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.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Freaky Friday


  • Our National "Liberry" Week open house went okay today. Mrs. A made her pecan pie squares, which are an old favorite of mine from back in my pre-Atkins days. I had a sneaking suspicion, though, that the celery I brought with lunch probably tasted better than the pecan pie bars, so I did a taste test between the two just to make sure. I really couldn't decide from just one of each, so I had a couple more pecan pie squares and a couple more sticks of celery to better make the determination. Eventually, I ran out of celery, but I didn't let that stop me. The patrons also seemed to appreciate our having goodies out, some a little more than we might have hoped. Parka, for instance, made at least four trips to the table to gobble up our food.


  • One guy who I think was glad we had food was our very first drifter--or at least the first that I've met. I read other library blogs from library staff in larger cities (I highly recommend the ones in the side bar to the right) and one of the major issues they have to deal with is that of homeless people and drifters some of whom are quite troublesome. We don't get a lot of that in our little Tri-Metro area. Our drifter today was a drifter by the definition of the word; a guy who was passing through town on foot, hitchhiking and walking his way from Pennsylvania to Florida. He had the big pack with sleeping bag, supplies, etc. and an American flag on a stick that was protruding proudly from a pocket of it. Probably helps him get lifts. He seemed about five years my junior and struck me as a pretty smart and world-saavy young man who was just trying to get from one place to another as cheaply as possible and wasn't afraid to hoof it. I imagine he appreciated the grub and I didn't begrudge him eating it at all. I chatted with him a bit and learned of his destination. He asked what the best way was to get to I-77 and I pulled out our Atlas and showed him a couple of routes. "Is it hilly?" he asked. I just smiled. It's West Virginia; of course, it's hilly. I gave him a map of the local area, as he seemed like he might want to stay in the area for a few days.
  • An older couple, visitors to our town, came in to use the internet. They were doing geneological research and mostly printed several things and then began making photocopies from some of our geneal0gy books. Unfortunately, this meant they had to use our devil copier. We hate this bloody contraption. Hate it, hate it, hate it. It's extraordinarily tempramental and refuses to do its job without jamming, compressing the offending copy into an accordion of paper, about 80 percent of the time. And if anyone other than a staff member tries to do anything with it, it jams twice as fast. We used to think it was just picky about copying anything dark, but we've recently concluded that it's just a big ol' cranky piece of shit no matter what we put in it. We pay a local company to service the copier and we used to call them on a regular basis to come bludgeon it into working order. However, whenever the repair guy comes in, the copier is suddenly on its best behavior and nothing we do will cause it to jam. So the repair guy thinks we're a bunch of loons. Unfortunately, it's not a rented copier, so we're stuck with it.

    So the couple camped out at the copier with a stack of books. Every minute or two one of us would have to go over and unjam the copier for the couple.

    While this was going on, Wal-Mart Jesus came in and went to the reference hall. After 20 minutes or so, he came into the main room with a stack of books of his own, which he was planning to have us copy pages for him. After standing in line to get to it for a few minutes, though, he abandoned his plan, gathered up his bag and cudgel and left.
  • Monday, April 19, 2004

    The Good Monday

    Had to work today, all by my lonesome, but for a Monday it wasn't too bad. Mrs. C has advised me in the past that Monday's don't always suck. They just usually suck. When they don't suck, they're usually just really slow and boring. Rarely is there any middle ground, but I guess today qualified.

    First off, unlike most Mondays, there wasn't a mass crowd of angry patrons gathered at the door, waiting for us to open at 1. Instead, the only people waiting at the door were one of my favorite cool patrons and a bunch of screaming tards. Literally. There were tards on the doorstep and one of them was in fact screaming. His aide from the local Unobstructed Doors organization asked him to be quiet, though, and he did and they all went upstairs to read.

    On the upside, we had patrons come in to donate money to the library plus two different people paid for their interlibrary loan postage, which is two more than usually do.

    Othewise, the rest of the day was mostly uneventful, except for a few small Mondayeque events...

  • A patron needed a book for her 8th grade son to do a book report on. She asked me to pick one out for her. I asked her what sort of book report the teacher had assigned, since "book report" as an assignment is just way too generic. I needed qualifiers, cause teachers NEEEVER do anything without spelling out details. (They also very rarely call the library ahead of time to let us know what books they're assigning as required reading so we can have enough copies on hand when 8 dozen kids descend upon our heads at the last possible second demanding Seabiscuit, but I digress.) Mom had absolutely no clue. Didn't know what the assignment was. Didn't know any subcategories. Didn't know if it was fiction or non-fiction. Didn't know shite. She finally admitted to knowing that the report could NOT be on a Harry Potter book nor The Lord of the Rings, so that finally clued me in that it was a fiction assignment. Since she was so open to suggestion as to ask me to pick one for her, I gave her Neil Gaiman's excellent kid's book, Coraline. Granted, its protagonist is a girl, which will probably not please her 8th grade son who was hoping Mom would bring back something exactly like Harry Potter without actually being Harry Potter. If he was so damned particular about it, though, he should have drug his picky ass in and chose one himself.





  • A man phoned and asked if we had any videos of American short stories. I said I was unaware of any. He then asked if we had any videos of just short stories in general. Again, no. I explained that the videos we have are almost entirely wide-release movies, most of which were donated to us, or non-fiction documentaries. He seemed irritated. My guess is he's another parent trying to get his kid a short-cut on a school assignment.
  • One of our regular patrons, a long haul trucker, came in with a huge stack of unabridged Robert Ludlum books on tape that he'd interlibrary loaned through us. "Gimme the next four," he said. I started to try and explain that it doesn't work that way, that if he wants to interlibrary loan something he needs to supply us with, oh, I don't know, a TITLE. "Naw, naw, naw," he said before I could even get a word out. "Yew just look up there what the next four on the list are and order em." I so wanted to be pissed at this guy, but I realized that Mrs. C must have done exactly that, at his request, when he first started this Ludlum jag. It's a bit odd, but not an unreasonable request.
  • A patron needed to check some details on Travelocity, only when she went to sign in, it automatically loaded the username of some guy named Mike. It didn't load his account or his password or anything, but Travelocity itself automatically clicked the REMEMBER ME IN THE FUTURE box and called her Mike. The instructions on the page say that if you're not Mike to just type in your own username and password, but every time she did it brought her back to the same screen and called her Mike. It also didn't help that whenever she tried to sign in Windows brought up the box saying DO YOU WANT WINDOWS TO REMEMBER YOUR PASSWORD IN THE FUTURE? and she kept hitting YES despite my telling her not to do that twice. She was having much the same problem logging into her e-mail account, so my guess was that it was her fault for refusing to read instructions. I switched her to a different computer but it didn't help cause she was still a moron. On her way out she groused at me that someone should fix the computers. I wanted to tell her that someone should fix the patrons while they're at it, as I was pretty sure it was all her fault, or Travelocity's and not our computers. To prove it, I signed up for a Travelocity account just so I could go back to her computer and try logging in myself. It let me right in with no problems and didn't call me Mike once.
  • While I was proving this, I noticed that the patron computer keyboards were absolutely filthy. Some keys were practically blackened by greasy patron residue. At 4 p.m., with nothing better to do, I stole the keyboard from Computer #3 and took it up front with some paper towels and grease-cutting Windex to clean it. After seeing what was under the keys, I ran for the vacuum and a crucifix. Then I crept back to the desk and carefully pulled up all the other keys, exposing the horror show of utter filth that lay beneath, squinting up at the light. That was the nastiest keyboard I've ever seen. Simply foul and unholy, not to mention grody to the max. There are keyboards at the bottom of cesspits that are cleaner. I've shat cleaner keyboards. It was the butt-reistiest. And for my own peace of mind, so that I can continue to sleep at night, I'm going to assume that the curly dark hairs I found beneath the keys are from the backs of the hands of hairy patrons and not other parts of their anatomy as one might otherwise assume.
  • Friday, April 16, 2004

    Last nights of Whine and Hosers

    Shortly after arriving for my shift yesterday, I said, "Well, I was 8 minutes late getting out of here last night because of a certain patron."

    That was all I had to say. I suddenly found myself in the middle of a bitch-session about Parka without having to even say the man's name. Mrs. B, Mrs. C and Mrs. H were all well aware of him and began singing the man's downfall. They too had experienced Parka's irritating waiting room routene at the card catalog chair following being kicked off.

    Also, turns out that last Monday when Parka hauled tail at Mrs. C's first word, it was actually at her first THREAT. She said that she had been anticipating him being a slow-ass to log off so at 10 minutes til close she went back and told him that she was going upstairs to straighten up and when she came back down she was turning the computers off. That was all she had to say.

    It so happens that last night I had somewhere else I needed to be at 7 p.m. and didn't have time for Parka dicking around on the computers either. I decided to take a page from Mrs. C's book. See, of the many signs we have hanging on the walls at our branch, one of them states in no uncertain terms that the computers, copier and typewriter will be shut down at 15 minutes til close. "WILL BE" it says. There's another sign that says in no uncertain terms that computers WILL BE turned off if patrons refuse to log off when asked. The signs have been there forever, but the policies are rarely enforced. I decided that needed to change.

    Parka came in at 6 and loudly announced, as usual, that he needed to use a computer. I said sure, then added, "Just to let you know, I'm going to be shutting the computers down at 10 minutes til close tonight." No explanation as to why. No excuses. Just this is how it's gonna be. I figured if he gave me any lip about it, I would just point out our sign and tell him he should feel lucky I was giving him an extra five minutes. Parka didn't protest, though. In fact, he seemed cool with it.

    When I went back at 10 til to shut em all down, he got right up and left with no problem.

    Wednesday, April 14, 2004

    Days of Whine and Hosers

    When I walked through the door of my house following work this evening, I still wore the brilliant shining grin that I'd been wearing for most of the day.

    "Ah, the day I had at work today," I told my wife.

    "Why? What did you do?" Ashley asked, I might add with a somewhat concerned expression.

    "Oh, it's not what I did... it's what I learned."

    There's no real organized way to do this, so we'll just take each item in the order I experienced it today.

    Started my day hanging out with Mrs. A at the circulation desk today. I love hanging out with Mrs. A. In addition to being a great boss, she knows all the best stories and always has an ear to the ground for news. I had heard a bit of news about her myself and asked her to share with me the tale of her confrontation of our new buddy the Parka.

    Seems last Friday, just one day after I had difficulty getting Parka to get off the computer and stop chatting online to his poser-underage "date", our weekend staffer Miss E had equal difficulty getting Parka to relinquish his computer so another patron could have it. She asked him to get off, and ten minutes passed with him still there a typin' away. Miss E complained to Mrs. A about it. Mrs. A, never afraid of confrontation with a belligerent patron, marched back to the computers and told Parka that when Miss E or any other staff member told him it was time to get off, he was to immediately get off. She told him that this was the third time she'd heard complaints from staff members about him and if she heard any more he would be banned from the computers. Parka got off then and there and fled the building. And when he next dared return, on Monday, and Mrs. C had to ask him to get off, she only had to ask him once because he was up and out the door in a flash.

    I chuckled about this and looked forward to my chance to put this into action myself.

    In exchange for Mrs. A's tale, I told her about my proposed "If you make stinky in this restroom..." sign for the back of the restroom door. She thought it sounded like a good plan.

    Oh, but the fun was not yet at an end. Far from it.

    Mrs. A was about to head upstairs when suddenly her eyes widened and she gave me a smile. "I almost forgot. Have you heard about Chester yet?" she asked.

    "Chester?" I said, inwardly bemoaning the fact that she had used the real name of the Patron Who Must Not Be Named, thus insuring his eventual appearance. She was referring, of course, to Chester the (potential) Molester.

    It seems word about Chester has been slowly making the rounds among our local and even far-ranging public libraries. I chalk this up to the fact that Chester's a pretty wide ranging guy himself. He doesn't even live in the Tri-Metro area at all, but is from a small town over an hour away from here with plenty of public libraries in between. Each one has come to recognize him and has set up similar security measures to our own. They've also begun sharing remarkably similar tales about him.

    For instance, one library not far from Tri-Metro has an unofficial policy that when they see him coming they run to put an "Out of Order" sign on their public restroom because Chester evidently "messed" it up at some point in the past. The director of that library hadn't even noticed Chester's usual stalking of preteen girls behavior. She was just afraid of him having another poo-festival in the bathroom.

    Other libraries have begun reporting Chester's traditional "pedophile walk-through" as he cases the entire library inventorying the pre-teen girl population. The each describe how he first goes to check the bathroom than makes the same circuit walk-through of the whole joint before either settling to ogle some poor girl or leaves. So far no one has reported any magazine theft, but we probably just haven't heard those bits yet. Almost to a person, though, the staff of the other libraries have been faithfully checking the sex-offender databases for an appearance by him, just like we have.

    However, there is one truly ripe bit of Chester news that has floated down the grapevine to Mrs. A...

    Sometime in the past few months, Chester T.(P) Molester, was arrested in his home town for exposing "Li'l Chester" to a girl in a public park.

    This is not the first time Chester's had a run-in with the law. He's been questioned before after being caught behaving in his usual manner on the grounds of an elementary school. However, this is the first time we've heard of an actual arrest. Unfortunately, from what Mrs. A hears, the charges were eventually dropped. (I cannot, for the love of all that's holy, imagine why!!!!) Still the arrest stood and that was enough to give the librarian in his home town, Mr. X, reason to confront Chester about his unwanted behavior.

    This tale Mrs. A got this from the mouth of Mr. X himself...

    Recently, when Chester shambled in to his home town library and began his usual stalking of preteen and teenage girls, the head librarian there, Mr. X, pulled Chester aside and gave him the very speech I've been dying to give him for years now.

    Mr. X told Chester that they knew good and well what he was up to there, with the whole ogling young ladies and being generally sick and creepy, and they wanted it to stop. Chester evidently protested this and said, "But I haven't done anything." To this, Mr. X responded that Chester had indeed done something: his behavior made the female staff of the library uncomfortable and it made the female patrons uncomfortable. Mr. X then said that while he didn't have women's intuition himself, he understood it was quite an accurate sense and he was prepared to listen to it when it came from his staff and patrons. He said that if he ever heard of any more lascivious behavior out of Chester he wouldn't hesitate to call the cops. After that Chester left and has yet to return.

    Mrs. A and I shared a huge joyous laugh about the matter and much celebratory pumping of fists were had. Even though we had very little to do with the whole thing other than helping to spread the word on Chester, we felt victorious.

    Fifteen minutes later, a patron came up and asked where our restroom was. I directed her to it and she went off to use it and afterwards left the building. Minutes passed by before I detected the faint smell of... of... Could it be?... Could it truly be?... YES!... Yes it is!..... Country Fresh scented Airwick air-freshener!

    The unprecedented event had happened! A patron had taken a shit in the library and actually used the spray! And without a sign to tell them to! Glory be! Hallelujah!

    I had to run right back and have a gander at the bowl just to confirm that my greatest wish had finally come true. Sure enough, it was clean and flushed.

    Five minutes later, of course, Ron the Ripper marched right in there, used the toilet and completely failed to flush.

    Oh, well. At least he only took a leak.
    So the rest of the day passes by with few worries.

    We were pretty busy, sure, and my arm got a charlie-horse from pointing people in the direction of the tax forms, but it wasn't bad.

    Chester did not appear despite Mrs. A's cavalier use of his real name. We were paid multiple visits by a decidedly non-grumpy Mr. B-Natural and one extended visit by the Dufus, but he didn't even touch a computer and spent most of his time reading upstairs. Very odd. This continued to be an odd day.

    Around 4:45 or so, our door opened and the familiar white puffy Michelin Man shape of Parka came through it.

    "I'd like to use a computer," he loudly announced, a little closer to the sign-in clip board than usual. I log him on one.

    Around 5:15 or so, one of our regular patrons, O. Susannah, charter-member of the "liberry" internet crowd, came in to find her daughter, Patty. O. Susannah didn't see Patty on the computers or anywhere else downstairs. Instead of actually walking up the stairs to search the next level--which O. Susannah is never keen on, being kind of a big gal--she just stood at the bottom of the staircase and bellowed her daughter's name up the steps. After a few such loud bellows, I came over to see if I could help, or barring that get O. Susannah to be quiet. I finally went upstairs and found Patty at one of the tables, her school stuff spread out before her.

    "Your mom is downstairs," I told her.

    "Yeah, I know," Patty said, still not moving to get up.

    "I'm pretty sure she wants you to come downstairs too."

    "Yeah, I know," Patty said with a little rebellious smile. I returned the smile and went back down to tell O. Susannah that I thought her daughter would come down eventually. O. Susannah seemed okay with that and immediately signed up to use a computer. When Patty finally came down she signed on for one too so she could work on a school paper. O. Susannah said she'd relinquish her computer to her daughter so Patty could have one with a desk and she'd take the tiny little deskless-wonder system by the stairs. O. Susannah told me that if someone came in for a computer to just bump her off that one.

    Oh, no, I thought. I won't be bumping you. I'd be bumping a certain Parka-clad figure who'd been on far past his half-hour already. I wanted to see Parka jump at my command. I returned to the front and set O. Susannah and Patty's timers to a full half hour and started their countdown.

    Sure enough, within five minutes a guy came in to use a computer. I told him it would be just a minute and went back to tell Parka the bad news. Parka didn't jump, though. In fact, Parka lingered on the computer for three minutes after I told him he needed to get off. Apparently, he didn't know I'd gotten the memo about Mrs. A's threat to kick him out if he didn't get off. So I grabbed my computer timer and went back and stood directly beside his computer and gave him the stink eye. Only then did he stop chatting with his e-skank and logged off.

    "Can I sign on for another half hour?" he asked.

    "Sure. But, it may be a while before we have a free computer," I told him.

    Parka went up and signed in at the clip board again, then took a seat at our card catalog computer, turned his back to the computer and slouched down to wait for his next turn.

    "How long is it gonna be?" he asked.

    "Nineteen minutes," I said. "If you like, there are comfy chairs upstairs. I'll let you know when one comes open."

    "No. I'm just fine right here," he said with what I detected to be some degree of self-satisfaction.

    Oh, so that's how he was gonna play this, was it? He'd heard O. Susannah tell me to bump her if anyone came in for a computer and he knows that I'm giving him the shaft by not bumping her for him. So he's gonna sit right there by the circulation desk and make a nuisance of himself for the full 19 minutes just to be an asshole. Well, I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction. If he wanted to sit there, fine. It hardly affected my job. I just went about my duties and ignored his big puffy white ass.

    Parka sat there for the full time too. Every minute or so he would grunt frustratedly and shift in his chair. Sometimes he would lightly stomp his foot on the floor. I was just left to imagine the turmoil in his noggin at being so close to his e-skank chatroom, yet so far.

    Finally, O. Susannah's timer went off and I went back and told her we had someone waiting. I returned to the front.

    A minute passed.

    Two minutes passed.

    O. Susannah's no stranger to taking her time at getting off the computer either, but this was stretching on into Parka's territory. Now, granted, I didn't care because Parka had just made someone wait for three minutes too. But after three minutes of waiting I went back to see what was taking her so long. I didn't want to give Parka something to justifiably complain about. O. Susannah got off shortly thereafter and I put Parka on the little computer by the stairs.

    We got plenty busy before the day was out and it was 6:54 before I could get away from the desk to go back to warn our internet crowd of our impending closing. O. Susannah, Patty and Parka were the only ones left.

    "We're closing in six minutes," I told them before dashing back up front to finish my closing duties.

    At 7 p.m. I went back and said, "The library is now officially closed."

    Not a one of em moved. Parka kept typing. Patty kept typing. O. Susannah was flipping through the first draft of her daughter's paper that had been printed earlier. I went back up front and began timing them. Within a minute, Patty began printing a final draft. These things happen. I'm usually very sympathetic to school kids printing papers, as they're usually done at the last minute and are probably due by the next morning. I'm willing to stay a little late if it means the difference between a kid getting their paper finished and printed or not. But I hated it that it was happening now when I needed moral ground to stand on in getting Parka out. I longed for the chance to go back there and say, "Excuse me, sir, but you are obviously operating under some definition of `closed' that doesn't involve you actually having to LEAVE!!!" So long as O. Susannah and Patty were still there, I couldn't do that.

    At 7:02, with still no sound of any movement from the computer hall, I went back and announced, "It is now TWO MINUTES past closing." And I stood there staring at the three of them. Only then did Parka begin shutting down his chat session.

    Parka left and O. Susannah came up to pay for Patty's prints.

    "Sorry we had to take so long," she offered.

    "I'm completely cool with you here. I understand how these things go," I said gesturing to Patty's prints. I wanted to say something about Parka, but thought it wasn't really nice to talk about other patrons to patrons. I just left my comment implied. O. Susannah didn't mind, though.

    "I think that guy was having himself an online date," she said.

    "Yeah," I said with a sigh. "We know. Believe me, we know."

    Tuesday, April 13, 2004

    Stanky Patrons

    Last week I asked Mrs. C if it would be okay to put up a sign on the back of the restroom door that read: "If you make stinky in this restroom, please be so kind as to use the provided can of Airwick. Thanks."

    It's a project that needs serious consideration. After all, the vast majority of patrons who have a poo in our tiny, unventilated, non-sound-proofed, one-toilet, no stall public restroom never even consider using the provided air-freshener afterwards. In fact, I don't think it would be going too far to say that a patron actually using the air-freshener would be an unprecedented event. I figure if we put the sign on the back of the door only people actively making a "stinky" will see it, might actually read it and might actually become inclined to use the air-freshener to cut the stench they leave behind.

    Don't get me wrong... as my wife will readily attest, I'm no stranger to being the root cause of stanky bathrooms myself. However, when I know I'm about to befoul a confined space, in proximity to a public area, which, as soon as the door is opened, will unleash my by-product upon an unsuspecting world, I use some damn air-freshener, or light a match or pull the fire-alarm or something.

    Not our patrons. No sir. They just let fly and walk away. We should probably count ourselves lucky that they even flush. It's like they're proud of what they've made and want everyone to get a whiff. This, in turn, causes me to want to chase them around the library with a can of Lysol and a lighter. Or sometimes a hose.

    Beyond just the restroom olfactory adventures we have, we have patrons who are just naturally eye-wateringly stinky. One lady in particular either doesn't bathe very often or just eschews the use of "de-funk" in general, because she can light up a room with B.O. And once, around 2 years ago now, we were paid a visit by the Stinkiest Man Ever. He's not on the Rogues List because he only visited the one time, but his stench has been seared into the memory centers of my brain. He was like Pigpen from Peanuts as an adult. In addition to being revoltingly-stinky, he was also the owner of the worlds filthiest, too-tight red T-shirt, which was doing a less than admirable job of covering his lumpy hide. Mr. Stanky wanted to borrow an atlas from us. We don't loan out atlases, but I very nearly gave our copy to him and wrote the book loss off as a hazard of doing business. Instead, I sent him upstairs with it, where he promptly drove off every patron up there except Ron the Ripper, who probably enjoyed it. After Mr. Stanky left, I had to hold my breath and run for the bathroom to retrieve our kitchen-strength can of Airwick, which I emptied in an attempt to fight back the evil presence he'd left behind.

    In related Stanky Patron news... my friend Glen works in a library located in a southern state known for its spicy food and government corruption. (Heheheh, try to narrow that one down from the clues provided.) If anyone should be writing a "liberry" blog, it's Glen, as he's just a damn genius, funny as hell in general and his observational skills are saber sharp. Shortly after I began working at my library, he wrote me to compare notes on problem patrons.

    Glen wrote: "My patrons smell like dusty turds. I'm serious. From day one, I noticed this peculiar odor about my branch and quickly traced it back to the patrons. It took some time to satisfactorily classify the scent for myself but in my second week while listening to some woman go on about how she `paid that fine fo' weeks ago,' I thought: `Lady, you smell just like a dusty turd. That's it, by golly!' Imagine a long lost link sitting on top of a bean pie in the bottom of a tool box and there you go. It's amazing. It must have something to do with diet. Or a propensity to roll around in aged feces. I don't know."

    Incidentally, Mrs. C gave me permission to put up my sign.

    Friday, April 09, 2004

    Actual Telephone Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #3

    *RING*

    ME: TRI METRO County Public Library.

    CALLER: Uh, yes. I'm calling from Michican and I've been trying to call the TRI METRO Inn for the last hour and, well, no one's answering. I tried their 1-800 number and I tried the other number that was listed but no one is answering.

    ME: (FOR SEVERAL SECONDS STARES BLANKLY INTO SPACE IN DISBELIEF THAT THE LIBRARY IS NOW ASSUMED RESPONSIBLE FOR LOCAL HOTELS NOT ANSWERING THEIR PHONES.) Oh. Um. Well. Okay. How can I help you, then?

    CALLER: Do you know if they're closed or if there's any reason they wouldn't be answering?

    ME: Uhhhhh. Well, no. Not really. No reason that I know of. (TO FELLOW EMPLOYEES) Do any of you know if Tri Metro Inn is closed? No? (TO CALLER) No, sir. No one here seems to know why they aren't answering their phone either.

    CALLER: I just... I just... I'm calling from Michigan. I just thought maybe you would... know.

    ME: (OPENS PHONE BOOK AND LOOKS UP TRI METRO INN) Is the number you called XXX-XYZZ?

    CALLER: Yes.

    ME: Yup. That's their number. Can't imagine why they wouldn't answer it.

    Thursday, April 08, 2004

    Parka Life

    I had hoped I was wrong, but I guess my patented pervie-sense tingled one too many times...

    It has been confirmed: the Parka is indeed a sick bastard.

    I'd only suspected until yesterday, due to accidental and then stolen glances at his computer screen while he was in using the computers. I had hoped he was just using an online dating service and that the blonde faces I'd seen in thumbnails on his screen were just unusually good-looking women seeking 45-year-old, big puffy white parka-clad strangers with receding hairlines to come into their lives. Well, it turns out I was right about that part, only the women are working for a dating service that specializes in very YOUNG looking women who like to lounge on satin-covered beds, cuddling teddy-bears and looking for all the world like they were 14 years old.

    I have Mrs. A to thank for this revelation. She saw his screen and got a pretty solid look at what he had there before she was able to avert her eyes. At least she knows about it in advance.

    Parka is fairly creepy beyond his choice of surfing material, though. Unlike Chester the (potential) Molester, who's just obviously sick in the head on so many levels, but at least has the decency to appear stereotypically mentally unbalanced, Parka looks fairly normal. (Well, beyond the proclivity for wearing big puffy white parkas.) But that's what makes him all the creepier because he's more of a concealed, calculating, Gary Oldman kind of creepy. I'm pretty sure he knows that I don't like him, too, but I don't think he really cares.

    Beyond just being creepy, he's also irritating. When he walks in the library, he's barely through the door before loudly saying "I need to use a computer!" It's as though he thinks announcing that fifteen feet from the sign-in sheet will somehow get him online faster. And today after I signed him in something went wrong with the computer I put him on and it wouldn't bring up the library commission's home page to his liking so he marched to within shouting distance and bellowed, "Your computer isn't coming up to the home page!" I slowly glanced up at him from the desk and then just as slowly blinked, hoping to convey the message "And so you just decide to shout at me from across two rooms?" Then, still remaining silent, I walked from behind the desk and calmly back to the computers where I logged him on a different one and shut down the old one.

    Yesterday I finally got to kick him off one of the computers after his time ran out. It was great.

    "Excuse me, sir," I said, "Someone else just came in for a computer."

    Parka gave me a blank look at that point. "So, what? I have to get off, then?"

    "Yes," I told him with a smile.

    I know I'm being borderline rude to the man, but he's not helping matters. In fact, today he stayed on until after we had closed. At 10 minutes til close, I let him know we were about to close in 10 minutes. Then, at 1 minute til, I walked back to begin the shut down process for the other computers around him.

    "I'm about to get off," he said.

    I had to bite my cheek to keep from saying, God, I hope not! Keep it in your pants!

    Then, at 7 p.m. exactly, I went back and turned off the other computers. He was still typing away. I told him we were now officially closed. He kept typing. I marched back up front and started my stopwatch. At one minute thirty seconds I marched back to the computer hall and stood there until he stopped typing and logged off. I sure hope to hell we don't have another Dufus on our hands. That's all I need is the unholy love-child of the Dufus and Chester walking the halls.

    Monday, April 05, 2004

    The Purple Nun

    It's been just over a year and a half since the Purple Nun passed away. We've still not tired of telling stories about her.

    In her day, the Purple Nun was number #1 on the Liberry Rogues Gallery, not because she was a problem patron, which usually she wasn't, but because she was certainly the most colorful and most infamous of all our resident eccentrics.

    The Purple Nun was a regular sight in our little Tri-Metro community. Often seen walking alongside the road, or taking public transportation, she was instantly recognizable by her purple nun's wimple which she--forgive me--habitually wore. I have no idea if she'd ever been an honest to goodness nun during her life, but I suspect not. I'm pretty sure she was just a nun of her own devising, though that did not necessarily lessen her devotion to God.

    I'd seen the nun around town and wondered what her deal was long before I actually met her. Then she began coming into the library and I was able to get a better look at her. My first impression upon meeting the Purple Nun personally was that she seemed like a nice enough lady and was about as polite as you'd expect a nun to be. She mainly came in to use one of our computers, usually leaving long before her time ran out and always paying for paying for any prints she made. Still, her mode of dress and something about her manner got my imagination working overtime as to the strange possibilities of her life. It wasn't until my co-workers began recounting their own stories of her that I realized my fiction was a lot more mundane than the truth. The nun was also hardly a newcomer to the library.

    Mrs. B, my fellow "liberry" assistant gave me the lowdown on the Purple Nun...

    Some months or years before I started work there, the Purple Nun came into the library and asked if she could use the internet. However, the Nun had no e-mail account, so Mrs. B loaded up Hotmail and showed the Nun how to sign up for an account. After a long time the Nun came up to the desk and was mildly irritated that Hotmail wouldn't allow her to enter her correct birthday. Mrs. B thought this was strange and went back to investigate but didn't immediately see any problem. There on the screen was a perfectly good-looking birthday in the birthday blank. The Purple Nun then explained that Hotmail was insisting on using the A.D. calendar system while she needed to use B.C. for her birthday. That's right, the purple nun claims to have been born over two thousand years ago.

    Somehow Mrs. B convinced the Nun to let the whole birthday thing slide and helped her finish setting up her Hotmail account. She then had to show the Nun how to compose and send e-mail. The Nun seemed very happy about this and began to type away, composing her e-mail. Some time later, she got up to leave, informing Mrs. B that she'd left the e-mail message on the screen. Mrs. B tried to explain to the Nun that you weren't supposed to leave the e-mail you were supposed to send it to someone. Did she, the Nun, have someone to send it to? The Purple Nun assured her that it would be okay. The person meant to find it would find it.

    These may have been Mrs. B's first early clues that something was amiss in Purplenunland.

    Another clue came when Mrs. B later inspected the computer sign in sheet. The nun's name, as written, was "Mrs. J.C. Lord".
    It turns out, the Purple Nun, a.k.a. Mrs. J.C. Lord, firmly believed herself to be the wife of both Jesus Christ AND the Holy Ghost. Now I realize that being the bride of Christ is kind of the whole bag for most nuns, but she actually took it a few steps further. According to her, the three of them were living in wedding bliss in an apartment downtown. The Nun also tended to refer to herself in the plural, unless she was just giving her name out. I once heard her do this when phoning the local Tri-Metro Transit Authority for a lift. I guess she figured out it was easier to do when she just said, "This is Mrs. Lord and I need to be picked up..." rather than, "Jesus, the Holy Ghost and I need a lift to the Save-A-Lot."

    Mrs. B's involvement with the Nun was much more extensive than my own. Mrs. B has a natural kind nature that shines through in her demeanor. It's an admirable quality to have but it's one some of our more eccentric patrons have picked up on and have gone out of their way to take advantage of.

    For instance, one of our eccentric patrons broke her leg and began calling the library asking for reading material as she couldn't easily get out of her house. Not only did she want reading material but she wanted us to deliver it to her. Mrs. B had taken this call and decided that since the lady lived just down the street it wouldn't be much trouble to run a few books over. A couple days later, the lady called for more. And more. And more. Finally, there was a day that Mrs. B couldn't come due to other obligations. The broken-legged patron was furious and accused Mrs. B of not wanting to help out and accused the library of not serving the public by not hand-delivering her books to her at her whim. After that, Mrs. B told the woman outright that she wouldn't be delivering ANY more books and that the lady could come get them herself. So the patron did by having a relative drive her up to the library and then honking the horn of the car until one of us came out to take her order. Mrs. A but a stop to that behavior, toot sweet.

    The Purple Nun was also one such advantage-taking sort of patron. Mostly she just used Mrs. B as a confidant, telling her at one point that she, the Nun, had recently been visited by the police. They apparently wanted to talk to her because she had been accused of physically attacking someone. We know no details on this, but the Nun herself even admitted that it wasn't the first time she had been accused of physical assault. She seemed highly surprised that anyone would accuse her of any such thing, but the police seemed to think otherwise.

    Some time later, the Purple Nun persuaded Mrs. B to give her a lift to a hospital in a neighboring county where the Nun was to undergo cancer treatments. Up until this point we had no idea the Nun even had cancer. We certainly couldn't rule it out, though.

    A few days before they were to leave, the Nun negotiated with Mrs. B to go visit some friends of hers in the hinterlands of the other county, considerably out of their way, following her cancer treatments. Mrs. A immediately suggested that there were no cancer treatments and that the Nun just wanted to go somewhere for a visit but didn't think anyone would give her a lift unless it was for a more serious reason. Mrs. B didn't much like the situation but agreed to it provided the Nun called ahead to her friends to make sure they knew she was coming. The Nun assured her she would.

    During the journey, the Nun made small talk by mentioning that she thought she was close to getting her son back. Mrs. B had heard rumors about the Nun having had a son, but she wasn't sure if this kid didn't fall into the same category of questionable physical presence that his Dads J.C. and the H.G. occupied. Nope, he was apparently very real and living with a foster family in another state. The Nun didn't much like his foster family because they didn't much like her and evidently listened in on the phone conversations that they allowed her to have with the boy. The family wasn't too keen on the Nun saying bad things about them to her son and had curtailed many a call that drifted into that line of conversation.

    Following the Nun's treatment at the hospital, she and Mrs. B drove out to see the Nun's friends who were, surprise, surprise, not at home.

    The Nun got out and knocked. And knocked. And knocked. And eventually went around to the rear of the house, panicking Mrs. B who was just imagining the woman breaking into the home somehow. After nearly a half hour of this, Mrs. B insisted they had to leave at which point the Nun became enraged and started yelling at her. Mrs. B, usually a quiet and unconfrontational woman, then screamed back at the nun that she had given her a lift to be nice but if the Nun didn't calm down she was never getting a ride anywhere ever again. This seemed to work. It was, however, not the last lift Mrs. B would give the Purple Nun, nor the last household that refused to answer the door at the Nun's knock.
    After Mrs. B told us about her weekend adventure with the Purple Nun, we learned from Mrs. A that the Nun's claim of having a son was in fact true.

    Some time in the mid to late 1980s, not terribly long after Mrs. A had started working at the library, the Purple Nun and her son were regular patrons. I should say, the lady that would one day become the Purple Nun, because at that point she was not yet wearing the purple wimple. Her son was a very young child at the time, maybe one or two years old, and he and the future Nun would come in and spend all day sitting upstairs at the library. Mrs. A said he was a beautiful baby and seemed very happy. What Mrs. A learned later was that the local child services agency was actively trying to find the future Nun and her child. It seems that the two of them were living in a tent up on one of our local mountains, which is not the kind of environment that child services cares to hear of infants being subjected to for great lengths of time. So while C.S. was out combing the mountainside for her during the day, she was hiding out safely in the "liberry". It was a ruse that could only work for so long, though. Eventually she was found and deemed an unfit parent and her child was taken away from her. According to the Nun herself, she had spent the intervening years trying to get him back and felt that she was close to doing so. As you might expect, the situation likely contributed greatly to her Purple-Nunitization, but she may have had some help from good ol' Uncle Genetics too.

    The Purple Nun, you see, is not alone in the land of the mentally ajar. She has four sisters and two brothers, many of whom still live in the area. I've met one of her brothers, who is a regular patron at the library and one of the nicest people you'd ever care to meet. I would not, however, classify him as a man without a few loose screws. His screws seem to be faily mild screws to have loose, mind you, but they still remain loose and in danger of being misplaced unless he remains somewhat medicated. From what I'm told, most of her siblings fall into this category to one degree or another. Most are terribly intelligent people, who were top of their class in school, went on to college and then, one by one, slowly started to go a little... odd. All except for the youngest, who moved away from the area entirely and was, last I heard, still on a very even keel. But you have to wonder what it's like to be the youngest member of a family who are one by one slowly going a bit wonky, in descending order of age, knowing you're quite probably next. It's a bit chilling.

    Frankly, they're a lot like the Royal Tennenbaums, only with less money. They seem to get along with one another about as well too. On the few occasions I saw the Nun and her brother in the library at the same time, they didn't speak, or at the most said hello. No hugs, no kisses, no "How's it been goin?" Just hello.

    As to my own relationship with the Purple Nun, I can't say that I had more than a handful of contact situations and barely an honest to god conversation with her. She was always very nice to me when she was in and never once attacked me. In fact, the only true evidence we have that she ever attacked anyone came from the Nun's own admission. Considering some of the other things she admits, it's at least questionable, though not out of the realm of possibility--particularly after what we learned later on.

    One afternoon in August of 2002, her brother came into the library and asked me if I knew who the Purple Nun was and that she was his sister. I told him, I did.

    "Well..." he said. "I just wanted to let you know that she passed away last Sunday."

    Hearing this hit me pretty hard. I mean, we knew she had cancer but somehow we never thought she would succumb to it. It didn't seem right that this lady, who had been given (or cultivated, depending on your point of view) a fairly odd and difficult walk in life should be taken by cancer. The more I thought about it, though, the more I became convinced that this was probably for the best. Chances were not great that she would ever be able to regain custody of her son. Wimple or not she was still a strange-bird and barely able to support herself, let alone an adolescent. Would it really be better for her to go through more years of pain from being separated from her son? Perhaps God took her for a purpose.

    A few days later, the local paper ran her obituary. In it we learned that the Purple Nun was born in 1955, she was valedictorian of her 1974 high school class, she had earned both a bachelors of science degree and a masters degree in psychology from the University of Virginia. She was also a black belt in karate.

    Sunday, April 04, 2004

    Snow, Sickos and Spectres: The Three Dreaded S's

    I'm stuck at the liberry on a Sunday, it's snowing again and there are potential perverts wandering through our doors.

    The weather will NOT make up its mind. Sure, it's cold, but it's not yet cold enough for anything to stick. It's also not snowing enough to keep people from venturing out. I'd expected to see less than 10 patrons the whole day, but it's actually been fairly busy for a Sunday. Granted, I don't normally work Sundays, as that's Miss E's job, but she's out of town so I'm doing the fill-in thing.

    There's a fat hairy guy who keeps walking through the library. I don't know what his deal is. When he first came in, he asked if we had a periodicals section and I told him it was at the top of the stairs and up he went. I didn't see him leave, though, so it was something of a surprise when I saw him walking up the hill outside a half hour later. He came in and went back upstairs. Then he left a few minutes later. Then he came back an hour or so later. Then he left almost immediately. Then he came back. Then he left again for good. Don't know what's going on, but he doesn't seem to be interested in reading periodicals.

    Hmm. Maybe Chester's sending him in to test and see if we follow other patrons up the stairs when we know they're headed for the periodicals and not just him.

    Shortly after the fat guy came in for the second time, I was headed back to log-off a computer and caught the smell of incense in the reference room. It smelled exactly like burning incense, but there was no smoke that I could see. It seemed to definitely be concentrated in the reference room, though. I went upstairs and could smell it faintly there, but it may have just wafted up the staircase. I asked the three people in the reference room if they could smell it too, but they said they couldn't. Maybe the smell is being created by the paint-chip ghost....

    See, we think we have a ghost. It's the only way we can yet explain the paint chips that have been appearing on the landing of our staircase for the past several days. We clean them up and then they return. And the odd thing is, there is no chipping white paint to be found anywhere in the vicinity of the stairwell. I don't actually believe it's a ghost, mind you, though you might expect to find one in our library. After all, the building once served as a field hospital in a nearby battle during the Civil War. We have Civil War era graffiti drawn onto one glassed off section of our main-room wall to prove it. So believe me, I've been on the lookout for ghosts. Haven't found any yet.


    Our last sicko of the day is a recent addition to the collection of potential perverts who come in the library. I call him The Parka, as that's what he wears: a great big puffy white parka that it's not near cold enough outside to justify. He's either passing through the area or is just new to the library because he's terribly green as to how we do things and to our hours. Just about every day this week, though, he has come in and said "I need to use a computer" in a slightly louder than necessary voice before he's even reached the desk. I'm not entirely sure, but I think he's using the computer to sign in to some kind of on-line dating service. At first I thought he was just cruising for porn, as I would occasionally see thumbnailed faces of blonde model-types on the screen when passing through the reference room. I even heard him grunting in what sounded like frustration a few times. I chalked this up to his inability to see anything better than faces due to our Porn-Filter. (We installed the porn filters last year to comply with state regulations. When people try to visit porn sites, a message screen pops up saying they can't access that site unless a library employee turns off the filter first. The screen invites them to see us at the desk if they would like us to turn the filter off. We have yet to receive even one request to do so, and certainly not from The Parka.) Today, though, I got a slightly better quick glance at his screen, when telling him his time had run out, and saw that he seemed to be searching some kind of dating service instead of porn.

    I still don't like the guy. He just seems a bit creepier than necessary and he makes it a point to ask our hours every time he comes in. In my imagination, I see him counting down the minutes until he can next come in, but this is probably just a false vibe.