All summer long, on my "walks" (seven mile, average, urban hikes - a habit I picked up from the Italian Backpacker Fling), I pass by these two young women, a pair of undergrads who seem to spend every sunny, summer day bikini-clad out on their front lawn, drinking Natty Light and reading fashion magazines through overpriced sunglasses.
Three or four times a week, I pass by. And they're out there, always.
I could hike up their street blind, in fact, and still identify their house - the scent of tanning oil and baked skin whips down the tree-lined street, drifts in between the decaying Victorian homes and student apartment tenements. They've become a benchmark along my hikes, a point at which I'm able to estimate my time and distance, as familiar a landmark as any house or street sign.
They watch me like hawks as I approach, their gaze following me as I passed by. At first, I'd do the polite wave thing. That evolved into an 'D Afternoon, ladies or a stray weekend Mornin', girls.
And they'd just stare through their shades, no movement or acknowledgment whatsoever aside from above the neck, bearing witness to my half-naked, sweat-soaked sidewalk sojourn at the fringes of their lawnchair kingdom.
* * * *
I didn't recognize her at first.
I'd happened upon this wayward patron while searching for a monograph myself in the second-floor stacks. She looked lost, the scrap paper crumpled up in her hand covered in scribbled partial Library of Congress call numbers, so being a, well, librarian, I asked if she needed some help.
And I didn't recognize her, actually, because I'd never seen her in anything but a bikini. She looked naked without a copy of Vogue on her knees. And, well, I think she figured out who I was, sorta, about ten seconds after I did - I'm the half-naked hiker.
You'd be surprised how fucking awkward it can be when two strangers, accustomed to seeing each other in swimwear, meet fully-clothed in a library. Took a good and painfully graceless five minutes to find the books she needed for her essay, simply because, well... what does one say, really?
Finally, the ice broke, the inelegance gone when the books were found, and the discussion evolved from course-related,
"Uh, this is gonna sound weird, but what's with the walking thing?"
"Oh. Bad knee. Can't jog. Kinda a hiker anyway..."
"Nuh-uh! Shut up! You're hiking? In Oxford?"
The patron's eyes light up. She lifts her leg and plops her foot down on one of the library's step stools. Pointing towards a zipper-shaped scar just below her patella, she explains that she's been having problems with pain since her surgery a few years back - high school sports injury.
I'm really glad, sometimes, that the library's been unusually dead this summer. Not sure how I'd explain to the ol' Boss of Bosses how, exactly, I'm helping a patron when the patron's pushing my fingers into her scar tissue in between rows of European history.
Yep, probably not the most professional of patron interactions. But it's a really cool scar.
* * * *
So let's fast forward, oh, five hours or so.
An unusually cool afternoon, partly cloudy skies, intermittent rays of good ol' summer sunshine tormenting my poor red back.
I hit the usual turn. No smell of tanning oil.
At first, I think I've somehow forgotten the street, the house. But, well, the landmarks are all the same - same rundown Victorian homes, same rotten student duplexes and triplexes, same slummy undergraduate upperclassman ghetto.
As I approach I notice there's no furniture in the lawn, the Who Dey! curtains gone from the windows, the inside of the house black as a starless midnight.
The Sunshine Sisters... moved? Without even saying goodbye? How the hell am I gonna gauge my time and distance now?
And I wonder if that chick got her paper turned in before five o'clock?
* * * *
So let's fast forward again, say, oh, another 36 hours.
Two in the morning, ten to twenty minutes until Last Call! for almost all of Oxford's Uptown bars. And I'm outside on the sidewalk on High Street, slightly inebriated and enjoying an unusually cool June night, walking past the main strip of bars when the ol' cell phone starts vibrating in my back pocket.
A text message from a strange number. The message read: Hey still awake? Are U Out or home??? I delete the text, figuring its just a drunk dial. Thirty seconds, later, same message. Not being too good at the whole text message thing, I simply dial the number back...
"Hiiiiii JAYY-sinnn. What's up, Mr. Librarian?"
"Um, not much. Who's this?"
"Izzahizz... I'm...hold on... SHHH! Shut up! I'm asking HIM... are, ah, you like somewhere near [my library]. 'Cuz I'm outside and its closed an' there's this CREEPY guy, like hanging out..."
Researcher Sunshine. Took me a moment to recognize the voice. Don't even remember giving her my phone number, actually.
But obviously drunk enough to have staggered to an expectedly closed library at two in the fucking morning. Normally, during the school year, we're a 24-7 facility. But during the dog days of summer, when the Local U. kids are mostly out of town, we operate like, well, a normal library with normal library hours.
"...Okay chica, tell ya what. 'Bout a block away. Stay right there..."
Another hike. Great. At two in the fucking morning.
* * * *
Turns out both Sunshine Sisters - former roommates - had staggered down to my library after one too many whiskey-diets.
Having just moved out of their summer digs, well, they'd sorta drank enough to sorta forget where they were temporarily staying until they could move into their new place. Still having the keys to their old house, and a few days left on that lease, they figured they'd just go back, crash on the floor...
And the other Sunshine Sister? Well, turns out she'd interviewed me for a class assignment a few years back, about my library's $6 million face lift and the distractions caused to our users by the construction. From what I made out in the Drunk Girl / English translations, that's how the idea to give me a call came up, for some odd reason...
Creepy guys following you, walks down dark alleys, and too much booze rarely mix well in small college towns. Wasn't hard to figure out who the creeper was - the guy was skulking beneath a street lamp on the corner, doing the drunken zombie shadowdance with lager-fortified
You know, I've been blackout, fall down blitzed before, but I've never been so completely bombed as to wander around in public, covered in piss, hollering at female passersby about my prowess in the sack. And I've slept with enough women to know that, yeah, anything that would find such behavior, er, lubricating, is probably marginally able to identify itself as a woman.
All I had to do was to walk two intoxicated super seniors past a barely standing kid who was creepy, sure, but in no condition to pose any threat to three people without so much as a weapon, much less a quickly debuzzified 30-year-old male.
I mean, c'mon - it's only a quarter-mile walk, right? Easy enough, right? I told the two women to just keep quiet, walk past the guy, and let me deal with it if the guy decided to start following us.
Well, if you've ever had to deal with drunk women, you can probably guess that the best laid security plans of mice and men...
"HEY YA FUCKIN' STALKER!" Interviewer Sunshine hollered as we passed the obliviously wasted kid. "This IZZZAGENTLEMAN!
"Yeah, my librarian'll kick your fucking azz ya fucking azzhole!" chimed in Researcher Sunshine, before turning to the street and other late night passersby, hollering, "MY LIBRARIAN WILL KICK ALL YOUR ASSES!"
The creepy guy just stood there, staring for a moment as he swayed in some nonexistent breeze, then, well, just staggered off into the night with a Fuck you, bishes! of his own.
He even growled at me, flexed imaginary biceps. Growled. Not like a scary, rabid dog growl, either. We're talking yapping poodle growl here.
But what kinda guy bails when he hears someone threaten to have a friggin' librarian kick some ass? Seriously. Why not just get a tattoo that reads IMA PUSSY scrawled across your forehead?
By three in the morning, I'm heading down dark, familiar streets, being pulled along by two women who smell of familiar tanning oil towards a familiar house. Literally walking intoxicated Super Seniors like a pair of hyperactive cocker spaniels, with one woman tugging at one hand and another dragging me along by the other.
Oh yeah. I'm glad most of my colleagues aren't usually up that late.
Don't even want to know what they'd think.
Most definitely not the most professional of patron interactions. But I'm not exactly the most professional of librarians at times, either.
- # # # -