Well, this is a weird post. The short story itself contains a lot of strange elements, and then, at the end, I’ve posted a link to donate to a REAL place that celebrates something quirky and odd and it’s the only place of it’s kind. (This might all make sense when you finish the story.) I promise I won’t start begging for money for charitable causes all the time, but I did write this weird story about this place, and if there’s ever been a place to celebrate the unapologetically weird shit in life, it’s your blog, right? Anyway, thank you for reading and thank you for giving (if you can.) ❤
THIS IS A WORK OF ORIGINAL FICTION
I sat in one of the privacy pods at the library when a paper airplane sailed over the low walls and landed between pages 212 and 213 of the mystery novel that engrossed me. I lost my place, and overturned the book after removing the homemade miniature aircraft. I stood up and surveyed my surroundings, including the upper deck balcony that overlooked the reading nooks, one eyebrow raised to show ‘bothered’ and ‘confused,’ ready to scream-whisper a scolding at whatever juvenile delinquent had assaulted my contentment, but no suspicious characters revealed themselves. Only two revolving doors led in and out of the library, and neither of them was occupied, or still moving from recent occupation, so the pilot must remain in my vicinity, albeit undetected. I dropped myself back into my chair, frustrated that I couldn’t find the culprit, and at the minor infraction that disturbed my routine, and that such a small thing could set my adrenaline pumping as though I had been threatened by a real source of danger. I actually shook my head at myself.
Determined to dismiss the distraction and continue reading, I skimmed page 212 over again from the top. Twice. Still, no hint of meaning left the page. The plane kept drawing my thoughts back to it. Curiosity got the better of me, and I replaced the book on the table to further study the glider’s engineering. The meticulous folds and symmetry were not its only eye catching traits. Upon further inspection, there was quite a lot of writing on the inside. It seemed a shame to undo such deliberate construction, but the thirst for knowledge demanded to be quenched, and it seemed as though the mysterious aviator wanted their work disassembled.
She’s here again today. The last seven trips here have been unproductive, because each time I arrive, she’s here, and watching her read somehow becomes infinitely more important than the work I should be doing. It’s ridiculous, having a ‘love at first sight’ scenario play in my head with the woman that sits downstairs from me at the library twice a week. I’m not usually so imminently attracted to a person. My modus operandi is to move slowly or remain still. Wow, she is absolutely beautiful. And I know it sounds like a cop out to say there’s more than her appearance causing the magnetism, since I don’t know anything about her except what I can see and invent. I’ve always found that silly and shallow, and thought (until now, anyway) that I was more serious and deeper than that. I don’t know her, but I feel connected to her anyway. My friends repeatedly inform me that this wistful romanticism, coupled with my overly tentative nature were the reasons I remained single into my thirties. Single. There’s yet another presumption on my part: that she’s even available. Do I think ‘single’ simply because it would be ideal for me, or because I’m generalizing that a woman alone in a library twice a week must be romantically independent? My thoughts are bouncing around, but they’re all in orbit around her.
While I can’t focus at all, she has never once, in seven evenings of on and off observation, looked my way. Or anyone else’s. She’s in her own world inside of whatever book she has in front of her. It’s been a different one each time I’ve seen her. She must be a voracious reader. She’s certainly an attentive one. Her blissful ignorance of the atmosphere was one of a litany of reasons I had yet to to introduce myself. I didn’t think she was cold or snobbish, and I didn’t fear that she would intentionally wound me if she lacked the same interest. I just didn’t want her to look up at me with the involuntary disgust I would feel if someone disrupted me in the middle of something I so passionately enjoyed. I wanted her to look at me for the first time with the promising anticipation she wore on her face when she opened a new book; the same way I looked at her the first time.
The adult enrichment class in the conference room to my left sparked an idea about how to create the possibility of meeting her, with only fleeting and mild interference of her preset agenda, should she not be keen on the idea. And it had the added bonus of sparing my ego by keeping the likely rebuff largely impersonal. The room was learning elementary origami. So, inspired, I pulled a pen from my bag and filled a blank sheet of paper with a few paragraphs of pure honesty, signed it with my email address instead of my name, and folded the only paper craft I’d ever learned to make. Then I hoped my hasty physics and production would reach my intended target on its only chance at flight. I wrote:
“I know I’m intruding on your time, and that being on the receiving end of a childish endeavor like a paper plane is not a normal experience in the subdued, dignified ambiance of the library. I apologize if I’ve already put you off, or if you are in any way afraid that some creepy weirdo is watching you as you read, but
1. I am simply struck by you: the way you laugh out loud and gasp and sometimes even cry at the lines in the book you’re reading, the intensity of your concentration. It’s mesmerizing.
2. After several weeks of seeing you in the same place at the same time, without planning, and not being able to avert my eyes, I had to do something more than look. I feel exponentially more guilty for indulging in the unearned pleasure of looking, and if I didn’t send this message, I would continually wonder if I was passing up an opportunity laid before me by an Omniscient Force.
3. You must know you’re noticed and admired. I’m sure by many, and those many are likely more worthy than I. I’m just one more guy who notices and admires.
I sent the plane rather than a personal approach to minimize my footprint on your environment (and selfishly, to also minimize my potential rejection), and to give you more control over your space being invaded. If you’ll oblige the benevolent regard of a man you’ve yet to meet, please respond to this aviation via email at the address in the signature. And if you aren’t so inclined, simply place this message in the recycling bin. I promise to be respectfully and distantly disappointed if you choose option two.
I took a yielding deep breath and let it fly.
When I finished the message, I felt the heat radiating from my face. I was stunned. Contrary to the stranger’s kind assumptions, I was not widely noticed and admired (or at least I had no proof that I was). I didn’t get invited to dances or parties as a teenager. I rarely went on painfully awkward dates. I had certainly never been described in writing as ‘mesmerizing’ before. The intoxicating feeling of receiving such flattery was a novelty. I normally shied away from any attention, even the positive variety. Except for connections I could count on one hand, I was disillusioned enough with meeting people that I hadn’t become a card-carrying misanthrope, but I preferred to keep to myself.
In fact, my best (and only REAL) friend, Alex, loved to sardonically refer to me as a Social Butterfly each time I made an excuse to not accompany him and his wife to a community festival, or the opening night of a movie he KNEW I wanted to see, but would wait for the BluRay anyway, and watch it alone on my couch in safety. I don’t like to lie, so when he invites me into a crowd of people somewhere, I tell him I’m ‘going out,’ and I come here, to the library. It’s technically ‘out,’ I don’t have to even look at another human, and no one here finds the blatant absence of eye contact and infuriating small talk offensive, which is nice. Lex knows ‘going out’ is bullshit, but I find the excuse pretty efficient at curbing his persistence.
“You gotta get outta the house, Neen. How in the hell are you ever gonna meet anybody if you never leave your house?”
“I go out!”
“You go to the library and sit in another location and read, versus sitting on your couch to read.”
“Still. I’m out of the house.”
“You should go somewhere you can talk to other people. You know…ONCE.”
“Can’t you just let me be a hermit in peace, Lex?”
“You? A hermit? Nah, not YOU, Neen. You’re a Social Butterfly.”
That gag had been running for Lex since high school. While I harbored obvious disdain for the wise-ass nickname, it stuck consistently enough for me to use it as an email and instant message handle. It was the perfect mix of private alert and public anonymity. Fear and anxiety usually effectively paralyzed me when it came to conversing with ‘new’ people, but the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the words he chose, and the creativity and consideration of his overture compelled me to respond. I found myself moving toward an empty public computer, calling up my thirteen-year-old email account, and composing.
I moved as casually, but quickly as I could to the stairs. I leaned up against the wall to catch my breath, stood as motionless as I could, and tried to control my rapid pulse. I didn’t wait to see where my message landed, and hoped that if I missed her, it would be ignored or destroyed by whatever merciful soul found it. I knew someone found it. I didn’t see it on the floor or anywhere else, as I descended the staircase and walked by the nook she occupied moments ago, but she was no longer there. Resigned to failure, I moved on autopilot, noticing nothing around me, and sat down at an unoccupied computer terminal. I stared blankly at the library logo on the monitor in front of me, when an urge of unknown origin caused me to engage once again with the landscape, and I saw her. She was two rows in front of me, three seats to my left in the same computer bank. Foolish optimism now ruled my entire mentality as I logged into my email account.
Subject: I’m not as original as you.
Let me begin with a cliché so trite I am ashamed, but alas, it is nonetheless true in my case:
I have never done anything like this before.
I’m flattered by your gesture. It’s no exaggeration to say that your words made my day (week, month, year…). I’m awed by your courage. Perhaps your bravery is contagious. In spite of my customary shyness (and the fact that your (undeserved) praise has made me feel even more bashful), I feel a need to reply and return a few accolades. (Yeah, that was double parentheses in text. I’m kind of a parenthetical bad ass.)
Obviously, I know even less about you than you know about me, but I’m impressed with how you express yourself. You write lyrically, and the paper airplane conveys a youthful playfulness and an intuitive understanding of my private, reserved nature that borders on psychic. Do you have superpowers? Please do tell me more about yourself.
I admit, I’m intrigued by your originality.
I also love your email handle.
‘Nothing good?! What do you MEAN ‘Nothing good?’ We’ve seen EVERYTHING good! We’ve seen the whole city! We went to a museum, we saw priceless works of art…’
I look forward to your reply. (That is a very rare statement for me.)
Re: From: We-WeAtePancreas@email.com
Subject: Parenthetical Bad Ass
I submit that the phrase ‘parenthetical bad ass’ is original enough for a copyright. You discount your own originality.
Now that I’ve had a taste of your words and style, I’m even more smitten. And your instant grasp of the email handle reference makes it damn near impossible not to fall completely in love with you after one paper airplane and an email exchange.
That’s (clearly) my favorite movie. And my favorite scene in the movie is the argument in the cab that leads to the impromptu parade float concert. Ferris Bueller IS my hero. That’s funny, as, much like yourself through your own admission and my abashed observation, I tend to be cautious and introspective, and therefore nothing like Ferris. I’m much more like Cameron. Although I do fancy that my part-time job would be something right up Ferris’ alley. My full time job is Cameron all the way, though.
That movie made me fall in love with Chicago. I wanted to go away to college at the University of Chicago, but when I actually visited, it was too bustling for me. I ended up staying at home and going local.
I am very poor at talking about myself, but I’m happy to answer any questions you have. The only specific one you asked me was if I had superpowers. Unfortunately, I don’t. I’m much more interested in knowing more about you. Please do tell me more about YOU. What’s your favorite scene in FBDO? Do YOU have superpowers? Those endowed with superhuman ability are notorious for being overly concerned with whom they reveal their true self. I promise…I’d make a fantastic faithful sidekick.
Re: From: SocialButterflyNeen@email.com
Subject: You got me…
Yes, yes I do have superpowers. I am, in fact, Anxiety Girl, more paranoid than a conspiracy theorist, more awkward than that dream where you go to school naked, able to jump to the worst conclusions in a single bound…
No. I don’t have superpowers.
My favorite scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is when they go to the art museum, and Cameron is just staring at that Seurat painting, and they keep on going back and forth from a tighter and tighter close up of his eyes to a tighter and tighter close up of the painting to reveal the tiny, individual dots that make up the bigger picture. And that Smiths song plays in the background. The song is called ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,’ and Cameron just looks so lost and desperate. I know Ferris got the top billing, but I’ve always been a little partial to Cameron, myself. I relate to him. Probably in an unhealthy way. (ha)
And also, it’s incredible the amount of work and patience it took to make that huge painting, one touch of the tip of a paintbrush at a time. That’s been my favorite painting since I was nine and I first saw the movie, and I didn’t know what pointilism was, or who The Smiths were.
So you say you are nothing like Ferris…I can see adult Ferris throwing a paper airplane at a thirty-year-old woman to get her attention…just saying.
Alright, specific questions:
What is your part-time job and what is your full-time job?
How old were you when you first saw Ferris? (I hope that’s a suitably subtle way to ask for your age without offending you. Not that it really matters…I do feel a strange ‘need’ to know, though.)
Subject: Mild Mannered Inventory Administrator
I know that sounds like the cover job of a superhero, because the title alone is the very essence of boring…but that’s my full time job. I count things and note things and log things and reconcile variance and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…I’m sorry. I dozed off typing my job description. I can only imagine how coma inducing reading about it is. It’s not a bad job. Pays the bills and provides the necessary benefits, etc.
I hope you find me more interesting as a person than the job I do. I don’t define myself by my work, although my part-time job is decidedly more interesting. It may, however, add another check to the ‘weirdo’ column, thus tipping the ‘maybe I’ll get to meet her face to face’ scales out of my favor…but I am nothing if not honest and a keeper of my word. You asked…I’ll answer…
I’m the curator of the Vent Haven ventriloquism museum.
And I’m 34. I’ll confess I thought you were probably too young for me, which is just one of many reasons I didn’t send my airplane to you sooner. I find it charming that you thought asking for my age directly may offend me, but then explained away your own attempt at subtlety. I have an irrepressible smirk on my face now. Please don’t fear offending me. I shot a paper airplane at you like a precocious eight-year-old, and you’re still talking to ME (so far.)
What do you do for a living? And when you are not making a living, how do you make a life?
Re: From: SocialButterflyNeen@email.com
Subject: Copy Editor and Recluse
I read for a living. And while correcting grammar, spelling, and syntax may sound dull, it is a dream come true career for me because I never have to talk to anyone or leave my house. (ha!) My life outside of work is the same as my life inside of work. I read. I watch films and television. I (very) occasionally spend time with a (very) few close friends. Most of my time is spent by myself, but my gluttonous consumption of literature and mass media lets me still be a hit at parties when I actually go.
Doesn’t it freak you out to be surrounded by so many dummies when you’re alone working in that museum? Haven’t you ever seen a horror film? Based on our relatively short exchange, I’ve concluded you are, despite your humble assertions, extraordinarily brave. I’d have a hard time touring that museum with a group of my largest, most protective acquaintances. Who had a substantial vested interest in my personal well-being and future. On a sunny day with all of the exits propped open.
Since you have given me license to be shamelessly candid in my questions:
Am I correct in assuming you’ve always lived in this area? Have we ever previously met? What’s your real name? (Now I’ve unmasked my crippling neuroses, and you are no doubt turned off. I’ll understand if you stop responding now. But I admit I’ll be ‘respectfully and distantly disappointed.’)
Re: From: We-WeAtePancreas@email.com
Subject: You grossly underestimate me…
My ability to tolerate ‘neuroses’ is much stronger than you speculate. Particularly if you classify having natural, understandable curiosity about a person, who up until this very moment, is a nameless, faceless stranger, as ‘neuroses.’ You’re much too hard on yourself. I suspect that comes from being let down in relationships with other humans in the past, and heaping the responsibility for those social mishaps on your shoulders alone. I ask you to consider, if just momentarily, that perhaps your previous associations were just with the wrong other humans. I’m still not put off by your questions. Not even a little bit. Is it your aim to put me off? I’m sorry I’m not as easily provoked as you’d like me to be. I’ll try to be more overly sensitive. A LOT more…(Joking, in case that wasn’t apparent.)
I’ve lived around here my whole life. I’ve visited many other places in the United States, even had thoughts of packing boxes and changing my setting in some more permanent way, but never have. This is home.
I am certain that, at least in this lifetime/timeline/other religious or scientific theorized view of how the universe works, we’ve never met. I’d have remembered. Perhaps in an alternate universe, we have, and that’s why I’m so uncharacteristically bold in order to meet you in this one.
My real name is Paul Robinson. I’d love to know your real name. I’m guessing unless you have extremely artistic parents, your name is not actually Social Butterfly Neen.
Do you have an irrational fear of the ventriloquist’s dummy? Are you a much more attractive version of Dale Gribble?
Re: From: SocialButterflyNeen@email.com
Are you comparing me to a bald, chain-smoking, conspiracy nut in a cartoon? And you think this will bring my slant toward social insecurity more into balance? And feed a desire to continue associating with you? I mean…you accuse me of being like the LEAST likable character on King of the Hill. REALLY?!
Also, I was hoping that meeting a man in a library, a place of security and sanctuary, would safeguard me against meeting someone who watches cartoons in adulthood. I thought Paul Robinson would be a well-read scholar. I guess not. (Ha! If you can be snarky, so can I.)
My real name is Nina Kelley. My handle is my best friend’s favorite and most-used facetious insult of my extreme hermitude. (Not a word, I know, but you watch cartoons, so whatever.) And I know that ‘Nina’ is already only a four letter name, but my family and friends felt the need to shorten it further, at least in it’s audible form. Thus, ‘Neen.’
Re: From: We-WeAtePancreas@email.com
You know exactly who Dale Gribble is, so it’s clear that you’re hypocritically accusing me of immaturity when you yourself also partake in the delight of prime time animation. For shame. (Again, I jest. I hope it was obvious.)
And I was unaware that you sought a smug, intellectual ass. I am a chameleon for you, Dear Nina. I can mold myself to smug, intellectual ass, as that is what you so desire:
‘Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.’
(Again, I am kidding.)
With sincerity now, though: Will you meet me, Nina? Not just exchanging words, but also glances, voices, maybe laughter?
Re: From: SocialButterflyNeen@email.com
Subject: Wow. James Joyce. Ulysses. You win…
‘And yes I said yes I will Yes.’
OK, so a few years ago, a friend sent me a writing prompt that was actually an application essay option to enter the University of Chicago. Here is a recreation of that prompt:
Modern improvisational comedy had its start with The Compass Players, a group of University of Chicago students, who later formed the Second City comedy troupe. Here is a chance to play along. Improvise a story, essay, or script that meets all of the following requirements: It must include the line “And yes I said yes I will Yes” (Ulysses, by James Joyce). Its characters may not have superpowers.Your work has to mention the University of Chicago, but please, no accounts of a high school student applying to the University — this is fiction, not autobiography. Your work must include at least four of the following elements: a paper airplane, a transformation, a shoe, the invisible hand, two doors, pointillism, a fanciful explanation of the Pythagorean Theorem, a ventriloquist or ventriloquism, the Periodic Table of the Elements, the concept of jeong, number two pencils.
So Trajectory is the story that came about when I wrote from it ^^^^^. Sometimes I wonder if I would have been accepted to the University of Chicago based on it. Haha!
Now for the charitable begging part…
Vent Haven is a real place, and it’s the only museum dedicated to ventriloquism in the world. They’ve been around for decades, and their collection of dummies has ballooned to over 900, while maintaining the same space as when the collection was only 2-400 dummies. They also don’t have adequate parking for school field trips or group tours, public restroom facilities, or handicap accessibility, and they WANT these things. That’s what the Capital Funds Campaign is for.
I’m aware there are thousands of worthy charitable causes to give to over the holidays, and throughout the year, but if you’d like to contribute a bit to preserve this quirky little out-of-the-way place that’s truly one of a kind, your contribution to a new building is greatly appreciated and tax deductible. They have an ‘Adopt-a-Dummy’ option if you want to really invest. I think that’s $50, which I know is a lot. Even $5 would be helpful, though. (See the link below)
If you can’t (or don’t want to) give to Vent Haven, I hope you give somewhere to a cause that’s dear to you and helps people or makes them happy if you are able to give.