As a child, I frequented our local public library. My interest in reading was mild, but my interest in the “what’s wrong with this picture?” part of Highlights Magazine was fanatical. Even more compelling than my lust for Highlights Magazine* was my fixation on a single object: I was a devoted and very small patron to the library because at the central and lowest point in the building was a door sealed shut by magic.
The brief audio/song below is composed of sounds I recorded at the library, on the backbone of me attempting to open the door. Other ephemera of the library are present as well.
“Master Key Required”
The Room of Insane Mystery
The Longview Library has plenty of strange ephemera and elements clearly imported from other dimensions that we can’t comprehend. These constellation seemed to radiate from a sort of imaginative and esoteric syzygy in the base of the library. It’s root chakra, as it were. First was a large Panda, capable of bearing the weight of even a large person. There was no theme necessitating or explaining the existence of the Panda. There were no other animals, no other nods to animalia to justify his centrality. There was some bamboo painted around, but what this had to do with anything was unclear.
Immediately behind Panda, in a line that would perfectly bisect the front double doors of the library, was the bookshelf adorned with Highlights and Ranger Rick, chiefly. My overexposure to these magazines in no small part led to my uncanny ability to tell if something is wrong in a given situation, and also to enjoy seeing very large frogs. On either side of the bookcase were two steps going down, very narrow, forming a small horse-shoe shaped, unlit alcove behind the shelf. This bookshelf was floor-to-ceiling, meeting the under-side of the stairs that went upstairs, or the Boring Sleepyville of Adults. In the very small space behind the bookshelf, technically accessible to anyone at any time, was the source of all magic, I assumed. This is where the door rested.
The door had an opaque window, which always vaguely revealed a dark, indecipherable room within. With it’s perfectly central location in the library it was fairly obvious it led to some place enchanted, holy, or deeply unholy. It seemed out of the question that it was anything less than an alien-storage facility, the entry to subterranean caverns in which dark librarians dwelled, or perhaps was the doorway to an enchanted forest. In all my forays to the borderlands of the heart of the universe, I never saw a librarian enter or leave. I never saw a light inside the door, and no matter how much face-pressing I performed at the glass window, nothing within was revealed.
It was the great pontification-point of our community. While kids in Seattle and Portland likely had a whole city of locked doors, mysterious passages, and portals to the unknown, those who were growing up in Kelso/Longview had far more restricted access to mystery. On the banks of the Columbia River, the combined population of Longview and Kelso was probably around 44,000. It was a rainy, maritime hub of shipping and timber, and had a size that permitted it to have a mall and a few movie theaters, but since I can remember, it had been quiet and a little run-down. The area is reliably rain-locked, or at least clouded-over. Add some rampant substance abuse issues endemic to small towns of the NW and the vampirization of much cultural or spiritual vitality by Portland and Seattle, and the result is Longview; A wonderful place, to be sure, but not a town that has much time for finger-painting or poetry. Priorities include: getting through the day, talking loudly about jesus, the adornment of one’s head with a camouflage hat, and the baffling flight of confederate flags.
It is ALSO home to community-minded ladies, unpretentious sauna conversation, squirrel-fest, radical (and highly conservative) farmers and people who are really living the environmentalist lifestyle that urban-dwellers preach. But this is not an anthropological dig into the strata of Pacific Northwestern cities that limp along in the shadow of urban meccas. This is about the righteous quest to descend into the cave of justice and truth that just so happened to be conveniently placed in our library.
Contemplation of the Door
The Longview Public library was a galaxy of high-grade supernaturality, and the presence of the door was supernova at the core. It gave rise to the other unfathomable phenomena of the building: Where did the elevators go, really? What was that strange musty smell? What was written in the big, leather books on the second floor? Who read them? Why were there so many old people here? How did the candy-bar in my pocket get completely melted already?
The library is absurdly out-of-place with it’s art-deco style and high-falutin’ interior. Part of the strangeness of this universe was that it was self-contained within the kinda-grimy universe of Longview; the common elements between them were few. Marble floors and musty books were things of distant places, not building blocks one would find in this small town. They were things, ironically, held within the very books that the library held. It was a vortex in and of itself, and the room came to reflect that.
At the risk of stomping along cliched landscapes, in seeing the door as an adult, I cannot help but notice that most adults simply do not give a shit about locked doors. I felt borderline creepy even just going and peering at the door, trying to open it.
For the record, the door is still locked. My adult senses are no better equipped to penetrate the barrier, thank goodness.
When I inquired about the contents of the room to a man about my age working at the desk last week, he told me it was for storage. I requested access to the room from the Director of the Library, and I’m proud to announce that he declined. Some gates are meant to be opened, and some gates are not. I’m so appreciative that the librarian had the good sense to come up with that on-the-spot lie about “storage” as well. What a hero.
*I will say that even at the time, I had an recurring thought that nothing was wrong with the pictures on the back of Highlights, wherein a boy appeared to be using a boot for a lamp, for example. Who were we to judge the boot-lamp people and their culture?