfortably small, one-person restrooms; and in a college library around finals.

That’s when a man is at his weakest: sitting on the can with his pants down.

That’s when I strike.

“Do I know you?” she asked, as I spun the book she’d handed me deftly into my left hand and under the scanner, a gunslinger.

“Well, you’ve been in here before, right?” I asked back, not curtly.

She seemed a tad incredulous. “I go to school here.”

“Then you’ve seen me before,” I said, smiling and handing the book back to her. I noticed how preoccupied she was with the way my shirt was unbuttoned just enough to expose the forest of hair on my chest. College girls, they all want the same thing: a real man, an adult, like me. Her red hair formed a barricade seemingly impenetrable around her head, opposing a pair of giant thick-rimmed geek glasses that reminded me of British high fashion-which, according to Wikipedia, favors looking like you don’t have any money to show everyone how much money you have.

“I thought so,” she said, her grey eyes coming back to mine; then, after I’d handed the book back to her and given her a wry smile, she took a step back and clutched the book to her chest.

“See you,” I almost whispered.

I tried to sneak a peek at her behind as she walked away but her backpack covered it up. Instead I checked if Wikipedia had an article on hopeless romantics.

Here’s how it works.

A guy comes in. He must be a guy. I can’t go into the girl’s room, can I?

If he only needs a book he’s gone within ten minutes.

If he’s going to study, he picks a desk and he sits.

I watch him work. Not the whole time, obviously-I have things to do, and I tend to get distracted by the ‘random article’ button on Wikipedia-but I check up on him from time to time.

The typical guy visits the john after a span of forty-five minutes to an hour and a half.

Sometimes I’m lucky and he just leaves his stuff out-then I don’t even have to follow him in.

Usually, though, he packs up his laptop and e-reader and textbooks and iPhone right into his backpack and carries it in with him.

He goes into the bathroom.

He goes into a stall.

He closes the door.

He looks at the can.

He thinks, “I can’t sit down and shit with this bulky backpack on,” and he drops it on the floor.

He goes about his business.

The key to the whole process is where the he puts the bag. If it’s too close to him, it’s a no-go-or god forbid if it’s behind the can, that’s the end of it right there. There used to be hooks on the back of the doors, but I came in one night and took them all off. Nobody has ever asked for them back.

I enter the bathroom. If there are bystanders around I come up with some business by the air driers until they’re gone. If there’s a stream of people going in out of the bathroom then I take it as a sign and leave it alone. There’s always a next time.

Once the place has emptied out enough I make my move.

Three smooth strides, grab the bag from under the door, and I’m out of there before the guy even has his pants back on.

Every single time, without fail, he comes stumbling out the doors with his pants either around his ankles or held up by with one hand. Sometimes he falls over, sometimes he runs after me, but by the time that bathroom door swings open I’ve disappeared into the forest of shelves like a freedom fighter dissolving into the jungle.

No one knows this place like I do.

Three days later she came to me again. She still wore those absurd glasses, but her hair was hidden under some kind of hand-knit beanie thing an unsettling shade of green that clashed so much with her hair my eyes nearly shriveled into nothing.

She stood in front of me, mouthing a pen with disgusting diligence. My legs crossed somewhat instinctively. I pretended not to see her as I read intently the Wikipedia entry on Futaro Yamada, pen name of Japanese author Yamada Seiya. It was a few moments before she stopped eyeing me and rang the little bell sitting on the counter between us.

“Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there. How may I help you?”

We both knew exactly how I could help her-the counter was just the right height.

“I need this book, please,” she breathed, passing me a slip of paper in a shade of purple that almost made me ashamed of her. “Can you show me where it is?”

I shouldn’t have been surprised considering my painful good looks-it’s a curse, really-but I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at the proposition before me.

“I believe I have it in the back room. If you wouldn’t mind following me, I’ll gladly show you the whole collection.”

I guided her around the counter, pocketing the slip of paper.

Approximately twelve minutes and thirty-seven seconds later we returned to the counter. I doubt anyone noticed the way her hair was askew, or how my shirt was unbuttoned more than usual.

Did you know there were three, exactly three, Barons of Bingley in English history? Or that the town of Pine Creek, Illinois, had a population of only 719 as of the 2000 census? Or that Nannophrys naeyakai is a species of frog from Sri Lanka, distinguishable from the other Nannophrys species only by tubercles, symphysials, and palmars?

Do you even know what those are?

I do.

Because I read Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is the greatest invention in the history of man-and Why Yes I am Qualified to Make that Statement, thank you. I’m a librarian.
Think of it this way: It’s an encyclopedia, but instead of some man sitting in a high chair with his scepter pointing to what he thinks something is or what a word means, Wikipedia is made by us, by We The People. It’s defined by culture and by movements. People make Wikipedia pages for their friends, for their garage band. They edit tiny bits of articles about well-known people or places or ideas just to throw a wrench in the academic system. It’s a keyhole through which we can see everything on this planet in minute detail, but the keyhole changes shape depending on what key you use. It doesn’t matter what something really means. It only matters what people think it means.

I’ve never actually contributed. I don’t quite think I’m qualified.

I saw her three more times that week, each time ending in a progressively better mutual orgasm. It wasn’t the greatest sex of my life, but she was young and intensely different, and I felt young inside her. Sure, her skin was so pale I occasionally had to cover my eyes; and yes, you’d be right if you guessed that when I squeezed too tightly on her thighs she turned a shade of purple Wikipedia identified as Fuchsia (which, incidentally, is the same as Magentia. Imagine that?). The only thing that mattered was that I finally had an answer to one of the few questions I could never answer on Wikipedia: the carpet did, in fact, match the drapes.

Occasionally I get slapped for times when my immature mind lets a phrase such as that slide through the façade of intelligence that I maintain as a librarian. She doesn’t slap me, though. She enjoys it, thinks I’m cute and clever and witty.

I can’t help but wonder why it took me so long to start fucking a college kid.

Sometimes they come and ask me if I saw anyone run by with their bag. They clearly aren’t very smart-someone would only need to walk out nonchalantly, clutching the stolen bag as though it were their own, in order to get by my desk and out the door. It would be infantile to sprint out the door with a backpack like some bank robber.
I don’t call their attention to these details. I don’t want to implicate myself.

As I sit and play footsie with my newest backpack, typically full of a laptop and textbooks and so on, all anxiously awaiting their future eBay auctions, I smile sympathetically and say, “No, I’m sorry-I haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary.” They walk away, dejected and angered, almost always pulling out their cell phone to dial up Mummy and Daddy to ask for a new one.

They irk me, these little bastards. They treat their top-of-the-line computers and cell phones like trinkets, leaving them sitting out with the blind faith that everything would simply be fine, always be safe. It’s their damn entitlement, you see-how everything is theirs, the whole damn world, and we’re just passengers on the road to their great and wondrous futures. Do they have to put themselves through school? I don’t see any of them leaving the library at ten to get to their night job that lasts until seven the next morning and then sleeping two hours before nine o’clock class. Not to mention the way they treat me and my staff. Just because we’re librarians doesn’t mean we’re not people. No, I will not show you exactly how to find the goddamn article on that bullshit psychology experiment that they did thirty years ago so you can get an A on your paper so you can sleep through the rest of Psych 101 and graduate with a useless degree and live on Daddy’s dime for the rest of your goddamn life. And don’t even get me started on communications majors. “I study talking.” Jesus, education is going to the dogs today.

Do I need their equipment? No. Do I need the money? No. Do I need the satisfaction? Yes, heaping piles of it. Keep it coming.
This little revenge of mine has always confused the line between theft and burglary in my mind. In both cases, one person takes the possession of another’s goods, so there’s clearly no difference there. My best guess without checking Wikipedia is that it’s about whether they know you’re stealing from them or not. I prob­ably could just look it up, but I enjoy thinking philosophically about this. I mean, think about it: they know they’re being stolen from, but they don’t know by whom. Which is that?

I hope it’s thieving. “Burglar” has such negative connotations.

I’m going to check. As soon as I get to work.

I started going up to her dorm. It was within walking distance, so I didn’t even have to move the car.

“How old are you?” she asked me. She liked to lie in weird positions after sex. This time her feet rested on my stomach and her head hung off the bed. Her feet rose and fell as I breathed.

She said that hanging upside down after sex made her smarter. I didn’t mind-it provided quite the view.

One hand stroking her shin, the other running through my quickly balding head I lied. “Thirty-five.”

With some effort she sat up and looked at me, eventually propping up her head in her hands.

“It’s so cool to be with an older man.”

I smiled, running a finger down the side of her face.

“You’re welcome.”

Computers get out-of-date so quickly today I can barely keep up. I always want the best machine, and there are enough kids coming through the university’s library that so long as I space things out wisely no one ever quite realizes what’s going on. I can control my impulses, I’ve found-one theft every couple months isn’t going to set off the university’s alarms. Those times temptation strikes and I need to stretch the muscles I just leave the bag somewhere for them to find. Every once in a while, though, I can’t help but pick a bag off a particularly rich looking kid, whose arrogant, spoiled aura make him a glowing target. It’s a fine line: hit too many in too short a time and suddenly the students begin to realize something is going on. They get more careful, keeping their bags behind the bowls. Wait too long between hits and I get cold, running up the risk of error.

The thing is, they’re college students-most of them forget to hide their stuff after a while because they don’t really care that much, and those that don’t forget graduate and are replaced. It helps that the university just assumes kids are assholes and steal from each other. They’d never suspect little old me, the kindly librarian, not quite old but getting on in age.

I could imagine someone looking in on my life and having a lot of questions. What about security cameras? Don’t people notice that you have a different bag each month? And what about the ethics? Are you happy with your life?

The honest answer, I’d have to say, would be yes.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” I asked.

She took a sip of that weird chai drink she always drinks and smiled.

“Art galleries.”

I took a moment to make sure I wasn’t missing anything in that statement, and when I came to the conclusion I hadn’t, I said, “You know that answer doesn’t make any sense.”

She looked as confused as I felt. “Sure it makes sense. At this time of day in five years I’ll likely be perusing art galleries in Shoreditch.”

“So you see yourself as being an artist.”

“Well, yeah.”

“And you didn’t say that... why?”

“Because you asked where I saw myself.”

“So you answered with a physical location?“

She looked at me innocently. “Yes.”

“You are the most interesting person I know,” I cooed, taking a sip of the chai thing she’d gotten for me. It was disgusting, even though there was chocolate in it. I made her get mine with chocolate. The barista wasn’t happy about it. He didn’t think chocolate and chai went together. He also thought it was weird a kid her age was buying chai shit for an old(er) man. I didn’t care. He was pretentious.

I made a mental note to Wikipedia chai.

“What about you?”

I was a little caught off-guard by this question, I’ll admit-although I soon remembered how old she thought I was and it made sense.

“Probably working in a library.”

I held my breath as I waited to hear the response every woman would give in this situation: Don’t you want something more out of life than working in a library?

“That sounds nice,” she said, taking another sip.

As usual, she surprised me when I told her. She didn’t seem disgusted, or angry, or even turned on-she was simply curious.

“What about security cameras?”

“Part of my job is checking the tapes. It’s easy-I just don’t turn myself in.”

“They don’t have anyone else check them?”

“They’re not worried about people stealing library books. And they don’t have cameras in the bathroom. You’d think they’d have learned.”

She folded her hands in her lap and smiled in the corner of her mouth a little as she always did when deep in thought.

" And people don’t notice that you carry a different bag out on the days you take one?”

“No, I always empty the contents into my bag and throw the one I took into the trash compactor.”

“Are you happy with your life?” she asked me, and I couldn’t help but smile.

“You’re perfect, you know that?”

She smiled in her small little way and held out her hand.


I took hers.

“Thank you. And yes. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

After a brief moment she removed her hand, and looking at me with mingled sheepishness and pride admitted, “I’m sorry, this was just getting a little sappy for me.”

I always figured I’d be caught. You can’t keep up a hobby like the one I do and not assume that sooner or later someone will figure it out.
I did my thing. I followed him into the bathroom. I slid the bag out from under the door. But I made my fatal mistake: I forgot to check to see the pants were down.

As soon as I pulled, the door swung open and there was a guy standing there, looking intimidating, his pants pulled all the way up.

“I thought you’d try it again,” he said rather menacingly, and I had no choice but to follow the impulse of my body and ran.

He was young, I was old, and eventually he chased me down. My lawyer recommended I confess to a couple of thefts and do the time. I’m not sure this was the wisest path, but there is no section on legal policies in Wikipedia. I had resigned myself to a lonely couple of years in prison when she defied all my expectations and showed up.

“You look lonely in there,” she said. She hadn’t dressed up for the occasion, and was wearing one of those mind-blowingly idiotic romper things, and her hair stood in a ponytail at the top of her head. She looked like everything I loved about her.

“I’ll survive,” I said, feigning strength.

“I brought you a present. I showed the guard my breasts and he’s going to let you keep it. It’ll be on your bed when you go back to your cell.”

When she spoke again, her voice sounded distant through the telephone, and although I could see her face I still felt lonely.

“I’ll miss you while you’re in there.”

“I’ll miss you too, kiddo.”

“I’m twenty years old. That’s demeaning.”

And then she left, leaving a kiss behind on the glass in red lipstick.

Inside the box was a wireless 3G WikiReader. I turned it over in my hands, feeling the weight of the thing, admiring the craftsmanship, marveling at how something so abstract and powerful as Wikipedia could be packaged into this tiny handheld item.

That couldn’t have been contraband. She must have just met a particularly entrepreneuring security guard with a penchant for breasts. Smart man.

There was no random button, and so while I debated where I should begin my browsing I searched her name.

There was a picture of her.

And on the bottom of the page, a section right above references called “Messages written to people behind bars.” Beneath, only the word “Hey.”

What a clever girl.

Smiling to myself, I bookmarked the page and began reading at the letter ‘L,’ because that’s the letter that letter starts with.