rick had never been much of a reader, but he asked eddie what the the book was about.
eddie picked the book off the counter so rick could see it.
the book was called - “the life and death of adolf hitler"
rick had heard the name hitler many times but he was not sure who he was. or if he was a real person. was hitler another name for the devil? he did not want to look stupid and say something that showed he didn’t know who hitler was so he just nodded.
but eddie looked like he expected rick to say something about the book.
rick was given a respite by a customer coming in. an old man in an old-fashioned suit - but not so old-fashioned as to be wearing a hat or tie - who looked like he was not quite a bum.
“just coffee?” eddie asked the old man, like he recognized him and was familiar with him. eddie’s tone wasn’t friendly or unfriendly.
the old man just nodded. eddie put the book face down on the counter and went to get the coffee. he got rick’s coffee too and gave it to him after he gave the old man his.
another customer came in - a woman neither old nor young, who looked like she probably worked in one of the office buildings in the area. eddie greeted her politely, like he didn’t know her. she started ordering something and eddie began writing it down on a little pad.
then a third customer came in - a bag lady. then two more, a young man and young woman together, both well-dressed.
rick decided he better get going. eddie would be pretty busy and rick didn’t want to hang around taking up space in the little diner.
also, rick wouldn’t have to admit to eddie that he didn’t know anything about hitler even though eddie seemed to think he would and should.
rick finished his coffee - it was not that hot or that good - and left his money on the counter and left. eddie was busy with the young couple and rick did not try to get his attention.
outside the air was bright and cold. it was almost noon, and the streets were filled up with people.
rick decided to go to the library. he often went there to pass the time. sometimes he read the newspapers if they were available. he read the sports page - even though he was not that big a sports fan and never bet on games or played in fantasy leagues. and didn’t really give a shit who won or lost the games.
he would read the comics, even though they almost never made him laugh.
he liked the old-fashioned comics with continuous stories, like the phantom and mary worth. he wished there were more of them. he liked them better than television.
the want ads in the papers were useless. if he forced himself to look at want ads, he used a computer terminal, if he could get one.
what he spent most of his time in the library doing was reading the magazines, especially ones with pictures. like the national geographic, his favorite. sometimes he would kind of nod off, just looking at the brightly colored pictures in the national geographic.
once, at home, he had mentioned that he liked to look at the national geographic and grace had laughed.
rick wanted to know what was so funny about that, and grace had finally explained, in a very roundabout way with a lot of eye-rolling, that she thought national geographic was filled with pictures of “native women” with their boobs hanging out.
rick had been looking at national geographic in the library for at least three years and never seen a single bare tit. he tried to explain this to grace, but she just rolled her eyes, like, yeah, right.
why did people have to be so ignorant, and so mean? rick never forgot grace laughing at him. he never forgot anybody laughing at him. anybody, for any reason.
but today, he decided to do something different.
he decided to look at the hitler book eddie had. it was a big library, it had a lot of books. rick figured it must have every book that was ever written.
there was a young woman , not half-bad looking, at the front desk. rick had seen her before but never spoken to her on his way to the periodicals room.
“i’m looking for a book,” he told her. he wondered if that was a dumb way to ask, but she smiled politely enough and asked , “yes, sir, a particular book?”
“a book about hitler.”
did he see a flash of contempt in her eyes? if he did, it was quickly gone, and she asked politely again, “a particular book about hitler?” she swiveled a computer terminal towards herself and hit a key on it to bring up the screen.
“uh, yeah.” what was the exact name of eddie’s book? “the life and death of adolf hitler.”
the young woman pecked at the screen. “by robert payne?”
“yeah.” he guessed that was it.
“i’m afraid that’s out. and it has a couple of holds on it.”
rick wasn’t sure what that meant . he nodded.
“we have some other books about hitler. would you like one of those?”
“there is one by ian kershaw - that is out too. it is kind of new.” she scrolled down on her screen.
“here is one by john toland, it’s in two volumes. that is in. oh, wait! here is a paperback copy of the payne book, that is available.“
“i’ll take that.”
the young woman pointed. “the paperbacks are off to the left, behind the large print books.” when rick looked a little uncertain, she added. “they are in a rack. they are supposed to be in first letter order, but are kind of jumbled up. ask at the reference desk. if you can’t find it.”
“thank you.” that wasn’t so tough, rick thought, as he moved away.
he found the book by himself after spinning the racks a few times, and took it to the furthest table, where nobody else was sitting.
rick opened the book to the first page and immediately saw a couple of sentences highlighted in bright pink.
he was a law unto himself, and unlike other men. very early in his life he saw that he was alienated from other men, shared few of their enjoyments and ambitions, and could dispense with their company. he lived alone, cherishing his loneliness and his singularity, reaching out to other men only when he needed to use them.