It had been
a tiring day (for a retiree): tennis in the morning, shopping/cooking
for dinner (my turn), and now, a long afternoon walk to
my local library branch, to return a book that was due in
a few days. So, after sending the book down the ‘Returns’
chute, when I spotted a vacant armchair, I pounced (in a
matter of speaking).
My plan was
to rest a bit before trekking home. But all those busy people,
reading or pecking away at computers, made me think I should
take out a book, even though I was in the middle of a good
one (Coleridge, Early Visions, by Richard Holmes).
On the other hand, if I started scanning the shelves, I
might well lose my armchair, the only vacant one.
Then, I spotted
a new mystery novel by a Polish author I liked. Since it
was practically staring at me, from about five feet away,
I got up, grabbed it, and plopped back down.
pages were unpromising. Apparently, the supermarket, where
Chief Inspector Gotkowski shopped, was experiencing a spate
of shoplifting. While the detective, a bachelor, selected
tonight’s TV dinner and six-pack, the Manager, with
whom he often chatted, bemoaned the problem.
opening suggested that the author had been milking her formula
for too long. She now faced the dilemma so many artists
face, when the shelf life of their ‘brand’ expires.
There may be “no frigate like a book,” but this,
the eleventh instalment in the Inspector Gotkowski series,
promised to be a ponderous cruise ship bound for a familiar
a few more pages, I read how the Polish sleuth, in his usual
clever way, was trolling for clues. As the Manager explained,
most of the theft was taking place in the produce department,
where there were two new employees. At that point, I realized
my head was about to slump down onto my chest.
It was time
to leave. If I nodded off, I knew, the bored security guard
would be on me like white-on-rice (although he is ‘black’
and I am ‘white’). I had witnessed his alarming
method of awakening the poor homeless people who fell asleep
in his domain: a loud rap of his nightstick on the arm of
their chair, inches from their head. Since I did not want
this to happen to me, I considered getting up, putting the
book back in place, and leaving. But the prospect of the
long slog home was still daunting, so I decided to rest
for just a few more moments in my comfortable chair. I was
awakened by the thud of the hard-backed tome onto the industrial
carpet, and the sharp pain caused by its collision with
my shin, on the way down.
I cried, provoking loud shh-ing from a librarian and several
fellow patrons. The wall clock gave me another shock: I
had been asleep for eleven minutes. Where had the security
Then, I spotted
him, hitching up his pants as he hurried from the men’s
Room, which is in a back corner of the library. Getting
up, I staggered a bit, from my customary dizziness. Then,
I picked up the book, returned it to its place, and left
Out on the sidewalk,
I Instinctively reached for my wallet, which I always carried
in my front left pants pocket. This, despite my wife’s
warning that pickpockets would find that pocket easy . .
. well . . . pickings. But, since she carried her own wallet
in a zippered shoulder bag, what did she know? Besides,
I’m stubborn: I like to figure things out for myself.
alas, was missing! My first thought was that, when I nodded
off, it might have fallen into the armchair. My second thought
was that one of the other patrons might already have spotted
it and swooped down like a vulture. Frantically, I checked
my other pockets. Nothing. The wallet was gone.
As soon as I
rushed back inside, however, the library gods smiled on
me: my armchair was still vacant, and right there, in the
back left corner, sat my dear old wallet. Since it was black,
it was barely visible on the dark-blue cushion. Was that
why it was still there?
none of the cash, cards, etc. were missing, and having learned
my lesson, I carefully zipped the wallet into the inside
pocket of my windbreaker. Then, feeling a bit guilty for
having assumed that a fellow patron had robbed me, I left
the building for a second time. As I stumbled home, patting
my jacket pocket every few steps, for some reason I flashed
not on having nodded off at the library, and not on my lost-and-found
wallet, but on a scene from a few days before.
reading my book (the Coleridge) at the main library branch
on a brisk and sunny fall day, I carried my bag lunch out
to Bryant Park. Amidst the welter of construction for the
upcoming holiday selling season, I found a vacant, sunny
bench. (My wife and I call these holiday booths ‘the
tents of the wicked.’)
When I had eaten
my frugal meal of cheese and crackers, I found myself studying
other people’s footwear, probably in order to keep
from nodding off. It struck me that many passersby wore
the same heavy boots as the construction workers. It seemed
incongruous that men and women in power suits would wear
work boots. Idly, I now wonder whether any of these suits-in-boots
might also be produce purloiners.