Sunday, May 26, 2013

Herodotus Lounge

Herodotus Lounge


Burt arranged the glass to the mermaid carousel in the mist of Founders narthex   hoping the lulling sway of the water pump would relax the students into an environment conducive for academic growth. He placed it next to the mascot of our beloved Fightin’ Squirrel clad in patriotic garb holding up a copy of Johnny Tremain goading college students to READ VICTORIOUSLY into battle.


 The goal was to make the library a hip place to be.


"Think of it as a giant fish tank—an aquarium for excellence." Burt says, explicating how he heard a thump near the dam at Lake Havana with Miss Kewanee two weeks ago before prying the fin free from the grin of his jet-ski propeller. 


            As interior decorative consultant Burt is assigned the task of locating intriguing monuments for display throughout our building. Last September he recruited a thirteen foot tall Rubik cube a liberal grad student whittled out of drywall and claimed was art. As pre-dawn custodians our task is to thoroughly windex any smudges and graffiti from various building shrines as well as to catch the library gnomes in the early morning hours before they pillage the shelves and jam up the copy machines with faded date due slips and jinxed copy cards. Because CAMPUS HUMANITARIANS IDEALIZING DIMINUTIVE EQUALITY   prohibits the destruction of lilliputians, we suck the thumb sized creatures into the trunk of a Hoover, later depositing the gnomes near the one armed statue of William James even though by the next morning they seem to have made their way back to the abandon card catalogue section of the building, much to the chagrin of the part-time reference librarian.


But it was the mermaid tank that would save us. Carousel in semblance, Burt placed WiFi carrels around the exterior glass chirping out visuals of young scholars lost in a studious fantasia as they extrapolated quantum binomials or crammed across Excel documents.   At the ribbon cutting ceremony he toasted to the genesis of a new dawn for the Lewinsky-Baker library, before a bevy of media hounds interrupted him.  Due to the misty additives the water inside the tank was a bulbous crown of dust and the mermaid would not be completely visible for two days. The petoskey -colored silhouette blimp that floated inside the mermaid tank looked more like a manatee than the mythical creature it was purported to have been. The media seemed dubious and ready to carp in fabricated print.


“Don’t worry, the mermaid will eventually begin to come around.” Burt told us while handing us a special sort of sanitizer to disinfect the edges of the fish tank with—informing us that it was part of our job to feed the mermaid a special alloy of anchovies, dill weed and herring three times a day.


            "Can you believe this?" Kirk said, over our early a.m. smoke break, holding up a palm sized tile of Rubik cube that the 'brary gnomes had pried loose in the middle of the night. "Another piece of Burt’s bric-a-brac to steward."




Later that week the mermaid began to reveal herself. I had just finished lacquering up the dated spindle kiosk in what was left of the Herodotus Lounge when Kirk notified me of the sound of bubbles expiring from the top of the mermaid capsule. The students had arrived for RUSH orientation a week before and there were already graffiti’d hieroglyphics promulgating the immortality of certain frats stenciled into the side of the mermaid’s prison. The additives in the water had begun to clear and in the center of the tank floated the mermaid, the most beautiful hybrid between fish and female I have ever seen.


            There was something about the mermaid. Her hair was the color of a forgotten penny found in the bottom of a car ashtray—a wiry bushel of bronze that seemed to sway above her bosom like a whimsical stage curtain. Her emerald fin stretched below her cottage cheese flavored torso like an upside down question mark. But what allured me most about the mermaid was her eyes. A peaceful button of unblinking moss. The lone olive stranded in the martini chalice long after the cocktail party has ended.   


“She’s beautiful.” I told Kirk, still enamored with the twin pebbles of her eyes.


“She’s fat.” Kirk responded.


“She’s not fat.” I told Kirk.


 "That mermaid looks like it should be modeling fins for Lane Bryant." Kirk added while trying to swipe the guts of a stepped on 'brary gnome from the bottom of his steel-toe boot.


“I wouldn’t call her fat,” I told Kirk. “I would call her ample. I would call her extravagant.”


“She’s fat.” Kirk noted again, padding his upper pocket for a pack of smokes, cursing under his breath that Burt isn’t going to be happy when he sees this.






All registered students at HillSide Plus gain instant access to Midgard, our university’s virtual cyber world distillate. Inside Midgard the students can look like any college student. Many classes are conducted solely inside the portal of Midgard, with students simply plugging up their Spindles and entering meadows of infinite cyber possibilities. Every academic text and online journal Lewinsky-Baker has to offer is available within the clime of Midgard—as is every other library in the country, granting students instant library loan and imminent perusal of almost any text imaginable. 


The onset of Spindles and Midgard has really wrought havoc on the antiquity of academia. Gone are the days when students huddled around laptops or reviewed recorded lectures from the digitalized socket of their cell phones. Even more gone are the days when students used to check out books. Gladys’s stats from circulation show that she checked out only two books in the last week and they were both in braille. The bookstore even went bankrupt and transitioned into Hookah-Smoothies a few years back. The library was hurting hard until they hired Burt.


“That thirteen foot sized Rubik cube brought in a huge Euclidean convention last year.” Burt reminded us at the staff appreciation luncheon where they give us each a free Frisbee with our buildings motto on it.


“Unlike the time you turned the Herodotus lounge into a casino.” Kirk uttered, looking into the initials of our university on the Frisbee.





Autumn semester convenes with crimson leaves skirting into the entrance of our establishment and new freshman elongating their Identity Features in Midgard so as to confuse technologically wizened professors. About a week into the semester the mermaid became a salient feature on the Virtual campus tour, prompting students to abandon the screen of their Spindles and witness the anomaly with their own eyes.


            The first two months the mermaid became the campus cynosure. Lines stretched all the way from the customer service oath mural. Initially students would idle in line for up to two hours, texting visuals of themselves standing in front of the elegant legend.    Cheerleaders held pep rallies, temporarily placing a Fightin’ Squirrels football helmet over her copper tresses in support. Professors organized office hours in the sight of the spectacle, gesticulating with their arms as they argued about the infinite possibilities of the human condition and the ongoing mysteries of the world around us.  Mathematic professors would use part of her glass abode as a translucent note board, scribbling out various equations before nodding.  A ten percent rise was noted in academic exploration students changing their major to marine biology.


             Public patrons would even abandon the inky tint of their privacy screen on the old Mac’s to see what all the fuss was about.


Theatre majors seemed to take an almost a cultish following congregating around the mermaid, watching her furl her fin in jubilation as they recited lines from You Can’t Take it With You. Burt had a promotional picture taken in front of the mermaid with a foreign exchange student from Darfur, each of them holding up a screened Spindle with the words MOBY DICK flashing across the screen. He even scheduled an elder anachronistic society member to portray Hans Christian Anderson and host story time for the dole-eyed inhabitants from Bethany home.


The mermaid even served as the centerpiece for the 200 dollar plate champagne and sea food fundraiser dinner which left Burt whistling out the tune of “We’re in the Money,” while Kirk and I cleaned up.


There was even a waiting list for students volunteering to help feed the mermaid herring and dill weed supplement.


The Lewinsky-Baker library seemed to be back on track.


Mornings after vacuuming up ‘brary gnomes I would again lose myself in the deep pine of her eyes, wondering what narrative lay behind the dual orbs of her vision. There were questions I wished to inquire of her. I wanted to know where she came from. What her passions were. How her ferrotype reproduced.


“I think the mermaid is lonely.” I said to Kirk, one morning, after we shoveled marine vittles into the tank.


“You’d be lonely too if you looked like that.” Kirk snapped back.


I wanted to know what she thought of us. I wanted to know if there were mermen.  I wanted to know if she missed the place she came from.  I wanted to know what her world looked like as seen through the veiled tank of the aquarium lens.


“Looked like what?” I inquired.


“She’s huge. Look at her. She’s like an all you can eat shrimp buffet.”


I continued to ogle the mermaid, noticing how the gills that dotted along the side of her neck resembled two wispy treble clef signs. As I fell deeper into the puddle of her eyes, I wanted to hear her sing. I wanted to hear the sound of her voice emanate within the prism of glass. I wanted to simply to hear her song.


“It must suck to be locked up like that—look at her eyes.”


“You are locked up like that, look at your job.” Kirk barks back in my direction before handing me a bottle of disinfectant as he points to the smudges my nose left on the edge of the aquarium, telling me to hurry up, the building will be opening soon.







Around midterms the fascination with the mermaid began to wane. The mermaid tank began to exude a noticeable stench.  Burt blathered something about it probably just being some sort of mermaid menopause thing before leaving for Grand Cayman. 


            “I don’t know how she can smell that rancid,” Kirk observed, one morning, while placing the mobile of daily air fresheners above her tank, “it’s not like she has never taken a bath before.”


            Slowly students returned to their Spindles and variegated cyber vistas and the building became quiet once again. Less and less students sought out the mermaids company, leaving me more time alone to gaze into the emerald gloss of her eyes. Twice I thought I saw the pink hyphen of her lips move as if to tell me something. As if to sing. 


A former spelling bee champion espied me gawking at her one day and inquired if I knew that in the first trimester human embryos develop vestigial gills and a very small almost fin like tail, so that maybe the sole raison behind me drooling over this dolphin is that I see something latent in myself that I had somehow lost long ago.


I don’t know why you are so obsessed with what it sounds like,” noted Kirk. “Haven’t you ever seen the movies. Every time a mermaid tries talking out of water in the movies it always sounds like a siren is going off and people have to cover their ears.”


            “I just wonder what the mermaid would say, that’s all.”


            “I know what it would say,” retorted Kirk. “You’re a loser. I’m fat. Feed me.”






Things gradually got worse. The odor was so bad that even the ‘brary gnomes refused to enter the building. An unseasonably amount of seagulls seemed to linger outside the entrance to the building at all hours, one even surprising Gladys in the drop box one morning.  Burt came back all burnt demanding to know who crawled into the Narthex and died.


The library became known as the home to the fat, smelly mermaid.  Even the cyber enhanced mélange of the mermaid in Midgard made her look like something that might up-chuck Jonah. Students held tuition protest rallies referencing the mermaid, claiming that if the University could support a zoo for overweight cryptic creatures why couldn’t they splurge on a decent half- functioning whirlpool in the student center.  The thespian portraying Hans Christian Anderson turned out to have a mild case of turrets triggered by the scent of dill weed, leaving the Lewinsky-Baker library with threat of a lawsuit. A week later student Senate issued a statement that bacteria from the mermaid’s tank was almost solely responsible for the recent outbreak of pertussis on campus.


Finally, a post-it one morning from Burt that fat fish needed to be disposed.





Kirk and I moved the mermaid out of the library on the last day of finals, placing the creature on a book gurney that once housed the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 90’s. Burt hoped to air out the Narthex over winter break and hopefully recruit something less noisome to the propagation of human thought. Kirk was convinced that we could get a good price for her from some cannibal on ebay, but I insisted on taking the mermaid down to Nuclear ravine, feeding her into the creek near the Christmas tree reservation.


“She weighs more than she looks,” added Kirk, noting that our healthcare plan doesn’t cover hernias.


As we hoisted her off the gurney and placed her into the back of Kirk’s Chevette dried scales scattered everywhere like stale New Years eve confetti.  The eyes that had once enticed me into a daze of green pastures were now the color of used sandpaper. I sat in back, cradling the beautiful fish, using a plastic spray bottle to squirt water into her gills, asking her just to hold on. To this day Kirk still claims that the foul odor was imposing on his sense of direction in the midst of Holiday traffic. When I noticed her gills seemed to be winking out what could only be intuited as SOS signals I dumped the remainder of the water across her neck and pulled her out of the vehicle myself, carrying her in my arms, running. I think about her eyes now, as I look at the guppy I keep for a pet in the campus prayer room, occasionally fishing out a curious library gnome, trying not to fret over Burt’s latest campaign to endorse literacy. I think about what her voice might have sounded like.


I think about her song.  


She died in my arms across the street from a garish display of Holiday lights with a giant balloon of a side-burned Santa Elvis caroling Oh come all ye faithful in the front yard, the owner of the house coming out with a shovel, cursing at me, asking me what the big deal is, requesting that I move that fat smelly dead fish out of his driveway right now.

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