The Lending Library

I ran out of fiction this morning, having finished off the Stephen King books somebody left at a bus stop. The city is closed, and the waterfront Starbucks locked its doors this morning, which means Seattle is Officially Shut Down. The libraries have been closed for a week.

It occurred to me that the library I made a few years ago might still be open.
Back when I had a house, I put a wine chiller in my front yard and filled it with books and VHS tapes.

So I rode the bus down to the old neighborhood, where a 400sq-ft house made out of a barge hides between multi-million-dollar condos. Sure enough, whoever is in that funky little house today still wants books in their yard.

The seal on the wine-chiller’s door was in good shape when I found it at a thrift store, so I knew I could keep Northwest moisture out of VHS tapes and prevent the books from smelling like my grandma’s house. Cleaning the stickiness out of the bottom when I got it home, it occurred to me to try plugging the thing in. It seemed to hold temp. “Rich people,” I smiled to myself, imagining the worldview and perspectives of someone who spills Merlot in their $3,000 wine chiller and simply has the servants haul it away.
Having never seen a lending library which offered both movies and books before, I called the box “Movies and More” as a homage to the video store I rode my bike to as a teenager.

The seal on the door is still good.

The jubilant sign I’d cut from red and yellow plastic and taped to the inside of the door is gone now. There were no videos in there this morning, but a VCR doesn’t fit in my backpack anyway. I got to thinking about the past.
Years ago (shockingly few, since I feel only tangentially related to the person who lived in that house,) I’d jog down the steps every morning eager to open the stainless-steel door.

“What does the neighborhood want to share, today?”

My six-pound dog learned to pause there as we’d go out, instead of towing me down the sidewalk. She’d wiggle her tail and indulge my bizarre human behaviors as if I’d found a particularly fascinating urine spot.

Each morning I looked forward to seeing what was new in there. Instead of discarded books and movies, there was often passion in the offerings. Sometimes a short letter explained why it was a favorite book, or a sticky-note read: “Dang good drama.”

People seemed to communicate with one another through their contributions. Patterns emerged. My “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” led to “Breakfast Club” and was met by “Sixteen Candles.” A fairly complete tour of the 80’s by way of John Hughes emerged in the box, capped off by “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

One day somebody filled it from top to bottom with DVDs and Blu-Rays. I kept the “Zombieland” Blu-Ray for myself.

Overall, I think my favorite lending-library moment was the morning I opened the door to find “Breakfast of Champions” and “Only Cowgirls Get the Blues” pushed together. Someone had nestled these VHS tapes against each other on an otherwise empty shelf, to make what I saw as a charmingly obscure statement. Some form of synergy is often intuited between Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins by readers, and here someone had commented on it. The tapes sat together like brother birds, perched like crows on a telephone line.

Much has happened since I put that lending library up.

I’m sure there is a continuity, a through-line of some sort, between the person who opened that stainless steel door daily, and me today. At the very least, he and I might pick similar books.

I took one and I left one.


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