Library Castaways

January 23, 2009

Sometimes you see something over and over without really seeing it. Then one day it registers more vividly and emotionally. The scene, static and benign before, comes alive.

That was my experience today at the Multnomah County Library in downtown Portland. I had popped in to check out a book. A library employee, whose makeup and attire and attitude reminded me of a surly Boy George, had to retrieve the book from storage. So I had fifteen minutes to kill and wandered the second and third floors. The tables and PCs were jammed with men wearing the scruffy, weathered look of the homeless.

Maybe the deteriorating economy made me more aware of those who appear to have fallen off the financial cliff. Or maybe there were simply more of them than usual. They looked like hapless castaways, lost in the worlds of what they were reading. I wasn’t nosy enough to investigate what was capturing their attention. Was it escapism or utilitarian? I guess anything is worth perusing rather than dealing with the cold and wind and uncertainty outside.

As I passed through the lobby on my way out, a deputy sheriff escorted a toothless, sun-scorched woman toward the entrance. He told her she couldn’t come back for seven days. Asked if she understood, her mouth moved but she said nothing.

Outside I saw two books abandoned atop the low wall in front of the library. They were twenty feet apart. Both were Frank Herbert’s Dune, one in hardcover and the other a battered paperback. I read the book years ago and occasionally encounter the David Lynch-directed movie on TV when I have trouble sleeping.

At home I searched online for quotes from the book that might ring with relevance to my library observations. Two grabbed me:

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”

And: “O you who know what we suffer here, do not forget us in your prayers.”