Full of shadows and the bravura volume of music pumped into a space meant to be occupied, the bar feels like it wants to be liked. A short, ink-haired woman and a trio of gay men in starched shirts handle the patrons with an aggressive boredom. It is Friday of a holiday weekend and my friend has time after skipping work early. Downtown Kirkland is the bustle of cafe sitters and summer-dressed women.
We have an hour in the dark with our non-alcoholic beers and the TVs tuned to different sports channels. He continues to work at Microsoft and I continue to not start back. It’s good to see him. He looks healthy and centered. I say the hat makes him look like Graham Greene.
Sun is brilliant and cool from the lake. Cars move like lost children and people sit on the park’s brown grass. The fifteen dollars I saved with a free haircut coupon is equalled by two beers and a tip, but it seems reasonable now, a balancing, justification for indulging in anxiety.
I have had the sense to install my bike lock, and after vainly searching the park for a public john I tie up at the Kirkland library. I still retain those youth skills of guessing where a bathroom or free photocopies are, and being white with a bike helmet I look the part to avoid any questioning.
The Kirkland library is like all KCLS libraries: bright, streamlined, professional and civic in a Danish furniture sort of way. They are now the nation’s best, some authority says. Kiosks beckon and I remember my number from touch. The catalog screen is the same jumbled mess assembled by a company I once worked for, but even that is a friendliness not disturbed by the news I owe twenty cents in fines.
Who doesn’t like the library? To not like the library is a moral lapse and aesthetic affront, like punching Santa while naked. I would never begrudge the library twenty cents, even if I had to walk Seattle’s streets picking up every lucky penny. It wouldn’t take long. You can barely make friends here, but Seattle is a lucky town.
A woman sits at a modest kiosk, flanked with flatscreens and a beige Casio cash register that sticks out like a nose. “Computer says I owe you twenty cents,” I say, bike helmeted. I have my card out, which I didn’t know I had, and a dollar change from the bar.
She is cheerful and doesn’t fumble and is unfazed by someone with a dollar in a bike helmet. “Let’s see,” she says. Maybe she is curious why I’d want to be square over only twenty cents. Maybe Kirkland’s whitest of white denizens want the library to give them twenty cents. “Oh, this is from the old system,” she says, and switches terminal windows to a classic data processing screen of grey lines and blue boxes, a zillion little places to type things and a zillion cryptic buttons to click. She explains converting to the new system brought over all fines as grocery.
She types and clicks. I remember a reviewer’s impression of a particularly obscure piece of software I once used: as if designed by the high priests of Mars. At last she finds my record. I was a day late on a couple movies, one I recognize and one I don’t. Are you sure? She seems to want a granite certainty that seems misplaced for twenty cents. I recognize Cincinnati Kid but not the other. I don’t care. The library won’t use the extra dime to bomb misbehaving countries.
She smiles, and the interaction is so fast I am not sure exactly what happened. She said something like, well, in that case, or maybe, well, since you’re not sure, but she types in a box and clicks a button and the fine is gone. “There you go,” she says. “It’s taken care of.”
I am not in a daze, not exactly, but I put the crisp dollar and my library card away. It is still summer by the water outside, and it is a kind green town.