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Library

12/26/06 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(HOST) When commentator Caleb Daniloff has a bit of time off, he likes to visit the local library. He says it's more than just a public building filled with books. It's a reminder that not all stories come bound between two covers.

(DANILOFF) One of my favorite lunchtime haunts is the local library. I find a copy of whatever book is currently on my nightstand. Grab a chair and pick up where I left off the evening before. As if my novel had thumbed a ride to the fiction aisle and was waiting for me.

I take a seat on the second floor, cradling a book softened by hundreds of hands over the years. I can almost feel the warmth in its pages. I read for a while, then just listen. The sound of human voices blissfully muted. Instead the rustling of a newspaper, a pencil tapping, rain drumming against the window.

The library is an indoor park. Drawing the disheveled and the proper, the very young and very old, copywriters, artists and mall custodians. The shelves hum with the ghosts of past readers. While the narratives of local citizens unfold in the aisles and at tables. Stories everywhere. After a few more pages, I get up to take a walk around.

I pass a young lady playing solitaire on her laptop. Another sitting by a back window looking out over the parking lot. In the bathroom, I come across a stale-smelling man hurriedly washing socks in the sink. A surveillance camera aimed at the doorless bathroom entrance suggests past trouble.

Downstairs at a computer terminal, a teen and his girlfriend chuckle over an email. I spot a middle-aged woman at a reading desk surrounded by wrinkled shopping bags and law books. I picture her alone at a defense table, representing herself in a custody case. Nearby, a well-dressed businessman sits in a chair reading a magazine. I saw him here the other day, too. I wonder if he's lost his job and hasn't told his family yet.

I wander toward the circulation desk. On a display case sits a box of found photographs makeshift bookmarks left in returned books. A birthday party, guys in a restaurant kitchen, infants galore. Now memories without context, strangers thrown in together. Like animals at a shelter, I try to visit from time to time, flipping through the stack to see who's come, and who's gone.

After a few minutes, I head back upstairs. I notice a bearded man hauling a rain-spattered rucksack and bedroll toward the fiction section. I think of the writers and poets who've educated themselves at this "poor man's university." Is he one? The next Bukowski? Another rumpled man does a crossword at a wooden cubicle. A third mutters under his breath in the history aisle, quietly seeking refuge from the wet and the cold behind walls of books. These men ooze with stories.

I stop at a stairwell door and read the list of library rules: no fighting, no open intoxicants, no animals, no bathing in restrooms. Shirts and shoes must be worn. I imagine life before those signs went up: dirty barefoot drunkards tearing each other's shirts off in the biography section, while their pit bulls went at it in mystery, unaware that in some back room, pen on paper was already changing their lives forever.

Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter, book reviewer and freelance journalist.

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