In October of 1996, you got on an elevator to go up to the seventh floor of your high school friend’s dorm room. Now in college, he was your main go-to for booze when your newer friends couldn’t produce. He had buddies in the ROTC that were drinking age. You were quite proud of yourself, having gotten Daddy to spring for a pad off campus instead of making you live in the dorms for a third year (the horror!). You fancied yourself on the verge of attracting a female, as you’d taken hydrogen peroxide and dyed your hair blondish in streaks that almost looked as if you spent the summer out at the beach or boathouse instead of working for minimum wage in the hotel kitchen. Your black Chevy S-10 pickup truck, a gift from Daddy raiding your college savings in high school, still looked to you to be pretty cool and special. You’d purchased a semi-stylish Tommy Hilfiger shirt from the thrift store–it was only a year out of fashion.
A beautiful young lady got on the elevator and smiled at you. She looked you up and down, and you could see that she liked what she saw. And this scared the hell out of you. All of your efforts were working! You didn’t know what to do or say, without coming off as the hayseed boob you completely were on the inside.
A week later, your downward plunge of shame was made complete by the donning of a McDonald’s t-shirt, ballcap and cheap, black greaseproof-soled boots. As you’ve told the tale a million times before, you made the decision not to say a word to that young lady, and instead pursue drinking opportunities at ROTC parties where everyone was either married or already practically engaged. It didn’t occur to you that the same folks who brought you the service of being “of age” beer drinkers were also the ones who hung out with even older folks who didn’t bring along any cute, Freshman friends with them.
With your license revoked from the DWI, and you working off all of the lawyer and court fees in your state of shame, you discovered the main library at the university.
You’d first encountered it about a year or so ago, when you decided that you were going to be a booknerd like your one college roommmate, whom you’d scared away after the very first semester due to an exceptionally unhealthy night of binge drinking and puking all over his precious Smiths CD collection (which he played constantly, and you hated because you were still stuck in a high school, guitar hero state of mind, but that’s another story…) For some reason, anyway, you decided that Everett’s approach to college was the one to take–which, to sum it up in terms easily understood by the reader, Everett was a proto-hipster.
You sort of knew that John Steinbeck was more of a literary writer than not, and so on your first trip to the college library, you thought that you would make quite the impression on the goatteed slacker at the reference desk when you asked where the John novels were. Of course, Everett would have sniffed and hmmphed at the idea of reading John Steinbeck past the ninth grade of High School, but you felt like you had to start somewhere. The goatteed reference desk slacker probably thought you were the typical anti-library, non-thinking dude poking his head into the library only because he had a class assignment to complete. He absentmindedly waved his hand over to the card catalog, and muttered something about computers you could use to find John Steinbeck over on the third floor.
You were not especially deterred by his lack of enthusiasm for your newfound lust for literature, but you didn’t dive headfirst into the library, and make it your womb away from those oppressive college classes and your McDonald’s tour of shame until that day in October when you decided to start with a book from the 1930s on Astral Projection. You proceeded to read everything you could on the subject, then moved on to Buddhism and Hinduism, and tried to raise your Kundalini serpent while astrally projecting yourself in hopes that you might go have some astral sex with a coed stumbling about in her dreams.
You found a giant selection of all of Gandhi’s writings, and thought perhaps one day after you were done partying and trying to have astral sex, you could retreat into a monastic state of existence and help others find enlightenment while freeing them from whatever oppressive bondage they were in from their government. You picked up Kant, Nietzsche, Sartre and books for the layman on Quantum Physics. You continued your lust for literature and ploughed through Dickens, Dostoevsky, Updike, Victor Hugo, Anthony Burgess, and eyed the shelves and shelves of books by Balzac and Sir Walter Scott, hoping to one day surmount each and every one of those shelves of books in a systematic sort of way.
You ravaged the magazine section, pulling down academic journals on modern art, architecture, lit crit, sociology, political science, current affairs, aerospace engineering. You dutifully read the New York Times almost every single day.
You found entire sections of the library containing bound copies of old newspapers, magazines and journals from every era. You checked out colorful books about Gaugin and Matisse.
Somehow, you managed to also stop into your classes often enough to take a few notes, grab all of the important reading assignments, and mostly get As and Bs in every class that wasn’t especially difficult. With any given class, your standard operating procedure was to flatly refuse to do the reading assignments until the night before the test, and then cram as much as you could. Later, after the class was over, you’d pick up an interest in whatever had been taught in that class, and go back and find a bunch of books related to the class in the library–and read those books instead of reading the ones you were supposed to be reading for your current class.
It was, you thought, a subtle way of rebelling against Daddy, who was paying for everything except for your DWI fees and fines. Fine, Daddy, I’ll go and get this college education you are paying for if you insist, but I’m not going to act like I’m enjoying it or am engaged with the classes at hand. Instead, I’ll pretend each semester that I don’t care, and only do the minimal amount of work needed to pass–and if I fail, why then that’s a sign, dearest Daddy, that I am just not college material.
In a lot of ways, you were not college material. You hated being told what to learn, and you were terrified of being shot down by a professor or another student if you spoke up in class. You despised the smug, pompous types in your creative writing classes, who all seemed to think their little five-page pieces about some threeway they had the previous summer was righteous and perfect pitch literature. They would trot out the old “it’s not very believable” critique more often than you thought anyone in a college creative writing class should.
The truth was, you hated people disagreeing with you or proving you wrong. You really wanted to learn in a magical environment among some unrealistic kinds of people who agreed with everything you said, and nodded their heads sagely, taking copious notes every time you opened your mouth. You were terrified of being told that you were approaching life all wrong, probably because deep down, you knew that this was exactly the truth of the matter. You would have to wait for years of brutal, backstabbing office environments, and getting your work critiqued constantly, to come to appreciate the usefulness of being tol you are wrong and have to change yourself and your work to get better.
But, your monstrous appetite for everything in the library never really abated. You often find yourself in box bookstores that sell new books, or even Half Price Books, buying books that you could have gotten from used sellers on Amazon much more cheaply. This folly is born out of the sense you get from a book in hand that you can somehow magically make all of the information in it go into your brain in a rapid fashion that won’t require actually reading it all of the way through. You don’t get this sort of impression from perusing books on Amazon.
You will probably always find yourself, in whatever town you live in, going to the local public library and checking out a dozen books you’ll never finish–even if they are completely unrelated to anything you’d ever intended to read before you found them on the shelves.
Now, if you could walk into a library the size of your old university library, and find each book on the shelf had a QR code you could scan to take you to the Amazon reseller with the lowest bid (or perhaps the third lowest bid as you never trust that guy with the lowest bid), and you could instantly buy the book you fell in love with from your mobile device–then, you would probably have discovered the ultimate source of your downfall, a vice or addiction far greater than anything that booze or drugs could bring you. Soon, you and your wife would be in more debt than if you’d taken up a gambling habit. But, you’d have your own personal library, from which you could try to satiate your monstrous appetite.