If you’ve read your entire life and written for a living, you store people and events: flamboyant developers, towns full of angry ex-New York City folks, strange stories involving back road abductions, toothless couples cheating on each other, dentists accused of murder, top doctors going off their meds.
My first nine months as a library clerk pushed me to rewatch The Wire. I wanted to run diary entries from my work experience alongside notes taken while watching the classic series’ dark glimpse into the various systems by which modern cities live.
A 14-year-old with his pants slung below his ass threatens to shoot my ass. A drunk homeless man puts a leaking bag of beer on a desk, and suddenly the entire branch starts smelling like a bar. An increasingly belligerent guy begins riffing about his years as a bouncer. Two sisters get in a fight, crying, wrenching the extensions from each other’s hair, and breaking each other’s glasses. Someone spits on a librarian. Someone else bounces a brick off our window.
Magical moments, too. A library full of attitude-drenched teens talking in Elizabethan slang after they overhear a group of adults reading Shakespeare out loud. Dance-offs with earphones. A six-year-old who takes out two volumes of the Library of America’s collected William James then returns them when he realizes there are no pictures.
Several kids took to hugging me. They smelled of piss and had been kicked out of all libraries for anger issues, but I’d sit with them out front and let them talk and cry. I’d bring them wipes, to clear those tears, and a cold drink.
I refused to press charges when the library asked me to after I got punched in the face by another kid. I yelled at an assistant principal from the nearby middle school when she pushes a kid into a closet and locks the door.
I abandoned my Wire notes. Too academic.
Most of the shootings this year and last have been by kids. A 17-year-old I met killed two people. I try to find a place of empathy and understanding for the motivation, the way such plots must build and gain resonance.
I realize I can make a plot, but only one based on other plots.
I file the stories. They help me live.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.