Take one, leave one

Please permit me this brief observation to accommodate a busy schedule…


It should come as no surprise to anyone that the literary crowd is a pretty civilized group as a whole. A primary piece of evidence supporting this conclusion is the existence of “take one, leave one” bookshelves. These things are everywhere, in hotels, doctor’s offices, and coffee shops, among other locales. Some are even out in the open air, accessible to all!

(While researching this piece, I stumbled upon an organization that promotes these installations. Little Free Library gives everyone a chance to create their own T1L1 system. The photo above depicts one of many sites they’ve inspired.)

Free books on the honor system. What a concept. I’ve never heard of anyone taking unfair advantage of this largesse. People really do most often leave one when they take one. At worst, they return the one they take. At best, they return more than one. How cool is that?

Of course, the aforementioned “mini-libraries” owe their existence to that bastion of American socialism, the free library system. They are a testament to the honesty and goodwill of the reading public. Anyone with a little card (no, not an Amex) can borrow books (and more recently, music, videos, and select other materials) at no cost, the only condition being that they be returned in approximately the same condition in which they started.

Can you imagine any other product being offered thus? There’s no shortage of stuff people want and could use on a temporary basis. Why isn’t there a clothing library? There are times (such as weddings and funerals) when borrowing a nice suit would be helpful. Sporting goods? How often do you need those skis? Why not borrow them on an as-needed basis from the sports library?

People will argue that literacy is such a fundamental need that free books are more than a luxury. They’re a necessity to the populace of a democratic nation. Well, couldn’t I say the same about fitness? Isn’t a healthy public important? Then where are those sports libraries when I want a set of golf clubs for a quick nine? Or why not clothes? Isn’t a clothed community better than a naked one? (Have you looked around lately? There’s an overabundance of flesh and a severe dearth of clothing. And not in a good way.)

Free vehicles, tools, art work, and furniture would all be in great demand on a temporary basis. But that will never happen, and it’s just as well. Even by suggesting such gibberish, I run the risk of some uber-capitalist overreacting and declaring libraries as inappropriate in our free market system.

Even if that were to happen, an underground (yet above ground) T1L1 movement would thrive. Readers by their very nature want to share the joy of reading. Take it from me… and leave one.

The Day I Finished

The last three posts (“The Night I Woke Up“, parts 1-5) were more of an exercise for me than anything. If learning was the primary purpose – and I believe it was – then it was a successful foray into the unknown. A rewrite is definitely planned, given that I wanted to change things almost immediately after I published each post. That’s the way the process works, after all. Writing live is a treacherous pastime, one that I’ll probably be foolhardy enough try again, hopefully not repeating the same mistakes. I’ll create new mistakes if there’s a next time.

Some people might be disappointed by the ending. Nothing really happened, when all was said and done.

Or did it?

Certainly, one small corner of a boy’s brain was indelibly etched with an unexplained incident. That alone might justify the story. The telling of a story is the revealing of a life. This one revealed a lot about a kid on the cusp of puberty facing the unknown in more ways than a mysterious visitor in the night.

Maybe we’re all so conditioned to the carved-in-stone movie plot template that governs the storylines of virtually every movie showing at the cineplex. Where’s the reversal? The false ending? The save-the-cat moment? The denouement? Sorry. What you read is what you get. That’s why they call it “reality”, as opposed to, say, reality TV, a.k.a. nonsense. In this case, it’s not too far-fetched to say, it is what it is, or rather, it was what it was. I just call’em as I remember’em. Which brings me to…

Perhaps the whole thing is just the creation of an overactive and highly susceptible imagination, passing itself off as memory. Who knows? I honestly don’t. I believe that what I wrote is exactly what happened. If it isn’t, no harm done.

To quote… well, almost everybody: “That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.”

The Night I Woke Up (part 5)

[I’m going into this post on the assumption that it will be the final installment of TNIWU. That could be the reason this entry is a day late: to increase the tension and keep you on the edge of your collective seats. Would that it were true. The fact is that I was swept up in the details of yesterday like a leaf in a dust devil. Further, although ready to continue the story in the morning, I decided to wait until the mists of evening fell. Far more conducive to conjuring the mood of this tale, wouldn’t you agree?]

It was true. The person, beast, or thing on the other side of the wall was moving once more. To my overwhelming relief, the steps I heard now were receding. They followed the same direct path they’d taken to reach the window, but in reverse. It was moving back to its lair or den or craft or bog hidden in the swampy woodlands bordering my aunt’s back lawn.

As each impression sounded on the debris-strewn grass, it felt as if one after another leaden blanket were lifted off my prone body. I lay there just the same, still as stone. There was no chance I was going to make any kind of movement as long as there was even a slight chance I could be seen in that glaring chamber.

The steps continued toward the woods until I could hear them no more. Gradually, the silence faded, once more yielding to the sounds of nature: croaking frogs, screeching insects, and the wind disturbing the fronds of the palm trees scattered around the yard.

Surely, it was gone. Surely, I was safe.

Other than the possibility of a cramp in my stiffened legs, there was no reason to rush my escape. What were a few more minutes when I’d spent… How long? I’ll never know. It mattered little. The adage, “better safe than sorry” was never more applicable nor more real. So I waited, until…

With all the courage available to an admittedly wimpy pre-teen, I didn’t so much get out of the tub as I did slither. As I made my way over the edge, no part of my body left the surface. I was nearly one with the fixture. I continued my low profile slide to the floor and across the grimy tile.

When I hit the door across the room, decision time was upon me. Getting through that door would unquestionably require my hand to rise up to the knob, putting that part of me in an exposed position. The alternative would be to lie on the floor until dawn. The choice was not as easily made as it would seem. In what to my mind was possibly the most courageous exploit of my brief existence, I reached up to the door knob.


As excruciatingly slow as the entire experience had passed, that much quicker were my next set of actions. In order to limit my vulnerability, the time it took me to grab the knob, turn it, open the door, close it, turn off the light (no more advertising my presence to the world of the unknown), scurry down the hall, jump in bed, and cover myself with a blanket, was probably less than two or three seconds. Fear is a powerful accelerator. It isn’t, however, conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Thus the active portion of my adventure ended. And thus began a night of wakefulness followed by years of disturbing thoughts, hidden fears, and self-inflicted silence. It was at least a decade before I could dredge up the courage to recount this nightmare to others. By that point, in my 20’s, there was nothing to fear about reliving the experience. I was an adult, after all, and the events of that infernal night were far off in both time and distance. No residual effects of a night of terror could interfere with my more mature life.

At least, that’s the theory.

~ the end ~

The Night I Woke Up (part 4)

[People have been asking me where this is going and how long they have to wait to find out. Well, I know where it’s going – I lived it, after all – but the length of that road is as unknown to me as it is to my readers. There’s no GPS to help us along the way this time. We’re feeling our way in the dark through uncharted territories of memory.]

It’s not uncommon to hear someone speak glibly about a few moments feeling as if they were hours. We’re wise not to buy into such claims. Any imaginary extension of the time-space continuum is invariably a gross exaggeration. Whether they’re spent in a dentist chair or at a job interview, a minute is a minute and an hour is an hour.

Not so in a bathtub, evidently.

The time I spent cowering in that fixture might have been no more than two minutes, but it could have been hours. Time had truly lost meaning for me. The only concept I understood in those moments was terror.

The sound of raspy breathing wheezed through the open jalousie window above me. If I had reached my arm up, I could have touched it, but that was the last thing I would have done. A more immediate, if unrealistic, desire was to somehow slip between the porcelain and cast iron of the tub. Instead, I made myself as low profile as the film left by the previous bather.

What was there, standing, squatting, or otherwise looming on the other side of that wall? No imagination is more active than that of a young boy and mine was in overdrive. With plenty of time to dwell on my peril and more than enough fear to fuel the flame, all manner of evil tidings occupied my thoughts. An escaped convict? An alligator that had somehow acquired the ability to scale a wall? Why stop with known creatures? It could have been some mythical juvenile-eating beast that had caught the scent of fresh meat. Giant irradiated arachnids, dinosaurs, and aliens weren’t too far flung for my phobias.

To be honest, I was totally ignorant of the fauna of the east coast of Florida, as I was of most things that didn’t affect me directly. Such is the self-obsession of the average pre-teen boy and I was no exception. In this case, it might have done further harm as my imagination roamed far beyond the limits of local wildlife. Bears, lions, dingoes, and wolves might not have been native to the area, but they freely ranged in my mind.

I fully expected an arm or a claw or a fang to come crashing through that window, showering my puny body with glass before it was pierced and carried away by the nameless and faceless monster.

The breathing continued. Otherwise, the silence of the house and the outside world continued. The light in the bathroom only seemed to grow brighter, my vulnerability more intense. I was aware of my own trembling. How long can a boy hold his breath?

Then another step.


The Night I Woke Up (Part 3)

[They say (correctly) that writing is rewriting. The current exercise is reinforcing that precept in a most humbling manner as I dash off this stream-of-consciousness true story from my youth. I’m already inclined to change much of it, including the title, were I given the chance. But I don’t have the chance. That’s part of the excitement of this challenge. What I write is what you and I get, for better or worse. So now we continue into the unknown and unchanged…

When last we saw our intrepid prepubescent protagonist (me), he was standing alone, “shaking the dew off the lily” (as Donald Miller so colorfully put it)  in a bright white box in the middle of the dark, unfriendly world of Florida swampland. As we left him, he was hearing the sound of footsteps coming from outside the bathroom window.]

Without question, what I was hearing were footsteps. There was no mistaking the rhythmic sounds of the crunching of yard debris underfoot. Worse, those sounds were most assuredly coming from outside. The house itself was completely devoid of movement and sound. As exposed as I was, I didn’t want to so much as twitch. But I had to. Those steps were getting louder and, by an inference even my underdeveloped mind could make, closer.

Crunch… crunch… crunch…

To minimize movement and draw less attention to myself, I dropped straight to the soiled tile floor in front of the toilet. The footsteps, seemingly drawn inexorably to the only light within a quarter mile or so – the bathroom window through which I was on display for all to see – continued without changing stride. Only the volume changed, increasing as the footfalls drew nearer.

Crunch… crunch… crunch…

My only hope was that I hadn’t been seen yet. Crouching on the floor in plain sight of the window above the bathtub on the opposite side of the room, I wouldn’t be out of view for long. The footsteps not only continued, they were without question following a beeline path to the little aquarium of light in which I dwelt. I’d soon be on display once more.

Crunch… crunch… crunch…

I pondered my next move. I could simply reach up, open the door, and sneak back to the relative safety of my guest bed. In retrospect, that might very well have been the prudent choice. Instead, pursuing a strategy that is best filed under the heading of, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I slunk across the floor and into the bathtub. By cowering there, I would be out of the line of sight of anyone or anything looking in that window, which was now directly above me.

Crunch… crunch… crunch…

There I sat trying to merge with the cast iron of the tub. The footsteps continued relentlessly and mercilessly toward that window, as if whatever was making them sensed my presence there. They grew louder and louder and closer and closer until at last …crunch… they ceased. They could go no further. They had reached the exterior side of the wall at which I crouched.

I was separated by a few inches of flimsy shingles and sheathing from something that for unknown reasons had emerged from the murky blackness behind my aunt’s house and pounded a path dead straight toward the room in which I was exposed. Shivering with fear, I listened. The living sounds of night were gone, the insects possibly as frightened as I was.

I heard nothing… except the labored breathing coming through the open window a couple of feet above my head.

To be continued…