My love affair with the New York Public Library has waned. Somewhere along the line, after one too many run-ins with suspicious stains (go here and here for the dirt), I decided to make a clean break and start buying books instead. I had to literally wash my hands of the library experience.
So now when I have a hankering for a li’l lit., I go to Amazon.com and browse cleanly, sans stains. And when the books arrive in their neat little bundle, all fresh and crisp and free of the crime of grime, I am as happy as a clam or a pig in shit or whatever the kids are saying these days to indicate glee. At last! Hundreds of pages unsullied by fingertips that moments before had swiped grayed grease from alongside a bibliophilic bum’s nose! Volumes of vellum unmolested by errant genitalia! No crumbs, no coffee rings, no blood, no sputum! Ahoy! Oh joy!
Or … maybe not.
Check this out:
Pages 98 and 97 of The Information, by Martin Amis
(Vintage International, 1995)
I have no idea how it happened. I’d left the book on the bed, face down and spread open (not the most delicate of positions, and one for which I apologize given my general reverence of books and concomitant desire to preserve their dignity) perhaps to run to the aid of an orphan sobbing in the street below and when I returned and picked the book up to continue reading, I noticed the stain, glaring at me with no small amount of defiance from page 98.
“What is this?” I said, flipping through the pages with trepidation. I discovered that the stain had not just affected page 98, but had seeped through to page 97, and then and here is when I fully shuddered with the realization of the enormity of the damage all the way to page 93! Like wildfire, it spread! Like a venereal disease, it spread! It was too much to bear.
Once my nerves had a chance to settle somewhat, I took a deep breath and felt the bedclothes where the book had been resting. Perhaps the cat, manifesting her defiance bladderally? No. Seepage from a secret corpse? No. Perchance an upended, opened, wicker-encased bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, imported from a Tuscan village? No. What, then, what?
My forensic inspection yielded very little information. And when interrogated under bright white lights, the stains refused to budge and offered no information. However, those same lights revealed that the parts of the pages touched by the stain were translucent (think mayonnaise), and a cursory frisking revealed that the stains are still a bit moist, thus bringing me to the conclusion that they are indeed oil-based.
But how did the stains get there? What do they mean? And why, if you squint at them, do they look like faces in profile … faces that regard me with ill will and malice … faces I may have encountered … in the New York Public Library … ?