Quite literally, unfortunately.
Even though I have thousands of books and have a “library” in my apartment that contains them, I am a frequent user of the public facility. There is something about acquiring books and/or reading ones I do not own already that makes them more fun. In this economy, I must steer clear of bookstores, lest I spend all my disposable income on whatever strikes my fancy. Therefore, off I traipse to the library during my lunch hour every three weeks to check out at least four books at a pop.
Reading is my usual pre-sleep activity, so over the weekend, whilst laying in bed, I cracked open one of my loaners—Bluebeard. I was struck by how warped and discolored all the pages were. Then, I caught a whiff. I put my face up to it, and immediately pulled it away. Just to make sure it wasn’t an olfactory hallucination, I repeated that action. I got up and brought it to my husband, and asked him, “Does this smell like urine?” One quick sniff test confirmed it.
Yes, someone took a piss on Vonnegut.
Into the nearest plastic bag that foul pulp went, and I couldn’t move fast enough to the bathroom, nor could the water get hot enough, to cleanse my hands à la Lady MacBeth. Out, damned stench! Being a bit germaphobic, I was apprehensive crawling back under the covers as I tried to recall if the defiled book touched any part of the bed. Since it was too late to strip and wash, I decided that ignorance is occasionally a blissfully acceptable approach to the situation. I just hoped that it was either cat or dog urine. Hell, I’d even be okay if a horse emptied its bladder in a torrential downpour onto the poor, unsuspecting novel. I just couldn’t countenance it being human. It seemed . . . grosser. Besides, who could hate Vonnegut that much?
What I didn’t realize in my effort to keep the diseases at bay until Labor Day weekend came to an end, is that enclosing the urine smell makes it stronger. My nostrils were assaulted with that reality once I pulled it out of my bag when I got to work. The funk was pervasive, and even after putting it into an envelope AND inside a paper bag, I still smelled it. I called the circulation desk to alert them of my dilemma. To say the clerk sounded dubious is an understatement, but he did not verbally call me on it. He did tell me to return it as soon as possible. I couldn’t wait for lunchtime to roll around so I could be rid of that egregious object so that I could move onto prose that would be less offensive to my senses. Perhaps something from de Sade?
Thankfully, I did not have to wait in line for assistance. Sadly, the guy I spoke to on the phone was the next available attendant. He was not happy to see me, and made a show of annoyance as he removed the envelope from the paper bag, the plastic bag from the envelope, and opened the plastic bag to confirm the horror. It was like an iniquitous nesting doll. He pulled back his head in disgust, and this was the conversation that ensued:
Me: “It wasn’t that bad before when my husband and I smelled it, but the bag encapsula . . .”
Clerk 1: “Remove this book from the system right away!”
Clerk 2: “Eww, what’s the number?”
Clerk 1: (Do you think I remembered the number during my moment of ignominy? Make up one.)
Me: “I can’t believe someone would return a book after peeing on it.”
Clerk 2: “Okay, it’s gone. Now just put it away!”
Me: “Thanks.” Exit in embarrassment stage left.
Clerk 1: “Have a nice day.”
Now, do you think he really meant that? It was pretty obvious from their responses (yes, in a fit of paranoia, I honed in on their micro-expressions) that they didn’t believe I was the innocent victim here. Perhaps it was that askance look he gave me as I explained the physics of entrapped odors and their affect on the strength of them. I was very tempted to officiously ask, “Do I look like someone who would take a piss on a book, much less public property?” But, one way to detect that someone is lying is if she gets a bit too wordy. I thought that would be throwing me into the gray zone. I left fully confident that I introduced a little slice of Hell into their day.
I suspect when the remaining books are due, I will just deposit them in the overnight book drop, lest they flagged my account as a problem user. Oy. I think I’ll take a short vacation from checking out books, just long enough for them to forget my face.