I went to the library today. My son, David, works there. I went there to deliver a Christmas card to him. No need to go back and reread the sentence. It was today. It was a Christmas card. There’s a story there. I’ll tell it to you if you like. That was not the intent of this blog, though—telling the story, I mean—but life is complex. That’s why I don’t often write in simple sentences. To meet life’s complexities head-on, and write about them, I often write in compound sentences, sometimes complex sentences.
But the story … okay:
Last Christmas we gifted many of our loved ones cash or gift cards. David was one. We bought him a fifty-dollar movie gift card. He loves movies and since they were going through a financial rough patch, this gave him an opportunity to go to a movie without feeling like he was taking food off the family table.
Not too long ago, my wife and I heard on the grapevine (actually, the grapevine was my other son, Joe, who also loves movies), that the brothers went to the Marketplace Theater where David pulled out his gift card to pay for his ticket.
The teenager in the booth ran it through the scanner and put her mouth to the hole in the glass: “That’ll be nine-dollars and fifty cents,” she said, around her chewing gum.
David said, “Yeah, go ahead and use the card.”
“You used the card,” she said. “Fifty cents worth.”
Of course he told her the card was for fifty dollars, to which she retorted, “No. Fifty cents.”
David’s a pretty mildly tempered person, but he was getting a bit heated at this point. “Why would anyone buy a gift card for fifty cents? Do you even sell gift cards for fifty cents?”
“No,” she replied and popped her gum.
That happened sometime in January. Joe told us about it, I believe, in May. I don’t remember how it came up, but it was a rather oblique reference, as I recall. It was probably, by agreement between the brothers, that we weren’t to hear about it at all, but it somehow just happened.
My wife and I talked about it. I mean, it wasn’t our fault. We paid for a fifty dollar gift card. It was the movie theater’s fault. Specifically, it was the fault of the person who sold us the card. But it was David who had really lost out.
So, last night my wife dug out a Christmas card from the drawer. At the bottom of the greeting she wrote, “Merry Christmas all over again,” and tucked in two twenties and a ten.
And, I took it to him today.
Well … that’s the story, but it’s not the blog post I had intended.
What I really wanted to tell you was this: As I was walking across the library parking lot, clutching the Christmas card, I found myself flowing forward with a river of library patrons, most of whose arms were loaded down with books. One backpack so filled with books that the wearer was forced to walk in an awkwardly erect posture, threatening to fall over backwards, which conjured up images of a turtle on his back, unable to right himself. Children skipping, laughing out of sheer joy, screaming, well, because they were children; parents exhorting, “Now you remember you whisper when you go inside.” A little boy talking in excited tones to his sister, ” … and I’m gonna get me a book about horses and I’ll ask mama if I …” and his thin voice blends in with, and is blanketed by, other voices and noises and celebration.
Difficult to pin down, hard to put your finger on … this community of festivity, this carnival of expectation; hope—the possible unwrapping of a mystery inside those walls, between the hard, musty covers of a book plucked randomly from one of the thousand of shelves, the voice in the book, that one voice that says with precision and certitude what you have been forever feeling, but thinking you were alone, and lonely, in the feeling of it. But, here you find a friend, a confederate, a confidant, here—here in this book, taken from that shelf within the whispering walls of the Library.
And I am being swept along, thinking about this and almost trip over a young man, hoisting in his arms a mountain of books, one of which slides down the slope and while he bends to pick it up two more fall, and making a wild grasp for all of them the entire mountain collapses.
And I stop and help him. I pick up a one volume Works of Balzac, a Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and a paperback western novel. He lifts a huge tome entitled the Essential Dictionary of Music Notation, and a few more paperbacks. Enormous green eyes stare up at me through coke-bottle-lenses and he thanks me.
I continue on, thinking about all this and what it is urging me to remember. And, then I do remember. I remember something I had read, or seen on TV, or heard …something that was from a respected source that told us we were, mentally, becoming a nation of pablum ingestors. We have lost our intellectual teeth and are growing incapable of thinking on our own. A dangerous thought: other people thinking for us! Books being replaced by television; outdoor activities by video games.
We’ve all heard the naysayers.
How many aspiring writers have given up in the face of such cultural inevitability? I remember thinking back then, “What’s the bloody use in writing! Who will be there to read it, anyway?”
Today, with Christmas card in hand, caught in the flow and flood of this army of cultural dissenters, I hear and see, and, yes—I feel: the alphabet is hearty, the squiggles and squams of punctuation still function, words, almighty slippery, wriggling, palpitating words, still have meaning thanks to this army, thanks to this marvelous, beautiful army converging in to burst through the door and into the mystery world inside the whispering walls.