The doorbell rang. It was two chimes—ding-dong—which meant the front door. A single ding is the breezeway door. Twenty-seven years in my house and I can still mix that up. But I can write Pi out to ten decimal places, so I’m cool.
A man stands on my front stoop, rocking on the balls of his feet, as if about to launch himself to chase a ball. He holds a book in his hand, half hidden behind his leg so I can’t see the title. I say hi.
“Is that your library?” He signals with his thumb toward the edge of my front lawn. He’s maybe twenty years younger than me. Solid. Broad. Requisite facial hair displaying its first gray streaks. Eyes are kind of like daggers.
“It’s mine.” My house, must be my Little Free Library. The library is a source of pride for me. I was one of the first in the neighborhood, I think eight years ago. I’ve had to replace the door twice and do a complete rebuild once. It’s clearly fashioned by someone with a few tools and basic knowledge, but the library never leaks and it has two big shelves to hold lots of books.
I’ve written about my library before, I’ve posted about it. I love this photo I took from my living room window of two kids visiting. I love doing a small part in helping people access books to read.
Now these libraries are all over town. There’s competition among us collection curators. I do my best to keep my shelves stocked with at least some decent books—fiction and nonfiction, literature, books for kids. This guy is holding one of those books now.
“I caught my son reading this,” he says. “He’s fourteen years old!” He holds up the cover for me to see: Gender Queer. I’d just read this graphic memoir as part of my learning about books that were being challenged and banned in schools and public libraries. I found this memoir insightful and educational. It helped me understand better how a young person might experience and navigate their feelings and questions about gender. Here’s my brief review of Gender Queer.
“He was down in the basement, trying to hide it.”
“Did he have any questions?”
“What? No! When I demanded to know where he got it, he said from your library.”
“Yes, I put it there when I finished reading it.”
“This book is not for children. It’s pornographic. It’s disgusting. There are pictures of sex acts.”
“You read it too?”
“You shouldn’t be allowed to put this kind of book out there where anyone can get it. You’re a threat to our children.”
White webs of spittle had materialized in the corners of his mouth, and his hand not holding the book was clenched into a fist. I wondered if he was going to physically assault me.
“I’ve reported you to the police. And I’m asking the town to regulate these free libraries to make sure these kinds of books aren’t where our children can get them.”
“You called the police?”
“I filed a report.”
At that moment, one of Bethlehem’s finest turns the corner onto my street. I think my mouth falls open. But the police cruiser doesn’t pull into my driveway, it just keeps going down. Purely coincidental.
“Here’s your damn book back.” He flings the book at me and it strikes my chest. I grab hold of it. My fellow citizen and concerned father turns away with a harumph of disgust, stomps down my driveway, and gets back in my car.
After he’s gone, I walk the book back down to my library. I find a spot for it on the shelf.