Sunday, May 29, 2011

Case of the Missing Moonbeam: Part 2

I was sitting anxiously across from a petite woman with short, brown hair and an easy smile, cradling a cup of black spiced tea with milk.  A sitar droned through the speakers at the back of the restaurant. We had ordered drinks together awkwardly, like a couple on a first date trying to feel out the preferences of the other person:

Black tea or green?
How many lumps of sugar?
Yes or no to milk? 

And so on until we were both sipping our tea in silence, glancing across the table at each other with mixed expressions. 

Sy seemed like an unlikely candidate to have secret information about there whereabouts of my bike, Luna Pisces Moonbeam. For a few moments I flirted with the thought that she had simply called in the hopes of getting the reward money in exchange for leading information, but the thought passed quickly when, after nearly 20 minutes of small talk, she hadn’t brought up the reward money once. However, we hadn’t actually talked about my bike at all since we met at the Indian restaurant, and instead continued to engage in a choreographed verbal dance, skirting from topic to topic with general ease and broad, stylish spins and dips. I was anxious, bored, and starting to feel like this was a waste of time when suddenly she lifted her chin and spoke. She preceded her words with a dimpled, nearly apologetic smile.

“So I know this meeting may seem kind of random...” She paused, and smiled again. “The thing is, I’ve heard a lot about you and couldn’t help but be surprised at the fact that your bike got stolen. It was even more surprising when I found out that I think I know the guy who took it.” She looked at me with slightly narrower eyes than before, almost as though she was lost in thought.

When she didn’t continue, I chimed in. “Yes, I was surprised and admittedly quite upset when Luna was stolen. I’ve searched high and low in this city, but I can’t seem to find her anywhere. I figured, with spring here, people would be out riding bikes every day and if I just kept my eyes open I might spot someone riding a lavender 1987 Nishiki Prestige.” I knew I was babbling, but couldn’t seem to stop. For some strange reason, I felt safe telling this complete stranger all about my sad life and even sadder thief tracking ineptitude.  “I’ve looked all over, but haven’t even found the tiniest lead. If you know who took my bike, I’d love to work something out with you to get it back. As much as I want to nab them, I can control the need for revenge and try to...forgive and forget.” Just saying those words made the milky tea sour in my mouth, but I knew that it was true. If there was a way to get Luna back, even if the thief never got properly reprimanded, I would find a way to forgive and forget in order to have my bike back safe and sound.

Surprisingly, Sy chuckled at my speech, a lilting laugh that drifted through the air and blended with the sitar music.

“I think you misunderstood me,” she said. “I know who took your bike, but I’m not friends with him. In fact, I’m hoping you might be able to help me... in seeking revenge.”

I blinked and unconsciously raised my eyebrow in curiosity. “I’m listening.”

“You see, I’m a mindful, community gardening type of gal. I teach people how to garden, how to eat nutritiously, and how to make delicious meals out of the vegetables that they grow. I help maintain a number of gardens throughout the area, and also grow my own food in my backyard using what I like to call ‘extreme gardening methods.’” She paused for effect, practically begging me to ask her more.

I found myself, surprisingly, on the edge of my seat. Thus, I abided her silent plea and asked, “What to you mean by ‘extreme gardening methods?”

She flashed another crinkly smile and her face lit up. Bingo, I thought. This ought to be good.

“Well,” she began eagerly,  “I developed a technique that allows me to plant my garden without ever having to leave my apartment! Wait, that makes me sound really antisocial. For the record, I do leave my apartment, quite frequently, and enjoy doing so...” 

“It’s ok, I understand what you mean,” I replied, politely overlooking her own lapse into awkward babble, just as she had overlooked mine. Besides, I was still curious as to her gardening methods. “Go on.”

“Well, I only garden organically so I don’t use artificial fertilizers or anything, but I developed a way to extract pure nitrogen from organic compost to make small explosives. You know, mini pipe-bomb type experiments. Anyway, after a few years of practice, I invented a mechanical arm that can drop the small explosives out the window with extreme precision, allowing me to arrange them in intricate patterns or simple grids. Since the garden is right outside my window, I use the arm to arrange the bombs in rows, then detonate the explosives and fire seedlings into the smoldering holes with a specially crafted bow and arrow set I designed myself! It’s a very efficient process-- I can plant the entire garden in less than an hour! Besides, it’s exceptionally fun.” She immediately took a sip of tea following her monologue and glanced at me with raised eyebrows over the rim of the cup, trying to determine if I thought she was crazy or not. Obviously, I did. But more than anything, I felt admiration, and possibly even jealousy. 

Brilliant! I thought, trying to keep my face from showing any signs of interest. Why didn’t I think of that idea?? My mind kept fluctuating between blurting out a string of wildly embarrassing praises, and wondering how this had anything to do with the theft of my bicycle.

“I’ve got to admit,” I said, raising my eyebrows across the table and smirking slightly, “that sounds like one hell of a good time!” 

Sy laughed, then said, “I’m sure you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with your bicycle!”

Damn. She’s like a mindreader!

“The thought may have crossed my mind.”

“Well, several weeks ago I was preparing the garden for planting. I had all my explosives made, seedlings started, and had finished fine-tuning my mechanical arm, when I realized my bow and arrow set was missing. I knew I had seen it just the previous day, because I had to check the alignment of the arrows to ensure accuracy, but that day it was nowhere to be found!”

“Are you suggesting that you think the same person who stole my bike snuck into your apartment to steal your bow and arrows?” I asked doubtfully. “It seems a little far fetched. This is a big town we live in!”

“I know, I know. But there’s more. You see, the very same day your bike was stolen, I noticed an advertisement in the classifieds section.” Here, she started fumbling through her pockets and pulled out a carefully clipped and laminated section of the newspaper. She handed it to me across the table. I read the few sentences slowly.

“Wanted: Archery equipment. Call 777-3445.”

I was starting to doubt the legitimacy of the story Sy was crafting. “Sy, this really doesn’t imply anything about my bicycle being connected with the theft of your bow.”

“No, not yet. But look, here is a clipping from the previous day’s newspaper, day before your bike was stolen, and the day after my bow was stolen.” She handed me another small newspaper clipping that read,

Wanted: Functional road bicycle. Call 777-3445.”

Sy was starting at me for signs of emotion. I think she could tell that I wasn’t buying into her hap-hazard clues. “Before you dismiss me as crazy, just think about it for a minute. Both of these advertisements have the same phone number listed, and appeared in the newspaper the day before our items matching the ads were stolen.”

“Yeah, but this could just be some crazy coincidence! Why would someone list items they want in the newspaper if they’re just going to steal them anyway?” My tea was growing cold, and I was growing tired of this conversation.

“You’ve got it all wrong!” Sy exclaimed. “It’s not the person listing the items who is the thief! Rather, I suspect that the thief saw the ads and thought they could make some quick cash along the way by obtaining the wanted items and selling them both to the same buyer, who could then later be blamed for the theft of the items when the actual thief calls you about the whereabouts of your bike in response to your reward posters!”

She was talking fast and making connections that my still-sleepy brain was striving to keep up with. At that moment I felt my cell phone begin to vibrate in my pocket and pulled it out to inspect the number: Restricted.

Sy eyed me glancing at my phone. “You don’t believe me, do you? Well I think you should answer that.”

“No, no, it’s alright. That would be terribly rude of me, I apologize for even looking.” 

I was beginning to place my phone back into my pocket when Sy abruptly snatched it from my hands, snapped it open and answered with a clipped but polite, “Good afternoon!” Her expression of determined curiosity changed to one of near excitement. The conversation was brief and confusing for a listener like myself only getting half of the dialog, and ended just as abruptly as it had begun, with Sy snapping the phone closed, launching into a standing position with fist raised over her head, and triumphantly yelling, “Yes! We’ve got him!!”

...To be continued.....

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Case of the Missing Moonbeam

I found myself falling out of sleep and into wakefulness. The digital clock glowed menacingly through the dim light of early morning, but my bleary eyes could not make out more than angry red fuzz no matter how hard I squinted. I rolled over and shuffled through last week’s reading--a few books, a tattered art journal, and multiple harassing bills stacked one on top of another-- until my fingers fumbled across my glasses. A second glance at the clock, this time in full focus, revealed the numbers 8:57.


It had been a late night. I was tired and knew I looked like hell, but had approximately three minutes to get to work. I started throwing clothes around hastily while simultaneously searching for my keys. I slipped on some sandals and started rushing out the door, caught myself, and reversed the mad dash until I was in the bathroom clutching my toothbrush and scrubbing my teeth into a feral froth. Then spit, rinse, and the final dash out the door, toothbrush still in hand. I tucked it into the inner pocket of my coat, ready and waiting to combat the next attack of halitosis or stubbornly lodged food particles.

The library was quiet when I arrived fashionably late at 9:03, and I managed to slip unnoticed into my office.  It felt like ants were crawling around in my brain, slowly picking up neglected neurons and putting them into their proper firing positions. Waking up was usually not an issue, but I was trying to function on barely three hours of shuteye. The thinking machine was running a bit slow, yes, but I couldn't help shaking the vague memory of a dream. I could see it rising to the surface, but just as it came into vision it would seep away into the depths, just a blue-grey shadow sinking in the darkness. It annoyed me because it seemed important. I wanted to remember it, but it wouldn’t stay lodged in view for more than a few microseconds, just long enough to distract me but not long enough to catch it in my memory net. 

There was a knock at the door, three soft taps and then silence.

“Yeah,” I said distractedly. Leave me the fuck alone. 

“HEY, MOLLY!” It was Ron, the man who wanted so desperately to take me on a date that he continued to stop by every single morning, disregarding my every attempt to shut him down. “I had to stop by to see your smiling face!” I hate it when he says that. It makes me feel obligated to smile, when what I  really want to do is wallow in the misery of having to explain on a daily basis why I am not interested in him.

“Hi, Ron.” I didn’t even look up from the e-mail I was typing. Call it rude if you will, but after two years of being visited by him I had little patience. I blamed it on being especially tired that day.
“You know, you still haven’t called me,” he replied with a wink.

I sighed. Here we go.

“Yes, Ron. I know.” I looked him directly in the eye, folding my hands together in front of me. “We’ve been over this. I refused to take your number, which makes it impossible for me to call you.”

“Yeah, but you could look it up in the phone book! Or I can give it to you now.” He flashed me a notecard, already prepared with his name and number, and stepped forward to put it on my desk.

“Ron, you can keep that. I’m not going to call you because I have a boyfriend.  You can’t keep doing this, Ron. I need to get back to work.”

He looked at me with hurt eyes walked away. I felt bad-- always do-- but was too tired to respond more delicately, and too impatient with his persistence to care. 

Besides, I told myself, I’m grieving.

Grief is a funny thing. You know on some level that you’ve experienced a loss, and something or someone irreplaceable has disappeared forever. Yet you keep hoping that there must have been a mistake, that they'll just show up on your doorstep one day and everything will return to normal. Except it never happens.

Her name is--was-- Moonbeam. Luna Pisces Moonbeam, to be exact. With a name like that you know she must have deserved every savory syllable of it. Such a pale beauty, lavender veined and slim through the shoulders. When I gratefully came to call her mine, I knew that I had never seen anything as quietly majestic or gracefully swift as her before. 

Luna is--was-- freedom. She was movement and life, a vast road through breezy hay fields baking in the sun. She was a placid lake surface washed with dancing raindrops. She was all this, all this and much more. And then she was gone, and I found myself left with only the ghost-memory of her figure haunting me at every turn. What could I do? Alone, desolate, I walked. I had been walking for weeks now, through our favorite neighborhoods, parks and parking lots, up hills, into shops. I walked aimlessly, looking longingly down every street and alley, behind every  building, through every window and porch railing, hoping desperately to catch a glimpse of her slender figure hiding just out of view.  I couldn’t stop walking, which explained why I was so bone-tired all the time.

I sighed. Luna. Best damn bike I’ve ever had. I was still scowling at my computer screen when the phone rang.

“Ladd here.” I waited for a few seconds in silence, then said, “Hello?” Just as I was pulling the receiver away from my ear to hang up, I heard a voice at the other end of the line. For a second time I mustered up enough energy to say, “Hello?”

“Hello,” said the female voice, followed by more silence. Then, “I have information about Luna.”

My throat tightened. Don’t get emotional, I told myself. I took a deep breath to remove the shake from my voice before responding. “What the hell did you do with her, you thief?! I’m going to track you down and smother your mother with manure, douse your house with hexes, harrass your ass with....”

“Woah, woah, easy!” The voice interrupted, following with a lyrical chuckle. I was breathing furiously hard into the receiver, mouth still ajar mid-sentence. A million thoughts were swirling through my head, words were putting themselves into threats and materializing into complete sentences so quickly that her interruption felt like mentally getting flipped over the handlebars of a bike. “Look, I didn’t steal her, but I may have information as to where she is.” 

I paused, embarrassed now. I mustered enough humility to say, “Oh.”

There was a slight pause on the other end, although I’m certain I heard a muffled chuckle. “Hey, my name’s Sy. I saw one of your missing bike posters stapled to a tree in the park and thought I’d give you a call.” 

Feeling completely deflated, I said quietly, “Oh. I see.” Fortunately my awkward silence did not dissuade the caller from continuing the conversation. 

“Yeah, anyway, I have some information but I’d rather deliver it in person. You see, it’s a bit complicated...”

And before I knew it I was scheduled to meet her for lunch at the very same Indian restaurant from which my bike got stolen. I was incredibly nervous, wondering who this mysterious caller was and what information she had about Luna, but I tried to maintain the well-practiced calm of the infamous Dreaded Librarian. Usually my stints against criminal activities are less personal. It boils down to me obtaining justice on behalf of someone else: defending right and punishing wrongdoings, but always for someone else. I had long forgotten what an emotional occurrence it was to feel personally violated, robbed, threatened and defeated. For the first time in many years, I was having to seek help, and from a complete stranger no less! 

I shook my head. Some Dreaded Librarian I’ve turned into. I can’t even find a missing bicycle. It was then that I realized I was totally, undeniably, utterly and completely down in the dumps. I hung my head in depressed shame and started methodically moving towards the restaurant.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Dreaded Librarian recently had the great privilege of having dinner with author Dinaw Mengestu following a reading he did at the local liberal arts college. He is an Ethiopian-American writer who has been listed as one of "the top 20 authors under 40." His two books, "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears," and "How to Read the Air," have received plenty of praise for their prose and captivating stories. 

Despite working at a library, there are very few authors who I have met. I remember being in 5th grade and realizing that I wanted to be a writer, and that dream stuck with me through all of high school and even into college. My aspirations, though unrealistic, involved being a published novelist by age 16, writing and illustrating a childrens' book, and majoring in creative writing in college. Alas, none of these dreams have reached maturation, and yet my dream of some day meeting and talking with a real live author has been blissfully achieved.

Mr. Mengestu lead an informal writing discussion with several teenage aspiring writers, and his words were both motivational and inspirational. What I liked most about him is that he lacked the pretentious air that I expected to come with fame, and rather spoke with calm strength and down-to-earth wisdom. He was intrigued by our community and the incredibly unexpected diversity found within such a small and run-down city. My library kids were very excited to ask him about his life and his books, trying to find commonalities between their African refugee background and his Ethiopian immigration stories.
Overall, the visit was an incredible experience (for both the youth and myself!), and now that I am in the midst of one of his books (rather belated, I know) I can also highly recommend picking one up and reading it. I am currently wrapping up "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears" and have found his writing beautifully lyrical, with strong imagery and a slow, relaxed sense of melancholia. Get to your local library and check it out-- literally!