I WENT TO the Houston Public Library today. It was a beautiful (if windy) day so I decided I’d ride my bike there. I figured I could always use the exercise and I wouldn’t have to worry about parking.
I wish I could say it was a thoroughly pleasant experience, but it was not.
To start with, the guy at the front desk who issued me my library card wasn’t particularly friendly. He tended to bark and mumble and I had to ask him to repeat himself several times, which didn’t please him.
The woman behind the reference desk on the third floor was about as welcoming as the guy at the front desk and she grumbled about the number of microfilm rolls I needed.
When I finally got the rolls of microfilm, I couldn’t figure out how to use the viewing machine and there was no staff around to ask for help.
Eventually I did get help, from a young man who was using machine nearby.
Once I got my viewer going, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was looking for a needle in a haystack and that if I were to find the article I was looking for, it would take a lot longer than the few hours during which the library was open today.
So I did what I do best: I quit.
BEFORE LEAVING THE building, I decided to visit the men’s room. While standing at the urinal, I heard some truly horrific sounds coming from one of the stalls that made me want to get the hell out of there as quickly as I could. I went to the sink and washed my hands more thoroughly than I normally do. Had there been a shower there, I would have probably taken my clothes off and cleansed me entire body.
Then I turned to the paper towel dispenser to find that it had no towels. I dried my hands on my pants and left that room. Rather than leave the building, I decided to do my civic duty and inform the staff about the lack of towels. I finally found a worker and told her, “There are no paper towels in the men’s room.”
She looked at me coldly and said, “Yes, we know.”
“You know? That’s it? You know?”
“Yes,” she said smugly. “We know, and that’s why we have blow driers.”
I spun around and walked to the stairs. When I got the second floor I realized I didn’t have my backpack with me, so I hurried back up to the third floor and was greatly relieved to see my backpack on the floor, where I had left it. My camera and extra lens were still in there.
SO FINALLY, FINALLY, I make my way outside and head towards where I had locked my bike on one of the bike racks.
But I couldn’t find my bike. In the slot where I had locked by bright green bike was instead a dark gray bike. Having had five or six bikes stolen over the last couple of decades, I am by now very familiar with that stunned feeling, that realization that my bike is gone and I’ll never see it again.
I was about to start walking home when it hit me: I no longer have a green bike; it was stolen a couple of years ago. And I replaced it with a dark gray bike, exactly like the one that was locked to that rack!
THE JOY OF finding my never-lost bike was tempered with the awful realization that this is probably what my like is going to be like from now on. Forgetting backpacks. Forgetting what my belongings look like. Forgetting.
I probably would have sat down on the curb and started crying. But I didn’t. Instead I unlocked the bike, put on my helmet, turned on the various blinking lights and got on that dark gray bike to make my way home, fighting the strong headwinds all the way.
And the reason I didn’t give up was that less than an hour earlier, as I was still going through some of those microfilm rolls, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see the smiling face of that young man who had helped me earlier. He had his backpack on and was obviously on his way out.
“I hope you find what you’re looking for,” he said, and then he walked away.
He could have simply left, and gone to wherever he needed to go, but instead he took a few seconds to tell me, “I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
ME TOO. I hope he finds what he’s looking for. I hope we all find what we’re looking for. Even if we never lost it in the first place.