July 8, 2009

At the Reading

I sat down at a large table off to the side. I was earlier than most, but I did not want to intrude. I sat down alone, but I took off my hat as a gesture of curtsy for those that would become unfortunate enough to be seated behind me. I sat alone, even though there were plenty people that had already filtered in that I recognized, with whom I had some sort of fleeting kinship with at one time or another.
I stared off into space, thinking of the background. Books upon books upon books stared back at me. I could not look them in the eyes. I lowered my gaze to the table. The table was large and full of stately feel. I did not know if the table was old, or merely made to look that way. The chair had that same strange anachronistic feel. It was heavy, devoid of cloth or leather, yet comfortable. They were antiques updated to the age of ergonomics.
I felt the heavy wood and noticed that the reading had started. I looked at the reader, and tried to focus. I noted again that I needed glasses. I thought that it was a shame that other bills would have to be paid before I could regain full control of my sight. The reader merged with the books, or the books merged with the reader. I was uncertain which was true. They both looked at me, and they both looked far away, to another place and time that I could not comprehend. I thought of hippies and radicals whose ideas were never realized. I thought of aging leftist sitting in a broken down bus trying to sell handicrafts to obtain more marijuana to further their path to enlightenment. I smiled gently at this thought.
The smile was out of place. I could not tell you why, but no one else had the same smile I had. I looked again at the table and played with my hair. I thought that I might get a haircut, but I knew that I would not be happy with it. “Maybe,” I thought, “its long enough to donate to those kids with cancer.” I thought of my friend who had died recently of cancer. I felt sad, at odds with God. The sadness passed.
The sadness passed because I looked away from the table. It was drawing me in too much, in its solid, useful death. The cold rich brown reminded me of chocolate pudding, but its own solidity betrayed it to be something else entirely. It was sucking me in, and I escaped by looking up. I looked around the room again. The reader had changed. He was a taller balding man. His voice reminded me of Kermit the frog. I though that this might have some sort of unconscious association with his name. I realized that I had never taken a psychology course, and I knew the rudiments only from second-hand accounts. I glanced again at the books, but swiftly. Their immense knowledge scared me. They make me aware of all that I do not know, and never will.
I grew more scared. I looked around the room, and saw all the faces. There were many people I knew, and many that I respected. Some of them fell into neither category. I thought what a shame it would be if a bomb went off at this gathering. I could not help but think what kind of effect it would have on the area’s literary community. How would they fill this void? Other less important thought crossed my mind too. What about all the books, what will the library do? The tall balding man was reading an essay of his, something about bombs. I think that this prompted the thought. I do not know.
There was no bomb, it turned out, and the reading was over soon after. I remained behind. Many of the assembled crowd made their way out quickly. There were few lingers. I was one of them. I just wanted to be a glutton on the cookies and punch. There were a few acquaintances from classes over the years, so I made small talk with them. They introduced me to someone I have never seen since, and they went on their way.
I soon found myself to be the only person left in the lobby area, and my voice was echoing off the high ceilings. There was a creeping guilt growing in me. I felt bad for talking to loudly in the library, and yelling at my acquaintance’s back. I went outside and lit a cigarette. My acquaintances offered me a ride home, which I declined. Soon enough I found my way to my apartment, and I was alone again.