I won’t go into the old food and miscellany I’ve found pressed between the pages of library books, or the magical smells of transient people that wafted freely from the periodical section of the Red Bank Public Library. Nor will I repeat the tawdry secrets that people entrusted me with, while shopping for bras at the women’s boutique.
I won’t detail the many late-night phone conversations I had with a guy named “Ray-Ray”, while I worked the radio station overnight shift. Or the time I worked at the hospital and had to bring a corpse down to the morgue.
But today, I will tell you about filing dockets.
When I was 14, I worked for two hours a day at a lawyer’s office. Mainly, I did filing and mail, and I would go to the local deli and get iced tea and snacks for the receptionists. I also photocopied and enlarged comic strips I liked and gave them to the lawyers, and typed up lyrics to my favorite songs and taped them in notebooks, and I ate a lot of peanut M&M’s. And about three times a week, I would put the court dockets back in their place, in the basement.
Court docket folders are those elastic-banded brown paper things, about 2 inches thick, and I would wait to put them away until there was no earthly way to avoid it. So I would often carry three feet of dusty, heavy dockets, stacked in a musty pile up to my chin. In order to get to the basement, I had to go through the gun shop, where dead, mounted animals wondered glassily at my strength. I’d creak open the basement door with a foot, flick the light switch on with an elbow, and descend the narrow staircase.
At the bottom, there was a short, dark hall that was often puddled, and the smell of wet cardboard pervaded. From this point on, all the lights were bare lightbulbs that had to be switched on by pull-strings, and the basement had multiple dark, wet rooms that were filled with plywood-and-cinderblock shelves.
There were lots of dark corners. There were lots of weird shadows. In my mind, every single turn might reveal a stealthy, knife-wielding, butcher’s-apron-wearing clown with a wicked taste for the blood of high school students and a low-pitched laugh.
One day, as I was dreading the long, terrifying half-hour of spine-tingling organization, I descended the stairs and there, laying at the edge of a small puddle, was a dead rat the size of an adult’s slipper.
Its fur glistened; tiny moist follicles reflecting incandescent light.
I calmly turned around and, heaving a 3-foot stack of dockets up the stairs and through the gun shop as deer heads and posed raccoons disapprovingly watched, I kicked open the lawyer’s office door.
“Hey!” I yelled. The people in the office were well-acquainted with my love for the basement. “Anyone know the password to get past the giant dead rat guarding the docket room?”
Luckily, there were no clients in just then. One of the older lawyers, the one who always enjoyed when I would photocopy my hand and wave at him with it from the file room, decided to take charge.
“Afraid of a dead rat?” he asked.
“My thing is, what killed it?” I replied.
He went down with broom and a dust pan, and never told me what he did with it. There’s a fair chance he gave it to the guys who owned the gun shop.
It wasn’t long after that when I got a job at the library, where they had almost no dead animals at all.