Mr. Carter And Next Year’s Best Seller

Mr.+Carter+And+Next+Year%27s+Best+Seller

I have a tendency of sharing too much. My filter has always seemed to be a bloated bag full insecurities, insults, confessions, and odd facts that I regrettably leak to both acquaintances and friends whether they ask for it or not.

I wish I could say it’s a trait I have recently come into, but truth be told I have always been that way. I was that annoying little kid in the grocery store who felt the need to give every passing shopper a detailed autobiography and a quick rundown of my family tree before finishing off with an offensive comment that I thought was appropriate dairy isle etiquette.

I assume because of this I still remain considerate to any stranger walking down the street willing to share their life story with me. Unsurprisingly, in New York City, this isn’t all too hard to find.

However, the uninvited street corner testimonials have become tainted with forgery and unoriginality, making it predominantly special to find a genuine crazy; one with real tenacity, teetering on the cusp of friendly and obsessive.

In light of this odd confession, I have decided to come clean with yet another confession.

And it’s not even Sunday.

With good reason and courtesy to only contaminate strangers in the public library rather than my Tuesday classmates; I skipped school. Yeah I know, real badass.

Though I may have missed Tuesdays Feature writing lesson and the chance at infecting all those I may not be so willing to listen to, I can’t say that I am sorry. I have found recently that not all knowledge is gained on campus.

So, with a haggard attempt at escaping my bed head, I tied my hair high up in a knot, unapologetically skipped trying to cover the dark circles under my eyes and settled on a thin layer of red lipstick. Surely, that would convince pedestrians of my mortality considering I looked like cast member from the Walking Dead.

I polished my flu-inspired look off with a pair of Converse, stuffed a backpack with work that should’ve been done days ago and headed for the Public Library on Tenth Street.

First lesson: There is something to be said about compassion. In a city Like New York, where you’d like to think you are one of the few who remain impartial to prejudice and social hierarchy, you can’t afford to be considerate, or compassionate, or carry any smidge of human decency. At least not as a college student.

At least not as a poor college student.

Second Lesson: Do not go to the second floor before 11 a.m. or before satisfying any sort of caffeine fix. It is reserved for those wearing diapers and the musical styling of an elderly woman and her semi-English rendition of Old McDonald. Just, don’t do it.

Third: My makeshift attempt at escaping my delayed Halloween zombie appearance was unappreciated by most in the library. This is because most of the people at the library looked as grim, if not more scarce than I did. Previous questions were answered and now I knew where all homeless and street stricken wanderers spend their time. In the public library.

Perhaps the odor of old books woven together with the stench of old socks is what clouded my moment of clarity with confusion.

It makes sense really. How can I be so quick to doubt the lecturing loony on the corner when his head is stuck in more books than my own?

It occurred to me that the only thing separating myself from the rest of those drawn to the long book stacks was a shower…or two.

Possibly three.

***

My search for an adequate study spot was all too familiar. I paced the tables for a vacant slab of real-estate to unload my backpack. I had been here. I had walked through this routine at school in our sparkling media center at school.

Only now, all the students were over the age of 40, quietly disguised in dusty trench coats, and genuinely interested in what they were reading; not because they had to read it, but because they wanted to.

Where do I sign up? Despite the unappetizing promise of dinner a la’ shopping cart with a side of deli booze, it seemed like a pretty sweet set up to me.

Or was that just my fever talking?

Finally, I found a spot. Not just any spot, but an entire table to call my own.

There was work to be done and I really had no urge to socialize, which I thought was pretty evident to the rest of the library from my headphones and unforgiving nasal drip.

Lesson Four:  If you see someone wearing headphones, do not tap, wave, or talk to them. They don’t want to talk to you.

Obviously, Jeff Carter didn’t catch that memo. No, after shuffling around the main floor for nearly 30 minutes on a cell phone, he conveniently chose the seat located to my right. Perfect. I couldn’t help but blame some looming force of karma for this type of interruption.

After letting this belongings clank one by one onto my beautiful empty table, I knew I was in for it. Mr. Carter was unfazed, and most likely unaware of his intrusion as he then proceeded to ignore lesson four, as well as the golden rule of all libraries – shut the H up.

How cliché that a “shhhh” and dirty look from the librarian was what finally settled him into a whisper.

***

It is hard for me to dwell on my first impression of Mr. Jeff Carter as he soon made up for his inconsideration with compliments.  From head to toe, he dissected my appearance with his cataract eyes before telling me I was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.

Flattered as I was in my feverish glory, I let his lie slide, assuming he couldn’t really see what I actually looked like and said thank you before noticing we weren’t alone at my table.

“This is my buddy, Phil,” he said as if we were old friends.

Phil’s nose was buried deep in a hardback chapter book with Jimi Hendrix on the front, which partially made up for his missing front tooth, which had abandoned his genial smile. My own appreciation for Jimi presented some sort of common ground with Phil.  Any fan of Hendrix couldn’t be that insane.

His gray eyes took a break from reading as I started to introduce myself.  He offered a dirty hand, clutching only the tips of my fingers and gave them a firm shake.

“Nice to meet you, Taylor,” he says in a scratchy voice, then flashes one final smile before returning his attention back to his book.

***

While I’d love to say that was the end of our conversation, unfortunately Jeff spent the next hour minutes going into deep detail of the book he was writing, The Last Minstrel.

“Have you ever seen Apocalypse Now,” he asked, “It’s kinda like that.”

After fifteen minutes in to his elaboration, I decided the only chance at getting back to work would be to let him get it out and listen. “No, can’t say that I have Jeff,” I answer, hoping he wouldn’t catch the sarcasm in my voice.

“You’re a funny one, you know.”

I blushed with embarrassment because he started laughing and I knew that he had caught my condescending reply. Who was I to get on my high horse? My peeking temperature and sweaty palms canceled any chance of superiority at the table with Jeff and Phil.

He continued, “I’m not going to lie to you Taylor, I had two beers before I came here,” he chuckled as he shuffled through dismembered pages of his novel, “helps me write.”

This both scared me and made me chuckle. Is this my future? I’ve heard it said that all great writers posses a twinge of craziness, but would this be me given my choice at following through to a career in journalism? Scribbling through a hangover in the library all day with Phil?

I knew what two beers smelled like, and the closeness of his breath told me he was sipping on something a little stronger than that. Like his earlier compliment, I let that assumption slip rather than call him on it.

***

After concluding his synopsis on The Last Minstrel or rather trying to explain what a “minstrel” even is, he promised me I would see his name on the Best Seller’s List one day and look back to when I met the next great American novelist in the library on Tenth Street.

A little bit smitten with himself and growing drowsy from talking and his two beers, Jeff slunk low in his wooden chair before falling asleep.

On some level, I was relieved that my studying could finally continue while he snored next to me, yet on another I felt some twinge of envy for Jeff.

His confidence in his work was much stronger than any level I had ever carried for my writing, not to mention the late afternoon buzz he was working with. How would I ever be a best seller if I doubted that possibility myself?

Lesson five: Betting on success is strongly dependant on whether you believe in yourself.

Jeff’s disregard to social hierarchy reminded me of that.

He didn’t care that he didn’t have a laptop or clean clothes, and he definitely didn’t care about proper library law (see lesson four). It was obvious that his self confidence didn’t coincide with how the world perceived him, but with how he perceived himself.

With my lack of interruption, I finally finished my paper and quietly closed my laptop. Jeff continued to dream in his chair as I packed my things back in my backpack and slipped out while Phil continued on to the next chapter in his book. I wasn’t sorry that I had missed class that day, or even that Mr. Carter had stolen an hour of my study time.

It wasn’t until I walked home sniffling that I realized lesson six:  New York City wanderers, the ones that we all roll our eyes at and dodge on the subway are maybe the smartest out of all of us.

They are not just wanderers, but observers and listeners. To them, strangers and streets are their campus, and if we take a second to listen, we might let them teach us every once in a while.