Living on borrowed time really improves a person. One moment you are waltzing through life, serene and secure and then BOOM! – with seemingly no warning a dark cloud has entered your realm and if you are fortunate you emerge with the renewed sense of the value of each day. Which is approximately 10 cents, by the way.
I know this because I have just such an epiphany on a fairly regular basis at the check-out counter of the local library. I have a running tab with the library and it says right there in black and white: “each overdue day equals 10 cents.” So now we know.
Like all sad tales of disappointment and desperation, mine started out with only the best of intentions. Namely, “my name is Kym, and I have a library card.” Unfortunately, library cards are like crack. You use a little, one time, because you “need” to, but you just know you can stop anytime.
You’ll just take one hit on that “free library” ride to get the job done and then you’ll drop the stuff, you swear. The next thing you know, you got a monkey on your back and it’s bigger than both Oprah and her book club, baby.
You gotta have more. You can’t get to sleep at night without a stack by your bed. You hide books in your car, purse, kitchen, and bathroom. Worse, you expose your children to your habit.
Now I stagger out of the library with a stack of books tucked furtively into my bag. I glance left, I glance right. I am careful to protest that the romance novel isn’t for me, oh no, it’s, uh, for a friend. Yeah, that’s it. I myself am drawn to more literary works. I’m a Steinbeck girl. Trust me.
You may feel judged by your addiction. While researching an article recently, I checked out a stack of books on bankruptcy law and worried for a week that the librarians would take up a collection in my name.
Meanwhile, if library cards were like driver’s licenses, mine would have enough points to result in suspension. Obviously the key to redemption with the library gods is to check out only those books you hate.
Presuming that if you cannot imagine drudging to chapter two in this century, it won’t be a struggle to return it in a timely manner. I’ll just bet that despite the big publicity, few copies of War and Peace have ever been overdue in any library anywhere in the world.
I myself would have paid the library to come take back a “bestseller” titled We Were the Mulvaneys. In fact, rather than the fine I amassed by stashing it (in self-defense I might add) under my bed for three weeks, the library should have paid me for my heroic efforts to keep it away from unsuspecting readers.
The rule of the Mulvaney’s aside, it is generally the engrossing books that take up residence at your house until you pay off the fine that has amounted to more than the national debt.
This is how a grown woman ends up hanging her head in shame as the librarian totals up the fines on Pirates of Passion but Oat Bran for Better Living is returned right on the dot.
Despite my enduring status as a library scofflaw, the librarians always greet me with a smile. No doubt imagining the new wing to be constructed with funds generated from my overdue back-issues of People alone. If only the rest of society were this forgiving of bad credit.
Somewhere, in the librarian code, they must be instructed “bring us your tired, your weak, your huddled masses yearning to read Knitting News but too cheap to subscribe themselves … bring us those for whom time is relative and “due in two weeks” might be taken to mean two months.”
They take us all, we library sinners, destroyers of fine reading material, lovers of obscure literary works, believers in the latest diet author, and they provide a wealth of imagination, learning, literature, entertainment and absolution for, at most – if we do our worst, a dime a day.
It’s clearly a bargain at twice the price. The Mulvaneys excepted, of course.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt owes the library about $17 million, but she loves it just the same. She welcomes comments c/o P.O. Box 38, Salem Ohio 44460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)