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A few days ago I heard a commentator on NPR opine about libraries: what a treasure they are and how it would be inconceivable today to set up the structure of public libraries if they did not already exist. “Let’s buy a bunch of buildings, fill them with books and videos and magazines and computers and librarians, and let people borrow all that stuff. Except the librarians. All for free!! All paid for with tax dollars and maybe a few donations!!” Yeah. We’d sooner have affordable health insurance than books for free. (Which reminds me of an old Dire Straits song that contains a line that has been misconstrued by many wishing for more affordable banking as "money for nothing and your checks for free.")

My county library system is amazing – gigantic collection, helpful staff, requests for anything show up at your closest library, and the most appreciative reaction to fund raising. The last time they asked for money, they offered to put a book plate in a book as a thank-you. I think I asked that they use “In honor of Bill Clinton, a great American” and that they put it in one of Ann Coulter’s books.

Anyway, you never know what you’ll find in library books. Most recently, in addition to sand from all the books read at the beach this summer, I found a boarding pass from a US Airways flight. Let’s call the passenger Charlton Vandamm. On the night of August 27th he was on US Airways flight #26 from Philadelphia to Paris. He sat in seat 1F, the first row of first class. He is a Chairman’s Preferred frequent flyer, which means his ass is in an airline seat many days, and nights, of the year. I found the boarding pass in Calibre, an excellent little book by Ken Bruen. Who is this Charlton? Did he sleep while on the flight to Paris or did he read? Was he going to Paris on business or pleasure? Did anyone accompany him? Where did he stay in Paris? When did he come back? Why did he fly US Airways instead of British Air? Did he wonder whether the security screeners had done their jobs and prevented some fanatic from smuggling explosives or a ceramic knife or some other weapon of limited, but nevertheless complete, destruction? Was 1F a window seat or an aisle? Did he watch the Philadelphia landscape drop away beneath the wings, or does he travel so much that he was already dropping off to sleep by the time the plane took off? Did he worry about traveling so close to September 11th, or not give it a second thought? Was this his first trip to Paris? Will it be his last?

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