Thursday, February 7, 2013

Valentine Note

I have been a wicked blogger, never posting. Now I'm biding my time or something, backlogging posts. Here is an old story that never found a home. Names have not been changed, and nobody was hurt, really. As per usual with these story things, my emotional climate is pretty regular afterward. Think I saw this lady on the bus last year. Elvis pinball machine, RIP. Anyhow! A seasonal posting. 

Rachel was the sexy librarian. We worked together. Once when I was clunking my bookcart out from an ancient freight elevator decorated in fraternity hieroglyphs and teenage clich├ęs, the rear left wheel caught on the floor’s threshold and a deluge of hard covers spilled across the linoleum. Rachel stood nearby wearing a corduroy hat. Wordlessly, she started piling books and slipping them back on my cart. I was trying to figure that hat out while she smiled at me and left, disappearing into the book stacks.

I explained the event to my roommate, Munchie, recalling that the books were mostly the letters and memos of Warren Harding.
“Someone must’ve checked out all those books in a row,” he said, distracted. “Someone made the biggest mistake of their life…”
I looked at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “what did you say her name was again?”

She had a nice Specials patch clipped on her ratty backpack so I told her so. (In case you’ve never heard The Specials, listen to “Monkey Man.”) Rachel and I became eFriends with email. For a week we exchanged cryptic notes. Giving me smiles and nods as we passed through the stacks, she didn’t seem to want conversation. But she kept sending me reading lists. Annotated lists of titles to check out from the stacks. Shamefully, I read through one of the lists.

One night before closing I read some Rilke, a poem called “The Lute.” I read it in my little booth by the revolving doors. Some people swished in and I forgot to check their IDs. “If you wish to describe 
my body,” goes the poem, “…
 speak of me as you would of a ripe/
full-bodied fig. Exaggerate. I couldn’t help but think she was trying to tell me something. Did it mean pursuit?

One night at Skylark, the 22nd street bar under the overpass, I was drinking with this marketing major who was working on a fashion blog. He told me about Paulo Coehlo and how Coehlo solved all his problems. I said no thanks I’ve already got a reading list. Then my friend Munchie padded in like an old dog, wet and smelling of smoke. He scrunched into the booth with us and laid his claims for affection on Rachel.
“You can’t lay your claims on someone,” said the marketing major, “people aren’t property!” 
“We know, we know, would you shut up?” I said. “It’s just a fun cowboy expression.”

The Librarian knew how to work things. She ran the heart-strings ragged for a month. Eventually, and at the height of my form, I made it about halfway through her reading list and recorded her a mixtape. I travailed a blizzard to find a store selling cassette tapes. I had to buy a 12-pack of them; you can’t buy single tapes anymore.

Despite coercion, she did not accept the tape. We were to meet in the library. I sent her a note via email:
I have made you a tape, it’s very good. It’s probably worth a lot of money, too, if you decide to sell it. Meet up this afternoon? –Jim

I’m sick,” her email said. “And what’s more, I don’t have a tape player.

Did I mention it happened to be Valentine’s Day? Our affections became a mockery when she showed up at our Anti-Valentine’s party, lamenting her lack of a boyfriend.
            “Boy, you really are sick!” I said, but nobody heard my joke and she pretended to ignore me, so I made it again, only louder, then she glanced at me as of to say “stop.” Halfway through the evening Munchie assured me she had laid claims on him, too.

We all had our hearts in the fire for a while there. Maybe not our hearts.

Everyone was surprised a week later when she started dating the video game programmer. It came to a head around 11pm on a Thursday at Skylark. The programmer had a beard and a heavy watch. My friend Ange and I angled ourselves across the bar. Ange popped the top button on my collar in Rachel’s eyesight. Rachel hung her hat on the coat hook. She stared at my dead-eyed from the Elvis pinball machine. We were all shook up.