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Ayala Sela

Five years old and barely three and a half feet tall, the climb to reach the top of the shining stairs was a daunting, yet rewarding undertaking. I saluted each of the stately lions, Colonel Clifford and Sir Alfred the Third dutifully, my grip on my mother’s hand loosened with excitement at the sight of the gorgeous colossal columns and sparkling marble.

I'm nearly fifteen, and I find myself back at the worn-out stairs, wondering why I didn’t choose a phony location for this project. I have no trouble finding the building on my way there, the pompous and a tad pitiful Beaux-Arts style of the library makes it mercilessly stick out on the horizon. Originating in France, the Beaux-Arts style emphasized Greek and Roman forms, massive plans, a lot of masonry, and drowning buildings in ornaments, it seems. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building looms overhead and is as dusty as my memory of the place. I hesitantly dodge the people strewn on the steps and mentally frown at the man who throws his KIND bar wrapper on the floor and walks away.

Security guards stand on the sidelines as I entered the building, a standard protocol initiated because of the library's reputation for "[acquiring] materials regarded as controversial—even offensive (...) despite the objections of government and citizens' patriotic groups". The security guards that checked my mother's bag were enormous. So enormous, that my unworldly mind fleetingly questioned their humanity. Whatever profound thought brewed in those moments was defenestrated the moment I laid eyes on my favorite room in all of New York.

I wait in line, watching the guards as they look through my backpack. In this time, I remember that I used to salute the lions, but fail to remember their names. I sort through the furthest corners of my mind. Nothing rings true.

Once past the questionable guards, I would make my way to the children's room; my arm outstretched as my fingers grazed the smooth, sturdy oak wall all the while. My mom would leave me at the front desk and go off to cold, musty rooms to indulge in the library's enormous archive. There were two librarians, one British with silver hair in a Celtic knot, while the other was from Long Island. Their accents clashed, but presented to untrained ears, all I gathered was the warm undertone lacing their words.

As I walk toward the front desk, the librarian’s eyes flicker up, puzzled. I can see the question running through her mind, trying to place me. An older sister looking for her sibling? A lost teenager looking for a different section? A girl reminiscing about who she used to be? She clears her throat, sniffs a few times, and buries her in her nonexistent work. She is phenotypically far from the librarians I remember but fit the image of a librarian nonetheless.

I'd make a beeline over to my favorite shelf and honestly, the only section I could understand. Books in Hebrew, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, and Dutch all lined the shelf, ready to be flipped through by the dozens of different young minds that entered the library daily.

The first thing I notice, once inside, is that they have changed the display case for my dear friend, Winnie the Pooh and the rest of the gang. They ditched the beautiful, heavyset wood for a glass display case with elaborate lights installed on the inside. It seems out of place, considering the room's users can't distinguish between inedible and edible, let alone act as lighting connoisseurs.

I looked up from concentrated efforts to decode Geronimo Stilton upon hearing a standoff begin between two of my younger peers. Both clad in pampers, they clutched the same Fancy Nancy Book, faces contorting in angst. They produced noises midway between hyenas laughing and a sticky tuberculosis coughing fit. My eyes were fixed on the two, sure that the obscure words they threw at each other concocted the debate of the century. The fight died off, and my soundtrack returned to a soft, comfortable fortississimo.

The sound is earsplitting. How can anyone think, let alone read in this room?! The children are shrieking their tiny lungs off screaming bloody murder of Harold’s purple crayon in one corner and incomprehensibly babbling something about dinosaurs behind me. With everything happening so fast all at once, I’m surprised the room isn’t combusting. Other than being desensitized to the nasal-assault of baby powder and apple juice after the first five minutes, I am the only one entirely out of sorts in this room. Everyone is part of their organized milieu of chaos, while I stand stunned and several feet above the average civilian. But finally, I find myself, too, in the pandemonium. I found a little boy (whose name I later found out was David) with little fingers clinging to “Where the Wild Things Are.” Upon interviewing the boy (with his mother’s consent, of course), I was presented with the following information:

He was reading “Where the Wild Things Are.” David guesses he likes the room. David wants to know whether I play with legos ( I don't).

I thank David for his time (he stopped listening upon discovery of the abominable state of my relationship with legos) and watch his face become once again consumed by the task of decoding the labyrinthine picture books.