I stumbled upon another reason to appreciate my Mother last summer. As a child in the suburbs of Los Angeles, my enlightened “Mommy” would lead my younger brother and me on adventures. It was our own private version of summer school. The one that stayed with me the most was the large building downtown where my curiosity and valor would be rewarded by an informal introduction to what would become my favorite car, “The Black Tiger”. My vehicular addiction had formerly been satiated by Tonka® trucks and little Hot Wheels® toys, but that passion soon waned. In reality, they were run over by racing scenes vividly described in chapters of driving dreaminess that I stumbled upon in books at the local library. I read all of the books from the series, one book at a time-one week at a time, and therefore made the Black Tiger “my very own”. Initially entering the library I was intimidated by all of the tall aisles of books and practically emasculated by the Dewey Decimal system, which my Mother patiently tried to explain. Soon I knew to avoid certain aisles like the ones attempting to trap me into mathematics (510), astrology, (133.5) or reptiles (597.9). I kept through the labyrinth and steered my revving attention to the fast lane that led me to “The Black Tiger”.
After forty years, knowing that my epic series had now been long lost to the literary realm, I still found my way to a little local library in southeastern Tennessee. I am so glad that I did. I was so satisfied by my visits that I continued the adventure by visiting four more public libraries in and around greater Chattanooga. I was pleased that the air conditioning operated well in three of the new facilities and albeit, a bit too well in the fourth. Most all of the public libraries in my literary safari were neat, clean and well lit with generous windows. Almost each one was blessed with a great deal of activity from regular devotees who apparently were consumers of more than cool temperatures and free internet. I was grateful that not all of the libraries had installed a coffee shop. This simply was not done forty years ago before the world became “Starbucked”. I have nothing against carefully crafted caffeinated beverages. It’s just that the absence of the fragrance of arrabica beans and lattes brought me a bit more closely to the realm that I was attempting to recover from my distant childhood.
Two of the Libraries have become extensions of my own home. Why two? One must be disciplined even in the literary world where options abound. I found it important to share these indoor public parks even after I found that my usual spots were often inhabited by the regular round of fellow citizens. Who knew we all had the same taste in lighting, chair and table height? I have returned so often that the familiarity has fueled an entire dialogue of knowing looks and subtle signals. Let me explain. When a young child runs through our section, we all share the glance that is translated as “appalled”. When a cell phone blasts some obnoxious declaration from some popular rapper, we all sigh our special communal indicator – half-breath with a slight voicing. Not that I would like to publicize the fact, but we are even comfortable enough with one another to leave the laptops while we visit the restrooms. Newcomers to our region of this sacred public space are inevitably, yet silently reviewed according to orderliness, cell phone etiquette and the gentile management of sneezes, coughs and other bodily exhalations.
I cannot close without a note about the Librarians. The standard characterizations no longer apply. These guardians of the stacks no longer qualify as book accountants”. After overhearing their whispered conversations with other patrons, I find that these civil servants are personable, patient and knowledgable. That can be, in large part, due to the fact that the regulars in my quadrant of our little library stand (er, sit) ready to discharge any ruffians who would so deign to sneeze without “covering” properly in the crook of the arm, leave their table without stacking their unused reading materials or learn our coded glances. There are plenty of books about cars and library etiquette. – Kevin