Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Wal-Mart Jesus Won't Leave Me Alone

Mrs. A and Mrs. C will be away for the next few days as they attend the Spring Fling the WV Liberry Assoc. throws every year. For something being billed as a "fling" the reality of it is not nearly as exciting as one might expect.

They lit out about midway through the day shortly after I arrived, assuring me that they'd contacted our board president to alert him to the fact that they'd both be away and where they were should he suddenly develop a desperate need to get in touch with them. That's probably the most of our worries, as all the other librarians and sundry state-office officials who might want to call them will be at Spring Fling and can bloody well hunt them down at their leisure.

Before leaving, Mrs. C gave me a sympathetic look and whispered, "By the way, Jesus is in the reference room."

"Really? Wow. Haven't seen him in here in a while."

That's right, it's the return of one of our oldest rogues at the "liberry", none other than Wal-Mart Jesus.

Wal-Mart Jesus has been coming into the library at least as long as I've worked there. He's called Wal-Mart Jesus because... well, he looks an awul lot like the real Jesus, or at least how our Western sensibilities have come to think Jesus looked. He's not Jim Caviezel, but not too far. Plus, he stokes his general air of Jesusness by dressing like a low-rent Arab sheik, with the long flowing robes complete with a long flappy turban. However, his robes look as though they were pulled directly off a roll in Wal-Mart's fabric department. They're white with blue stripes and look like they'd be more at home covering, say, a picnic table than a man. Wal-Mart Jesus also has the full beard and peyo curls, which I believe denote him as a Chasidic Jew.

Now I've visited parts of this country where he wouldn't look terribly out of place, (well, provided someone got him a decent set of robes), but small town West Virginia is NOT one of those parts. I didn't even know the man was simply Jewish at first. The first time I saw him was not too long after 9/11 and I initially thought his mode of dress was some sort of overt statement of pro-Islamic protest. I wasn't angry about it, but I did worry that the local bubba population might not take kindly to it and might administer a beating upon the man's head. I couldn't have been more wrong, though, at least the part about pro-Islamic protest.

Wal-Mart Jesus isn't actually a "liberry" rogue, per se. He's just barely makes it as a benign irritant. I actually kind of like him, cause I'm all for colorful library patrons and he certainly qualifies. Wal-Mart Jesus is, as you might expect, a pretty nice guy to deal with, even though he seems a bit on his guard much of the time. Every time he comes in, though, he's deeply involved in researching a wide variety of topics the reference material for which he has no prayer of finding on the shelves of our tiny library. He's often in the market for lots and lots of information about centuries dead Jewish philosophers that can only be found in a Centuries Dead Jewish Philosopher Encyclopedia which we don't own. We've searched around and found one at another WV library, but they're not keen on loaning it out to us. We've subsequently made requests on his behalf that the other library simply photocopy the pages from their encyclopedia pertaining to the centuries dead philosopher he wants and send them to us. Despite repeated attempts at this, it has yet to come off properly. Usually the other library conveniently loses our request, which annoys both Wal-Mart Jesus and us. And if they actually manage to photocopy what we want they don't actually manage to send it to us, as though we're planning to drive seventy miles to come pick it up. And, on the one occasion they managed to both photocopy it and send it to us, we had already managed to lose the by then crinkly and ancient Interlibrary Loan slip on which we'd written Wal-Mart Jesus's real name and home number and so we couldn't call him about it. I think he may have given up on us at that point, cause until today he'd not been in for several months.

Wal-Mart Jesus can be something of a needy patron. He's back and forth from the reference hall, dragging out volume after volume of the encyclopedias for photocopying, which he doesn't like to do himself. That's okay, though. Serving needy patrons is what I'm there for, so serve I do. Sure, it's a bit irritating to have to drop what you're in the middle of to go run off pages on our devil copier every five minutes, but frankly I can manage to be irritated at just about anything so it's no great slam against Wal-Mart Jesus.

Today I made several photocopies of West Virginia Code regulations, encyclopedia entries on Frederick Nietzsche and some pages from a West Virginia history book. This was pretty much par for the course with Wal-Mart Jesus. However, when he made an interlibrary loan request for a non-specific book that specifically had to contain photos of Nietzsche's Aunt Rosalie, I knew we were in for some fun. Not only did he want Aunt Rosalie but he also wanted a few other Nietzsche family photos and some pictures of Nietzsche's friends, including Lou Andreas-Salome, Rainer Maria Rilke and a few others. He had no idea what book these might be found in, but he wanted the book all the same.

"Have you tried the internet?" I asked. I was already envisioning the headache we were about to send to some other poor bastard reference librarian, not to mention Mrs. C who would have to coordinate this from our end.

"No, I've not tried that yet," he said. "I don't have time right now. I have to catch a bus." Much like the real Jesus, Wal-Mart Jesus doesn't drive.

"How bout this," I said, "I'll dig around on the internet and see if I can find pictures of these folks. If they're out there, I should be able to find them."

Wal-Mart Jesus thanked me, then departed after gathering up his leather satchel as well as the stout, cudgel-like section of a tree branch he carries--one with the stumps of smaller branches spiking out from its gnarled head just perfect for laying a beat-down on any Temple sales-clerks he comes upon. (Perhaps the Bubba Patrol hasn't left him alone after all?)

A few minutes of work on the internet and I'd located pictures of everyone he was looking for. I printed them out, clipped his ILL slip to them and left a message on his answering machine about it. He called back later and seemed very pleased to hear of my success.

Seeing him back, though, reminds me that soon I need to chronicle the tale of our late lamented quintessential "liberry" rogue the Purple Nun.

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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.