Thursday, January 22, 2004

Nastiest Patron EVER

Yesterday, January 21, 2004, Weird Wednesday, was a historic moment at the "liberry." For yesterday, you see, was the first and I pray only time I have been confronted by a woman I can only describe as the nastiest, most vile, evil patron EVER. She was so unbelievably horrid that she has officially secured the #1 spot in The Liberry Rogues Gallery.

Let me just put this in perspective. To be #1 means that she's beaten out the likes of Ron The (Magazine) Ripper, Chester the Molester, Mr. B-Natural, Billy the Brainchild and even Mrs. Bellows the Video Borrowing Gorgon in sheer unadulterated unholy foulness. Hell, I'll throw the Dufus back in there too cause she's got him beat hands down. Because while some of those people may be unwholesome and evil in their own way, none of them are as maliciously confrontational in their evil as this patron.

I have dubbed her Mrs. Carol Satan.

Mrs. Carol Satan marched up to the circulation desk yesterday accompanied by a thick fog of cigarette contamination. Or maybe it was brimstone. I dunno. Whichever, she smelled like she'd been sitting in an unfiltered Lucky Strike sauna for at least a week.

"I'm Carol Satan. You guys called me about a book," she said. Her breath was a more concentrated version of her apparently natural air.

"Sure thing," I told her. Then I stooped down and began rummaging through the hold shelf where we, naturally, store the books we're holding for our patrons.

I should probably explain that process a bit first. It'll be boring, but it's necessary.

At our library, as at many, we allow patrons to reserve books they'd like to read on a first come first served basis. We put their name on a list in our devil computer and when the book they want is checked back in the computer beeps and alerts us as to which patron gets which book. We then write that patron's name and phone number on a Post-it note, count five days from the date we received the book and write that date as the "pull date" on the Post-it. Then we slap said Post-it on the book, wrap the whole thing up with a rubber-band and chunk it in a three tiered holding shelf by the window behind the desk. Every night the liberry employee on duty calls all the people who have holds on the three tiered shelf. When we call we write the date on the Post-it beneath their name. If we speak to the patron themselves, we write OK by that date. If it's busy, we write BUSY. If we get no answer, we write N/A. If we get an answering machine, we leave a message with all the details and write MACHINE. If we get someone other than the patron themselves we leave a message with them and write "LEFT MESSAGE WITH..." husband, child, dog, etc. so there's always a trail of blame in case the patron never gets the message. Once a message is left or a patron is contacted, the book goes into the HOLD BIN, in a cabinet beneath the circulation desk. The patron then gets five days from the date we received the book on hold, (not five days from when we spoke to them), to pick up the book. If their five days run out, we put that patron's name at the end of the hold list and give the book to whoever is now first on the hold list. If no one's waiting for the book, we put it back on the shelf and usually leave the patron on the hold list so that the next time someone checks the book out and then back in the patron's name will pop up and we start the whole process over. Whichever option gets used, though, we write at the bottom of their loser patron's Post-It note along with the title of the book so we'll have plenty of evidence should someone wish to complain about not getting their hold book.

Can you imagine who that someone might be?

So when Mrs. Carol Satan marched up to the desk, in her thick haze of cigarette pollution, and told me that we'd called her about a book, I naturally looked for it. I opened up the hold bin beneath the desk and began searching for a book with her name Post-ited to it. There were exactly none.

"Uh, do you remember the title of the book?" I asked.

"No, I don't. Something by Danielle Steele," she said, breathing more carcinogenic-smelling breath at me.

I decided maybe I'd missed it on first look and began searching the spine labels of the hold books for a Danielle Steele. Still, there were none. So I started searching the next place we look in such situations... our little bundle of old Post-Its of all the formerly holding patrons whose hold time ran out.

As soon as I picked up the bundle, Mrs. Carol Satan sneered and said, "You don't have the books." She seemed more than a little pissed but not at all surprised.

"It appears we might not," I said, still trying to keep a positive attitude about it all. I began leafing through the pad. Sure enough, about five deep into the stack were two, count em, two Post-Its for one Mrs. Carol Satan. As a visual aid, I have recreated those Post-Its below, with Mrs. Carol Satan's real name changed and her phone number omitted.

(Click on the above images for larger versions)

"Actually, ma'am, it looks like..."

"Just put me back on the waiting list and call me," Mrs. Carol Satan interrupted. "I don't have time to wait around for you to find them."

She said "wait around for you to find them" in much the same tone she might take if saying "wait around for you to make me eat a dog turd." She also seemed to be under the impression that we'd somehow lost her books and had an attitude about it. I thought she should be made aware that we hadn't lost her books, but that their lack of appearance was due to her not coming to pick them up in the first place.

"Actually, ma'am," I began once again, "it appears your hold time ran out." I brandished my Post-its for her to see.

"No it didn't," she said, not bothering to look at the pull date or even the Post-its. I kind of blinked at her for a second. Was she really arguing with me as I stood there with all the evidence I needed to wipe the floor with her?

"Um, yes, ma'am, it did," I said, holding up the Post-its again, both of which quite clearly indicated that her books were pulled on 1/19, a full day after her allotted 5 days since the book had been checked in were over. "See," I said pointing to the evidence, "we started calling you on the 13th and pulled the books on the 19th."

"We're supposed to get five days to pick up our books! I didn't get five days."

Was she stupid?

"Uh, yes ma'am, you did," I said. "Like it shows right here, you were called on the 14th and told your books were on hold."

"No I wasn't," Mrs. Carol Satan snapped. "No one called me! I was home and no one called me. And I have a machine, so if I wasn't there you were supposed to leave a message and you didn't!"

At this point I could hardly believe what I was hearing. This woman was charging right through all my carefully crafted logic. All of the library's failsafes and ass-covering tactics were being ignored--nay, shredded--by this middle-aged, cranky, smog-belching monstrosity. Well, I wasn't having any of it and I was sure as hell not going to rise to her level of anger, at least not to her face. Instead, I turned my already polite and mild-tempered tone a notch nicer.

"I'm sorry, ma'am. Our records show that we did call you on the 14th. We did give you five days."

Mrs. Carol Satan let out what might have been a grunt or perhaps even a burp of disbelief, conveying just how utterly ludicrous I was being.

"Ma'am, maybe we spoke to someone else at your house and they didn't give you the message, but this note indicates we spoke to you."

"I live alone!" she snapped.

No shit? I didn't say.

"And there were no messages on my machine!" she bellowed further.

"This doesn't say we left one on an answering machine, ma'am. It says we talked to you. If you're the only person answering the phone then you're the one we talked to." And upon later inspection I noticed that the Post-Its in question had MY OWN HANDWRITING on them, so I HAD spoken to her sour ass.

Mrs. Carol Satan fixed me with her most fiercesome glare yet.

"I am so SICK of this CRAP!" she shouted. I thought the top of her bat-like little skull was about to come off. "This is ridiculous! I've never been treated this badly. We are supposed to get five days!!! I didn't get five days!!!!!"

No, lady, you got %&*#ing SIX I again didn't shout. Instead, I adopted my sweetest, most calm and measured tone yet and said, "Yes, ma'am, you did."

Mrs. Carol Satan's eyes bulged. She turned on her heel and stomped off toward the door, trailing a wake of Brimstone funk behind her. Before she reached the door, she looked back over her shoulder and commanded, "Just put me on the list for them!"

After the door closed, I turned to Mrs. C the librarian, who had witnessed the whole scene, and said, "You know, I don't think I'm going to put her on the list for jack."

"You don't have to," Mrs. C said, with a weary sigh. "I already did it when I pulled them on Monday."
Mrs. C assured me that my experience with Mrs. Carol Satan was not atypical. In fact, from the moment that stanky beast walked in the door, Mrs. C said she knew exactly what was about to play out and that I would bear the brunt of the woman's wrath.

"I feel... so dirty," I said. "That woman was foul and unholy. She has to be the nastiest patron I've ever encountered! There's something sincerely wrong with that woman!"

"Yep," Mrs. C said. "I don't even get upset about it anymore. I just know that when she comes in she's going to scream at me regardless of what I do. She gets especially angry if you prove her wrong about something, like you did."

I laughed. "Yeah, I love it that she walked in and said we called her about a book, then insisted that we never called her about the very book she had come in to pick up."

"That's Carol."

Mrs. C ran upstairs to tell Mrs. A, leaving me to stand at the desk shuddering with adrenaline and the remaining negative energy left behind by Mrs. Carol Satan. Soon, Mrs. A rushed back downstairs to commiserate with me over my battle.

"That woman is a raving bitch!" Mrs. A said. And this is from a lady who doesn't say such things lightly. "She's been in my face screaming more times than I care to count. And she always smells like she's been smoking all day."

"You ain't kidding!" I said. "I wanted to tell her to, `Have another puff and calm the hell down, lady!'"

We spent the next several minutes laughing and telling stories about Mrs. Carol Satan. Funniest yet was when Mrs. C revealed that Carol Satan used to work as an agent for a greeting card company and was responsible for keeping all the local stores stocked in happy, smiley greeting cards. I guess she was some kind of chain-smoking Hallmark Harpy. Or maybe it was being around all that concentrated happiness that corrupted her in the first place.

Another point of humor is the fact that both of the books that Mrs. Carol Satan wanted turned out to be on the shelf. No one else had been waiting for them, so Mrs. C pulled them and put them back on the shelf for someone else to choose at their leisure. While Mrs. Carol Satan is indeed still on the hold list for them, she won't actually see them until someone checks them out and brings them back.

In the end, we resolved that we would draft a staff-resolution that when the time does come to phone Mrs. Carol Satan about her books, whoever calls her will tell her that she has a book on hold and then will say, "Now, Mrs. Satan, could you please confirm for me what today's date is? Your five days start NOW!"

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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.