Shelbi and the Library: A Cautionary Tale
I am sitting here with the blow-dryer in my lap. I have just spent 20 minutes trying to dry out the paper insert for the Z is for Zachariah audiobook which is, to my great dismay, covered in dog pee. When I’m fully certain the paper is dry, I will then turn to my trusty bottle of “Cherry Blossom” body spray from Bath and Body Works. It does wonders for mornings when I smell like regurgitated milk and I’m hoping it will work to mask the smell long enough to be re-shelved at our local library.
How the pee got into the plastic cover is a completely different matter. It’s a total mystery out of some sci-fi/horror movie. I can see M Night Shyamalan directing: The camera pans to a whimpering, aging Pomeranian-Eskimo mix and then to the audiobook — pee on the inside. None on the outside. And the person who discovers it gasps loudly.
Okay, that sounds like an awful scene for a movie.
Regardless of the why or how: This is why I should never check things out at the library.
The worst part is that this particular book has been checked out under another person’s name because I am personally not allowed to check things out until I clear a $100 library fine. How does one accrue $100 in library fines? Well, let me tell you a story.
The year was 2001. The class was “Perspectives on Vietnam through TV/Film/Literature.” Honestly, this course was one of the best classes I ever took in college. Our homework was to immerse ourselves in Vietnam. We watched movies: Full Metal Jacket. Born on the Fourth of July. The Deerhunter. We read amazing books about Vietnam: Almost everything Tim O’Brien has ever written, The Sorrow of War, Bright and Shining Lie, Four Hours in My Lai, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam, A Rumor of War. And more. So. Much. More. We analyzed TV show episodes about Vietnam — from the era and from now. Documentaries. We even had guest speakers.
Doesn’t it sound amazing? It was.
The best part was that our final for the class was a huge research paper — we met with our professor and picked an aspect of Vietnam that resonated with us and then wrote about it. The options were endless. Journalism was my passion, so I decided to write my research paper on the coverage of Vietnam. There are enough books on this subject to fill an entire section of a library; my 30-40 page research paper couldn’t even begin to touch the surface. But I tried.
And in the process, I went to the West Linn public library and checked out armloads of books. (In addition to the books I checked out from the Lewis and Clark library, the Multnomah County library…everywhere.) When it came time to check them in, I did. But then two weeks later, I got my first notice. It appeared that they had not received 2 of the books: Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett–Young War Correspondents and Their Early Vietnam Battles by William Prochnau and In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam by Robert McNamara. (Both of them, by the way, very good reading.)
I knew I had to have them somewhere and then I promptly forgot about them. Time passed. I graduated. I debated about my future. And finally I decided to move to Japan. While I was packing up, there were those books. Realizing how overdue they were, I got into my car and drove to the library. But I found a construction site – a sign saying the library was closed. A map of where they were temporarily located. But I’m lazy. I didn’t want to drive to the second location to return the books…so…I kept them.
Not entirely on purpose. But I kept them all the same.
And I still have them. Sitting on my far left bookcase, second shelf from the top, in the middle of the row. A constant reminder that I cannot be trusted to return things. (I also acquired a VHS copy of Full Metal Jacket — YES…VHS…because I did not have a DVD player in 2001. And when I tried to return that to Blockbuster in 2005, the guy laughed at me and said, “We don’t carry VHS anymore. Keep it.”)
You might ask me why I don’t just return them to the library now. Well, I’m afraid. It’s been almost a decade. And I casually asked about it last time and the librarian said, “Well, hypothetically speaking, if someone were to return books they’ve had for nine years…we may not even take them back because they might have already been replaced. Hypothetically.”