Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The Secret Origin of The Untalented Mr. Ripley

Tis time to tell the tale of The Untalented Mr. Ripley, one of the liberry's former Rogues Gallery members. (Mind you, he should not be confused with The Even Less Talented Mr. Ripley, who is someone else entirely.)

Much like his literary namesake from the Patricia Highsmith book, the Untalented Mr. Ripley was something of a local con-man in our area who also happened to be gay. His is also a somewhat unfortunate tale.

From what I'm told, several years ago the Untalented Mr. Ripley had been living with his ailing father but was booted out of the house wholesale by his disapproving brother following his father's death. He became something of a drifter after that, living with friends or at local shelters or occasionally renting rooms when he had the money. On the surface, he seemed to exist by doing odd jobs around town, such as helping out with heavy lifting at the local antique stores and art galleries that dominate our down town area. He was also a frequent patron at the library.

Having met the man, I must say that Mr. Ripley was a charming and disarming fellow, albeit sometimes a bit grubby. Back in his hey day, he mainly enjoyed reading and chatting with the staff when he wasn't busy fighting turf wars with Mr. B-Natural for use of what was then our one patron computer. Mr. B-Natural hated the Untalented Mr. Ripley, not only because Mr. B is the grumpiest man in all the world, nor because they were competing for the same computer, but for other reasons entirely that we shall get to shortly.

The Untalented Mr. Ripley ingratiated himself to the library staff early on by helping to defeat a member of the dreaded Fagin family. The Fagins, you see, are a huge family with a long and colorful history of theft and trechery of their own when it comes to the library. They first moved into the area probably 10 years ago and began borrowing lots of books, most of which were never seen again. Overdue notices were showered upon them only to be ignored. After so many months of begging for them to bring books back, the library simply blocked the offending Fagin-patron-record so as to prevent them from borrowing anything else. This only worked in the short term. Ma Fagin would come in and be confronted by "liberry" staff as to the many tomes she had in her possession and would be told her status as a BLOCKED patron. She would then claim she had returned all her books, we would deny it, then she would leave, sans any more books. Then, days later, she would get Pa Fagin to come in for books. Months down the road, when his card had also been blocked, they would start sending in their children--and they have LOTS of children. Eventually, every last Fagin was blocked, so they tried to start over. They would wait for an unsuspecting and unfamiliar liberry assistant (not me, mind you) to be at the circ desk then claim they had just moved to the area and needed cards for the entire family. If the library assistant didn't check the computer ahead of time to make sure they weren't already in there, the Fagins would suddenly have a full roster of cards again and would immediately fill them to capacity with poor, doomed books. Their trechery would eventually be discovered and all their new cards blocked. Why we haven't just called the cops on this family, I have no idea.

(A funny aside: Ma Fagin once tried to apply for a job with one of the other libraries in the area. She managed to make a very good impression on the head librarian there, who called Mrs. A to let her know she'd finally found someone she thought would be a good replacement for a previous deadbeat employee. Upon hearing Ma Fagin's name, Mrs. A told the other director to look up the Fagin's patron records in her own computer and see how many books she had checked out. Ma Fagin, and indeed her spawn, were blocked multiple times in that branch's computer, nixing her hiring right away.)

Some time later, according to Mrs. A, she was lamenting that some of our more expensive and irreplacable books were still in Pa Fagin's possession and would likely never see the inside of the library again. The Untalented Mr. Ripley happened to be listening to this lament and spoke up.

"I can get them back for you," he said.

"You can? How?" Mrs. A inquired.

Mr. Ripley explained that Pa Fagin was actually a friend of his who he visited frequently. (This should have been our first clue not to trust this clown.) Ripley said he'd even seen the very books we wanted back at Chez Fagin the last time he was there. So upon his next visit, the Untalented Mr. Ripley managed to slip away with those books and returned them to us, cementing his reputation as a trusted "liberry" friend. The fact that he so easily displayed a knack for theft and cunning himself while rescuing them should have been our second clue. It was one which would soon come back to haunt him, though.

Having already ingratiated himself to the library staff at the time, no one thought much about leaving Mr. Ripley by himself in the main fiction area on the frequent occasion when a staff member might have to go elsewhere in the library. He wasn't even a suspect when the cashbox began coming up short. That is, until he was caught with his hand in it some weeks later and banned from the library entirely.

I'm not sure how much time passed before Mrs. A, who felt sorry for the man, finally allowed him to return. But his return was strictly limited to the computer area. He was no longer allowed to hang about near the circulation desk where temptation might prove too great.

Years passed.

My first encounter with the Untalented Mr. Ripley was shortly after I began working at the library over two years back. At that point, I knew very little about Mr. Ripley including his former status as cash box thief nor his habit of looking for gay porn on the computers. To me he was just a guy who came in and used the computer every day and was someone Mr. B-Natural seemed to dislike quite a bit. The way I saw it, if Mr. B-Natural is your enemy how bad can you really be?

Granted, we had three patron computers by then so fighting over just one computer was no longer the issue between them, but this didn't seem to matter to Mr. B-Natural. He would come in, write his name on the computer sign in sheet (upside down, as usual) and look to see who else had signed in. If he even saw Mr. Ripley's name on the sign up sheet he would growl at it--actually growl at it. And if he knew which computer Mr. Ripley had been sitting in he would utterly refuse to sit there even if it was the only free computer. Such behavior is what helped solidify Mr. B-Natural's title as grumpiest old man in all the world.

One day Mr. B-Natural decided to issue a warning to me, as the new guy on staff.

"You gotta watch out for that RIPLEY," Mr. B said.

"How come?"

Mr. B-Natural dropped his voice down to a low growl. "He gets on the computers and looks for pictures of naked men."

"Oh," I said. At that early "liberry" career point I had yet to see anyone looking for porn on our computers of any sort. Still, I wasn't about to give Mr. B the satisfaction of seeming at all positive about his warning. "Well, what patrons do on the computers isn't really our business," I told him.

"It better be your business!"

"Why? It isn't illegal to look at porn."

"Yeah, but sometimes..." Mr. B continued, "... sometimes he prints them out."

"Again, not illegal," I said. "Not as long as he pays for the prints, at least."

Mr. B-Natural huffed and puffed and waved a dismissing paw in my direction before stomping out of the library.

What I had said was true, though. Our policy at the time was strictly hands off when it came to what patrons looked at. I mean, if he'd been trying to lure kiddies over to the computer to make them look at it, it would be one thing, but Mr. Ripley mostly used his internet time in chat rooms from what little we could tell. (Of course, now we have all sorts of filtering software to guard against kids accessing porn in the library and all kinds of hoops and parental permission slips a kid has to jump through in order to get on the internet in the first place. Of age patrons can still access porn, if they're willing to come up to the desk and request that we come turn off the filter for them. The filters have been in place for about seven months now and so far not one patron has ever made such a request.)

But I digress...

What we didn't know at the time was that the Untalented Mr. Ripley had not given up his con-man thieving ways, he had just limited it to locations other than the library. I think he saw in Mrs. A an ally he couldn't afford to piss off again. After all, she let him back in the library in a limited fashion, was friendly toward him and occasionally gave him rides to Wal-Mart. Of course, once he was in Wal-Mart he would make an excuse to go off on his own, meeting Mrs. A later at the front counter where he bought one or two small items. What Mrs. A didn't realize was that Mr. Ripley had probably stolen several others while out of her sight, effectively making her an accomplice to his theft. This was a theory we all put together a few days following Mr. Ripley's eventual arrest... not for stealing stuff from Wally World, but elsewhere.

It seems that for months Mr. Ripley had been burgling things from peoples homes and even from the downtown businesses he occasionally worked at. Many of these items were of little use to him personally, being antiques or art, but they were something he could sell later on, or give to people as gifts to help further ingratiate himself to them. He would store them away in abandoned houses in the hinterlands of the county. The police eventually got wise to him and the Untalented Mr. Ripley was arrested and packed off to jail where he remained for several months.

The last we heard, he had been released or paroled and had even been seen at Mrs. V's library, using the computers. We warned her to keep an eye on her cashbox. However, as of this writing, he has not darkened our door again. He remains a former rogue.

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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.