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Why I Love America THE station was better. All he needed there was a bagthe bag that had come home to him when Rufus Junior was killed-and the transit goons would leave him alone. "Going on Washington," he would mumble when they shook him awake. "Going on Baltimore, going on D.C." They were too stupid to ask for his ticket. He would watch them slouch across the waiting room toward the old men who had fallen asleep against the lockers, their nightsticks pressing against their bellies like hard brown dildos. "Assholes," he would whisper, spitting. By the time they started shoving them out toward the street, he was already asleep again. Eddie Dixon, Manassa Jones, Richie Brown. They were the kind of men who life had pushed around, but if they weren't smart enough to bring a bag, it was no concern of his. It was harder at the library. Snipes, the guard at the entrance, always took his bag away before he let him in. "Morning, Mr. R.," he would say. "Not smuggling anything today, are you?" He would turn the bag over on the X-ray machine and shake it and give him a check so he could get it back when he left. Rufus didn't enjoy giving it up. It had Rufus Junior's initials on the side, and his army address was still on the tag, just where he had put it the day he had left. But bag or no bag, the principle was the same. In the station you pretended to travel; in the library you pretended to read. 79 WHY I LOVE AMERICA 80 The table was in the stacks, the metal ones where they kept the mildewed encyclopedias that smelled like bananas. There were three chairs around it, and they were always empty. The light was bad there; the stream from the air-conditioning flowed elsewhere. Beside the table was a square window the size of a porthole. Through it, he could just make out the rubble of the demolished train station, and the fine chalky dust that hovered over it like smoke. Between the station and the library was police headquarters -when .he wasn't pretending to read, he would watch the cruisers pull up to the back door. A blur of motion, a faint metallic slam, and whoever they had fastened onto was hurried inside. Rufus turned back to the book. It didn't matter which one it was. He took them at random from the shelves, propping them open in the middle of the table where they would catch his head if he dozed. He wasn't interested in words. In the station, he had felt oppressed by the weight of people-people coming, people going, people waiting aroundbut it was nothing compared to the oppression he felt when he thought of all the words gathered there above him in the stacks. If you waited long enough, people moved and left you alone. Words never moved, and when he accidentally took down a book without illustrations, he wopld immediately slam the covers shut, as if to kill a spider he had spotted there on the page. They were someone else's words, not his. They had never been his, never would be his, never could be his, and all the time he sat there, he was conscious of them lying in wait at his back-an infinite army of meaningless black bugs waiting to be squished. Even worse was Miss Brint. He wasn't sure what her job was. Hushing kids, hassling old men-that was about it. She looked machine-tooled-he winced every time he saw her. Her hair was the color of tinsel, her breasts seemed as small and hard as thumbtacks, her legs reminded him WHY I LOVE AMERICA of tweezers. Her voice didn't come out like a normal woman's; it 81 crinkled out. "How are you this glorious A.M.?" she would say, helping herself to one of the empty chairs. "You're looking very chipper and spry. It's like I was telling Mrs. Summers yesterday afternoon. It's so refreshing to find someone who actually likes to read. Those other men. Well, I don't know why they even come here in the first place. We're giving out books, not donuts. Speaking of which. I've brought you another one, Mr. R. It's a study of black civilization in West Africa by that man...


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MARC Record
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