I’m really good at pointing out other people’s flaws. Hubby says I’m an expert at it. I don’t think that’s a compliment even though he says it with a smile. While I’m a crackerjack at summing up others’ issues, I’m terrible at figuring out my own flaws. Most of the time I’m not really interested in hearing about them because they’re so…so…uncomfortable. I generally have to be smacked over the head with something before I own up to it and then my reaction is usually somewhere along the lines of, “Oh, you must have me mistaken for that OTHER scrawny brunette with the pointed nose and double jointed elbows.” While denial can sometimes be a girl’s BFF, there are times where there is no avoiding the truth. As Mama says, what goes around comes around, and I have found that when it comes around it usually bites me in the butt. I had a chunk taken out of my backside yesterday, at the library of all places.
I love the library. My love for buildings with lots and lots of books goes back to my childhood. As a kid, I visited the library just about every week. It was a Carnegie Library with dark walnut shelves, ornate woodwork and the smell of aging pages. I would check out my weekly limit and then burrow myself in the corner between the Agatha Christie’s and the autobiographies for some solitary reading while Mama, Super Cop and Handy Man finished making their selections. I worked my way through rows of Little House and Nancy Drew books and moved into adult fiction way before I was mature enough to really understand some of what I was reading. I read book after book after book. The library makes the world accessible to everyone, no matter how poor or isolated he is. It’s where my dreams of travel and ambition were hatched, and just the touch of a library book today sends my brain racing through those old memories. The only problem I have with the library is fines.
I have joked about my library fines for years but never really considered them a problem. I mean fines are just their way of making you conform to a schedule, right? And that due date is like the expiration date on a milk carton. It’s just a suggestion really. A good book is to be savored and who can put a time limit on how it should be enjoyed? If I’m late taking back a book, I just pay the fine and skip to the shelves to check out more. I’ve been doing this for years.
My first fine was when I was about nine, and I lost a Nancy Drew book. While it eventually turned up in the closet where I had been playing, I had to pay for that book. In college, I had to pay library fines to get my final grades and as an adult I’ve often joked about having a library shelf named after me as my fines had likely paid for a shelf. Turns out, I wasn’t really wrong about that.
Yesterday, I returned my books and had to pay a whopping $12 fine. In my defense, most of that was due to Mama J. because I was returning her overdue books, too, and she had more books than me. The sweet lady who took my money had an issue with the computer system and couldn’t get the normal receipt to print. Very pleasantly she said, “I’ll just print your entire fine history, and it will be included on that.” “Oh, that’s okay,” I replied. “I don’t need a receipt.” She ignored my attempt to brush it off and hit the print button. With this little clicking noise, the printer started rolling off my list of fines for the last three years. And it clicked. And it clicked. It clicked some more. It paused to catch its breath and started clicking some more. The lady behind me stifled a laugh. The lady behind her peered over the counter to see how long the register tape was. I started to cringe. It just kept going until I couldn’t help myself and finally said, “Great Googly Moogly!” There was my shame of fines rolling off the counter and into the floor for everyone to see.
It was kind of like showing an alcoholic a scan of his liver. A library intervention right there at the circulation desk.
By the time the printer was finished I wanted to hide under the desk. The receipt was so long the librarian had to roll it up. She smiled nicely, handed it to me and said, “Thank you.” I said, “Thank you, I think.” I tucked it into my sack and slipped out the door, avoiding looking the lady behind me in the eyes. I forced myself to review that receipt this morning. The word "overdue" rings out over and over on the paper.
The total of my fines? $154.25. Just for the past three years. That doesn’t include the other nineteen years I’ve use that library. $154.25! I could buy a light stand with that money. And guess how long that receipt is. I measured. Twice, because I couldn’t believe it the first time. Seven feet, ten inches. That’s just crazy. It has to stop. I’m immediately implementing some new steps to improve this situation, and I have a new motto:
God, grant me the sensibility to check out only the books I will read, the strength to avoid the books I won't, and the wisdom to know the difference.
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