It gives new meaning to the phrase "desktop publishing." I'm talking about the graffiti carved in the wood of the library study carrel where I've set my laptop. Home to more than 100,000 books, this newer branch, set in a lovely suburb, is a place of high ceilings, dramatic architectural angles, upholstered armchairs, and carpeting in shades of mauve and teal.
Yet the graffiti etched here is something straight out of a gas station restroom. Phone numbers coupled with promises of a "good time." More than a few elaborating on those promises, some with enough anatomical detail to make Janet Jackson blush, not to mention the librarians.
Shielded by the three wooden "walls" that rise from the edges of each desk's surface, the Pencil Case Gang has been busy. Letters they learned long ago on "Sesame Street" now mix it up in ways Big Bird never imagined.
I'm a freelance writer, and occasionally I come to this library to work. Today, waiting for my laptop to boot up, I decide to make an informal study of these scratched and scribbled messages. Like an archaeologist scrutinizing the cave paintings of a lost culture, I want to learn more about those who have been here before me. Most are indigenous to the region, I assume. Indigenous to the local school system, probably. I could be wrong, though it's hard to imagine someone with a mortgage and a minivan slinking in here to scrawl, "I love Jennifer," no matter how fond they are of their preschooler.
So what do I learn? For starters, the group in question is passionate about the continuation of the species. Sex is on their minds, but so is love. Judging from the desks, several in this area are loved a lot, some by many. Crystal. Jon. Terri. Joe. Janey. Jennifer.
Closer study reveals other recurring themes as well.
"God" appears in a number of different contexts. Some ask him to "bless America." Other messages serve as reminders of his love. One simply says, "GOD," carved in two-inch letters, as if he too, sitting here puzzling over algebra or symbolism in "The Great Gatsby," had been seized by the urge to pick up a paperclip and remind people that he was still around.
In some ways, the discourse reminds me of talk radio in America today. At several carrels, two groups -- the God-fearing and the X-rated -- have regularly clashed, not only in answering one another, but sometimes adding to and amending the other's messages.
Other examples of ongoing dialogue reveal a certain teenage angst in those who frequent these stacks. These are kids who, for the most part, grew up in a world of three-car garages and $3 lattes, GameBoys, Barbie dolls and backyard birthday parties with inflatable jump houses. I sit here, in air-conditioned comfort, and read a phrase that epitomizes the various rants about school, teachers, classes: "I hate this place." My eyes come to rest on one pointed response to all this, scrawled in a corner with a permanent marker. "I'm 18, homeless and unemployed," it says, adding matter-of-factly, "You guys complain too much."
I resist the urge to add an exclamation point. And can only hope that all those who have written here -- and here and here -- someday find a better way to leave their mark on this world.