This is the story about how I got kicked out of the Weehawken Public Library. How, you may ask (Or why the hell are you writing a story about it?) Well, it all started in September 2012. And I am writing a story about it because I am just that bored.
I moved to the beautiful [sic] city of Weehawken, New Jersey in 2011. All big eyed and dreamy, I was a Florida boy moving to the outer skirts of New York City to fulfill my dreams of being a backup dancer.
When I wasn’t in the studio practicing my hip-hop footwork, I enjoyed taking long walks in Central Park, drinking over-priced cups of coffee and avoiding homeless people at all costs. When I wasn’t in the city, I relished in the days when I could relax in the quaint New Jersey town, aimlessly browsing for used socks and old cassette tapes in the small Cuban-owned shops. Or the “tiendas”. (I’ve become so fluent in Spanish since living here, I sometimes replace English words with Spanish ones, without even noticing. So, lo siento in advance).
Another favorite pastime of mine is reading. For anyone who knows me or has checked out my OkCupid profile, I love books. I like writing them. And I love reading them. That being said, one of my favorite places are libraries.
One of the first stops I made upon arriving in New York (aside from the apartment building used inFriends) was the New York Public Library located on 40th and 5th: a New York City landmark, which solely became famous because of the Sex and the City movie. I spent most of my free time between rehearsals and callbacks walking the aisles of books by such great authors as Tori Spelling, Kris Kardashian, and Lauren Conrad.
This library had it all.
I went to the front desk, located way in the back, and inquired about obtaining a library card so I could have access to all of these great titles and authors. And so I could check my OkCup…Facebook account in the computer center.
When I was prompted to give the man my address, the only form of identification I had was my Florida driver’s license, and to be a member of the New York Public Library you had to actually live in New York. Which I didn’t.
So, I shrugged my shoulders, returned “Breaking Dawn” back to it’s place, and humbly left the premises. “There must be a library in Weehawken” I thought to myself while standing in line at a Shake Shack for the second time that day.
As it turns out, retaining a library card in Weehawken was almost as difficult as curing herpes. Oh, wait, there isn’t a cure for herpes, is there? No wonder those five empty sticks of Abreva have done nothing whatsoever. I guess getting a library card is as difficult as…opening a brand new CD. You know, that unmanageable strip of thick sticky plastic aligned on the top of the CD making it almost impossible to open, so you’re screaming in the Target parking lot to yourself, “I just want to listen to the new Taylor Swift album on my drive home, God damnit!”
Wait, no one buys CD’s anymore? Oh. Okay, well shit. Getting a library card is just hard – no similes or metaphors.
But, I digress.
I located the Weehawken library online, MapQuested the address, and discovered it was a very short distance from my apartment. So, I threw on my expensive Old Navy fleece jacket and walked on over.
It turns out the library used to be an old mansion that has been restored, renovated, and refurbished. Much nicer than that one in the city. If Carrie would have had the wedding there, I am certain Big would have shown up.
When I entered, I saw an information desk off to the left side with an elderly lady sitting down reading “Fifty Shades Freed”.
“Ah, you’re almost to the end. Does Anastasia stay with Grey or does she leave him for Jose?”
Without hearing a word I uttered, she continued to read her book, fervently turning the page in search of an actual plot line. I stepped up further to the desk, waiting for her to notice my presence. Or cologne.
Finally, she finished the chapter she was on and looked at me. “Oh, hello there. Have you been standing here long?”
“No, ma’am, just eighteen or nineteen minutes.”
“Well, how can I help you?” she asked, dog-earring her place in the book. Instead of answering right away, I suddenly found myself wondering why she didn’t have access to a bookmark. It was a library for whispering out loud. Shouldn’t there be ample book-place-saving devices at hand besides folding down a corner of a page?
“I would like to get a library card, please.”
She gave me a look of “Ugh, I have to get up out of my chair and go to the filing cabinet”, like I was the forty-third person that day opening up a library account in Weehawken, New Jersey. “I just need a photo I.D. and proof of residency.”
Hm…Proof of residency. I didn’t have any of those. I had only just moved to the area a month ago, and none of the leasing documents or utility bills were in my name because of my warrant. “Well, I do have a drivers license. But, unfortunately I do not have any documents that state that I live here. But I can assure you that I am a resident of Weehawken.”
“Your drivers license is from Florida, young man.”
“Yes, I know. Like I was saying, I only just moved here a month ago. I can’t get a New Jersey license, and I don’t have any bills in my name. But, again, I can assure you that I live in the city of Weehawken” I said with a convincing smile.
“I am so sorry, but I really need a photo I.D. and proof of residency. Maybe something at home will show your address and you can come back and show it to me.”
I ran out of the biblioteca (ugh, see?!) and sprinted down the street to my apartment. Something in this apartment must have my address on it. I wasn’t working at the time and all of my credit card bills were still being sent to my parents house for them to ignore. I was now faced with one of the most important and significant challenges of my adult life.
I ransacked all of my files, which was just a recipe for Chicken Caccitorre and an old Banana Republic catalog. In the midst of my search, the apartment buzzer rang. This being the first time I have been home while this happened, I became giddy and excited. Just like on tv, I pushed the ‘TALK’ button and said, “Yes?” and then I pressed the listen button and heard, “I have a package for a James Lane”. I, again pressed the talk button and said gleefully, “Come on up!” and buzzed them in. This was so cool!
Five minutes later, still standing by the closed door waiting for a knock, my buzzer rang again. I was then told that the door downstairs was broken and that I would have to come downstairs and retrieve the package. Damn.
So, I ran down three flights of stairs and greeted Paul (I don’t know if that was her name, but it sounds about right). I signed for the box and hurriedly scuttled up the stairs, wondering what was inside. I grabbed the box cutter out of my left sock and tore open the cardboard box. It was a T-shirt I had ordered online a week ago with a big black cat on the front and the words “You’ve got to be kitten me” written underneath. After trying on the shirt, and playing with the bubble wrap for fifteen minutes, I noticed something inside the box. It was the itemized receipt. An itemized receipt with my address on it! My New Jersey address! I grabbed the piece of paper and my keys and hauled ass back to the library.
When I finally made it back, twenty-five minutes since I was there last, I went back up to the information desk and spoke with the same lady. “I’m back, and I have proof of my residency!” I said as I pulled out the receipt.
“Can I help you?”
“Uh, yeah. I was just in here. A few minutes ago. I wanted to get a library card?” Clearly, she had some short term memory problems, along with psoriasis and gout.
“Okay, I just need a photo I.D. and proof of residency.”
I handed her my drivers license and the T-shirt receipt. “Here you go!”
She looked over both of my documents. “You are the second person today to come in with a Florida drivers license. Small world, huh?” I nodded sympathetically while she scrutinized the paper I handed her. “I am sorry, but we need a bill or lease or something. This doesn’t tell me you live here.”
“Yes it does. Right there, see? Below my name it has my address: Hudson Avenue, Weehawken New Jersey”. I made sure to stretch the word Weehawken out as long as I could. She wasn’t buying it.
“Yes, I see that. But, this is just a piece of paper with your address on it. Anyone can get anything mailed somewhere. I need an official document. I’m sorry.”
“You have got to be kitten me!”
A month later, I was happily [sic] employed and working at a restaurant in Times Square serving cheeseburgers for seventeen dollars. Two weeks after being employed, I finally got my first paycheck. And what was on that paycheck? My address. If a paycheck isn’t official, I don’t know what is! So, I returned back to the library, for the third time, and requested a library card.
Naturally, it was the same old lady working. And naturally she didn’t remember me. I handed her my I.D. and paycheck and she awarded me with a library card. She had me sign three different forms, photocopied my information, and typed my information into the system. After what seemed like an hour, she had completed this mundane task and handed me an un-lamented paper library card. But I didn’t care. I was now a library member. I could check out three books at a time, use the computers, and attend monthly seminars and activities.
A week later, I received a letter in the mail from the Weehawken Public Library that read:
Dear Janes Lame,
Thank you for you’re interest in the Weehawken Public Library. We are honored to have you as a member. You’re account is now active. Happy reading!
Director of Library Operations
I didn’t care that they spelled my name Janes Lame. And I didn’t care that they didn’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re”. I was just happy to be a member. I had some great times at that library, writing articles for my job, writing stories for my blog, reading delightful books and interesting magazines in plush big couches, and even attending a singles knitting class. I have to say, it was worth all of the hassle. And that is the story of how I got my library card.
Oh wait. This is the story of how I got kicked out of a public library, isn’t it?
It was the end of fall/beginning of winter in 2012 and I was still living in Weehawken, New Jersey. While being ridiculed for over a year from my friends (and some family) I found that I really enjoyed where I lived. It’s quiet and comfortable, yet only five minutes from the city. I was even starting to make friends out this way – friends who I used because they had access to cars.
My serving job ended in the early summer due to bankruptcy, although their reasoning was “repainting the walls to eventually reopen”. And my dance career was quickly falling to a demise. This left me out of a job and out of money. And out of hope. I eventually found myself a part-time job writing for a company’s website, and doing freelance work on the side. But, usually my days were spent watching Gossip Girl and reading a book a week. I carried on this activity from June all the way through December, eventually switching Gossip Girl for something a tad more real.
By mid-December, I was already halfway through with Desperate Housewives when my mom called me to ask a favor. She is flying into New York to spend Christmas with me, and she purchased Radio City tickets for Christmas Eve. The only problem was that she didn’t know how to print them off herself, so she asked if I could do the small task.
Like all struggling writers in New Yo…Jersey, I am without a printer. I left mine at home, not wanting to take excess stuff with me. And plus, it wasn’t going to fit in the moving van, especially with those two bean bag chairs. It was at that moment I had a realization: The library has a printer! So, I threw on my winter chaqueta and made my way.
I went straight up to the second floor where the computer center was and logged on to an available computer. After typing in my account number to be logged on, a message of “Inactive Account” appeared on the screen. “Hm, that’s weird” I whispered to no one. So, I re-entered. Same message. I re-entered again. Same message again. Finally, I went to the man behind the desk and explained my problem.
“That’s awfully strange. I don’t know much about computers, so I don’t know what to tell ya. Uh, let me call Janice to see if she can help you. Hang on tight, buddy.”
So, I sat there at my computer, hanging on as tight as I could, waiting for Janice to solve this problem. A few moments later, she came scurrying over to me at computer #4. I was very relieved to see that Janice was in her early forties, and computer literate. She re-typed my account information into the computer only to receive the same message. She scratched her head and told me the library was switching software programs and that was probably the reason for the glitch. I explained that I just needed the Internet for five short minutes to print out a document, so she logged me in as a guest user and went on her way.
I opened the attachment my mother had sent with the concert tickets. I clicked print and walked up to the counter with my thirty cents to pay.
The old man went to check the printer and told me nothing had printed. So I went back to the computer and clicked print again. Same thing. Printer not working. So, I went back a third time and clicked print, and this time one of the three concert tickets printed. I explained to him that I needed those other two tickets. I was trying to have patience with the old man, because clearly this was not his profession. He just took a volunteer job at the library to get him out of the house and away from his nagging wife. I get that. But, this was a library. A place where signing onto the Internet and printing documents was supposed to be easy. Not like opening up a brand new CD or curing herpes.
After a few more tries, he told me that the printer was just not working and that I should find another means of printing off whatever I needed. I nodded in agreement, but told him that in the event of my pages actually printing out later on in the afternoon, for him to shred them, or rip them up and toss them in the garbage. I didn’t want some library patron finding these concert tickets and having a free entrance pass to the greatest Christmas show on Earth!
Begrudged, but not ready to leave, I perused the “New Non-Fiction” shelf and found a few winners I had yet to read. “The Best of Me” by Nicholas Sparks, “The Heart of the Matter” by Emily Giffin, and “My Life is So Raven” by Raven Symone. I put all three hardcover books in my arms and walked downstairs to check them out.
I arrived at the front desk, books in one hand, library card in another, ready to get home and read what it exactly was like working on The Cosby Show. The woman behind the desk was new to me; a face I had never seen before.
“Hello, how may I help you?”
“Hi. I would just like to check out these books, please.”
“Most certainly. Library card?”
I handed her the card, and while she was scanning the books, I looked around for the elderly lady that helped me last year to say a quick hello, even though I doubt she’d remember little ole me.
The woman, let’s call her Doris for legal reasons, interrupted my gaze. “I’m sorry sir, but your card is inactive. You need to re-activate your account.”
“Oh, okay. Sure. No problem. Do I need to sign something, or…?”
“Well, I just need a photo I.D. and a proof of residency”.
<Insert over the top eye roll> Oh, brother.
“Well, I have my photo I.D. with me, it’s my Florida drivers license, but I don’t have anything on me that shows I am a Weehawken resident. But, I am!” I said, as I smiled my please-let-me-out-of-a-speeding-ticket-officer smile.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Lame, but I must have a paper that states you are a resident of Weehawken.”
I suddenly had déjà vu. It was coming through my earphones. Damn, Beyonce. I explained to her that I was not on my lease, nor did I have any bills in my name, but that my address was so-and-so, but she kept nodding her head.
“But, you must know I am a resident here, because I was given a library card already. You’re holding it in your hand. It just expired or something. The woman upstairs told me you guys were changing software programs. Perhaps this has something to do with it. I don’t know why my card would be inactive. I was just here a month ago.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but—"
“Is there another lady here? The older lady? She assigned me my card. She would remember me” I lied.
“No, she isn’t. Gayle has gone on to a better place.”
“Oh. Is she working at the library on 40th and 5th?”
“Um, no. She passed away, sir. But I doubt she would be any help.”
“Clearly. So, what you’re saying is that I need a paper with my address on it before I can check out these books?”
“That is what I am saying. I can hold them here for 24 hours until you prove that you live here.”
“Okay. I just find it a little ridiculous that I need to bring my papers here again. I live on Hudson Avenue, right above Monetti’s pizza place.”
“Monetti’s is not in Weehawken.”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not. Great pizza, though. Have you had the garlic knots?”
“Yes! They are delicious, aren’t they?”
“So so good. I like to dip them in the alfredo sauce and —“
“Okay, we are getting off topic. That place is in Weehawken. My mail is addressed in Weehawken. I know what I am talking about.”
“Ah, you get mail delivered to your house in Weehawken?” She said the town name like she was using invisible air quotes.
“Yes. I get mail delivered there.”
“Then bring me something to show it, and I will gladly let you check these books out. Thank you.”
And with that, I was dismissed. I went back to my apartment, with no concert tickets and no books. How was an errand so easy in theory turning out to be so damn difficult? I ransacked my bedroom looking for anything with my name on it. The truth is, no one really sends me mail, so I had no hard evidence. And since I was out of work, I had no paycheck stub to bring in.
I then thought to myself, “Did I really need those books? I mean, I didn’t want to read them until I saw them at the library. And I could always order them on Amazon. Or go to a used book store. Do I really need to be going through this much hassle?” From which I concluded: Yes. It wasn’t about the books anymore. It was about the principle. I was a resident of Weehawken, God Damnit! And I am entitled to all Weehawken has to offer. The banderas, the barras, the mercados, and yes, even the bibliotecas.
I looked through an old binder I had in the back of my closet I tried to keep important documents in, but it was just newspaper clippings of Taylor Swift, an old play I wrote, and birthday cards. When I closed the binder, a piece of paper flew out and landed at my feet. It was my W-2 from my restaurant job. And, low and behold, it had my name AND address on it. Perfect.
I walked back in with my head held high and approached the front desk. Someone else was sitting at the desk when I arrived and I asked to specifically speak with Doris. He informed me she was upstairs on her lunch break. “I’ll wait” is all I said to him.
Fifteen minutes later, Doris came walking back downstairs with her Igloo lunch box draped on her left arm. “You’re back.”
“Yes, yes I am.” I placed my I.D. and W-2 on the counter like I had a winning had at poker. “Here are the documents you asked for.”
She picked up my W-2 and let out a long, exhale. “Sir, I don’t think you are listening to me. I asked for a recent document. This was issued in 2011. This is not recent. I need something from, I don’t know, the month of December 2012. Can you do that for me?”
Oh, so this is how you want to play, huh? Now I was mad. And, to be quite honest, I did not like her tone.
“Listen. Right now, at this moment, this is all I have. I understand it is not recent, but it is a document with my name and address on it. I am not on a lease. And I do not have any bills addressed to me here. But, I live at that address right there on the form. I already have a library card. And my name is in the system.”
“Well, actually, in the system your name appears as Janes Lame.”
“That’s the result of a ninety year old and a computer. Not my fault. James Lane and Janes Lame are one in the same. Why is this so difficult?!”
“I’d like to ask you the same thing.”
I picked up my I.D. off the counter, placed it back in my wallet, and started to walk away. Quickly, realizing I still had some fight left in me, I turned back around. “I just, I am so amazed at how outrageous this process is becoming. I just want to check out those books. I really needed those books today.”
She picked up the three books I had waiting on hold. “Oh, you do? You need ‘My Life is So Raven’ really bad?”
“Yes! I’m a fan.”
Doris began to laugh and waved her arm at me. “You have heard what I need. If you can fulfill those teeny tiny requirements, you can check out these books you ‘really need’”. And yes, she did the air quotation marks. Now, my voice was raised.
“Do you think this is some sort of game? Do you think I just go around to different libraries throughout the county and try to trick and deceive helpless librarians? Throw all the books I’ve illegally checked out into a pile and jump up and down?! Brag about it to my friends?! This is crazy. This is insane! This is NOT Germany!”
“Sir, I am sorry you feel that way, but this is our policy. And apparently you cannot abide by our policy.” She picked up my library card off the desk, and tore it in half. “We are not interested in having you as a member here anymore. You can go now before I call library security.”
“Library security? You mean the eighty year old with the walker upstairs?”
“You are kicking me out of the library because I don’t have proper proof of residency?”
“No, I am kicking you out for shouting in a library. Good day.”
And so, that is the story of how I was kicked out of a public library. I walked by it the other day on my way to get lunch. I stood on the front steps, looking at the beautiful building, watching little children go inside with their backpacks on, ready to embark on a new day of fun and reading, and I couldn’t help but to feel a bit sad. I had some good times in that place. Times I wouldn’t trade for the world.
They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and boy, did I agree.