I love the public library. I’ve been going since I was a small child. I told my mother that my biggest dream was to live within walking distance of a library so that I didn’t need her to get there. A few years later, we did just that. I was there so often that the librarians would leave messages on our answering machine if I went more than a day or two without stopping in to chat.
As an adult, I still spend a lot of time in libraries. Moving to NYC really upped my library visits, though. Here there are five boroughs within the city and three library systems that you can have an account with. Sometimes Hubs asks me where I’m going and I say something like: “I’m going to the Queens Central library and then I’m swinging through Manhattan to pick up my holds at the the one off Broadway. Then I have to go to Brooklyn because I have holds there, too. Hope I get home before dark and I can carry all of those books on the subway!”
One of my favorite things to do in the library is to work. Even if you have a home office, working from home can be monotonous. I sometimes break it up by putting on grownup clothes and heading out to the library.
On one such occasion, I lugged my laptop, my snacks, and myself to the Seward Park library in Manhattan. It’s a quiet branch, located in an area of the city that’s mostly Asian. That’s ok, though. Even though a lot of the signs are written in various Asian languages and I’m the tallest person in the room, nobody ever makes me feel out of place.
At some point, I had to go to the restroom. So, I asked the person sharing the table with me to watch my laptop. Well, I asked her after I checked that she had a more expensive one than mine. You see, I have this theory about leaving my valuables with strangers. If they have a better laptop than mine, they have no motive to steal mine because either (a) they have more money than me or (b) they have the thievery skills to get something better than mine. Either way, they don’t want my stuff. The woman agreed and off I went to the restroom.
When I got downstairs to the only working restroom in the place, I realized that it was a unisex bathroom. Standing in front of the door was an older Asian man, who seemed to be waiting to go in.
He looked like Pat Morita. I won’t say who he looked like because I’m not a racist who thinks that all Asians look alike. As I was contemplating how not racist I was for not thinking he looked like the only elderly Asian man in American pop culture, he turned to me and said “Pee-pee or poo-poo?”
He couldn’t possibly be talking to me, I thought. I turned around to see if his granddaughter was behind me. Perhaps he was asking her if she needed to urinate or defecate. Because I use adult words like those to describe my bathroom habits. Which of course, I don’t talk about with strangers in the library.
There was no little girl behind me. So, I just pretended like I couldn’t hear the man and stared straight ahead.
But he wasn’t done. “Pee-pee or poo-poo,” he said again. This time he raised his voice just enough that I couldn’t pretend like I hadn’t heard him. Who is this guy? I thought. I had no idea the library was stationing undercover bathroom police. But I knew my rights and I had the right to remain silent about what I do in the privacy of a bathroom stall.
I think this pissed the guy off because he put both his hands on his hips and leaned in close to me. Then he said in not-so-quiet-at-all voice “PEE-PEE OR POO-POO?!”
All around me heads turned. And they weren’t looking at the weirdo with the nosey bathroom fetish. They were looking at me. As if I’d done something wrong by not disclosing my bathroom needs to the guy innocently hanging around the restrooms. The librarian even had the nerve to shush me. Me! You, know the victim here!
Feeling like I had no choice, I just gave in. In the smallest whisper I could manage, I said “Pee-pee.”
The man exhaled with a sigh of relief. “Oh. Ok.” Then he pointed to himself. “I poo-poo,” he said. Then he pointed at me. “You go first.”
I stood there, stunned. Then the man opened the restroom door. There hadn’t been anybody in there at all. He was just planning on blowing up the bathroom and didn’t want any witnesses. So I just ran inside the restroom and shut the door. I peed faster than I’ve ever peed in my life. When I was done, I speed walked past the man without making eye contact, packed up my belongings, and got the hell out of there. I’d had enough of the library for one day.