February 10, 2009
Why is the USA so far down the list in worldwide literacy? How is it that the richest, most advanced country on planet earth lags behind Tajikistan, Tonga and Latvia? (#1 is the Holy See).
Could it have something to do with the difficulties of becoming a member of a library? Recently when I moved into a rental house I opted not to install cable TV, hoping I could end my addiction to reality shows. (Hideous to admit, yet true. My favorites are the re-enactments of true crime detective stories. I?m prone to watching any crap, the crappier the more addictive).
Technically it is mid-winter. Meanwhile the weather fluctuates from below zero to 40 plus. This past weekend was all cerulean skies and sunshine. I tromped and skidded atop snow-packed sidewalks to the local library. I made sure to bring some bills in my name to prove I was a candidate for membership. The library is a towering mass of stone on Main Street just slightly south of the center of town. It sits sedately surrounded by antique residential homes faithful to the styles of Federal and Victorian architecture. Wide steps with handrails lead up to the front door. A hefty stone crown roof above, the building resembles a courthouse. Immediately inside, at a battered desk, sits a plump bespectacled crone. Behind her is a wide open main room, evidently given up to the wants of small children and cluttered with bright red and yellow plastic furniture; unkempt toys strewn around.
Darting left I trotted up the circular staircase, reaching a turret-tower of a room topped by a splendid painted cupola. It might have been rather good looking some time long ago but now the windows are murky, the carpets shabby. The book cases are ugly, free standing wood boxes dividing up the room like spokes of a bicycle wheel. I perused the shelves. Two girls, high school students I surmised, sat silently across from each other at a tattered table, notebooks splayed open, backpacks a-tumble on the floor, draining the sera of winter snowmelt.
Halfheartedly dragging a gloved fingertip across grimy spines, suddenly I came across a trove of true crime books. Manna. My mind was made up, I had to enroll.
Giddy, I jogged downstairs to the frowsty librarian, ?How long does it take to become a member?? I asked, foisting electric bills in my name at her.
?Are you a homeowner, or are you renting?? she asked.
?Neither.? I said, undaunted and shoved my bills across her desk.
But she was not interested in my bills. She wanted to see a lease. ?It?s policy.?
Patiently, I explained that I have no lease. I am staying in the house of a friend. I have transferred the utility bills into my name because I am conscientious and decent and reliable, exhibiting exactly the right type of appealing traits necessary to join her estimable institution.
?I can?t help you,? she snipped. ?Policy requires you show me a lease.?
Turning her back to me she displayed a frosting of dandruff across her shoulders. I watched her for a while, waiting for her to swivel and yell, ?April?s Fool Day! Gotcha! Smile you?re on Candid Camera?. Instead, her cell phone burped and she picked it up and launched into a private conversation.
I was crushed by this rejection, and with no further options I slunk slowly homebound. Engrossed in private fulminations I concluded there must exist a connection twixt this absurd misadventure and America?s abysmal literacy performance.
Possibly, if I was a parent I would feed duty-bound to dedicate myself to the rallying of reforms and the raising of public awareness. Instead I retreated to the comfort of my laptop and my infatuation with
free true crime web TV sites.
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