Yesterday was a relatively hot day for November here in Missouri. In the morning, I expected frigid temperatures and dressed accordingly in a Sock Monkey hat and winter coat. I stepped outside and realized the temperature wasn’t all that bad but had too much to do, there was no turning back to return the winter accoutrements.
On the way to school I was sweaty. Normally making a mistake like this I can tough it out because I run cold. Yesterday was not the case. As the time passed the day grew hotter, grittier. Unfortunately as the day grew hotter so did my body temperature and when my body temperature goes up, I get paranoid.
This paranoia dates back to grade school, as a matter of fact 6th grade. It’s the age when you first realize you need deodorant because you don’t want to be the smelly kid in class. Yesterday, I feared the worst. I couldn’t get our hot water to work in the apartment, so I forewent a shower and put on deodorant. Here is the weird thing about my body chemistry, I have the ability to burn through any deodorant after a certain temperature and turn any alloy metal jewelry green. (That last part is true and was thrown in there just to show HOW much my body chemistry changes within a given time span.) Needless to say, no shower + sweat = silently smelly.
Yesterday, as I was sweating, I realized maybe I shouldn’t take my coat off. Regardless of deodorant, the perspiration was in excess thus outweighing the effect of said deodorant. Then came my literature class. As I sat there discussing an important work “Americanah” with classmates I started to become self-conscious. Could they smell the funk of forty-thousand years?
Then our professor put the class on the spot. She needed volunteers for our final presentation. She needed 6 people to go first. Nerves were on full alert. I didn’t want to sweat anymore. Relenting I put up my hand and said, “Alright, I’ll do it.” The nervousness stopped but the heat didn’t. The winter coat I was wearing had masked some of the smell but I feared it was starting to seep out. As if the arm pit of my coat was the magic porthole of smell, I put my arm down as quick as it went up. Luckily the next class I had I could sit in the back, relatively unnoticed.
After the final class I made way to the school library to check out a book on the author whose book I’m doing a presentation on, not to name drop, but it’s Sherman Alexie.I trekked all the way to the library. Everyone’s eyes were on me, wondering why anyone would be wearing a winter coat in 65 degree weather. My feet crept closer to the glass doors in the front of the library,it seemed like it was taking forever. With my toes dragging behind me I went through the doors to encounter the pleasant smell of coffee wandering through the air. I crawled up a flight of stairs. Surely no amount of water was left in my body by now.
Expecting to find rows of books, I saw computers. “Crap,” I thought after scrambling past the first two computers which were out-of-order. Then, an open computer with a chair seemed to appear out of nowhere, pleasantly awaiting my sweat drenched carcass in a glow of light that can only be described as heavenly when seen from afar, but hellish when you are sitting in the light, dressed in full winter regalia with 60 pounds of knowledge weighing you down in your backpack.
I felt like I was in an ill-dressed western. I looked up out of the beautiful library windows squinting like Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Only, this version was less epic and could add, “The Smelly” on the end of the title. The computer was taking forever to boot up. A bead of sweat rolled across my brow. My head slowly cocked left, then right. Somewhere in the library rafters an Eagle cawed.
My 35-year-old fingers were in search of a long extinct Dewey Decimal System. Instead they found themselves resting on the keyboard typing in the title to the elusive book, “Understanding Sherman Alexie”. A number popped up. Being a woman left to her own devices I scrambled to find paper to write the card catalogue number on. Pen met paper, or rather a spare AT&T envelope left over in my bag. I shoved all utensils back in my back-pack and walked to the flight of stairs. Taking in a deep breath, one foot fell in front of the other up the metallic post modern staircase.
The library had changed so much since the last time I had been there. The books had apparently taken sides. All call numbers A through L were on one, and L through Z on the other.
I picked the wrong side.
I have no internal compass. Like a GPS I rerouted, about faced and made way down a blue carpeted wide aisle. Many students started staring at me. At first I think it’s because they’re all 18 and they’re all on to the fact that I’m a sweaty, smelly non-traditional student going back at the age of 35. It was like 22 Jump Street, only less cool because I wasn’t Jonah Hill.
Then they must have thought I looked like a deranged grade-school teacher who had an argument with a Sock Monkey, gutted it and wore it’s fibrous skull for a hat. The students I had passed put their heads back down and kept “studying” if that’s what they wanted to call it. Then it happened.
I ran head first into pungency that was not my own.
I looked to my right, students immediately put their head down. Suddenly I wasn’t smelling my own fear, but rather someone else’s who “dealt it” and bolted. Everywhere my head turned a student had previously been looking up only to pretend to study again.
Through the dense fog of gaseous funk, I made my way waving my arm and covering my mouth as if I was a military person going through a training session in one of those houses they fill with tear gas so you can get experience. This wasn’t experience. This was a library. A place for books, not farts.
The smog cleared and I combed through the many books, searching up and down the aisles for this book about a man named Sherman. There it was, on the top shelf, gleaming like the holy grail. I was so tired and gassed out. My trembling hand, fumbled it’s way to the top of the shelf, trying to grasp the book. My index finger bumped the book causing it to disappear from sight. My arm fell. Exasperated like a kid who never caught the ball in a game of keep away I leapt and grabbed the book.
I looked to the end of the aisle, no one understood my struggle. Nobody was around to celebrate this moment with me. It was at this moment I realized I was in the eye of the storm. I drew in a deep breath and carried on. Not because I was upset, but because I knew what was awaiting me on the other side, and if I was to survive, I couldn’t breathe.
Again I put my hand up, the cloud had become thicker and more dense. Buzzards had started circling above my head. The students again hid behind their books like citizens in the wild west hid behind saloon doors. The coveted book was under my right arm. (In hindsight a sweaty pit was probably not the wisest place to carry a book.)
One foot in front of the other down a flight of stairs then another. Those steps were all that was separating me from the freedom of my coat. Then I walked down another flight of steps, only to realize it was one floor too many. I walked back up one flight of stairs to see a puzzled librarian. At last, I arrived at my metaphorical bar. The barkeeper served up a due date of three months from now.
Pun intended, I booked it out of there.
Thank you Sherman Alexie for inspiring this post and for making me realize there is a place for humor in literature.