Friday, March 17, 2006


Inside the cavernous reading room, where the smell of fresh paint overpowers the mold, dust, and pigeon droppings from the courtyard otuside, you are not allowed to sleep. No eating, drinking, no audible music. The books must be brought to you, unless you prefer what's in easy reach: telephone books from foreign cities or the dock reports from colonial merchant ships. And you must have a library card in order to request the book brought to you, even though you can’t take it with you, so most of the patrons in the free hall of learning are merely sitting. Not eating, or drinking, and certainly not sleeping, because they poke you awake if you do. And security guards don’t like being badged hall monitors, so if they have to poke you too often, they invent a reason to show you out. We don’t have library cards because we don’t have addresses. We can’t prove we live here, though we live here more than anywhere. It’s too hot outside. Too busy, too loud. Too much a reminder that there is nowhere else to go. So we are here.

There is a movie at 1:30 – a musical with Judy Garland. They don’t notice if you sleep there.

Until then, we sketch on the backs of fliers and listen to the hum of an oscillating floor fan that murmers squeakily as it turns its head. The yellow lighting, the sound of gummy sneaker soles against the polished floor… like in that dim Quonset hut outside town, where they bussed the kids one summer afternoon, just after the fourth of July. They stood us up and told us to wait quietly and shot us in the arms with Buck Rogers guns. Next! Next! Next!

The kids don’t have smallpox scars anymore. When the Revolution comes, they’ll herd us into camps, make us wear transparent sleeves so they can weed us out. Then no sleeves at all until we turn blue in some courtyard behind a chainlink fence. Patrolled by badged hall monitors with gummy-soled shoes. And we’ll pass the hours not eating, or drinking, or sleeping.

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