I really needed a treat yesterday afternoon.
I considered my choices and my desires: a Frosty from Wendy’s®, a jar of Jif® and a spoon, going home early from work since PretentiousBoss was out, adopting a dog over my lunch hour, or taking a long stroll down to the library.
Being the most practical, and best for the cardiovascular system, the library won out.
The Harold Washington Library Center is a truly unique and terrifying place. It is ten floors of pure biblio-goodness and reference material madness. Ten Floors! According to the HWLC history page, it “appeared in The Guinness Book of Records as the largest public library building in the world.” Goddam. And I’ve used the restrooms there! More than once!
For all its splendor, there is a dark side. It has ten floors! The first time I set my little country-girl foot in it, I was bone-shakingly, undeniably lost. If my life is actually a motion picture (and I have no doubt that it is – except for the curious lack of boom mikes), at this moment the camera came in from a high dolly shot, zooming down from the massive arched ceilings of the first-floor mezzanine to my shocked face and frozen form. The voice-over whispered ominously, “Megan…you’re not in Indiana anymore…” From that moment, I knew that conquering the HWLC meant conquering Chicago itself. To fall to such a nemesis would all but ensure my hasty retreat back to Hoosiers, cornfields, and the (entirely reasonably sized) two-story Hometown Public Library. I squared my shoulders and headed for the escalators.
Approximately two hours, and one body-cavity search later, I had a library card. I found the library staff as cold and unfeeling as their pots of KY Jelly®, but no matter; I was on my way. However, though I was still tingly with the thrill of obtaining my card (and perhaps from the cavity search), actually finding a book and checking it out would prove to be an even more daunting challenge. I studied the library guide the CavityClerk had grudgingly given me. It was mystifying. “AROPN – Floor 8?” Um. BSTOPN – Floor 4″ What? Whatever happened to “Biographies” “Non-Fiction” and even the controversial, yet seemingly necessary “YA Room?”
I may have left in tears that day, but I do believe I left with a book. (What book, I cannot tell you as the trauma has blotted out the memory. I’m sure it was a very good book.)
Since that panicked, lubricated day in May of 2001, I’ve visited the HWLC many a time. I’ve borrowed many books, CDs, videos, and even the occasional DVD. I’ve accrued and paid overdue fines. In the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library (most of the 2nd floor), I’ve rediscovered childhood favorites such as Susan Beth Pfeiffer and Betty Miles. I’ve found movies so rare I thought I’d only dreamed them (1980s Playing For Time) and so treasured as to make an entire holiday perfect (Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow).
And yesterday, I was surprised and a little bit delighted to learn that my card had expired. I renewed my card and checked out my latest (Expecting Adam by Martha Beck and The MST3K Amazing Colossal Episode Guide), all the while grinning crazily at the glassy-eyed clerk. I’ve had my Chicago Public Library Card for two years. I can find anything at the HWLC.
Chicago, I’m one of yours.