An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Complaint Department

I think it's important, this early in the blogging game, to establish that I'm really not here to bitch and gripe about my job. I know that pretty much comes with the blogging territory and a lot of what I'm going to do here may seem like that, but I'm really not complaining.

My life is pretty good, all things considered. I live in a beautiful state (And, yes, West Virginia is quite stunning. Just miles and miles of rolling green mountains, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, snowy peaks, rivers, valleys, and temperate climate.) And I have a great job! I get to work in a library that's in a stately old, pre-Civil War, historic building. I have great fellow employees who are both colleagues and friends. The vast majority of the patrons I encounter on a day to day basis are enjoyable people and there are several of them who actually make my day brighter just by their walking in the door. While this job is far from being the highest paying job I've ever had (it, in fact, is pretty close to the lowest paying job I've ever had, actually--but when your wife's a medical student and her school is located in an economically depressed region of an economically depressed state, you take what you can get) it is certainly the least stressful job I've ever had.

That said, I really really REALLY hate the telephone at work. It might be okay, if it weren't incessantly ringing all the time. Even that might be okay if I didn't have to answer the same question every other time it rang: What time do you close? It's a perfectly legitimate question, but after you've answered it twenty times in a single week it starts to wear on your soul. Some days I actually growl at the phone when it rings. (And while I'm at it, let me give a ringing non-endorsement to GE for this piece of crap telephone/speaker phone/cordless phone combo, no doubt purchsed from $%@#ing Wal-Mart. It's got a main phone unit, with corded handset, hold buttons, the whole works. Then, across the room, is the mobile phone power-station which is not plugged into a phone jack at all but relies upon the mobile phone signal from the main phone unit for all its telephonic activity. This means that every time the phone rings, you have to wait for both the main unit phone and the mobile phone to stop ringing completely, to be in mid-ring, you see, before you dare pick up the main handset, otherwise the mobile phone goes ahead and loudly rings for another three seconds. The whole bloody thing is just too loud in general. It loudly beeps every time you press a number. The volume on the mobile phone handset is set permanently to either deafening-roar or mouse-whisper, with no middle ground. I tell you, it's the devil. Or, if it's not the devil, it's in league with our photocopier, which I assure you IS very much the devil. )

Back to the phones...

In addition to What Time Do You Close?, I also get a number of other irritating calls.

We get frequent calls from Birthday Lady. She's an elderly woman in town who calls us every time a celebrity dies to ask what the deceased's birthday was. Every... single... time. No matter how obscure the celebrity might be, the second they kick off she's on the phone to us for their birthday. And the thing is, there's not exactly a reference book to tell you the birthday of every famous person who might be eligible for croaking--or at least not in our library, there's not. So we have to cheat and resort to looking them up on the internet for her. She also has an irritating habit of not waiting patiently for us to go and look up the information for her, despite our pleas with her to hold for just a moment. So unless you take the devil mobile phone with you and converse with her the whole while you're looking up when Art Carney's mom honked him out, Birthday Lady will hang up on you every time. Then she'll call back the next day to plague you again.

I'm told she's keeping a record of all these famous dirt-nappers. I can just picture a great heaping scrap-book, its bulging covers filled with yellowing newspaper obituaries of famous people stretching back to the 1920s. And, written in pencil, beside each brittle, glue-soaked clipping, is their birthday--information dutifully delivered by her friendly neighborhood library staff. It would be a fascinating tome, for sure. I would love to get a look at it.

That's pretty annoying. But that was LAST week's most annoying phone call.

THIS week's annoying phone call was from a different lady, who began the call by saying, "There's this poem I want, but I don't know the title and I don't know who wrote it. The last line of it is `And all these things will be repeated, at Thanksgiving'."

Just like that. That's all she knew.

Now, I understand her plight. You've got a fragment of an unidentified poem stuck in your head, who ya gonna call? The place that ostensibly deals in poetic works as part of their raison d'etre, that's who.  But it's a crap shoot, really. When making such a call, you almost have to hope the person who picks up the phone will be familiar with the poem and know the answer off the top of their head. As far as I know, there's no book that will tell you a poem's title and author by a snippet of the last line. (We do actually have one that does this by first line, but she was SOL on that one.) If we don't know the poem, we would have to comb through every poetry book in the joint (or find one with a subject index, which we don't have) to come up with an answer. And frankly, we don't have that many books of poetry in our tiny little 30,000 volume collection anyway.

My solution: cheat. I went to Google and typed in, "And all these things will be repeated, at Thanksgiving," figuring if the poem is out there on the web it'll come up.

Nada. Zip. Bupkis. Shite.

I searched under "Thanksgiving Poetry." This was a little more successful in that it actually brought up several sites of poems about Thanksgiving, many of which played tinny little computer music to put you in the festive mood for Thanksgiving Poetry. But again, I'm the guy who'd have to wade through all of it and I wasn't planning on doing that. If it had all been nice, crisp, crinkly Robert Frost poems, and I didn't otherwise have a JOB to do, perhaps I'd have given it a go. But most of it amounted to people who've spelled THANKSGIVING vertically down one side of a page and created a line of poetry corresponding to each of the letters, while the one-voice Casio version of Amazing Grace plays in the background. No thank you.

My thought is, the lady on the phone didn't even have the last line correct in the first place, otherwise I feel sure it would have popped up somewhere. I had to apologize that I wasn't able to find it for her. She seemed a little put out at first, in a way that made me think she was surprised we didn't have the entire poem embroidered on a pillow at the desk, but she didn't offer further complaint.

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