Between you and I, I'm really not afraid of that many things. Heights? Not a problem. The dark? No big deal. Failure? No one can avoid it 100% of the time, right? Lest I come across as self-impressed, let me clarify -- I certainly have my weaknesses. It's just that my neuroses are generally limited to the hyper-unusual, like large, inanimate objects underwater. That stuff is TERRIFYING. Sometimes I think that I would rather see a shark swimming under my raft than an unexpected boulder. Also, stairs freak me out. I tend to attribute that particular phobia to a nasty childhood incident, but I digress. The point is that today, I took a major step of faith. It took a lot of courage and growth, but I put on my big girl pants, breathed deeply, and walked straight into the lion's den.
That's right. I went to the Kalamazoo Public Library.
Ridiculous? I think not. The Kalamazoo Public Library system has taunted me for thirteen years, gleaming with all of its multiple locations, millions of books, and presumably knowledgeable staff. Yet for me, it's been off-limits, forbidden, territory to fear ever since one fateful day in fourth grade. Nine-year-old Carly wanted a good book, a challenging book, but she made a bad choice on that day -- she checked out The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. I mean, why not? The Disney movie was a perennial favorite -- Francis and the elephant, Ernst and his self-absorbed intelligence, Mother and Father and that awesome tree house -- what could possibly go wrong?
Answer: EVERYTHING. That book has haunted me ever since I checked it out. First of all, I never even finished it. I think I got as far as to when they somehow got a whale and Wyss spent a full chapter discussing the use of the bones and the blubber for the Family Robinson's survival. Stale reading for a nine-year-old, let me tell you. Second of all, the book wasn't like the movie and my fourth grade self couldn't quite forgive the text its inadequacies. Thirdly, I don't know how much of a chance I ever stood when the text read like THIS:
As we drew near, their curious appearance and singular fruit caused much surprise and also amusement, for we were speedily established among the trees, where, as I chose and cut down the gourds most likely to be useful, every one engaged merrily in the work of cutting, carving, sawing and scooping some manner of dish, bowl, cup, jar or platter, according to his several taste or ability.
Great. Sounds great, Johann. Give a nine year old a freaking break. I hated it.
I tried my best to get through it, but even at a young age, I had a pretty good understanding of when to cut my losses. Given how much great stuff there is to read out there, I cannot justify plowing through miserable books, just to say that I did. Besides, I think Tara Lipinksi had just published yet another autobiography of her fifteen year existence on earth and THAT was pressing. So I gave up on The Swiss Family Robinson and dived into real literature...like Ella Enchanted. Or something.
No big deal, right? Except for the fact that I lost the book. I meant to look for it, but after a month or two, it got embarrassing. What was I going to do, waltz in with a book that was months overdue?? It made more sense just to avoid KPL until they forgot that I forgot and we could all just start fresh.
Years passed and things got worse. KPL was just so big and beautiful and I started to get tired of living like an outlaw. Still, I had passed the point of no return...if I couldn't return a book a couple of months late, how was I supposed to return a book that was YEARS late? Everything seemed complicated and messy and dramatic in my mind, so I continued to bite the bullet and avoid those beautiful books that called my name like a junkie in rehab.
Then I actually started using my brain. I mean, what was KPL actually going to do to me? I realized that my nightmares of blood sensors recognizing me upon entry and cages falling from the ceiling to trap the offender were probably a bit far-fetched. Also, that one image of falling through a trapdoor in the floor into a crocodile-infested moat? Most likely not going to happen. At worst, I would have to pay for the price of the book, which seemed doable and worth it after years of avoiding the best library system in the area. While it would certainly be somewhat embarrassing, I decided that the time had come to grow up. And that time was today.
I walked into the library this afternoon, jumpy and nervous. I walked up to the desk and a frizzy woman looked up at me. "Hi," I said, hedging my way into her day. "Um, I think I need a new library card. Because, um, I had a situation here? A long time ago?" She stared. I cleared my throat. "Um, I checked a book out thirteen years ago. I was nine. And I never brought it back. And now I don't know where it is. So...um. What do I have to do?"
No sirens went off. No lasers trapped me in a lightsaber-like cage. The woman barely blinked. She looked me up in the system and couldn't even find anything. She stared at my ID and said that she didn't see anything under my name and address, so all I needed was a card from my local library and she could make me a reciprocal account. Of course, I conveniently forgot to mention the fact that I moved the summer after fourth grade, therefore my account probably would have been at my old address, but the point is -- I'm free. In fact, I'm better than free -- I'm sneaky. I'm like a library ninja. I'm like the Sydney Bristow of library services. I'm officially the person that the head librarians probably warn new librarians about, like, "Watch out for the library ninjas who lose books, then move, then start accounts nearly a decade and a half later under a new address, thereby abdicating all of their former responsibilities as library patrons. BEWARE." See? I totally win.
Overall, it was a successful day. Granted, I couldn't get the books I wanted, since because of my top-secret move, I'm no longer in the district of my current "local" library, meaning that I need to go to a different district's library to become a member there in order to get my account at KPL, meaning that by the end of this week I will have not one, not two, but three different library cards, but hey -- all in a day's work for a library ninja like myself. Besides, with three different libraries at my disposal, I'll never have to pay late fees again.
I'm really thinking that this ninja gig has long-term potential.