April 28, 2008

The Culture Shock of Culture

I read. A lot. Mostly I read newspapers, essays, journals and other non-fiction items. Of course, a lot of it is online, but you have to admit, the selection online is rather good.

I generally don't have the time to sit down with a book... When I travel, I generally make a stop at the bookstore, and pick something up, and tear into it on my flight, often finishing the book before I arrive at my destination. But when I am around the house, I can't really make the time commitment to a book, when it is so much easier to read a news magazine or newspaper online.

Since I am not that close to books, libraries are not someplace that I am often found. For some reason, I've often felt a little uneasy at the library. I am not library people.

I used to work at a library. In fact, you might actually say that I lived in a library in college - I was the computer operator on for the statewide computer system that handled the bibliographic database for all of the libraries in the state. One semester I had a bit of a run-in with some roommates, and ended up sleeping in my office for a few months. But even though I worked in a library (and slept in a library), I never really became a library person.

The last time I went to the library, I was out of town, on a fishing trip, and I needed to log into the wi-fi there to get some work done. So it wasn't my local library, but it didn't matter. In this respect, all libraries are the same.

They give me the heebie-jeebies.

I wasn't all that sure I knew why they creep me out, but I think I am getting a better idea. For one, a lot of library science people are kinda weird. Politically/philosophically, they're probably pretty close to me... but a lot of them seem to be the alfalfa-sprout-and-chamomile-tea-types. Don't get me wrong... I like my salads, and I like my tea, but, you know, there's a limit.

Libraries are wholesome, in an "It Takes A Village" sort of way. I am not wholesome. I don't really know all that many wholesome people. Heck, I am a bit of a pervert. Not in the creepy way, but, you know... not exactly mainstream.

And therein lies the rub: who wants to see a pervert at the library?

I had to go to the library today, to buy a bus pass for one of the kids. I had to stand in line at the circulation desk. There were moms pushing strollers and carrying Dr. Seuss books. There were kids carrying backpacks, bursting with their third grade spelling tests and social studies projects. There were women in their golden years doing their weekly volunteer work.

There's not a chance in hell that I've ever met any one of them - and for good reason!

It's not that there aren't people of all types at the library... I know firsthand that there are some, lets say, colorful people that frequent the library. When I worked at the university library, my boss was a frequent patron of the local strip clubs. And in my late-night wanderings around the library after a glass of water or two, I discovered that more than one of the men's rooms had glory holes. You gotta admit, it would be a little unsettling to use the stalls. Anyway, as it turns out, library people are not as pure as the driven snow. But nonetheless, there's a certain institutional aura that libraries have... that it is OK to let your kids run free in the library (as long as they're quiet and considerate)... But I know some of the secrets of the library, and they're not what they appear.

So as I stood in line at the circulation desk, I imagined that every eye was on me. There was a woman across the way, and I imagined that she was thinking she'd better keep her daughter a safe distance away. I imagined that people were sizing me up... wondering if I was one of 'them', because, as I know from experience, 'they' hang out at libraries.

I got the bus pass. I hurried back into the sunshine, and got in the car, and drove into the evening traffic, and back to the America that I know and love.

The America of the garden-variety pervert.

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