The Unexpected Treasure of the Public Library

I’m feeling overwhelmed by some family stuff today, so I thought I would spend some time thinking about a happier, easier time in my life when my oldest brother introduced me to the Nashua Public Library. I want to note that while this post is based on actual events, there will be some dramatization as I only really remember the broad strokes. Any similarity to persons, real or imagined, is intentional but may not be 100% accurate. Nashua, NH, is a real place, but has changed quite a bit since I was there. It’s still about an hour north of Boston, MA.

This post includes references to bicycles and libraries. And books, I guess. And a river. The Nashua River, to be exact. And a bridge across that river. Neither the river nor the bridge are major players here, but details help flesh things out, yeah?

Note to self: Stop rambling and get to the damn story.

Right.

O, Brother

My oldest brother, Gerry, played lots of roles in my life growing up. He taught me a lot of things, including how to throw a baseball and football (not at the same time), how to play basketball, how to ice skate, how to play several card games, etc. He was sometimes my guardian (not in a legal capacity) when he took me on bike rides and also lots of fishing trips. He was often my tormentor as well, but this is a happy post, so we’ll leave that alone for now.

The adventure begins

I forget how old I was, maybe 6 or something like that. But one day, Gerry came to me and said, “Let’s go for a bike ride. I want to show you something.” Being the youngest of three boys, I was always eager when either of my brothers wanted to spend time with me.

Gerry and I got on our bikes and rode down our street, Chandler Street, to where it ended at a t-intersection with Canal Street right across from the Sanders building (big defense contractor, I think). I use “down” both in the colloquial sense of heading in a southerly direction and the fact that Chandler Street had two significant hills. The neighborhood was, and still is, referred to as French Hill. We lived partway up the northern hill on Chandler Street so the first chunk of our journey was downhill quite a bit.

We banged a right on Canal Street, eventually riding past the apartment building my mom and I would eventually move to when we lost our house to foreclosure in my teens (not going into this right now; happy post, remember?), until we came to Main Street and hooked a left.

A quick terminology note

In Nashua, there was no turning. No one turned. It simply wasn’t done. Whether you were in a car, on a motorcycle, on a bike, on a Big Wheel, or even just plain walking, if you changed course in a right-hand direction, you “banged a right.” If you changed course in a left-hand direction, you “hooked a left.”

The grammarian/writer in me wonders why one needed to even specify the directions at all since the words “bang” and “hook” are already different. But I was not consulted at the time. And I’m not sure if this linguistic idiosyncrasy is still in place in Nashua since I have lived in Minnesota for over 20 years. Just trying to keep it real.

The adventure continues

Main Street heading south took us over the Nashua River across the Main St. Bridge. Apparently, city planners were not rewarded for creativity. After a few blocks, we then hooked another left and headed up the hill on Park Street, a process that required me to get off my bike and walk it since I didn’t have the pedal power to make it all the way up; and the zig zagging up a hill that increases distance but allows for a shallower angle of descent was not an option as we were limited to using the sidewalk.

Arrival

At the top of the hill, I was out of breath, tired, and thirsty AF as this was a pretty long ride for me at the time (a little under 1 mile). But when Gerry brought his bike over to the rack, and motioned for me to do the same, locking them together, I figured we were close to what he wanted to show me.

The main entrance to the library had these tall, heavy doors, as I remember. In my memory they a dark metal or perhaps wood. Recent pictures I can find online today show glass front doors but I don’t know if my memory is mistaken or if the library just has the wrong goddam doors and they need to fix it. There’s just no way to know.

A new world of treasures

As Gerry led me into the library, there was this smell that I can’t forget. Oddly enough, it smelled like books. Like when you open a book that may not have been opened for a while and there is a kind of sweetness to it. It smells so inviting. I still get hints of this smell when I go into libraries today, but not nearly as strongly.

The main desk was right in front of us, a large wooden countertop that went on and on in both directions. Behind that counter were the library staff helping patrons check out and return books, answering questions, and many other duties. Checking out books required one of those hand stamps, because this was back before libraries, at least this one, were digitized. It was magical.

Off to the left was the card catalog: rows and rows of little drawers of index cards, each corresponding to a volume in the library. It was still based on the Dewey Decimal System, as I recall. I had not learned that system yet, though. I also had not learned what a total fucking asshole Dewey himself was. I’ll let you look that stuff up on your own. Again, this is supposed to be a happy post.

Off to the right, as I recall was the multimedia section containing racks of vinyl records and albums with headphones for listening. No computers, for sure. This was the early 1980s after all.

Wrong treasures, dude

As I marveled at these new-to-me surroundings, I realized that Gerry was repeating my name with gradually increasing volume, trying to recapture my attention. He had banged a sharp right immediately upon entering the library and I had missed it. There was an alcove there. He gestured to have me join him. He leaned down toward the wall as I approached, but stood tall once I reached him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and an air of absolute contentment.

Gerry had brought me on this journey to share with me a treasure. That I may know of it. That I may share in its wonder. That I may pass on this knowledge to those I deem worthy. There was a small stepstool next to it, which Gerry pulled into place with his foot. Without it, due to my size, the treasure would have been quite literally beyond my reach.

I stepped up onto the stool and leaned forward. Gerry pressed the button on the right of this magical device and the most delicious, ice-cold water hit my lips. Like the smell of the library, the water had a hint of sweetness to it (I don’t want to think about what that was). I drank and drank; the smell of the books forgotten; the soft thuds of the hand stamps behind the desk forgotten.

“Remember this bubblah,” he said, as though passing on the greatest wisdom. This device, if you have not gleaned via context clues, is known in most places, I believe, as a water fountain or a drinking fountain. But in Nashua and the surrounding area, they were known as bubblers, or, more properly pronounced, “bubblahs.” There was one on the other side of the doors, that you could reach by hooking a left as you entered the library instead of banging a right. He motioned across to that left one, “That one sucks. THIS one is always like this: ice-cold.”

The journey home

When we were both satisfied, he led me back outside without even a glance at the books or any other vessels of knowledge the Nashua Public Library kept preserved within its walls. ANYONE could go there and get books and stuff. But our purpose was life itself.

As we biked home, I felt like I was changed. A new person; one equipped with the location of the finest drinking water known to humankind.

Riding a bike down Chandler Street is glorious. Up, on the other hand, is fucking awful.

Epilogue

Throughout my childhood, I went back to the library many times. Each time, I banged a hard right on the way in and drank from that glorious bubblah. There were even times when I went to the library and there were books involved.

I haven’t been back to the Nashua Public Library in decades. And even if I did, I don’t think I would have the courage to drink from that bubblah. The idea of drinking from a public water fountain today makes me feel ill. I think it’s one of those “remember when we were kids and used to do this and OMG how did we not die” kind of things. Lawn Darts. Driving around in the back of my dad’s van on folding lawn chairs.

But I enjoyed that bubblah while I could. And Gerry was right. It was always ice-cold.

My Self-Care: Computer Games and Podcasts

I am on medical leave from my dream job at Microsoft for a while. My Depression and Anxiety have been acting up for months and I burned through my paid-time-off with little to show for it. The whole grin and bear it thing, even it if helps, just doesn’t lead to long term stability. I am super fortunate to have medical leave via Short Term Disability as an option along with a manager and team at work, and a family at home that care about me.

Concentrating and focusing are both really hard right now. And I find blogging about my experiences helpful, not just for myself, but for the possibility of making someone else’s experience even a little bit easier. With that in mind, I have decided to share some of what I do for my own Self-Care. I’m not up for tackling anything heavy, so I figure this is a win all around.

Important disclaimers

There are some ground rules and expectations I want to set before I go any further.

  • That fact that these things help me DOES NOT mean they are going to help you.
  • I have ZERO desire to become some sort of social media Wellness Influencer.
  • I will not be asking you to buy any tonic, tincture, salve, balm, or poultice.
  • Anyone that claims to have a “sure-fire” cure for ANYTHING when it comes to mental health is almost certainly trying to take advantage of you.
  • Since my mental health challenges include quite a bit of social anxiety, I am going to focus on self-care I use that does not require direct interaction with other humans.
  • Han shot first.

Computer games

I have a long history of playing video games, all the way back to the Atari 2600. As far as console games, I later moved on to Nintendo, Sega Genesis, PlayStation, and XBOX. The first computer game I played/loved was Wizard’s Crown which was a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) for the Commodore 64. That got me hooked on RPGs. I love the process of turning a powerless character into a hero across a compelling story line. In recent years, I have focused mostly on playing games on computer rather than a console.

Here are computer games I really enjoy and find helpful when it comes to self-care:

  • Minecraft
    • I started playing Minecraft when it was still in beta, long before Microsoft (my employer) purchased Mojang, the studio that created Minecraft.
  • Diablo II: Resurrected
    • Activision Blizzard, the creator of the Diablo series has been in the news for the past year or so regarding sexual harassment and a toxic work environment for female employees and their response so far has been a shit-show. I had pre-ordered this game, an updated version of my favorite game of all time, before I learned about any of that. Since playing this game does not involve any additional money to play beyond that original purchase of the game I had already doled out, I still play it.
    • I was a long-time fan of World of Warcraft (WoW), another Activision Blizzard game, as well, which requires an ongoing subscription to play. As soon as I learned of the terrible circumstances described above, I cancelled my WoW subscription and uninstalled the game. Activision/Blizzard as it exists today will not get another dime from me.
    • Microsoft is in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard, which gives me hope for the future. Perhaps, once this is finalized, and if I see real, profound proof that working conditions have improved for ALL Activision Blizzard employees and the management and other personnel that perpetrated/allowed the behavior/discrimination are out the door, I may consider WoW again.
  • Neverwinter Nights
    • I don’t really have a note that I wanted to put here, but the other games have one so I didn’t want Neverwinter Nights to feel left out.

I find playing these games both relaxing and fun. They offer a valuable distraction and diversion that helps me set aside my Depression and Anxiety for a while. None of these games require ongoing demands for fast fingers and reaction times. My ability to take out a Zombie in the games above is more about my character’s skills rather than my own. When I am struggling with Depression and/or Anxiety, and energy is hard to come by, this aspect makes playing these games a viable option more often than not.

Podcasts

I’ve only gotten into listening to Podcasts in the past year or so. While I listen to several podcasts, this post will highlight the ones that I consider part of my self-care. All of them provide me with a great balance of teaching me something new and making me laugh. To avoid pushing these podcasters toward jousting for my affection, I have listed them in alphabetical order.

  • Depresh Mode with John Moe
    • Honest, humane conversations with top artists, entertainers, and experts about what it’s like to live with an interesting mind. No shame, no stigma, and more laughs than you might expect from a mental health podcast.
  • Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine
    • Join Justin and Dr. Sydnee McElroy on a marital tour of misguided medicine as they discuss the weird, gross, and sometimes downright dangerous ways we tried to solve our medical woes through the ages.
  • You’re Wrong About
    • You’re Wrong About is an American history and pop culture podcast created by journalist Michael Hobbes and writer Sarah Marshall. It has been hosted by Marshall since its inception; Hobbes also hosted until 2021. Launched in May 2018, the show explores misunderstood media events by interrogating why and how the public got things wrong.

Wrapping up

I find that taking time for myself is a vital part of my mental health. I understand that I am saying this as a straight, white, male living well above the poverty line, allowing me to benefit from large servings the privilege our modern society (at least in the United States) can give out. Not everyone has the means, time, opportunity to avail themselves of all the same things I have access to. I long for a world where EVERYONE has access to the resources they need, be that medical care, education, adequate food, a safe place to call home, and even just a damn hug (if they want one) once in a while.