Eight Legs Beats a Pair

“Can you help me copy and paste this thing,” someone using computer 2 asks. How to copy and paste? Edit tab in Windows, highlight and right click, or use Control C, and Control V.  At least once a day I help upload a photo onto an online dating site, into an email, onto Ebay, Facebook, or Craigslist.
            I’ve been talking on the phone with Keith who is incarcerated in a 205 area code facility somewhere in north Alabama. I’ve been researching information for an academic article he is writing on new forms of life that are being discovered every day at the bottom of the world’s oceans. I found him a National Geographic article, which I scanned and emailed to his friend.

            “Alan thanks for the article, but I need more detailed information about these life forms. Do you know about Strain 112?”

            “I’ve come across it in my searches. But Keith, the information you’re requesting is getting a bit outside the realm of public library holdings. You need access to an academic library that has subscriptions to current scientific and biological journals.”

            “I understand Alan; I’ve got a friend at UCLA. Can you get me the number to their library?” I find the library home page and get him the number to the reference department.

            “Thanks, Alan, you’ve been a tremendous help.”

            “My pleasure, Keith.”

             As I’m finishing up with a patron, a man rolls up in a wheelchair. I notice in a flash he’s missing part of his left leg.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for books about the Constitution,” the white bearded and T-shirted man in his 60s grizzles.

“Okay, we’ve got a few things I can show you. Do you want to follow me down to the section in nonfiction or would you like me to bring some books up here for you.”

“I’ll wheel down there with you,” he says, sounding less irritated for having been given a choice.

“Be right back,” I tell Pam, who is helping another patron.  I walk beside his wheelchair and take the lead as we enter the nonfiction section. Vincent Price! That’s who he reminds me of as I show him an assortment of books at 372.73 and 973.4.

“I’ll be back in a minute, ‘I say and as he browses the section, I leave him to get a book in Youth Services that explains each section of the document.

“Thanks, this is a good start,” he says, when I hand him We the People: the Constitution of the United States of America by Peter Spier.

Returning to the reference desk I remember there is a pocket size edition of the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in the Citizenship Toolkit published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

When he rolls by the desk on his way to check out I notice he has The Constitution of the United States of America by Beverly Harcourt in his lap.

“Look, you and I have something in common,” I say, raising my right leg off the floor and lifting my right pant leg.

I look at his stump, which is wrapped in a brown shrink sock and ends below mid-thigh.

“Nice,” he says, “Above knee?” He asks me, looking at the black carbon fiber post and foot.

“No, below,” I say, adding, “It was a birth defect.” He gave me a nod, like he’d heard that story before.

“This is from a spider bite,” he says, so matter of fact that he stares at me and watches my eyes light up. What kind of spider was it? My mind flashes as I think about the brown recluse, the most lethal arachnid around here. I don’t ask. We are in the middle of the library. I listen.

“It turned gangrene,” he pauses, “they amputated it in February.”

“Have you been fitted?” Knowing that older people have more difficulty adjusting to amputations and some never get comfortable wearing a prosthesis.

“Yeah,” he says, “I try to put it on once a day,” I get the feeling in his softened voice that he is going through the motions but is mentally beaten.

“You in much pain?” 

“I’m going to a pain doctor this week too.” I’ve read a little about phantom pain, but this guy lost his leg to a spider bite. The scenarios the human mind can make up to adjust for loss is frightening. His leg is gone, but his mind and his nerves act like his leg is still there.

“I’ve been reading about mirror therapy for phantom pain,” I say, “you might want to ask your doctor about it.”

“Oh, I will and thanks for everything,” he says.

“You’ve come a long way in just four months, so keep it up,” I tell him through a clenched smile as I think about what we don’t have in common as we part ways. 


Legs in the Library

Clack of keys, clunk of a space bar on computer number 6. Cell phone ring tone. The Library is no longer a quiet place to curl up with a book to study. It is the lifeblood of a community buzzing with activity for many people.

A boy and his father ask me to help them find something about Thales.

“We tried searching the catalog, but we didn’t get any hits,” the father said.

“I’ve never heard of him, tell me about him,” I ask the boy, who is probably in junior high.

“He was a Greek mathematician and philosopher,” he says.

“Well we might not have a book just about him, but I know we’ll find something.”  I take him to the Concise Rutledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It’s only a paragraph and the kid frowns.

“That’s what I got from the encyclopedia at my school library.”

“Is it too late to pick someone else?” The father asks his son.

“I’m not giving up that easy. Let’s go over to math and science,” I say.

We walk around the Atlases, pass the model of the Heroine bay boat and I snag the Biographical Dictionary of Mathematicians.

I skim Volume 4 for Thales and read the entry out loud. “Thales is considered by Aristotle to be the “founder” of Ionian natural philosophy,” or metaphysics. I hand the book over, “There are four pages on Thales. You can make copies up front.”

My dorky excitement is contagious and spreading like a wildfire as I see the same smile on both faces. “Thanks,” the son says without any prompting from his dad.

A Patron gives me a Frank and Ernest comic. Three pirates talk on board a ship. One pirate says to another about the third, who stands on a peg leg and has a contraption on his left arm, “He’s the most obsessively neat captain I’ve ever worked for – he has a Dust buster instead of a hook.” I did a book review for Treasure Island a few years ago, and many people knows about my obsession with anything one-legged. In fact, lots of the staff knows about my bonfire of desire to read anything about lost legs. A  coworker in circulation emailed a story about Molly the Pony, a Louisiana pony who lost her leg after a dog bite and was fitted with a prosthesis.

“We’ve already got the book,” I tell her, thanking her and reminding her to stay on the lookout for stories about humans and animals missing a leg. A picture of Molly, her caretaker, My wife Susan, and I rests on my desk at home from when Molly came to Page and Palette, our local bookstore.