I’ve always read a lot. mostly at thrift stores, but when I could afford them I would indulge myself with new ones at bookstores and later over the Internet from Amazon and elsewhere. My days of relative affluence had coincided happily with having my own transportation. Then something happened: I got old. Things, actually. I became less and less able to earn money over and above my bare Social Security income. My faithful Chevy van, which I had driven for 17 years died and I became for the first time in my life dependent on public transportation. Because of my walking disability I was unable to take buses, the light rail or the subway, because of the long walks between stops. So I became restricted to booking rides the day before to take my necessary round trip outings. I was also able to borrow my sister’s car once or twice a month for consolidated distant shopping.
Luckily Baltimore has a library system second to none, the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Here you can check out a maximum of thirty books for three weeks, and you are allowed to renew three times; you can do this over the Internet. This meant that I could carefully compile my next reading list in the time it took me to read my thirty over a twelve week period. I was not a total slave to my list. While the librarian was gathering my books from the stacks I would pay close attention to the recent fiction section counting on serendipity for some surprises. It livens up the gene pool. I would bring with me two or three heavy cloth shopping bags in which to carry my load, and load it was. If most of the books were hard covers, they could easily weigh 50 pounds or more. Since I hobble with a cane, that’s a struggle.
I usually plan to spend two hours there doing my business. Since the ride home is also booked the day before, that wait is usually longer. The mini bus is almost always late; occasionally I’ve had to wait two hours for it to arrive. Thankfully, there’s an Internet Café at the entrance, with wifi for laptop users and a coffee machine. I don’t have a laptop, so I just get coffee and read. Getting out of the library is cumbersome. The books I’ve packed in my bags in the fiction department I have to unpack, then repack at the checkout counter. Then, before going out the front door, I have to repeat that procedure at the kiosk for the guard to check and pass the books through for me to repack again. I can’t get them checked through here and then go back in with them, or I have to go through all this procedure again on my final way out. I can’t check them through and leave them on the other side of the kiosk or I’d run the risk of them being stolen. And the guard, a policeman actually, won’t be bothered to watch them for me. So my timing has to be right, or lucky, if I want to spend enough, but not too much, time in the coffee shop before going outside. In the winter this matters. It makes me nervous.
On this day I was toting almost all hard covers, which filled four shopping bags. I set them down under the first table by the door to the coffee shop. Then I went to the Seattle’s Best machine, put in a dollar bill and got a cup of coffee. I showed a newbie how to use the machine, chatted with him briefly and returned to my table. This was a little after 3 pm; my ride wasn’t due until 4 at the earliest. I opened a book, Elmore Leonard’s best writing tips or something like that. It was a quick scan; I finished it. It was 3:30 and I had finished my coffee. I opened another book, The Bird Artist, and began leafing through it, my empty paper cup in front of me. At this time a security guard, a Baltimore City policeman, came in and strolled the length of the shop. I got up, walked to the machine and threw my cup in the trash. When I got back to the table, the cop was waiting for me.
“You’ll have to leave, sir”, he said. “The Café is for people with coffee or a laptop only.” It was about half full; there were 12, maybe 15 people in there.
“I just finished my coffee.”
“Then you’ll have to leave.”
I got up, walked to the trash can, retrieved a coffee cup and brought it back to the table with me. “There, that’s my coffee cup.”
“That isn’t your cup.”
“Please, sir. Leave the Café.”
I walked to the trash can again and dropped the cup in. My thought was that if I had left it on the table he could have me for littering.
“Can you see that I’m handicapped?” My bags of books were conspicuous and my cane was lying on top of the table.
“Sir, “he said militantly. He didn’t touch me and I kept my hands off my cane.
I was coffeed out and wasn’t sure buying another cup would have done any good. We were locked in a pissing contest and he had the upper hand in more ways than one. But I have a temper with a mind of its own.
In a loud voice I called back to the man I had chatted with. “Nurse your coffee. This asshole is kicking me out.” There came a silence over the room; everyone looked up.
“Did you call me an asshole?”
“You don’t have any witnesses.”
“Nobody calls me an asshole.”
“Leave now!” He was trying not to raise his voice- too much, and barely succeeding.
“What are you going to do, shoot me?”
“Now!” He was starting to lose it. Not only did we now have the attention of all in the Café, but were attracting some attention from afield. He had blood in his eye, you could see it, even while he was strutting his cool. He clearly wasn’t used to opposition in a library.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
He showed me his badge. I copied it down as slowly as I dared. My hands were shaking and I didn’t want it to show. I hoped I was at least giving the appearance of appearing calm and rational.
I wondered whether, if I had faked tripping and fallen to the floor, it would have done me any good. He would probably called 911 and caused me more of a problem. Or worse yet, the paddy wagon. I was really glad I was in public and not alone with him. I was about to ask him why he didn’t arrest me, but thought better of it. He just might have. I got my cane and leaned into it then reached down and staggered with the weight of the bags. It was awkward enough, but I wanted to make it look as poor me as possible. Poor me, the hero.
As I unpacked and passed my books through the kiosk I asked that guard if there was a supervisor in the library. I was told that there usually was, but not on Saturday. He had seen some of what had been going on inside and offered that that cop had had a few complaints against him before. No surprise here.
Bad cop came out. I said, “I’ll see you again.” I don’t know why I said it.
“No, you won’t.” He didn’t know why he said it.
I waited just inside the drafty main doors for half an hour, then outside on the sidewalk for another half an hour until my ride came. It was cold. No one offered to help me aboard with my books. Getting old is hard work, but if I had been younger I would probably have gotten arrested.
Post Script: As a sculptor my only bronze plaque is here, downstairs in the children’s library. I designed and installed a copper grapevine as its entrance. And inside the domed 25 foot high glass ceiling in the day room I donated a permanent piece in which as a book opens, its pages enlarge, becoming an expanding sequence of origami cranes suspended from a spiral track of one rotation. The smallest is about four inches long, the largest appearing about to fly free from the room is 18” long. The title; Book a Flight. I didn’t mention this to Officer Asshole.
®Copyright 2014 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.