Checking out my books at the Sycamore Public Library, which is perhaps the best small town library I have ever had access to, I struck up a conversation with the librarian scanning my selection into my account. We talked about how much easier it was to pay late fines now that it could be done online. I do not like the idea of digital books, but digital library minutia does not seem like too much of a betrayal of my antiquarian notions of what book culture should be. I mention that I have 350 books in my personal collection and the librarian looks impressed and says that “they were just talking about” personal book collection on their lunch break. The other librarian, a pretty young woman in her early twenties with dyed red hair and cats eye glasses, took a moment away from trying to fend off the humiliatingly obvious and futile advances of a middle-aged father checking out books for his kids summer school project and laughed at the other librarians’ remarks about how the internet has not yet killed the book. The middle aged father looked crestfallen. His daughter spun around in circles humming some song I vaguely recognized from one of the many animated programs I watched with my little brother. After gathering up my books into a plastic grocery bag I smiled at both women and went down the stairs and out to the bike rack.
My 20 speed, a gift from my far too generous in-laws, was locked up securely but I could tell that someone had knocked it from its original position while trying to access their own bike. This is the sort of thing that only an autistic person would notice. I turned the tumblers and unlocked the chain. I hung my ersatz book bag on the right handle bar and kicked off. I took a new route home today, but it was not too far off course for me as my apartment is literally 700 feet away from the library downhill. The ride back would be essentially coasting. I clicked the gears down and rested my feet on the pedals. I turned onto a service road leading straight down to the county-line market store at the foot of the hill. Half way down I passed an ancient looking toolshed cum outdoor living room where an old couple were sitting and smoking a pipe full of something familiarly sweet and pungent. They looked serenely in my direction as I passed by. It was then that I noticed the music. It was quiet at first but the lilting notes eventually registered as a Beatles song, namely “Sexy Sadie”, one of my favorites. The sound was clear and softly omnipresent.
As I reached the more level ground of the parking lot I switched gears again, the act cemented as an automatic reaction somewhere deep in my mind from years and miles of bike riding as a young adult and teen. Just as all the chains and gears clinked into place I noticed that the music had retreated into the ether from which it had sprung. I was confused but also relived that I no longer had to wonder where it was coming from. Then another song started. It was the beginning of Hendrix’s cover of Dylan’s All Along the Watch Tower, another one of my favorite pieces of popular music. This seemed to be verging on odd coincidence now, and I wondered if maybe a car was following me with the radio on. I looked about as turned onto the final stretch of sidewalk before my place and saw nothing but an empty road. I cruised down the path to the diagonal stretch of pavement leading to my apartment complex. It was an outdoor set up like one sees in movies that take place in west coast cities, with two separate building connected by a balcony and sharing a common space in between. I pulled my bike up the ramp left behind by the last tenant, a wheelchair bound woman, and reached into my pocket to pull out my keys. My fingers touched the phone in my pocket and felt it vibrating. I pulled it out and looked at the screen. The title “All Along The Watch Tower” was emblazoned on the screen. I realized that the music I had been hearing had been coming from my collection of music in my phone the whole time. Once more the absurd and the ephemeral explained away by technology. I smiled and turned the phone off. I brought my bike into the apartment and closed the door behind me.