I loved the library in our town when I was little. There was a special, children’s library there, old and dark and quiet. It smelled like books. I remember walking through a huge, high-ceilinged entranceway just inside the front door. I remember raising my chin to see the high, dark-wood shelves. Maybe I’m remembering wrong, because I was only four and five and six. I remember a wide, marble staircase leading to more books.
What stole my heart, though, was being read to. It wasn’t the stories that I remember: it was the soft voice of the librarian, the silent children sitting cross-legged on the rug around me, the sense of suspense, especially at those moments when the librarian would turn the book around and show us the illustrations. What I liked best about that was the slow sweep of her hands, and the sound of her fingers on the clear plastic covers, there to protect the books.
For awhile when I was little I wanted to be a librarian. It’s not hard to see why. My brother Ian at that time in our lives, though, was not too keen on me, and used to tease me about this humble aspiration. It did not seem like a cool job to him; maybe he associated it with frumpy old ladies in orthopedic shoes. I don’t know. Anyway, maybe his teasing led me to writing instead. Writing, it turns out, is an even humbler aspiration, though you wouldn’t know it sometimes, when the egos come into play. Oh well.
Anyway, the point of all this is that yesterday when I was on the subway going uptown, I saw a young Chinese woman reading Catcher in the Rye. It was a paperback, beat up, with the old cover. She probably had bad eyesight, because she held the book about five inches from her nose. She was wearing blue rubber boots, and her fingernails were painted the same blue.
I thought about Holden Caufield and all the phonies I know. I looked around the subway in search of phonies, but there was only one—a guy dressed to the nines in white jeans and a black leather jacket, huge silver rings on his fingers, and silly buttons on his fanny pack. Everyone else sat quietly with their wet shoes and their modest knit caps and their cheap eyeglasses. New York has its phonies, but it also has its kind people.
Anyway, when I was sweeping the folks beside me, I noticed that the guy next to me was reading a story in a paper—I think one of those throwaways they hand out in the subway; the headline was “The Many Sexy Sides of Librarians.” That and the girl reading Salinger made me happy.