I’m blessed to have Ford Warren. In the summer and after classes dismiss during the school year, Ford Warren is full of children and teens. Sometimes, it’s populated by adults who don’t have wifi at home: so much business must be transacted via the internet these days. Groups hold meetings in its conference room, there’s storytime for toddlers and tutoring for students, tax preparation help in season and the staff is terrific. The library is a safe, quiet refuge, cool in summer, warm in winter, one of the best benefits democracies provide.
It’s usually a non-event; the block and a half walk to Ford Warren. Sunday, when I go to slide returns into the book drop, three teenagers sit at a library picnic table amid drink cups and crumpled fast food wrappers. I realize one of them is holding a slim brown smoke. I say hi, they reply how ya doin’ and as I pass, the oldest of the three swivels in his seat to face me, asks, “Wanna hit it?” I smile. “No thanks.” And walk on. But immediately start editing myself: I shoulda said, “child, I quit that long before you were born.”
Wednesday, as I enter library coolness, Jim, librarian extraordinaire, and the bearded young man who works the front desk were talking. Jim tells him, “Excellent or humble,” and I give him a puzzled look: are those supposed to be opposites? Jim explains that the young guy was doing a self-evaluation online which explains nothing. I collect my books from the reserve shelf. On the way to check out I start to head to one side, see that Jim and another guy are standing there talking, so pivot to the bearded young man’s desk. “You made the right choice,” he says, grinning. “Those two were standing,” I replied, “not ready to go to work. In fact—” I’m getting in gear now—“they were loitering.” Everyone loves that. Jim says, “we should evaluate our loitering.” I say it’s nice to be entertained while getting my books and Jim says, as I leave, “Come again: we’ll be here all week.”
On my way to the library in upper 90s heat, a black woman waits for a bus. She’s a little twitchy, anxious. Perhaps the bus is late. She peers up the street then steps into the shade of one of the library’s trees. She has an angular face, sharp cheekbones, long neck. Her arms and legs are thin and taut, her clothing loose and worn. When I retrieve my books and head home, she’s still looking for that bus.
“The bus is late,” I suggest as I pass her since she’s looking at me.
“Oh, maybe,” she says, grinning to reveal gaps in her teeth. “What books did you get?”
A question I didn’t anticipate. Makes me miss a step.
“Essays,” I show her in a rush, thinking she wouldn’t know about them. “This one’s stories, maybe from the Middle East.” I realize I don’t remember what this collection is nor why I ordered it. “They may be tough,” I add uncertainly.
“Ah,” she nods, “like The Things They Carried.” She walks beside me toward the bus stop. “Have you read The Art of War?”
More than off balance now, I ask, incredulous, “The Chinese book? Very old?”
She nods curtly, “yes, but it’s very good.”
We reach the bus stop and she sits beside another black woman, still no bus in sight.
“I hope it comes soon,” I say as I walk on.
“Thank you, baby,” she replies, a last smile showing the crookedness of her remaining teeth.
“Damnitall,” I fume to myself, walking swiftly to get out of the heat, “I need to stop drawing conclusions about people before they open their mouths.”
And now I have to read The Art of War.