It's up for debate

The Strange Ridley Park Library

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The library is incredibly strange place, doubly so if you happen to be in one run by Haruki Murakami. Yet, the characters frequenting the library, as I surreptitiously observe them from my strategic position facing the entrance during my visits, are not so far off from the odd characters of Murakami’s “The Strange Library”.

Ridley Park, in all its old-fashioned glory

Ridley Park Library, in all its old-fashioned glory

Not long after my arrival in the States, I decided to join the local library down the street from my temporary digs in Ridley Park, part of Delaware County and just a 40-minute to five-hour bicycle ride from Philadelphia’s Center City (I got terribly lost on my way home, but more on that soon enough). I walked in to a small, rectangular, stone building — something of a cross between an outpost armory and a stout German colonial townhouse — to be silently welcomed by a wide-eyed woman in her 50s, staring at me as though I was Death and had finally come to tell her she had checked out her last book.

I feel as though I knew this look; I worked in a large hostel in New York City, and you never knew what was going to come through that door: drunk homeless men demanding a free bed and instead making their own on the floor in the middle of the lobby, local crazies out for a walk happening to notice the noticeably gargantuan hostel building for the first time in their decades of living next door, and the occasional thief who’d later be recognized, all too late, on the security cameras making off with some unfortunate backpacker’s valuables.

Sure enough, minutes after my arrival, a roundish man noisily entered and struck up a quite complex conversation ranging from the absurdity of James Bond’s escape from the Russians in the movie GoldenEye to something about not being fooled by peanut butter sandwiches. The librarian, bless her, nodded or otherwise chirped in with an occasional “Uh huh” or “Hmm, yes, that’s interesting”, dealing with the visitor in much the same way I would or perhaps truly agreeing that peanut butter sandwiches would have a devil of a time putting one over her.

The librarian

The librarian

The library itself, I discovered after my visit, seems to have an interesting past, one connected to a famous industrialist I knew of all too well thanks to school field trips to Pittsburgh’s most popular museum, the Carnegie Science Center.

In a tale that seems fitting for an area of the strange, inexplicable, and unfathomable — refer to my unending apartment searching and examples undoubtedly soon to come — the library, facing difficulties in funding, decided that wealthy magnate Andrew Carnegie would “donate $7,500.00 for a public library building”.

Naturally, Carnegie never promised any sort of monetary assistance, nor was even familiar with the borough of Ridley Park. And, naturally, it worked, and Carnegie ponied up, even increasing the amount to $10,000.

Rather than strange, inexplicable, and unfathomable, however, I’m more inclined to call this behavior “blasé”, something I’ve noted in my own interactions thus far in Delaware County, or Delco. On a mobile phone-less and thus doomed bike trip into Center City, Philadelphia, I mistook West Chester Pike for West Chester Pike. An easy mistake, considering that my current address lies on Chester Pike, the mailing address of which must include the “West”, despite there already being a West Chester Pike in existence some miles north of Ridley Park.

This madness goes back a way with litigious matters over names and changing hands of tracts of lands. Along the 40-some-minute route I bike to my job every morning, there’s a particularly and pleasantly potholed stretch known as Amosland Road, a name one can find connected to disputations in realty with Governor Lovelace, who I quote here:

“Jan Cornelissen, of Amesland, Complayning to ye Court that his Son Erik is bereft of his naturall Sences & is turned quyt madd, and yt hee being a poore man is not able to maintaine him.”

If only it was Loveless, givin' up a dime, nothin' less

If only it was Governor Loveless, givin’ up a dime, nothin’ less

RUDE, sir. But I like your style and prose.

Going back to the title of this blog post, the Ridley Park library has been a boon to my researches into local history as well as horticultural references, but it sadly lacks the resources needed to answer my most pressing, recent questions:

Since when did landlords need not try to sell their properties and assume a soft-spoken, single, non-threatening white boy in desperate need of an apartment right away would immediately snatch up an overpriced, grungy apartment best fit for a lab scene in Breaking Bad?

How on earth do realtors decide credit check fees? I’ve seen prices ranging from $30 to $75! Is this depending on the credit check services used? And do these credit checking services differ in quality so drastically? It’s just a credit check!

If soil is finite, how is the horticulture industry — in which I play a part — affecting land resources and is it worth all of the mulching and tilling?

Are all of the e-mails I get from non-biased and justifiable in their cause?

From what I’m learning at the library and at my new job, it’s comforting to be receiving first-hand knowledge that has at least worked up until the present. And, despite my misgivings moving here far from my wonderful former students and coworkers in Japan, my interactions within and without the library have been worthwhile.


Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

June 19, 2015 at 12:59 pm

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