I could probably write a book about the many unusual incidents I have experienced at various libraries. The following was written in 2010 after an unusual incident at the Broken Bow Public Library that involved me and The Library Cat.
It is dedicated to the memory of the best feline literary companion a boy could ever have…
TRIP TO CRAZY
(a true experience)
by John L. Harmon
I once believed my lap was well within my personal space. A sacred area that could only be breached upon my strict permission and even then it would be enter at your own risk. Now, after a most eventful excursion to the Broken Bow Public Library, I am left feeling quite uncertain about boundaries and mentalities.
The day started, like most strange days often do, as perfectly ordinary, even typical. I awoke in darkness, assisted in the distribution of bad news, breakfasted, and then read said bad news. The Garfield strip was thoroughly entertaining, so life was good while I utilized various toiletries.
After a citrus-scented shower, I gathered up library essentials. It would be impossible to leave the house without my blue five-subject notebook. I may have to take notes or type whatever mad rambling I am currently focused on, such as this. As a companion to my notebook, a blue plastic folder/binder is a nice fit. It provides excellent protection for anything I print, whether it be from damp substances or unsightly creases.
I also grab whatever book I am currently reading. That day it was "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" by J.K. Rowling, which was blissfully shorter than the previous hernia-inducing doorstop. To top off this studious collection: a BIC Cristal. This is a wonderfully inexpensive pen that writes fluidly until the ink is visibly gone. Once you've gone BIC, nothing else will do the trick!
I slipped the exalted writing utensil in my breast pocket, without a protector (I'm a geek, not a nerd, thank you) and threw on my black pullover jacket. Then, with my hands full, I awkwardly petted Gray Kitty and stepped out into the pleasant February air, neither knowing nor expecting the mind-reeling experience that was waiting for me and another simply-named feline.
To reach the library I walked through Broken Bow's downtown. While the area is not quite a Petula Clark wonderland, there are interesting sights to behold.
A clinic, with all female doctors, stands across the street from two pharmacies. It could be described as the downtown medical district or a prescription junkie's paradise, either way it is conveniently located. Nearby, in the middle of our Shirley Jackson-ish town square, sits a towering gazebo (well, bandstand, technically). The plainly beautiful structure has not only inspired me creatively, but is also the home of fragrant childhood memories.
Finally, after passing the stately post office and a faintly unsettling headstone business, I arrived at the Broken Bow Public Library. In case of confusion, the name is displayed in big letters on the side of the long, dark brick building, accentuated with white brick trim. On the roof is an Aztec pyramid formation that is a source of natural light inside. Back down on the ground two sidewalks, forming an awkward V, converge upon the single front door.
I entered that door, stepping into the muted mustard yellow entryway. A small bench, surrounded by prickly plant decorations, sits in a corner with a piece of modern art hanging beside it. The colorful painting is a fascinating study in duality, at least from my perspective. When I stand to the left my focus is on melding blocks of light blue, beige, and white, like looking into a slice of Heaven. Standing on the other side shifts my focus to red, black, and sickly yellow, a dark view into Hell. It would soon become apparent which side of the painting followed me through the second door and into the library.
The front desk beckoned and I did what I almost always do first, signed in for computer use. I chatted with the librarians about nothing specific as I pressed pen to paper. Then I wandered over to one of the five computers arranged in a half circle, the Aztec pyramid above. I plopped down on one of the edges, which I often seek out so I am not sandwiched between two people.
There were things I should have been doing with the allotted time. Researching on-demand publishers, performing more of the Final Edit, or even continuing my Classic Doctor Who education, but for some reason I wasn't feeling it. Instead, I putzed around, mainly looking up random films and television programs on Internet Movie Database.
After an enjoyable waste of time, I meandered back to the front desk to sign out, knowing who would be waiting for me: TLC, aka The Library Cat, though he is more commonly known as Top Library Cat. He was introduced to me with the The, which stuck, but I often endearingly refer to him as "Library Kitty." He is average size, with a dark gray coat accented by white feet, chin, and belly. His fur is short and a little rough, much like his temperament.
Over the years I have learned the proper amount of attention to lavish upon him. Occasionally an overdose of petting causes TLC to become rather feisty, and sometimes he is downright naughty for no discernible reason. He has bitten my belly, clamped his teeth on my arm, and attacked my legs after putting him on the floor. Somehow he has never drawn blood, from me, anyway.
After signing out, TLC followed (or lead) me to our usual chair located near the periodicals. It is a cozy area with a fireplace and greenery, like a study or a den. I placed my coat and library essentials on the floor at my left, sat down, and then our dance commenced. He sat down on my right and looked expectantly up at me. I reached my hand down for him to rub his face on. After being approved, I leaned back and patted my lap. TLC wriggled in anticipation and then leaped up, happily purring. He walked around my lap in small circles, allowing me to pet him, before he stretched out for his late-morning catnap.
I carefully bent over, picked "Harry Potter" up off the floor, and settled back. TLC was already half asleep when I briefly and tenderly cupped the back of his head, and then opened my book. It was at this relaxing moment we heard an ominous call.
"Kitty, kitty, kitty."
Initially, I figured the squeaky voice was emitting from an annoying little kid, but I only got two of my three assumptions correct. I peered over "The Half-Blood Prince," my eyes widening at the sight of a short woman barreling in our direction. This oncoming individual was not unknown to me because of her husband being an acquaintance of mine.
"You stole my cat!" the familiar woman screeched, grinding to a halt in front of us.
My startled mind barely processed the complete falsehood of her accusation when she reached out and petted TLC as if he were a puppy, which annoyed not only him. Firstly, he is an adult cat. Secondly, I am accustomed to adults and children petting TLC while he rests on my lap, but they ask first or at least keep it brief with an air of tentativeness. This woman was something else entirely.
As if to confirm that last statement, she attempted to coax him off my lap by waving her arms and commanding, "Come're kitty. Come with me." TLC was having none of this, which I admit, filled me with immense satisfaction. I was preferred, the chosen one, if you will excuse the "Harry Potter" reference.
I thought this woman had at last given up when she walked away, possibly to attend a Lullaby League meeting. Alas, I was wrong. She was off telling everyone and their mother how I stole her cat! "The Half-Blood Prince" swirled as I rolled my eyes, feeling utterly annoyed and having completely underestimated the lengths this woman would go. That is when IT happened...the unthinkable, the unbelievable, the wholly unappealing.
This determined, deranged woman stormed back over to us, once again accusing me of feline thievery. Just when I thought this routine was becoming seriously old, she invaded my bathroom area with one swift movement, effectively removing TLC from my person.
I sat flabbergasted, for many reasons, mainly because this near-stranger penetrated my personal space, but also because of her flagrant feline-ignorance. Even during the stunningly horrific moment, as she lifted TLC from my lap, I managed to utter, "He's going to bite you."
Sure enough, within seconds of her taking a seat not too far away, TLC reacted accordingly. Then, as if she hadn't done enough already, this increasingly irritating woman complained to the librarians. Complained that TLC was being mean and that they should shut him away for a while.
I was upset by this. No. I was freakin' livid! So much so that I vocally bounded to TLC's defense by explaining, in a loud and possibly whiny voice, how she came over and took him off my lap! Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and TLC did not get shut away because, as one of the astute librarians pointed out, he probably just wanted to sleep on my lap.
The woman disappeared into the shelves and TLC wandered in back to cool down with food and drink, leaving me alone to read. It was exceedingly difficult to focus on the magical words in front of me. Perhaps I was feeling territorial or just plain violated, but literary concentration was a distant land. I even slapped the open book against my forehead, trying to gain control, but it was a no-go situation. All I could think was, How dare she grab him off my lap and then try to get him in trouble!
It was at this point I seriously considered leaving. I couldn't read. TLC had not returned, and even if he did, that woman was still lurking about. I wasn't sure if I could handle another rousing chorus of "You stole my cat!" and if the police would consider my potential reaction justifiable. Then, when I was just about to rise, TLC strolled around a corner.
I still contemplated leaving, reliving the screechy accusation in my head, but he came back! It meant that he did not blame me for that woman's repugnant behavior! How could I refuse him? So, like a whore with greenbacks thrown at my feet, I patted my lap and told him, "Come on."
You would think that would be the end of this tale, reading and napping happily ever after, but there is a little more. While the odious woman was off being obnoxious in another area of the library, her husband—the established acquaintance of mine—arrived on the scene.
He seemed genuinely unaware of the events that had just transpired as he stood and chatted with me. TLC slept through our protracted conversation of old times, new times, and in-between times. The topic inevitably veered toward his...most...interesting...wife.
I discovered she is partially deaf, which did not change my rather negative opinion. That particular genetic wiring does not give one carte blanche to behave like an undisciplined child. Then, as if to test my sympathy and empathy, I was informed of how she had been mercilessly teased in school. Typically, I rally around my fellow Carries, but not this time. My mind turned Siberian, Color me unsurprised. There might have been a reason...
Before I knew it she reappeared, possibly as a punishment for my frigid thoughts, and informed her husband that I (drum roll please) stole her cat. It took massive fortitude not to grimace and/or roll my eyes. TLC, of course, woke up at the shrill of her voice and she petted him rather roughly again. I froze, waiting for IT to reoccur, but she thankfully ventured no further into my personal space.
Her husband must have known her charge was imaginary, or he's sadly used to her wild outbursts, because all he inquired of me is if TLC had ever bit me. I explained that when in a bad mood he does, but mostly he is a peaceful feline, at least with me. Though I did mention how it took me a good chunk of time to achieve even this sometimes tenuous level of compatibility.
Satisfied with my answer, husband and wife blissfully vacated the Broken Bow Public Library. I remained there for longer than usual so TLC could nap and I could read more of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"—a hard-earned reward for surviving our trip to crazy.
Yes, I once believed my lap to be well within my personal space, and perhaps it still is, but notions surrounding the defiled area have changed. I now tense when a potentially unstable mentality approaches my boundary, for I can no longer be certain of their feline intentions. A pet or a grab? The only thing I am certain of is if IT happened once, IT can happen again.
For a better understanding of the environment in which this unusual incident occurred, feel free to view the following You Tube video… (I was sitting in the chair by the holiday tree when my lap was violated)
Be well, Readers, and Freak Out,