by Andy Henion
I am standing in New Releases judging books by their covers but unable to concentrate because the urban teens in the Study Section are discussing candy bars and venereal diseases while the toddlers climb over one another in the Children's Area. On the left thigh of my Dockers is a splotch of bleach that resembles Florida even though I am in the Midwest and it is March and it is twenty-eight degrees and snowing. I earn thirty-four thousand dollars per year as a communications coordinator for a labor union which is not a lot of money when you have a mortgage and a newborn son and a sedan with worn brakepads. That is why I am unable to purchase new pants. Also that is why I am in the public library instead of at the downtown bookstore purchasing a paperback for seven dollars and ninety-nine cents.
Of interest are crime novels in which the protagonist has moral flexibility and the ending is not over the top with buildings exploding and the antagonist getting eaten by alligators or run through a wood chipper. I read some literary fiction but you have to be careful about books with telephone poles and dusty fields on their covers because that material can make your feet hot and itchy. Occasionally I will run across an author of mysteries who writes with literary flare and this is a fine day indeed.
A Latino girl with substantial brown breasts largely revealed in a light blue tube top is darting her tongue in and out of her mouth and I find myself transfixed by the attached silver stud. She catches me staring and utters a derogatory term or an expletive in Spanish and now the whole group of urban teens is looking at me including two African-American males with headwraps and neck tattoos who very well could be in their twenties. I raise my eyebrows as if to say, I was not ogling her bosom, only observing the tongue earring, which clearly should not be an issue, otherwise why would she be wearing mouth jewelry let alone exhibiting it in such a public manner? To emphasize my point I give a purse of lip and a shake of head and depart New Releases for General Fiction but not without detecting the scrape of chair legs and the rustle of designer workout clothing. The thought of the urban teens coming to accost me or worse accelerates my heartbeat and causes me to lose focus and I end up in Fantasy and Science Fiction amid covers of dragons and glowing planets.
I have misjudged the African-American males as they are a good six inches shorter than I and skinny as rails. However they are not adverse to standing in my personal space and presenting serious looks while simultaneously cupping their genitals. I do my best to hold their stares for while I am a slightly overweight man of mostly Polish descent in his mid-thirties from a small tourist town dominated by birch trees and antique shops, I am still a man, a man with a standard quantity of pride despite the fact that I am desperately hoping for the intervention of a security guard. The African-American males dip their heads and make snorting sounds and one of them points at my pants and asks in a high voice, What is that, man, a penis? and now they are bent over with laughter and I feel a significant easing of the tension and I let out a breath and say, No, it is Florida, and this sends them into a frenzy and they slap and paw at each other as children are wont to do. Then they turn and make their way back to the Study Section while commenting loudly about what a crazy motherfucker I am. Such profanity in the Fantasy and Science Fiction area of the public library is rather unsettling to me but that may be due to the age gap and/or the cultural gap that exists between us.
I feel a bit iffy about heading back through the Study Section and besides I still have forty-one minutes left in my lunch hour and the last thing I want to do is return to the Organize Now! newsletter I have been working on for the past day and a half. I decide to take the back way to Periodicals on the second floor which means walking through the Children's Area and enduring the critical eye of an elderly librarian who has a knack of making one feel like a child molester. I have found that the best way to combat this scrutiny is to offer a warm smile and a nod that says, I appreciate the job you are doing with the children, ma'am, even though they appear to be more interested in roughhousing than reading which seems counterproductive but Lord Almighty I am a father myself and know how difficult it can be. Granted my son is only a month old but I believe certain liberties are warranted when dealing with the harsh glare of the elderly librarian.
I am out of breath when I reach the second floor and close my mouth to mask the panting but end up lightheaded from lack of oxygen and have to lean against a table upon which a homeless man is reading a magazine about European automobiles. He has one hand flat on the page and the other hand either in his pocket or down his trousers and I pause for a few beats to see if he is doing anything inappropriate. The homeless man remains still the whole time with his head hanging over the glossy pictures and I begin to wonder if maybe he is sleeping with his eyes open or perhaps deceased. I look around but the second floor is nearly vacant as usual and I decide that whether the homeless man is sleeping or masturbating or deceased it really is none of my business.
What I generally do up here on the second floor is collect a handful of literary magazines from the racks and sit at a table and skim through the fiction stories therein. The most compelling story this day is one about a man's girlfriend who steals a baby although I also find it interesting that two of the five stories are set in Florida on the same day that I am wearing the pants with the bleach stain that resembles Florida. How the stain got there I could not say unless the Dockers were run through with a load of whites and I think I would know if that happened because I typically do my own laundry. I am self-sufficient that way.
I look at my watch and see that it is four minutes to one which is not a concern because I work just two streets down from the public library and also because my workplace is flexible when it comes to the lunch hour. Some of the union officials take lunches of two hours or more and sometimes even spend the afternoons playing golf with Democratic legislators and/or lobbyists. So I do not feel rushed and even stop by the coffee shop at the entrance to the library and splurge on a small vanilla latte with soy for three dollars and twenty-nine cents. I drink soy because four years ago I developed an aversion to milk and if I drink it presently I am plagued with stomach cramps and diarrhea.
The snow has stopped although it is still cold and I sip my latte as I walk through a parking lot and try not to think of the Latino girl's breasts because as I have said I am a new father and I need to think and act responsibly. Three Caucasian male riders of motorcycle choppers wearing black leather clothing are standing at the side of a brick building talking and laughing in loud tones. In the four years I have worked at the labor union the brick building has been a rib joint, a delicatessen, a cigar shop, another rib joint and now I believe it is a hair salon. As I near the building I notice the bikers are shouting at one another and I am not sure if they are joking or not so I begin to swing wide of the group but one of the bikers breaks off and approaches me aggressively while holding something in his hand. I clench up and squeeze my cardboard cup so hard that hot coffee spills on my hand and I react by throwing the cup to the ground and cursing loudly. The biker stops and raises his eyes in surprise and I see that the object in his hand is a color photograph and not, in fact, a switchblade or an ice pick. The biker says, Whoa, big fella, did I scare you? and I wipe my fingers in the armpit of my yellow Stafford shirt and say, Yeah, I guess, even though this answer makes me feel like less of a man. The biker says, The least I can do is pay for your coffee, and despite my objections reaches in his jeans pocket and gives me a five dollar bill and tells me to keep the change. His colleagues join us and he hands me the photograph and says, Hey, I want you to settle something. Should I marry this girl or what? In the photograph an attractive young female is wearing a school uniform which consists of a short plaid skirt and tight-fitting white blouse, and I cannot help but think that she is the daughter of some hardworking sap like myself but nonetheless I say, Abso-fucking-lutely, and the three bikers break out in laughter and clap me on the back and comment on what a goofy goddamn bastard I am. Our language is crude but appropriate, I believe, for an urban parking lot inhabited strictly by adults.
I am six minutes late to the office I share with two other people although I am still the first one back from lunch. My preference at this point would be to read more fiction stories on the internet because if you have not guessed by now I would like to be a writer and I have been told that good writers read everything they can get their hands on. This is probably not a good idea, however, since one of the people I work with tends to make indirect comments about me slacking and he likely will return from lunch any minute so instead I sit and think about my eventful lunch hour while looking down at my pants which have been stained by coffee. One of the stains resembles Texas which means I have two southern states represented on my pants and I get to thinking about my stint in the army because one of the fellows in my unit was from Texas and he used to say he could see the shape of Texas in just about anything. One time the fellow, whose name was Perkins, was in the backseat of our car with another soldier and the two of them were strangely wide awake and jocular at three in the morning as we made our way back from a series of nightclubs. This kind of confused me and the fellow in the frontseat until we realized they had digested acid. They proceeded to tell us that they had not thought to offer us any acid because we were squares but they did, in fact, have some extra if were interested. We declined which made the ride back more difficult because we were extremely tired and I now I think I should have taken the acid, the same way I should have told the urban teens not to use profane language in the presence of small children, the same way I should have checked to see if the homeless man was deceased. While I am on the subject I believe I should go ahead and inform my boss that I am more interested in being a writer than a communications coordinator for a labor union so here is my resignation and now I will attempt to write a novel while perhaps penning free-lance pieces to generate income in the meantime. But that is silly because as I have said I have a mortgage and a newborn son, so instead I jiggle the mouse of my computer and call up the Organize Now! newsletter I have been working on for a day and a half. I decide to write my union articles with more depth and flare, although not too much depth and flare because my boss likes to keep the copy simple as to not confuse and/or rile the membership. What he says is, It is just a newsletter and who do you think you are, anyway, John Frigging Updike or something?
About the author:
Andy Henion refuses to limit his carb intake. His previous story, about a stoner who wins the Nobel Peace Prize, is at circlemagazine.com.