I had to go to the library the other day to return an overdue book. I don't know if it has to do with age or lack of free time but it takes me longer and longer to finish a book these days. This was just a thin book of short stories by James Salter but it seemed to take forever to get through it. Don't get me wrong, they were wonderful tales; but after each one I ended up spending as much time thinking about the theme and characters as I did reading the story. This is probably the sign of a good book, but I think it also means that as I get older I'm looking for more from a book than just what's on the page.
In any case, I took off for the library at lunchtime knowing that my book was two days overdue. When the librarian scanned the book and said "twenty cents" I took a dollar out of my pocket and handed it to her, amazed that the fine for an overdue book was still so modest. If this had been the video store I'd have been out several dollars.
She looked at my dollar bill warily. "Do you have anything smaller?" she said.
"Smaller than a one?" I asked, a smile in my voice.
She opened a the desk drawer to reveal a cash register tray containing no bills, a few quarters, two dimes, and a nickel. I half expected a moth to fly out.
There was no cash register, mind you, just the tray stuck in the desk drawer. I guess they couldn't afford a cash register. That may explain why the library is the last place in America where a single is a big bill.
I was about to tell her to keep the dollar (that's me, Mr. Big Spender) when the gentleman standing next to me said, "I've got twenty cents." He pulled out a handful of change, carefully plucked out two dimes, and gave them to the librarian.
"Hey, thanks," I called to him as he returned two books and quickly left.
"That was really nice," said the librarian. She carefully placed her treasure in the tray and closed the drawer.
"We all love the library," I said. "Someday maybe I'll get a chance to pay somebody else's fine."
"Maybe you will," she smiled and I headed for the door.
On my way out I picked up a "Donate To Your Local Library" envelope. I'll be sending in a contribution.
And you can be sure it will be more than twenty cents.