Meelyn and I zipped over to the public library yesterday to pick up Thornton Wilder's Our Town in both book and DVD format for American Literature class -- if you're thinking about renting the DVD, don't bother; Hollywood entirely changed the ending and Emily turned out to just be having a happy dream that taught her how to appreciate her family and placid, everyday life, just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Aarrgh.
We were also there, in a not incidental way, to pay the four dollar fine that had accrued on my account. You know how it is: You check out the books, you read the books, time passes, and so does the due date. You return the books a week late or so, and by the time you've done that four or five times, you've accrued a fee on your account. And that's one of those things that just ties me up in knots, probably because my mother raised me to have a conscience as soft as warm butter. Plus, you can't put any books on hold or renew them online if you have fines, so obviously, I wanted to get that paid.
Meelyn and I were standing at the circulation desk and a clerk was checking out our several items, having already accepted my four one-dollar bills and given me a receipt, when this weird looking dude who appeared to be cheerfully and completely stoned out of his gourd approached the clerk at the computer next to where we were standing and juicily slurred, "I wanna get a lie-ber-ary ID card, one of them whatchermacallerits."
"You mean a library card?" asked the clerk politely.
"Yeah! Yeah! That's the thing there I'm talkin' to yers about. One of them cards, so I can check me out some movies." He nodded amiably about a thousand times and leaned his elbows on the counter, fixing the clerk with a pleasant stare out of one eye, while the other eye wandered around inside his head, off on a little journey of its own.
"Do you have a piece of mail with you that lists your name and address?"
I was thinking that he might have the November issue of his Mother Jones subscription concealed about his person, maybe with a mailing label affixed. Or maybe he'd used the pages to roll, like, the world's biggest spliff. I don't know. But anyway, he patted himself down, looking in vain for an electric bill, a cable bill, a gas bill....anything that might have indicated he lived in our city -- a city which is not Amsterdam -- and had utilities hooked up at that address.
"I can't find a thing," he admitted with a loopy grin. "I doan have a ninvellope, but I did used to have one of them cards."
The clerk exchanged a brief sidelong glance with the person who was checking out our books and movies. "If you have a driver's license with you, I can check to see if your library card is current. If it is, it will just be two dollars to get a new one."
The man started the laborious process of searching his pockets again. I couldn't help an unseemly interest in what he might turn out: a roach clip? A pipe? A packet of rolling papers? A rasta bonnet? A Bob Marley CD? "I know I have a driver's license," he said confidingly. "Because I drove here."
Then the two clerks and I all looked at each other. Because, dude. Smoky McReefer was in no shape to be driving anything.
He turned up his license and the clerk scrutinized it carefully. She clicked around on the computer's keyboard in that confident manner that I, a non-typing kind of person, find so admirable. "Well, uhm, Mr. Miller," she said with a bit of sternness in her voice. "You do have a current library card and I can issue you a new one for that two dollar fee I mentioned, but I'm afraid you won't be able to use it because you have a four hundred dollar fine."
The man began to laugh gently, rocking back and forth on his arms. "Oh, ahahahaha....that's right. Wooo! That's a big fine! Four hundred dollars! Guess I'm not gonna be borrowin' no movies," he said good-naturedly.
I stood there, stunned. My four dollar fine was wreaking havoc with my soul, yet here was someone who had a fine that was, well, I can't do that kind of math, so I don't know how many times bigger his fine was than mine, but I do have an awesome vocabulary, which just happens to include the word "significant": He owed a significant amount more than I did.
And yet there he was, giggling gently to himself. Now granted, he had just recently smoked about a bale of pot, so maybe the seriousness of the situation hadn't yet communicated itself to his foggy brain, but I was electrified.
"Four hundred dollars?" I whispered to my clerk, who was bagging our items for us.
"Oh, that's not such a huge fine," she said comfortably, tearing my receipt off the little printer. "We have patrons whose fines are much bigger than that."
"BIGGER THAN FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS?!?!" I yelped in a muffled shriek, taking the bag from the clerk and stuffing the receipt in my pants pocket, where I'd be sure to run it through the wash and render the return dates of the movies and the book illegible. Resulting in more fines, of course.
"I figure if we collect them all at once, we'll have enough to build a whole new wing -- a new library -- where the south parking lot is and stock it with shelves and shelves of new books," she said drily. "Your four dollars will help us achieve our goal!"
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