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David Arthur Walters

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Walking on the Wild Side in Kansas City
By David Arthur Walters
Posted: Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Last edited: Wednesday, April 04, 2012
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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A typewriter can be stolen but who can steal the Internet?




The "Yellow Jackets" who provide private security for the new downtown Kansas City Central Library are keeping the new quarters relatively safe and quiet for everyone's enjoyment. Yet some of the poor and homeless regulars of the old library are afraid to come into the imposing new lobby of the new library, a renovated old bank, when they peer through the front door.


For one thing, during the closure of the decrepit old library for moving the collection to the new library, they heard that they were unwelcome in the new place and were being identified with the few criminals around. They see that the immense lobby has no tables and chairs, which confirms to them that the new library is an unfriendly place. Of course that is not true : There are chairs and tables elsewhere and people inside are as friendly as Midwesterners can be. Indeed, some of the poor folk have been personally invited in by the Yellow Jackets who know them. I will suggest to the library's deputy director that library tours be organized for homeless people to acquaint them with the new facility.


One regular I know has shown up and is around quite often. She likes to get in a quiet place and read, usually non-fiction. I met her at the old library where I noticed that she and another poor writer were typing up a storm on the old typewriters there. Her high-speed typing amazed me, so I struck up a conversation with her and said I sure wished I had known her in the old days when I wrote manuscripts out longhand and paid a typist by the hour to type them up—one typist in Washington edited them as she went along, wherefore my writing improved considerably with no effort on my part.


Anyway, I saw her in the new library today, reading quietly back in the stacks, so I said hello and exchanged observations about the new library. I noted there were no typewriters for her to write with, and said it would be nice if there were a couple of typewriters in the little study rooms. She said she was writing scripts out by hand now, and that she likes the new library well enough on the balance. It has no typewriters, she remarked, but it is quiet like a library is supposed to be.


I told her my favorite tale about Nelson Algren, author of Walk on the Wild Side and other books once quite popular for their realism. He was a sort of American existentialist when the term was first being coined. Simone Beauvoir liked him a lot and even took leave of Jean Paul Sartre, her most significant other, to come over to the States and hang out with him. Algren drifted around quite a bit during the Depression, hanging out a lot with the poor and homeless, and got a job selling phony beauty-parlor discount certificates down in New Orleans. He wrote for awhile under the auspices of the WPA's Federal Writers Project along with Saul Bellow and other impoverished writers.


Anyway, I told my fast-typing acquaintance how Nelson hitched a ride to El Paso, where he was jailed for vagrancy for awhile. Then he went to Alpine, where he discovered he could use the typewriters of a teacher's college without being noticed. When he decided to go back to Chicago, he grabbed a typewriter, shipped it to Chicago, and hopped on a freight train. But he was busted for theft before he got out of Texas and was tossed in jail, where he stewed for a few months while waiting for the circuit judge to come around.


I don’t the details of the case, whether Nelson got to keep the typewriter and had to make restitution, but I know that the judge set him loose and he high-tailed it back to Chicago. The experience provided him grist for his mill, not only for Walk on the Wild Side, but for Somebody in Boots.


She thought that was a pretty funny writer's story. I do too: That's why I remembered it all these years. Maybe library staff will retrieve one of those old electric typewriters for her to use if they were not all auctioned off at the old library along with the furniture and shelves.


As for me, my number one writer, I write on computers. The new library has free WIFI, I think it’s called, for rich people who can afford laptops. There is some kind of "hot spot" area where you can get onto the Internet with your laptop. Otherwise, poor writers have to use the library computers and are limited to 90 minutes a day—it will take me about fifteen minutes to write this, but it is not so hot, and needs editing.


I sure wish I had taken that laptop a friend of mine wanted to get for me. I refused it, though, because she is not rich—I don't mind accepting expensive gifts from rich people. I don't know what is wrong with me, but I just cannot steal, even when I know I can get away with it. I am responsible, for instance, for returning almost a half-million dollar of overpayment from the government, and I returned even more to private companies over the years.


But forget about me, for I have a cheap little downtown studio to live in for the time being, and it has a great view of the city including the homeless guys who sleep on the roof of the building next door in freezing weather because they can’t stand the shelters. This is about poor and homeless library regulars, including writers who write books at the Kansas City Public Library. I'm sure they will come back and feel welcome and secure now that the drug dealers, sexual predators, and demented nuisances that habituated the old library are not around, thanks to the Yellow Jackets.


2004 Kansas City, Missouri


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Reviewed by Jansen Estrup 4/4/2012
Nice job - didn't think anyone remembered Algren or Satre - I'm glad to hear that the homeless found a place to stay in contact with the world of ideas. Will public libraries survive, or go the way of privatized schools? Thanks for the memories.

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