One City

One City


Tortilla voyeur: my adventures in the Wertheim Study

posted by cassmaster

It’s not that I like to spy on people. And it’s not that I like to be a nuisance, either. But I want to meet the researcher who has a reserve shelf full of books with titles like Why Byron Matters, and I want to know, honestly, why. I’m working in the Wertheim Study in the New York Public Library, and I am trying to understand.

I took a quick poll of the books around me and got stern looks from my would-be new friends—the people, like me, with laptops and piles of notes and their own assigned numbered shelves. They seem like a nice enough bunch. But the room is tomb-quiet and any activity other than going to the shelf with your number on it, retrieving your books, and sitting down at your spot at one of the desks and “doing research” just doesn’t happen. No frolicking. No sex. But I am taking notes.

The Mexican American War. Nasser’s Egypt. A Metaphysics for the Future.

What could these people be doing in here? And would they like to help me with what I’m doing? Or find me a snack machine? They look at me sternly whenever I shuffle. It might be the filter of my own self-criticism coloring that, but I don’t think it is. I shuffle louder than I mean to. Then I go back to my little green desk lamp and sit in the chair I’ve claimed: a creaky oak thing cut for a schoolteacher’s ass. Comfy in a bare wooden way, like a paddle.

My reason for being here has to do with the Hertog fellowship program at Hunter College, where MFA writing students get paired up with novelists to work as research assistants. I’m not very good at it. I haven’t visited a library since I wrote my last history paper in college (economic depression in Great Britain during the inter-war period), and the list of books on my shelf (number 12, down at the bottom) is not so intriguing, or so long: Hammer and Tongs: Blacksmithery Down the Ages. Early American Ironware. Iron at Winterthur. Forging America: Ironworkers, Adventurers, and the Industrious Revolution. But I’m learning. I’m researching iron ore and the extraction and smelting thereof, specifically in 17th century bloomeries across New York State. Fascinating stuff, I promise. I also promise that I’m saving the specifics of all of it for a later blog (from one Williamsburg to another), in which I’ll somehow relate all of this to the Dharma (and the anvil of mindfulness!). But not today.

Today I want to tell you that initiating contact with fellow your human beings is much better than spying on them. Talking to people beats the feathers out of remotely wondering about them every time. I’m bad at it, both contact and the spying, though I try. Mainly through offerings of food. The other day in the Wertheim Study I offered a bag of tortilla chips—an ice breaker, I had hoped—but the unholy crinkling of the bag, the salty pop of its opening, the toasty rustle of its oven-baked contents—all of it was met with shock and disapproval!* First they looked at me—they looked those looks again, like I had done something wrong—farted in an elevator—but all I meant to do was make friends.

“Don’t you guys want any?”

One of them opened his mouth. “You can’t have food in here,” he said.

“But they’re baked. I have a whole bag and I don’t mind if you have some.”

I had an apple to pass around, too. It was a big one, and we all could have had bites.

But it was not meant to be. The Wertheim Study is not a fiesta, and my voyeurism-in-place-of-intimacy has been cut short.

*Fiction



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Stillman Brown

posted December 7, 2007 at 10:08 am


This is delightful! I suspect it’s a bit of procrastinatory creativity and I approve. Some of my best work has seeped out during long hours in the library. The “no sex” rule is especially hard when all you have is boredom, tea, snacks, and a volume on Biblical Imagery In Joyce.
I woulda taken a tortilla chip.
Ole,
Stillman



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bill

posted December 7, 2007 at 10:11 am


as the great Saul Williams said: “talk to strangers!”



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Sarah

posted December 7, 2007 at 11:51 am


i wrote this poem the last time i was stuck in the library. i wish you’d been there to offer me a tortilla chip.
So many
crumpled brows and papers
hands on heads
nose in books
intense, downward looks -
So many
worlds piled high
bound to themselves,
minds side by side,
bound to themselves -
So few
words
among words,
as a stranger takes his seat -
Only
the plant in the breeze
waves hello
to pages turning.



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Stillman Brown

posted December 7, 2007 at 12:04 pm


Also nice! This is the best Reply thread ever…



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Eva

posted December 7, 2007 at 12:07 pm


Ole indeed! There’s no place quite like a library to contemplate one’s isolation, even in such a crowded city.



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streetlegalplay

posted December 7, 2007 at 9:12 pm


You brought tortilla chips to the private rooms of the New York Public Library? God, that’s almost as bad as what I did a few weeks ago. I went to a weekend Zen sesshin and the roshi yelled at me for trying to order a refill at the tea ceremony.



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Eva

posted December 8, 2007 at 1:35 pm


Only fictionally! …and there’s never enough tea…



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Ellen Scordato

posted December 9, 2007 at 3:55 am


This brings me back to the days when I had somehow obtained a carrel in the NYPL, with my very own shelf for writing a work-for-hire book. The study used to be a very odd paneled room corralled off the main reading room.
Sneaking food in – nonfictionally – was an art. Sneaking food into the mouth silently – a masterpiece.
Raisins were good. Oddly enough, pretzels worked well if you let them dissolve in yr mouth. No crunching.
But what a feeling of victory as they slid down the throat and staved off afternoon- hunger-low-glucose brain death!



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christina

posted December 9, 2007 at 11:40 pm


i happen to be in the library right now, chewing my triscuits a little too loud in an act of rebellion, procrastinating as usual. i laughed out loud when i read this- and the girl next to me sighed and changed seats.
i’m feeling satisfied, maybe because i read this at the perfect time or maybe because my stomach is happily full of energy drinks and crunchy snacks.



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Jen.

posted December 11, 2007 at 2:22 pm


Okay, I know I’m gonna end up sound like a tight-wad here, but I would be someone who would look disapprovingly at food in the library because it makes me worry that the person eating is going to leave crumbs, garbage and oily stains for the next person to find on their seat or texts.
Not saying that you guys are messy eaters, but if I didn’t know you, I would probably have assumed the worst… Wow! I just realized how pessimistic that sounds!



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samuelatinkk

posted January 29, 2008 at 8:09 am


hello everyone
what You
like more dark or white chocolate or maybe something others
bye all
1]
herfirstanalsex movies



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charlie

posted March 5, 2008 at 11:42 pm


Please, be more snide in a more predictable way! We do need so much more of it…



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