“The Tower,” by Zachary Abram

Jun 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: Fake Nonfiction, Prose

I guess you’d call me an Antarctic beauty. The term Antarctic beauty is usually used to describe women who have lived in the Antarctic and return to civilization with an inflated ego and unnatural abundance of self-esteem. Obviously, there are not a lot of women who choose to live in the Antarctic. As a result, the ones that do tend to get a great deal more attention than they may be used to in their non-Antarctic lives. A woman’s popularity, then, is primarily due to the fact that she is not a penguin. The same phenomenon applies to female-attendees of comic book conventions. Sure, their numbers have grown in recent years but the principle remains the same. A woman who traipses around the local ComiCon in a Sailor Moon outfit on Saturday and Sunday may be disappointed not to find herself the belle of the ball on Monday. Context is everything. Anyway, I have no idea why I’m prattling on about the South Pole and Sailor Moon. I’ve never been south of Florida and I certainly don’t watch Anime. I am, however, a male librarian.

My profession is 98% female. This certainly has its advantages or it did, for me, at one point. Wait, forgive me, before I continue, I should explain myself; I am not the kind of librarian you think I am. For starters, I haven’t set foot in a library since the Clinton administration and, even then, it was only to use the bathroom. Trust me, I exhausted every other possibility before settling on the library toilet. Everything else was closed and most coffee shops have instituted a fascistic key system at this point. Civilization started to go downhill the moment using the facilities required photo ID. Thankfully, the Rideau branch of the Ottawa Public Library provided a most welcome oasis. So, no, I do not spend my days pushing a book cart (or mobile book shelf, as they’re known in the business) up and down poorly lit aisles ensuring that stacks of dead trees are shelved correctly according to the Dewey Decimal system. I find your very presumption repugnant.

My domain falls outside the purview of books, shelves, and public toilets. After I received my Master’s degree in Library Science (yes, it’s a real degree), a large American company that deals in library catalogues and databases poached me away from the glamour of the Canadian library scene. My job, ostensibly, was to go from town to town selling real librarians on the benefits of switching to my company’s system. In practice, however, it was something much more. I did not sell them a new catalogue; I sold them the future, nothing less than the future, my friend. By buying my product, I allowed the bookworms and cat ladies that make up my humble profession to feel, for once in their lives, that they too could be on the vanguard of something. I was a rock star. 

I have never once regretted my decision to go into libraries. At one time, they were my sanctuary. I’m referring, of course, to everyone’s social bête noir, high school. To me, libraries are akin to churches. They are holy places. Of course, I don’t go to Church either. Still, though, I’m glad they are in this world. Also, as I was saying, my profession is 98% female so there are certain fringe benefits to being a big sexy fish in a small unsexy pond. Being a heterosexual male with even meager social graces at a library conference is akin to an ATM walking into a bordello. Library conferences were my Antarctica. Every two weeks, somewhere in the world, my comrades would gather to worship at the altar of Biblios and I was there. I needed it. They needed me. I anticipated each conference greatly. That is to say, I did anticipate every conference until the Canadian Library Committee decided to gather in Toronto in the winter of last year. 

The Metro Toronto Convention Centre resembles an overly fortified greenhouse. If Mussolini had taken to orchids, this is where he would care for them. Looming over the convention centre is the CN tower: part time communication tower and full time blight, as far as I’m concerned. I refuse, as a matter of principle, to crane my neck just to see more concrete. I will, however, twist my neck to look at a beautiful woman and I found myself doing a great deal of that on my way to the conference’s registration table. I was beginning to have a good feeling about this year’s CLC conference but something seemed off. The women didn’t exactly look like the typical library conference attendees. There were more bleached blondes than usual and their breasts had a certain enhanced quality to them. My suspicions were confirmed as I approached the convention centre’s welcome screen: WELCOME! CANADIAN LIBARY COMMITTEE AND CANADA’S ADULT VIDEO AWARDS.

I’ll admit, at first, I was quite chuffed to be sharing conference space with Canada’s most prestigious porn awards, unimaginatively named the Beavers. I didn’t even mind that our gracious hosts had misspelled “library” on the display (one gets used to it being pronounced without the “R” but spelling is another matter entirely). As the day wore on, I had great fun playing a game I had devised for myself. I would stand at the bottom of the escalator and would guess whether each person dismounting the escalator was here for the library conference or the porn conference. Unsurprisingly, it was a pretty easy game but that’s what made it so much fun. Porn and libraries have had a symbiotic relationship ever since some comely librarian let down her hair and removed her glasses on film to reveal herself to be a dirty dirty girl. Aside from pizza deliverymen, lady librarians are probably the most over-represented profession in the pornographic arts. I don’t mind telling you that the stereotype is not that far off. After perusing some of the porn booths, it was time for my own dog and pony show. The crowd was sufficiently impressed with my presentation but, as the Q & A wrapped up, I could hear nature’s call quite clearly (the downside of the unlimited supply of coffee and water at these things are the frequent trips to the little boy’s room). Distracted by the bevy of buxom blondes, I had yet to break the seal and the battle with my bladder was rapidly deteriorating. 

My goodness, this story keeps returning to the latrine, doesn’t it? I am truly sorry but I’m afraid it does not get much better from here. I sprinted to the nearest men’s washroom only to be confronted with a sign that read, “MEN’S WASHROOM IS NOT A MEN’S WASHROOM.” Of course, occasionally, due to sheer demographics, men’s washrooms are converted into ladies rooms for the duration of a particularly estrogen heavy conference. No joke, little potted plants are placed in the urinals to signal the sex change. I peeked my head in the door to see if I might be able to chance it but there were at least 20 women in the men’s bathroom. Impossible. Desperation set in. I began to run again. It wasn’t until the very middle of the convention centre that I was able to find a men’s washroom that was not an ersatz ladies room. I rushed to the trough style urinals and relieved myself. I was still in the midst of mid-stream euphoria when I heard the door open and someone enter. 

Now, urinal etiquette, to which every adult man is privy, dictates that when there are only two men at a set of urinals, you are to stand as far away from one another as possible. This man brazenly sidled up right next to me. Hip to hip, I tried to focus on the task at hand. Urinal etiquette also dictates that eyes are to remain forward at all times. I mention this because moments into my encounter with this gentleman, I could feel the unmistakable icy chill of another man’s eyes on my penis. I broke urinal etiquette for a moment to verify if my suspicions were accurate. They were. I’m certainly not shy and have always believed that, in situations such as these, one must respond in kind. Defiantly, I met his attack with a counter-parry of my own. I’m a man of the world and not easily shocked. What I saw in that man’s hands at the urinal, however, defied description. I think I even gasped. It was biblical, almost. The term Goliath doesn’t quite do it justice. No, “Leviathan” – that’s much better. It was a Leviathan. Agog, I could only look up at him and say, “You’re not here for the library convention are you?” 

That’s what happened to me. I stumbled out of the washroom, walked right out of the convention centre, and haven’t returned to my former life since. Christ, it’s been nearly a year now. What’s the matter with me? I feel as if I have glimpsed the Gorgon. Not directly, of course, but through a mirror like Perseus. The worst thing is, whenever I see the CN tower, even in pictures, I get physically ill. 


Originally from Toronto, Zachary Abram is currently working towards a PhD. in English / Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa. He is currently working toward a dissertation on Canadian war fiction. His work has appeared in the Journal of Canadian Poetry and The Bull Calf. He thinks the term “fake nonfiction” pretty much sums up his life.


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