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.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Regarding Mona

I've mentioned Mona before. She's one of my favorite patrons who happens to live in the same neighborhood as the library itself. In addition to being a patron of the library, she's a patron of the local arts scene as well, and that's how my wife and I came to run into her a few weeks back at the concert of the chorale I sing with. She and Ashley got on quite well and Mona said she wanted to have us over sometime.

Well, recently I got a note at work that Mona wanted me to call her. I figured this was about scheduling a time to come over and it was, though not exactly how I thought. Mona was having some computer issues which she thought I could help with. She's fairly new to computers and the internet, but she seems to be very much into trying new things so she bought herself a very nice computer with DSL service. (I'm quite jealous as my computer is DSLess and crappy.) Mona's computer issue was that her speakers weren't working. She said they were definitely turned on and the volume was up, but beyond that she didn't know if they were even connected to her computer. Last Thursday, I offered to come by sometime over the weekend. That turned into a Friday morning visit once my wife and I decided to get out of town this weekend for some memorial day relaxing at my in-law's house in North Carolina. I gave Mona a call and she said come on over.

Mona is a Zen Buddhist. I don't know if that's why she asked me to take off my shoes when I first arrived or if she just doesn't like to clean the floors very often, but it was cool with me. Her house is just amazing. It's decorated floor to ceiling with Appalachian folk art that she's collected over the years. And it all just meshes perfectly with the house itself. The place is an historic building to begin with, with original floors in many places, beam supported ceilings and antique hardware on all the doors and cabinets. It is't a large house, by any means, but it seems the perfect size. It's like the place was made to house both Mona and her collection. She took me on a guided tour of the place and it just got more impressive the further in we went. Her dining room was fantastic, with an antique, rustic-looking dining table that looked like it could easily support the weight of, say, Marlon Brando. The kitchen was nice and roomy, with wormy chestnut cabinets and an enormous butcher-block island. Then, in what appeared to be a closet from the outside, was a spiral staircase leading up to a guest bedroom with a huge bath and an even bigger attic space that would function as a great office. I was impressed. I also knew that when my wife does eventually see it, she'll kick herself for having gone to her scheduled hair appointment rather than coming with me.

Finally, Mona lead me to her own office where her computer was. As I'd hoped, the problem with her speakers was that while their physical volume nob was turned up the virtual one in the computer was turned down. I clicked on the little speaker icon and raised the level, rebooted and the sound worked just fine. Took me all of ten seconds to figure out. Mona was elated.

"Do I owe you anything?" she asked.

"No, ma'am. Not a thing," I said.

We talked a bit more on the way back to the front door. Mona seemed determined to pay me somehow but I was just as determined to remain the Boyscout-Doer-of-Good-Deeds-for-Free.

"Do you drink beer?" she asked.

"Not as much as I used to," I said. "I like beer, but I eat pretty low-carb these days so I don't drink as much."

"Well, beer's just about the only alcohol I drink," she said. "My favorite is a Chinese beer called Tsingtao, but I recently bought a case of Tai beer called Singha. Would you like to take some with you?"

Mona went to a low buffet cabinet and opened up what turned out to be her beer larder. Just rows and rows of intriguing looking imported beer. Not an American label to be seen. Probably a beer connoisseur's dream.

I accepted. I figured I was going out of town to my in-laws and was bound to do some diet cheating along the way, might as well enjoy an imported beer while I was at it.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Gonna be a Nettin' War

Had us an Internet Crowd Gang War on Thursday. Nearly all the IC Rogues turned up at some point during the day and most had to wait a while.  They were thus very grumpy campers. Oddly, Parka was not among them. I kept trying to keep all the computers tied up by letting patrons log back on (including Nearsighted Dave and his apparent step-son, who's not nearly as nearsighted) just so he'd have to wait when he got there, but he didn't turn up. Almost as bad, though, Mr. Big Stupid lurched through the door with his usual, "Got`ny `puters?" Oh, so sorry. There's a 10 minute wait for you. He looked satisfyingly disappointed.

Two Rogues who did turn up and who were summarily turned away were Jimmy the "Anonymous" Snitch and The Amazing Bladderboy. I had to bite my cheek to keep from saying, "Hey, I thought your ass was in jail."

The computers were all full when they came in. I told Jimmy that it would be a 15 minute wait at the very least. (And by the end of 15 minutes, we would be hovering at 15 til closing time, at which point I could shut the computers down due to all the signs we have posted saying that the computers will be shut down at 15 til, thus sparing Jimmy the use of a computer at all.) My master plan was only partially foiled, though, when Jimmy and Bladders simply left.

Suddenly, at 15 til close, ALL the computer users gave up and fled the library all at once. I quickly dashed back and turned the computers off to prevent future attempts. Not that this stops some of the computer crowd. One of our newer internet addicts turned up exactly at closing one day last week and asked if she could check her e-mail "real quick."

"I'm sorry, but we're closed," I told her.

"Guess that means you turned off the computers, then?" she said hopefully.

"Yes," I said, dashing her hopes. She'd already been in three separate times that day. What more did she really need?

By the end of the day we had 37 computer users. ("Thirty seven?  In a row?") Which is a good 10 more than usual.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Ass Bandits

While in the can today, I noticed that our toilet was absolutely filthy. Not serial shitter filthy, mind you, but unclean all the same. I won't go into the specifics of the mess, but it was a job that required a liberal amount of Clorox Cleanup. Unfortunately, when I looked up to the shelf where the Clorox Cleanup is kept, it was missing.

Oh, I thought, it's been moved back to the cleaning supplies cabinet. Nope. The great big refill jug was in there, but the CC spray-bottle was not to be found.

Hmm. Maybe Mrs. C used it to clean up after story hour and didn't put it back. Nope, she hadn't seen it either. We asked around to the rest of the staff, but no one had used it recently nor seen it.

I was beginning to have images of some of our more fragrant and excretory-infatuated patrons having their way with our bowl and then horking the Clorox Cleanup so we'd be stuck with their "art".

Turns out the explanation is probably more mundane. On Monday, when the local mentally handicapped patrons were in, one of them had a bit of an accident and their aide had to go out to the group van and bring in a change of clothes and some cleaning supplies to... um... fix the problem. Mrs. A saw the aide carrying in a spray bottle of something presumably antiseptic. We theorize that the aide may have used our Clorox Cleanup to clean part of the accident from the bathroom itself and may have inadvertently taken it with her when she left.

So there I was in the restroom today, cleaning the toilet with Windex.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Parka Adendum (yet another unpublished Robert Ludlum novel)

Now that Parka seems to be back in full force, I guess I can finally share the following tale without the risk of jinxing his departure.

Miss E, our weekend warrior "liberry" ass., recently told me that she had to bitch Parka out for being an annoying patron a couple of weeks ago.

It was a Saturday afternoon and the library was uncharacteristically eat up with patrons. When not checking out books to them, Miss E was in the midst of wrestling with the Devil Copier for a guy who kept insisting on trying to copy the same dark single page despite the fact that the copier was jamming with EVERY SINGLE ATTEMPT. Right on time, through the door walks Parka.

"MAY I PLEASE SIGN UP TO USE A COMPUTER?" he robot-droned, still 15 feet away from the sign-in sheet.

Miss E told him it would be a while because the computers were all full and there was a lady upstairs who was already waiting ahead of him. So Parka paced the floor while Miss E continued to pull accordions of paper out of the copier's guts.

One of the internet users left shortly after that. Much to Parka's dismay, though, Miss E continued to wrestle with the copier rather than immediately hunting down the lady with dibs on the open computer.

"Um, don't you think you should go find the other lady?" he asked impatiently.

"I will when I get a minute," Miss E said, unjamming the copier for the umpteenth time.

"I'll go look for her," Parka said. He went upstairs to search. Never mind the fact that he had NO IDEA who had signed up nor what she even looked like; he only knew she was a woman and was allegedly upstairs. He returned mere seconds later to claim, "I don't see her anywhere upstairs. I don't think she's here anymore. Can I please sign up for..."

"LOOK, YOU'LL GET A COMPUTER WHEN I GET A MINUTE!" Miss E screamed at him.

Wisely, Parka backed down. Miss E is not someone to be trifled with and, as her ex-boyfriend can attest, you DO NOT want to have her as an enemy.

This may seem like unprofessional and non-service-oriented behavior for a library assistant. However, I assure you that had "Liberry" Director Mrs. A herself been present Parka's stupid ass would have been verbally handed to him a long time before that.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Ballad of Cranky Liquid Paper Guy

Miss E was off this weekend, so I had to work Sunday afternoon. This sucked, cause my wife has been out of town doing a medical school psychiatric rotation at the crazy hospital for two weeks and between the play and work I haven't been able to spend as much time with her as I wanted. Still, we spent the morning together and following a carb-encrusted lunch at McDonald's she drove me to work. While trying to get my car key off my keyring so she could drive home again, I managed to drop all my keys in my milkshake and had to go inside to wash them off.

I should mention that ours is not a library where patrons spend a lot of time asking us for office supplies. Their most frequent request is for a pencil and scratch paper. Sometimes to borrow a stapler. Today though, we had a man I've dubbed Cranky Liquid Paper Guy who wanted us to be friggin' Office Max. Cranky Liquid Paper Guy was not only unhappy that he didn't have his own liquid paper to use, but was also cheesed off because he was under the gun of some kind of filing deadline. He had what appeared to be at least two rush job projects which he had to accomplish before the day was out. Among these were several truly bad-photocopies that he was interested in further tarnishing by reproducing them on our devil-copier. And while the damned thing is at least operational following its recent gut rebuild, the devil-copier has completely given up on the notion of precision toner adjustment. If the original document is bad to start with, there's just no helping it. CLPG learned this, but not before demanding liquid paper. I loaned him our liquid paper pen and he started correcting.

Along for the ride was Mrs. Cranky Liquid Paper Guy, who didn't much seem to want to be there. She mostly stood around looking sullen and interrogating me about our patron computers. What did you have to do to use one? Did the computers have internet access? Did you have to have a library card? Did you have to pay?

"It's free," I told her. "All you do is sign up on the clip board and I can log you on one." I also explained that you get a half hour to use it and can stay later unless someone is waiting. She seemed suspicious and did not sign up.

Meanwhile, CLPG himself began complaining about the quality of our liquid paper pen. What he really wanted was a traditional bottle of liquid paper. Did we have one?  I told him that we did not. This didn't set well with CLPG but he was able to somehow get over it.

At one point, I thought he was finished with the Liquid paper, since he returned it to me and went back to making copies. Oh, no. He came back to borrow it several more times. Soon he also needed scissors and Scotch tape and the Liquid Paper again. I finally just left all our supplies on the desk so he could use them at will.

CLPG suggested to his wife that she could use a computer to type up "the resume." I wondered if he meant typing up "the resume" as opposed to piecing it together from worse photocopies of bad originals. She didn't seem too keen on it either way. Mr. & Mrs. CLPG finally paid for the copies and left, but threatened to come back later.

Around 3, Cranky Liquid Paper Guy made good on his threat and returned. This time Mrs. CLPG did want to use a computer to work on "the resume" after all. Unfortunately, the computers were all still full and there were two people waiting ahead of Mrs. CLPG.

"Oh, we didn't realize they'd be full or we could have reserved one earlier," CLPG said.

"Actually, we don't reserve computers here. It's all first come first served."

"Oh. Well, where we used to live you could reserve them," he said, in a tone that suggested we're somehow lagging behing in our service if we don't offer such a plan.

"Yeah, I've heard of that," I told him.

After 20 minutes, I was finally able to bump enough users to give everyone, including Mrs. CLPG, a computer.

After a bit, CLPG asked, "Do you have a typewriter for public use?"

"Well, I can't remember any patrons ever using it, but we have one. We only use it to make library cards, but if you need to it's okay by me. Actually, if you need to type something, I'd really recommend you use a computer instead."

"Can't," he said. "The information on these forms is wrong and I have to correct it. I can't do that in a computer unless you have something to scan it in with."

Technically, we do have a scanner. Its upstairs in the locked staff bathroom until such a time as we have available desk space for it. I hear some is scheduled to open up in about a year and a half.

"Nope. Don't have one of those," I said.

At his request, I showed CLPG how to insert paper in the typewriter and how to line up the form lines with the guide lines on the typewriter head so he could type on them. Most importantly, I showed him where the correction ribbon button was. As expected, CLPG was not a champion typist, so the half-hour that followed went exactly like this:

PECK................. PECK.... PECK... "Aw, dammit," DELETE DELETE DELETE... PECK... "Damn!" DELETE....... PECK........... PECK.

About five minutes into this show, I offered to come over and do it for him just so I wouldn't have to listen to that for the length of time I knew it would take him. Nope. He said he had it under control. Fine.

At around 4:20, Mrs. CLPG was still on the computer. At 4:22, two new patrons came in and I put them on the two free computers. If anyone else came in for a computer it was Mrs. CLPG who'd have to get off. At 4:26, the door opened and the familiar robot drone of "MAY I PLEASE SIGN UP TO USE A COMPUTER?" hit my ears. It was PARKA! I almost said, "Dammit, I thought you were gone for good!"

I went back and told Mrs. CLPG she was out of time. She'd been on the computer for well over an hour at this point. Do you think she'd done jack toward writing a resume? Hell no. Hadn't even cracked a word processor. If she had, I might have had justification for denying Parka a computer in favor of giving her more time for something useful. But she was just surfing the net.

When I told her she was out of time, she looked distraught. She went and whispered to her husband for a bit. Rather than complain about deadlines and pressure, as I'd expected, CLPG asked if it would be okay for them to type up her resume on the typewriter. Frankly, I think I would have preferred hearing complaints because typewriter was the LAST word I wanted to hear in association with patrons and resumes. His typewriter plan was never EVER going to work. A decent resume, after all, is not something you can throw together on a typewriter in less than 30 minutes, particularly when you're a guy who could probably type better with his asscheeks than his hands. But what could I do? Tell them no?

PECK....... PECK........ "Oop, I meant to indent that." DELETE DELETE..... PECK.... "Aw, dammit!"

It was maddening! In a fit of service-oriented mental-self-preservation, I went to the card catalog computer and loaded Microsoft Word. This is not a computer we let patrons word-process on, EVER, but dammit, if it would get these people out of here faster and prevent the huge scene of despair and teeth gnashing I foresaw going down at closing time, I was letting them use it.

"No, that's okay," CLPG said after I'd offered him the computer. "We've already started over here."

Fine! Do it the hard way, if you must. You'll get no sympathy from me come 5 p.m.

However, a few more pecks and deletes into the process must have turned a lightbulb on in his head, cause they gave up on the typewriter and restarted on the computer. This time it only took about 10 minutes for CLPG to figure out this too was a hopeless cause. They thanked me for my time and help, paid us for the copies and left, sans "the resume" and the big nasty parting scene.

The wife came to get me at 5. She'd planned to pick me up, eat dinner and then hit the road for the crazy hospital once again. However, seeing how pitiful I'd been about her having to leave, she'd had a change of heart during the afternoon. She decided to stay the night and just leave at the butt crack of dawn. Looks like Sunday work was worth it.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Nearsighted Dave

It seems we've traded one annoying internet hog for another. No one's seen Parka in over a week and a half so we're pretty sure he's gone bye byes. Now we've got a new guy: Nearsighted Dave.

Nearsighted Dave's actually been in before but only stuck around for a couple of days, hardly putting him in danger of being added to the Rogues Gallery. However, over the past few days he's been trying to rectify that status in a big way.

Nearsighted Dave, perhaps more than any other patron in recent memory, has an overwhelming hunger for our computers. He signs up for a computer and makes grumbling sounds when he can't get on one immediately. That's typical Internet Crowd behavior, mind you, but he takes it a step further. Nearsighted Dave evidently loves our computers so much that when he finally gets to use one he has to sit with his face practically pressed up against the screen itself. I am SO not kidding and SO not misusing the word "literally" when I say that he literally sits with his face three inches away from the screen.

We thought this odd enough, but even odder still was the fact that Nearsighted Dave never seemed to be actually DOING anything with the computer. To the untrained observer, it appears as though Nearsighted Dave is merely staring at the screen, perhaps absorbing needed radiation his alien race requires. Upon closer inspection (i.e. nosy "liberry" ass. reconnaissance on my part) Nearsighted Dave is actually using a chat window, which his face entirely blocks when pressed up against the screen.

On Thursday we had to bump Nearsighted Dave off to allow other patrons to use the computer on at least three separate occasions. After each bump, he would hurry to the front to sign in again and would whine and moan about the excruciating 16 minute wait. He also refused to behave like a nice patron and wait upstairs, out of sight and out from under foot. Instead, he paced the main room, staring longingly at our timers.

Nearsighted Dave, at one point, explained that he had not finished checking his e-mail. According to him, he has 18 separate e-mail accounts, all of which he must check regularly. (Oh no, he's not going to cause problems in the future.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Classic Lineup

Today pretty much set itself up as a classic "liberry" day, as far as these things go. And I got to live through a great deal more of it than on most Wednesdays because I had to work a full 8 hours of it. This was due to Mrs. A and Mrs. C being out all day at a meeting, with all the horror that entails, and needing a fill-in hitter at the desk.




  • At 8:55 I rolled in to work and found the photo-copier repairman camped out on the doorstep. The Devil Copier had been in fine form over the weekend, plaguing Miss E because a patron kept insisting on using it to photocopy the same page over and over and over despite the fact that each attempt resulted in a paper accordion jamming the copier. She finally told him to quit it and turned off the copier. Then, after two days of dealing with similar behavior from it, Mrs. C finally called the repair people and insisted that something was wrong. Over the phone, the Devil Copier repair guy told her to break off a little piece of plastic toward the rear of the paper output slot that seemed to be causing all the jamming. She did. It stopped jamming on the rear and began jamming at the front side instead. So the Devil Copier repairman promised he would come in for a personal repair visit. That was yesterday. Today, just as he'd promised, he was here to do mighty battle.





  • At 9:00 a.m., I opened up the shop and then noticed something addressed to me on the counter. They were two maps with a note attached. See, last week a couple of female tourists had come in on the local Tri-Metro walking tour and asked if we had any maps of the area. We usually do, but the map-restocking people haven't been in for a while so we were fresh out. However, I had one in my car, which I gave to the tourists since I can get a new free map as soon as more come in. Well the two maps waiting for me today included my original free-map as well as one of the `spensive, high-quality, glossy paper, county-maps that are sold locally. The Post-it note attached said the ladies thanked me for the use of my map and hoped I'd get some use out of the `spensive one. That was terribly nice.





  • At 9:01 a.m. my new good mood fell. I discovered that none of our computers were connecting to the network at all. This means our card catalog, our circulation software and the internet were all down for the count. I try to phone some other local libraries to see if they're in the same boat, but they're all lazy and don't open til later in the day. Finally, after having to beat back a few members of the internet crowd with the three-hole punch, Mrs. C called to tell me that everything was down and that she'd put in a call to the tech guys at home office. They called me shortly and walked me through some network troubleshooting. Turns out the UPS battery backup for our router had stopped working. I plugged the router into the other UPS we have and everything seemed to work hunky dory. Well, except for the fact that Patron Computer #3 refused to have anything to do with reconnecting to the network and I immediately became far too busy with patrons to do anything about it. After several patrons complained bitterly about not being able to check their e-mail on it, I finally just slapped a big sign on it that read "BAD COMPUTER" and just operated with the two good ones. The internet crowd was NOT happy about this and gave me dirty looks about having to wait to get on for the rest of the day. I even had to bust Mr. B-Natural off and he gave me a solid grumble for old times sake.





  • Back at the Devil Copier, the repair guy had made several accordions of his own. This is suprising, cause the copier usually behaves its best when the repair guy's around. Shortly, the repair guy pried open the Devil Copier and removed a large section of its guts which he took out to his truck and rebuilt from the ground up. Once reassembled, everything seemed to work fine. "That should satisfy the ladies," he said. Screw the ladies, what about me? Before he could get out of the parking lot, I grabbed the darkest book I could find, Stephen King's Skeleton Crew, slapped it on the glass and pressed the little green button for copying. I even left the lid ajar, which is a double no-no that usually causes the copier to self destruct. Instead, the copy came out just fine and very dark indeed. Perhaps the devils have been exorcised.





  • Lady, I know you didn't just park your big ass Ford Explorer in the middle of the damned road blocking the entire street. Oh, no, I see you did. And now you think you're gonna hop out real quick and pop that overdue book of ours in the drop box, don't you? Yup, you sure do. Oh, so sorry... it's locked! You're gonna have to come inside anyway. Ehhh heh! That's right, honey. Climb back in your truck and go find a parking space.





  • And with both Mrs. A and Mrs. B gone, the day just could not pass by without a call from our Board President, Mr. Kreskin, desperate to speak to them and pissed that they're both gone. And of course, I had no idea where they'd gone so I couldn't tell him when they'd be back, which is the only thing that pisses him off more than both of them being gone. I really need to take this act on the road and go find the Amazing Randi and collect my million bucks from him, cause if there was ever proof of psychic ability it's Mr. Kreskin. He truly ONLY calls when Mrs. A and Mrs. C are both gone. It's phenomenal.





  • I asked a patron named Siobahn how her name was pronounced. I knew it was Gaelic and was therefore just as likely to be pronounced "Earl" as what it turned out to be, which was Shavonne.

    "Yeah, you gotta watch out for the Gaelics," I said, meaning the language but immediately realizing that I'd probably just insulted her. So I lamely backpeddled, "Um, I mean, the language."

    "No, the people too," she corrected. "Especially if they're raging alcoholics with a mean temper."

    "Well, y'know, I wasn't gonna say anything," I said.





  • And it also wouldn't be a proper day with no Mrs. A and C in house if I didn't get five hundred thousand questions I can't answer. The major theme in today's unanswerables was parents asking to sign their kids up for Summer Reading. Sounds easy, but we're not doing sign-ups this week. Furthermore, I have no clue WHEN we're doing it. None. Never do. This'll be my third year to be around for Summer Reading and I'm still out of the loop. Every year I ask, beg and plead for an information sheet that tells me all the stuff I need to be able to tell parents, but I never get one. Well, okay, eventually I get one, but usually at the last second and never weeks in advance when the questions actually start. And let me tell you, these parents get real agitated about it all for fear of getting burned on signing up. We only give them a whole week (nine days, really) to sign their kids up. We don't sign any up before that week and if the parents miss out on doing it during that week it's tough luck for them. But, of course, half the parents schedule a vacation for that week and then raise holy hell when they find out how strict we are about sign-ups. Or they raise holy hell because they screwed it all up the year before and still blame us for it. Every year we explain to them that it'll be okay, we're not trying to ruin their entire summer and they can have a friend come in and sign their kids up for them while they're gone. Even this they find unreasonable. It's like we're asking for a kidney.





  • At around 2:30, the Drifter noticed our BAD COMPUTER sign and offered to help fix it. Seems he used to do network installation and repair for a living. Unfortunately, the patron computers have security features designed to keep patrons from doing that, so he didn't get very far. I warned him that was the case, but he said he saw it as a challenge. We chatted for a bit after he got tired of fighting the computer. I asked him what kind of flute he had round his neck. "A bamboo flute," he replied. Ah. He said he bought it at the local New Age Crap shop. We also compared notes one how irritating it can sometimes be to work in a public service job. Still, as I explained to him, even on my worst day at the "liberry" it's far less stressful than just about any other job I've had. I may bitch and complain and write excessively lengthy blog entries about it, but I certainly don't hate it.
  • Tuesday, May 18, 2004

    Parkas and Drifters and Bears, Oh My!

    Speaking of obits... we think we may have seen the last of Parka.

    No, he didn't up and die. I wouldn't even wish that, even as much as he annoys us. Last week he applied for and received a library card. When he was filling out his form, he mentioned that he was actually from California but was staying with his parents in town. Which leads me to ask: What is it with annoying dickweeds from California returning here to move in with their parents and hog up our computers for hours on end, anyway? First the Dufus and now this guy?

    Well, mystery solved, at least for Parka. Last week the local paper ran an obituary on a man we're pretty sure is Parka's father. Our guess is that he was in town because his dad was not in good shape. I'm not even going to make the obvious joke about Parka whiling away his father's last dying hours by chatting with e-Skanks on his favorite on-line dating service page. I don't know his circumstances. Maybe that's just how he winds down from a day's worth of spending quality dying time with his dad. Frankly I don't even know if Parka's really gone or if this was even his father. But we still haven't seen him for several days, so we can always hope.

    Also, our Drifter from three weeks back still hasn't drifted on. I think he may have even made a few friends in the area and may be staying with them. Certainly he's found a base of operations of some sort, as he no longer carries around his enormous backpack with the flag. One of his new friends has also given him permission to use her library card, which is cool with us. At the moment we're hardly policing such matters anyway. We still have a few precious weeks left in which we don't have to be card Nazis so we can afford to be a bit lenient. Besides, we let just about anybody use anybody's card provided there's a clear line of permission... for the moment.

    I get good vibes from the Drifter, though. He's a black guy, about five years younger than me (which would make him 26), with short dreds and a kind of neo-bohemian/Johnny Cash air about him. He dresses in all black (that's the Johnny Cash part), with a wide-brimmed leather hat and various interesting trinkets hung on hemp cords around his neck. Last Thursday he also had a reed flute hung on a cord, sort of like an Elderberry flute, which he played out at our picnic bench for about an hour, much to the delight of passing kids and their parents. He wasn't too bad, either.

    This whole area is chock full of granola-munching, Birkenstock-clad, neo bohemian/hippie types, with a goodly assortment of genuine former hippies and sundry 60's radical trust-fund babies sprinkled in for a good mix. Some have become back to the land homesteaders, (and if that's your bag, this is a fabulous area for that sort of thing), while others have settled in to open up boutiques, coffee shops, New Age crap stores, bookstores, art galleries, etc. Many are local artisans and have their work on display at Tamarack, in Beckley. Not that I'm complaining at all. I don't always share their politics, but most of them are really great human beings. I count several among my friends here and enjoy living in an area with such an eclectic mix of people. I'm just careful not to say nice things about the president around them.

    (This reminds me of a joke I just heard... The Pope comes to Washington D.C. to spend a day with President Dubya. While he's in, they decide to go out on the Potomac aboard Yacht One. While they're out there, a gust of wind comes along and blows the Pope's hat out into the water. The secret service guys get all excited and they're about to jump in to go get it when Dubya says, "Wait, I'll do it." He steps off the boat and walks across the surface of the water, picks up the Pope's hat and walks back without so much as getting his shoes wet. Everyone stands and gawks in amazement at what they've just witnessed. The next day, of course, all the nations news headlines read: PRESIDENT CAN'T SWIM.)

    Monday, May 17, 2004

    Ms. Lindy

    We saw Ms. Lindy's obituary a few weeks back and suspected from its wording that her death had not been from natural causes. The obit listed that she had been found dead at home. As a former journalism major, I know this is usually, though not always, code for suicide. Mrs. A, however, knew something of Ms. Lindy's battles with depression and she suspected this to be the case.

    Ms. Lindy was not a regular patron, so I've not written about her before. What makes her passing stand out to me even more, though, is that she had also been a former neighbor of mine.

    Before moving into our current house, my wife and I used to live in an apartment within walking distance of the "liberry" down a twisty, windy, scarcely paved one lane county road. (If you've lived in WV long enough, you'll discover that the vast majority of roads that aren't highways or interstates are twisty, windy, scarcely paved and one lane. They're deathtraps because the locals drive them like they're being chased by the Devil; flying around blind curves and hoping for the best, with barely a care for life, limb or fender. Oddly, you get used to it.) Just down the hill from the apartments was a nice, mocha-brown two story house that sat empty for the first few months we were there. My wife and I really liked that house. It had a large fenced backyard, a separate garage, front porch and a picket fence in front. It wasn't overly big, but was a comfortable amount of house to settle down in and raise a family. About six months into our tennantship, Ms. Lindy moved into it.

    I didn't know Ms. Lindy even then, beyond the occasional friendly "Hello" as I walked past on my way to bravely attempt to get some exercise walking along the deathtrap road. She struck me as something of a lonely soul, though.

    Ms. Lindy did a lot of work on the house to fix it up. She planted a flower garden, touched up the paint, redid some of the fencing and brought in a couple of sweet dogs to live in the back yard.

    A couple of months ago, Ms. Lindy came in the library to ask if we had a series of religious self-help books. I didn't even recognize her, but I remember that she seemed sort of spacey and lost. We did have one book in the series she was looking for, but she wasn't interested in it as she really wanted them as books on tape. I wrote up three interlibrary loan slips for the books and told her they should be in soon. Ms. Lindy had not been in the library in quite some time, either so we updated her contact information in her patron record. I recognized her new address and then I realized who she was. I told her that we used to be neighbors, but I didn't tell her how much we loved her house.

    This tale isn't quite as ironic as you might be expecting. No, she didn't commit suicide before her self-help tapes came in. The tapes arrived within a few days, I called her about them, she came to pick them up, presumably listened to them and returned all three volumes within a couple of weeks. It was nearly a full month later that we learned of her death.

    Mrs. A said that at some point a few years back Ms. Lindy managed to finally kick a decades old substance abuse problem. However, depression had plagued her afterwards. (I imagine that depression may have been a root cause for the substance abuse too, but that's just my own little theory.) Lindy's family had bought the little mocha-colored house for her so she would have a place to stay where they could keep an occasional eye on her.

    I still regret not telling her that we liked her house when I had the chance. Not that I have any delusion that it would have made any difference. It's just a regret.

    Friday, May 14, 2004

    A notion that's long Overdue

    So after our financial excitement and my subsequent pissy mood, yesterday, Mrs. A suggested that I start calling the long-overdues again and I gladly took her up on it.

    Part of the way we're preparing for the move to our new computer cataloging system is by trying to get people with overdues from years past to bring their frickin' books back. Granted, we send out overdue notices every month, but we only those that have been overdue within the past 6 months or so and we only send any given overdue notice three times before filing them away for future patron-shitcanning.

    Back in October Mrs. A and Mrs. C went through the backlog of long-overdue notices and weeded out a lot of the books of lower value, leaving behind those books worth $10 or more that we'd really like to have back. We then called or sent notices to the patrons who still had our books (most of which were from 2002, as we figure anything before that is not coming back ever--though we are occasionally surprised). Well, we still have all the slips from that October call-fest, most of which still bear our notes from back then, with comments like "Says she'll bring it in soon" or "Will look for them" or "Swears he's never seen this book ever." Of course, very few of those folks who promised to return their books actually did, so now we have to call their collective ass again.

    We the "liberry" underlings HATE to call overdues. We don't mind sending them notes, but when it comes to being confrontational about long lost books and having to hear all the lame excuses people try to lay on you, we just have no patience for it. I sometimes want to scream: "I don't care that you've been in the hospital with a pulled head for six months and couldn't make it in. You can make it in now, so just return the book! We're not even charging fines! You have NO excuse!"

    With such hatred for the task, this stack of overdues-to-be-called has been sitting around for several weeks now and almost only get called when there's NO other project available for us to do. And believe me, we can find other projects. I'd rather clean up after the serial shitter, three times a day than call overdues.

    Not yesterday, though. Yesterday I was pissed and I wasn't in the mood to take any shit from deadbeat patrons who've had a book out for two years. I grabbed the list and started calling. Mostly, the patrons in the stack have since moved or had their phones shut off, so I wound up putting most of these in the SEND NOTE pile. (I love these. I even got to pen the thinly veiled threatening note we include with them, explaining that patrons who don't return or otherwise pay for these books will be banned from checking out books at all libraries in the new library multi-county network until the end of time itself.) Occasionally I would get an answering machine on which I left a very polite message explaining the situation with the computers and how we'd like our books back ASAP and wouldn't even charge a fine if they'd just, for the love of God, return them. Only a couple of times did I actually get to speak to a human being.

    After hearing one such call, Mrs. C exclaimed: "Wait, she's still got a book out? You should call her back and tell her I'm not ordering the interlibrary loan she requested yesterday until she brings us OUR book first."

    I also found it terribly difficult not to make ironic comments on the answering machine of another patron who had a two-year overdue copy of a book called Procrastination.

    By the end of the evening, ALL the overdues had been called or threatening notes otherwise sent to them.

    I rule.

    Thursday, May 13, 2004

    Petty Theft

    Thursdays are a busy day for us and most of the "liberry" staff is present at one time or another during the day. This is partially due to Thursday being Story Hour day, with a high kid population, but Thursdays tend to be pretty busy all around.

    Today we had Mrs's. A, B, C, Mrs. H and me in house all at the same time. This only leaves out Mrs. J, who's out for a few days with a bum shoulder, and Miss E, who only works weekends. Mrs. H took off shortly after I arrived, leaving the rest of us standing around the circulation desk to shoot the breeze until such a time as it struck us as necessary to find something productive to do.

    "Hey, you wanna take this to the post office?" Mrs. A asked Mrs. B, handing her a letter. Mrs. B said sure, as we also had several interlibrary loan packages to go out too. Mrs. A decided it would be good to see if we actually had any money in petty cash to pay for such a venture. She took out our petty cash envelope from its place by the cashbox and began counting through it, tallying up the receipts with what was supposed to be in there. The rest of us continued to converse until Mrs. A announced that the bag had come up short. Real short. Real short to the tune of $80 short.

    Now, we've been very careful about keeping track of money since our laptop theft incident with The Amazing Bladder Boy and Jimmy the "Anonymous" Snitch. The petty cash had come up short around then too and we wondered if they, or another unscrupulous patron (take your pick, really) might have had something to do with it. We'd even toyed with the notion that The Untalented Mr. Ripley might have returned to rob us again or that at some point in the past he might have managed to sneak himself a door key and was now using it. No one's seen him around, though.

    Since we've been doing a daily drawer count and have been far more careful about our receipts, we've not had much problem with money turning up missing. Sure, we might come up a dollar or so behind some days, but other days we come out a dollar ahead and such occurrences are usually due to someone not writing down copier or printing charges. (Mrs. A admits she is the worst at remembering to do this.)

    One of the ways we've been more careful with money that I wasn't even aware of until today has been to hide the petty cash bag in a safe place elsewhere in the library. However, for the past week it has been tucked away in its former home down by the cash box. Why was it there? Cause when I returned from a trip to the post office last Friday, that's where I put it as no one thought to tell me it didn't live there anymore.

    "Someone just unzipped the bag and took the twenties," Mrs. A said. "There were five or six twenties in there and now there's only one."

    Something about this didn't gel with my memory, though.

    "Wait a second," I said. "There weren't five or six twenties in there when I went to the post office last week. I can't swear to it but I'm pretty sure there were only three or four." I explained that I rememberd this because I had to use practically all the twenties that were there to pay for shipping the ILLs and buy a roll of stamps. A roll of stamps is $37 and even at library rate the 10 or so packages would have come to... Well, we didn't know off hand, so we decided to consult the receipt...

    ...only the receipt wasn't in the petty cash bag.

    Mrs. A figured that this solved the mystery. She thought I'd just forgotten to put the receipt in the bag at the post office and that accounted for the missing $80. This sort of thing has been known to happen. Trouble with this theory is, I had NOT forgotten to put the receipt in the bag. I'm the guy who had to stand in the post office for ten minutes while the new guy at the desk slowly weighed and put postage on each of the ILL packages then sold me a roll of stamps. I had the petty cash bag with me, had to take money out of it to pay for everything and I put the receipt right in there when it was handed to me. Plus, the total of my post office purchase was not $80 but more like $65, if memory serves. The receipt for the envelopes I had bought at Dollar General immediately after leaving the post office was still in the petty cash bag, but nothing from the post office.

    Even with the missing receipt accounting for $65, there was still around $15 missing and unaccounted for. And I'm not convinced that $15 or $20 or whatever wasn't missing from the bag before last Friday. Like I said, I don't think there were that many $20 bills in the bag when I had it at the post office. However, I may be remembering wrong and I can't prove it either way. This doesn't make a lot of sense to me from any angle, though, because the petty cash bag had been in safe hiding before it was placed in my hands then.

    The whole situation made me very angry. It's not like Mrs. A or Mrs. C suspect me of taking the money, though I couldn't blame them if they did. I am, after all, the poor starving spouse of a med-student who's been known to mention how short money tends to get. (Of course, the reason I mention this is so that I might get a few more hours of work thrown my way.) What made me angry, though was that the thing took place on my watch to some degree and I was the guy who brought the bag back and unknowingly put it by the cash box. It just looks bad to me, even if no one else seems to think so. Whether I'm at fault or not, I always feel like I'm the guy who screwed this up and who has fingers pointing at him.

    Mrs. A's new theory is that whoever took the $15 to $20 that is genuinely missing probably grabbed it quickly and managed to snag the receipt from the post office as well. I don't know if I can go along with this theory. If the one receipt is gone, who's to say there aren't $15 worth of receipts gone also, accouting for the amount that seems to be missing. I know I put that post office receipt in the bag. I just don't know how it could have gone missing unless someone took it out. Then again, why would anyone remove receipts from the bag?

    Only a few months ago we were so loose with the money rules that everyone on staff was able to put IOU's for lunch money in there and pay up a couple days later. Or even wait til payday. I fear such days are behind us.

    Wednesday, May 12, 2004

    Boy, you close for one day's worth of training...

    ...and the world suddenly HAS to get to the library. Our book return box was packed to its epiglotis this morning, and more than one patron grumbled at us about not being open yesterday. It's not like we didn't put up fifty signs two weeks in advance saying we'd be closed, though. Too bad all these loyal book addicts can't frickin' read.

    I feel especially sorry for the internet crowd, who no doubt stood on our steps yesterday pounding on the door for an hour and shaking from the DTs before they finally noticed the sign. They more than made up for it today. We had 34 people pile in to use the internet. That may not seem like much, but we're a small town library with only three internet access computers and we usually do only about two thirds of that traffic on our busiest days.

    Two of our usual internet crowd, who I call the Russians cause they're, well, Russian and all, came in for their usual Wednesday afternoon's surf. They're good guys as far as I can tell, though I still have no idea what brought them to the area. I put one of them on the only available computer and I had to ask the young woman next to him to relinquish hers as her time had run out. She seemed a little distraught at this, as she was typing something. Russian #1 valiantly came to her rescue saying that she didn't have to get off as Russian #2 wouldn't mind waiting. He seemed pretty insistent about this. This was very nice of him and it also saved me having to explain to Russian #2 that we give people working on writing projects extra time so that he couldn't have a computer after all. This would have been a complicated process since the Russians don't speak good English like me.

    Still, for every patron who grumbled, there were two who were genuinely interested in what kind of training we were getting and then were excited about the word of our new system.

    Some of the patrons, however, were concerned that we were going to charge them a fine for their books that were due yesterday. I hesistate to inform them that there's no danger of this happening as we haven't actually charged a late fine on book since September. This is mostly due to the computer issues associated with preparing a multi-county library network to transition to new library software. It's also due to sheer laziness on our part. There IS a way to charge fines, but there's an added hassle about it, in addition to the usual hassle of remembering to turn VTLS's grace flag on Friday morning for Fine Free Friday, and then remember to turn it back off Saturday morning. VTLS, being the library circulation system of Lucifer, goes out of its way to make this the least easy thing to do. You can't just push a little button with a mouse (in fact, I think VTLS only has ONE little computer button in its entire arsenal). Instead, you have to telnet to an address, login, then you get a series of four double-digit menus from which you have to choose the correct seemingly grace-flag unrelated item in order to continue to the next one. Eventually, you get to one that mentions a grace flag at which point you have to answer a trickily worded question, apparently written by Yoda, in order to turn on. ("GRACE FLAG IS OFF, CHANGE ITS STATUS, NO?") Then you have to shut the whole VTLS system down and bring it back up, or all that hassle will be for naught. It's just one example of how un-user friendly VTLS is and how much better we're hoping and praying Millennium will be.

    On the subject of packed book returns, they tend to lead to packed book-shelving carts. Ours certainly was when I came in today. I cannot abide a full shelving cart. Some of my fellow employees have no trouble abiding one, and let it pile up quite a bit before they make a stab at shelving. There are even other libraries in the county that let theirs stay perpetually piled up, not to mention their shelves in a constant state of chaos. I've had to sub there on occasion, and on each occasion I spent my entire day trying to get everything put away and semi-organized, or at the very least put all their books upright on the shelves.

    A full book cart, to me, is a living representation of work to be done and if there's one thing I can't stand it's knowing there's work ahead of me. I don't mind working. I'm all for work. In fact, I spend most of my job time LOOKING for work to do. So I am completely cool with shelving books while I'm in the moment, but I hate having to think about all the books I'm gonna have to shelve later piled up on a cart. The trouble with this is that I can NEVER get all the shelving done at once unless there are other employees to mind the desk and phone so I can just do the job. This is near impossible when I'm the only Joe in the store, as it was this afternoon while Mrs. C was out to lunch. I make attempts to shelve and can usually get most of the fiction done, but as soon as I gather a stack of books on tape to shelve in the computer hall, or a stack of non-fiction to carry upstairs, either the door opens and an especially needy patron walks through or the phone rings with one calling to ask if Mrs. C is in or what time we frickin' close. It never fails to go down like that.

    Today also brought something of a compliment. One of my favorite patrons came in and told me that he really loved Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, which I'd recommended to him a while back. He wanted to know what else I recommended. Naturally, my mind went completely blank and I had no idea what to give him. I finally sent him away with Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, both of whom are authors who I think would really enjoy Life of Pi.

    I do realize that the above logic makes no sense, but I'm stuck with it.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2004

    Training Day

    The "liberry" was closed today so that we its staff could journey to a neighboring county where we sought to be trained to use our rapidly impending brand new computer system.

    There are a lot of things I'm not looking forward to regarding the transfer of power from VTLS (a.k.a: the Devil) to Millennium (a.k.a.: the helpful and blessed savior), but the Millennium system itself is thankfully not one of them. It's certainly more complex than our version of VTLS, but in this case that's a good thing. It will let us do some pretty amazing and useful things that will make our job a lot easier in many respects. Course, most of what I saw today was the shine and glitter of a brand new system with none of the down sides, but so far the upsides are pretty up.

    What's going to suck is the few weeks we're going to have to have both VTLS and Millennium running at the same time as we try to check all our books back in through VTLS, but check them out using only Millennium. We'll also have to issue each and every patron who walks through the door a new library card, which will mean huge lines at the desk while we do this. We'll also have to thoroughly reeducate our patrons that, yes, we really are serious when we say "YOU MUST HAVE YOUR NEW LIBRARY CARD WITH YOU IN ORDER TO CHECK OUT BOOKS. NO, WE WEREN'T KIDDING ABOUT ALL THAT."

    And when are we scheduled to do this?  Oh, only the second week into our Summer Reading program, which is our busiest time of the entire year as far as new patrons and mass circulation goes.
    Nevermind the fact that the New Library Computer System committee has decreed that all patrons must have photo ID and a drivers license number in order to get a library card, which are two things most nine year olds aren't going to have. We've been assured that a solution to this problem is in the works, but there are very few other permanent numbers that we can legally use to help differentiate our patrons.

    In the training session today we set up patron records for fictional people (mine was "Freely, Ichabod Phineas"), checked out books to them, put them on hold for books, pretended to be them putting themselves on hold for books online, put nasty little notes in their patron records ("Pees Freely"), levied fines against them for overdues and bad checks and blocked them from checking anything out just for spite. We also discussed our branch's conspiracy to pre-bury certain problem patrons who have been pissing us off for years before they get the chance to get new library cards and piss us off some more by stealing another load of our books. I've suggested and it has now officially been adopted that we call this little maneuver a "Fagin block", named in dishonor of our least favorite family of patrons ever. The scary thing is that we had 8 different libraries represented in the room and at least 6 of them had personal experience with the Fagin clan and their thieving, deceptive ways. The other two were pretty sure they'd escaped by the simple fact that the Fagins seem to be unaware of their existence.

    After the training was finished, we all sat around and bitched about problem patrons for a good half hour. We decided that what we really need is some more creative fines to levy, such as an Annoying Patron Fine, a Stinky Patron Fine and the ever popular He Who Must Not Be Named Fine. We also probably need a Get the Hell Off the Computer Fine.

    I was amazed at how much trouble some of the other libraries have with patrons refusing to get off the computers when asked. I thought we had it bad with the Dufus and Parka, but there are far worse patrons out there. Surly patrons, who get angry when their half-hour runs out, who then stand around shaking like an addict in withdrawal when they can't get a turn and who irritate and bully other patrons into relinquishing their computers. Frankly, it sounds to me like these people need the soothing medicine that can only be gained by firm and repeated applications of a stout "library stick".

    Sunday, May 09, 2004

    Fate (and the Law) finally catches up to Jimmy the "Anonymous" Snitch

    After darn nigh three months of down-time, there is a bit of movement for the Junior "Liberry" Detectives and the Case of the Illustrious Bladder Thieves.

    It seems that Jimmy the "Anonymous" Snitch, the man whose friend and lover/hater The Amazing (Bashful) Bladderboy, (a.k.a. our prime suspect in the theft of the "liberry's" laptop computer last January), is about to go up the river. Not, as you might expect, for having a role in the theft of the library's laptop, but instead for embezzlement from a local fast-food restaurant at which he had been previously employed.

    Jimmy's had something of a long history with embezzling from various employers. He'd been to trial once before for embezzlement charges, but from a different restaurant. In fact, our very own Mrs. C served on Jimmy's jury and firmly believed that he was guilty but the prosecution's evidence left more room for doubt than the jury was able to handle so Jimmy walked free and went on to be hired by the above mentioned fast food restaurant. They wound up firing him in 2003 on suspicion of embezzling over $1000 and this is the matter that finally came to trial last week. Jimmy now faces 1 to 10 years in the slammer.

    In his trial, Jimmy wound up entering a Kennedy Plea, which means he admits no wrongdoing but is still adjudged guilty by the court and sentenced as such.

    Still no word on what became of our laptop, nor of any further cooperation from Jimmy in the matter. Seeing what he knew he was facing, though, it's no wonder he wanted to come forward and rat out his friend who took it. He didn't need any more heat on him. Unfortunately, he seems to have fizzled out when it came to actually cooperating with the authorities (perhaps because we, in turn, ratted him out to them, and didn't allow him to remain anonymous in the matter, as he so desired) so we'll likely never see the computer again.

    Than again, after his sentencing in July, it'll probably be a while before we see Jimmy again either.

    Friday, May 07, 2004

    I haven't even left the house and someone's already given me the bird!

    Got up today, grabbed some breakfast and coffee and sat down on the couch to see if anything decent was on any of the music channels (there was, but just barely).

    Out of the corner of my eye I see something flit. I turn to look but don't see anything. Then, before I could even look away, there it flitted again. What the? Then my eyes locked onto it and I saw that sitting on the top shelf of our brown book shelves was a little brown bird. Great! Another bird in the house. What is it with Friday mornings and birds in my house? It's my own fault for leaving the back door wide open again, screen and all.

    Rather than leave my cereal and sausage to go in search of a pillowcase with which to capture my new friend, I just looked at it and said, "Hey, bird, get out of the house!"

    The bird tweeted and flew back out the door. Problem solved, no?

    No.

    Less than a minute later, I see more peripheral flitting. The bird is back, only this time he's on the back of the chair. The first time he came in may have been an accident, but he apparently wanted a second look around.

    "Hey, bird!"

    Tweet, fly, fly, fly... out the door again.

    I decided this was not behavior to be encouraged and got up to close the screen. He hadn't flown far, though. He was outside on the deck railing, looking at the door like he was thinkin' about flyin' through it again. One look at me in the doorway, though, and he tweeted and flew away entirely.

    It was another five minutes before I discovered the present he'd left for me on the floor by the back door.

    Thursday, May 06, 2004

    ...another story

    I wound up five minutes late getting in to work today because of an extreme post-office emergency. I had several packages to mail out not to mention a mother's day card to my moms-in-law which I failed to mail yesterday. Why? Cause I somehow don't have her address in my address book and my wife's off at the crazy hospital on a psychiatric rotation with her book. By the time I thought to look for alternate means of digging it up today, everyone I know who would know the address had gone to work so I couldn't call anyone. I searched my computer, went through old e-mails, went through old love letters I'd sent to Ashley, but the address was nowhere to be found. Finally, at 25 minutes til 3 (when I had to be at work) I broke down and called my mother-in-law herself.

    "Hey, Ma. How'd you like to help me avoid a brutal beating in about four days?"

    Ma laughed. "Forgot to mail something yesterday, didn't you?" she said. She's known I'm a goober for a long time now. In fact, she probably could have called me in advance on this one and saved me time. It's okay, though, cause she herself married a goober who never remembers to send a mother's day card until the last minute or later. Ma gave me her address, I grabbed up all my packages and bills and dashed for the car.

    At the post office, there were three people in line ahead of me. The first of them was a lady who was sending at least one package of her own with an unnecessary amount of hassle to go along with it. A.) It was almost completely unwrapped, so she had to get the postal employee to help her with that; B) she had to get every form of "extra" the post office offers, from delivery confirmation to insurance to a troop of frickin dancing midgets to deliver it, and had to fill out ninety-seven separate forms to do it. And there I stood, without a stamp to my name and no cash to buy one from the machine. I could have bailed on my eBay packages, but if I was gonna mail Ma's card I was going to have to stand there and wait and mail EVERYTHING just so I could pay with my debit card and get a stamp too. It was already 10 minutes til 3 and I'd been in the post office for at least four minutes already. At 6 minutes til 3, the lady in front finally got all her shit together and sent off. At four minutes til 3, I did too.

    So I was late, which made me pissy. I parked my car in the lowest parking spot on the hill, which was pretty much the only available one, what with all the junior college kids stealing our spaces every Thursday.

    From then on I tried to get into a better mood but it wasn't easy with the truckload of needy patrons dumped on us. Okay, so there were only two needy patrons, but I couldn't help either of them with their Herculean concerns.
    Fortunately, our librarians had thrown a mother's day brunch for the moms in their Thursday Story Hour time and had plenty of leftovers. These kids are little mutie freaks, or something, though. They eat weird stuff like broccoli and cauliflower and fruit. And LIKE it. They also eat cheese, which along with the b&c made for a great mid-afternoon, low-carb friendly snack for me. I was just polishing off my last bite of cauliflower with ranch dippy sauce when Magenta, one of the home-school kids who hangs out in the library came inside and told me she thought my car had been hit.

    MOTHER PUSSBUCKET!!!!

    I dashed outside and sure enough that's what it looked like. A behemoth of a Dodge Ram truck had somehow wedged itself into the space in front of my car, seemingly backing over my hood in the process. At first I thought maybe its brakes had just gone out and my car was the only thing that had prevented it from rolling back down the hill and killing lots of people. This was a slight comfort. A much greater comfort was the fact that the truck hadn't actually touched my car at all. When viewed from the proper angle, the back trailer hitch of truck was a mere 3 inches away from denting my hood.

    After that, my mood was much lighter.

    Oh Won't You Come Home, Clive Cussler, Won't You Come Home?

    Beyond our Mr. B-Natural spill incident, yesterday I was in an amazingly good mood and was feeling very helpful and service-oriented. I was even helpful to Mr. Thrill, who complained bitterly that all 23 of our Clive Cussler novels are STILL checked out. I hadn't realized this was the case, but damn if there wasn't a single Dirk Pitt thriller to be found on the shelf. Very odd. It smacked, to me, of the work of an individual rather than a sudden collective urge on the part of multiple patrons to devour all our available Cussler material. Sure enough, I checked a Cussler title's computer record at random and it showed that the patron who'd checked it out had checked six others out as well. Furthermore, her mom's card was completely full with 10 Cussler titles. Knowing the sort of patron Mom is, and we do know her, she'd had a hankering for a Cussl-athon and filled up both her own card and her daughter's just to get around that pesky little 10 books per patron rule. I was feeling so service oriented that I called the woman up (well within earshot of Mr. Thrill so he would see that I bear no real grudge against him for being the bitter pill that he is) and asked her to bring them all back. They've been overdue since March anyway. (Makes me long for the new computer system, where such cheating is rumored to be an impossibility.)

    I was feeling so good yesterday that I even let Parka stay on the computer all the way til closing time instead of booting his ass off at 10 til. Fortunately for him, he did not abuse my good will gesture and relinquished his computer at 6:59 without having to be told to do so. Good Parka. Extra porn and chatroom skanks for you.

    Today, however, was another story.

    Wednesday, May 05, 2004

    Mr. B-Natural's Coffee "Brakes"

    As I've mentioned before, our patron Mr. B-Natural, the grumpiest old man in all the world, has actually been considerably less grumpy lately. He's damn near close to losing his title to Mr. Smiley, or maybe even a dark horse candidate as yet to be determined. He's barely tried to irritate the hell out of anyone in months, and for a guy whose whole reason for living has been to irritate the hell out of people that's saying something. Sure, he still comes in and signs his name upside down on the computer sign-in sheet in the mistaken belief that this irritates us, but these days it's mostly out of habit than actual malice. Since he acquired his dog, Bubba--a fantastically well-behaved and sweet animal who we genuinely love getting visits from--Mr. B-Natural has mellowed out quite a bit.

    Well.... mostly. Today, one of his remaining genuinely irritating habits came back to bite him in the ass.

    Mr. B-Natural is fond of crossword puzzles. Mr. B-Natural is also fond of coffee. Mr. B-Natural is fond of doing his crossword puzzles while drinking his coffee. Trouble is, he does his crossword puzzles on our internet access computers and we don't allow coffee, or any beverage for that matter, in proximity to the computers, nor even beyond the front room of the library. At all. This matters not to Mr. B-Natural. In fact, he likes it that way, cause if he can sneak his coffee in and actually manage to get it back to the computers without being caught, he's pulled one over on us and has thus, in his mind, won the day. If we catch him with it, though, we're naturally irritated that he has tried to sneak coffee past us despite the hundreds of times we've told him not to. His seed of irritation thusly sewn, he has again won the day. It's been a while, though, since any of us have caught him trying it.

    Today Mr. B-Natural came in with Bubba and went up to the desk to sign in upside down. I didn't notice any real sneaky behavior out of him until I came around the desk to go log on a computer for him, at which point Mr. B leaned over and picked something up from the step stool by the desk, then quickly tried to turn his back to me with the mystery object in front of him. (I was too obtuse to even notice this either, but received the full report later from Mrs. J who had a better view from her position in front of the desk.) When Mr. B-Natural turned, though, he got tangled in Bubba's leash, started to lose his balance, and in order to remain upright he had to jettison the mystery object... *GASP* a brimming full travel mug of coffee!!

    There are a lot of truly shitty travel mugs on the market these days. I know `cause I own quite a few. So did Mr. B-Natural. His shitty, ostensibly spill-proof mug hit ground, burst open with no argument and sprayed its contents over a wide section of our floor.

    "Oopsie," I said, coming up behind him, grinning like a madman at his failed treachery.

    On my way to get the mop bucket Mrs. A came downstairs and saw me snickering.

    "What is it?" she asked.

    "Just go up front and see."

    Mrs. A dashed up front where she got to see Mr. B-Natural in his sheepish, weakened and most definitely guilty condition. There was no hiding this. Now not only was he caught, he didn't even have any coffee to drink later.

    We then had to comfort and pet poor Bubba, who somehow thought he was at fault for the spill and had sat down to sulk.

    So let's tally this up: No smuggled coffee for Mr. B-Natural and he was certainly far more irritated about the whole matter than we were. Yeah, I'd say the day's win was ours.

    Sunday, May 02, 2004

    Of Mice and Mentality

    One of our unchronicled library regulars is a guy I'm going to call Lennie. I've not written about Lennie before because there hasn't been much to write about on the subject since this blog started last November. But he is a topic that should be addressed as he's something of an honorary "liberry" staff member.

    Lennie's a mentally-challenged fellow in his mid-30s, who's tall, well-built and pretty much a perfect match for his literary namesake. To look at him, you might not even know there was anything amiss. He also reminds me a lot of Forest Gump--not the Tom Hanks Forest Gump, but rather the Gump of the original Winston Groom book who was supposed to be a really big guy whose brain just ran on a different track than most folks. That's pretty much Lennie for you. However, an even better way to describe him is how the mentally unbalanced character of Arnold Wiggins is described by his social worker Jack in the play The Boys Next Door. To paraphrase: Lennie can fool you sometimes, but his deck has no face cards.

    Lennie's been a weekly fixture at the "liberry" for a number of years. He's old friends with Mrs. C, from back in their highschool days and he enjoys coming by and hanging out. In fact, he would be willing to come by and hang out every day for several hours at a stretch if we'd let him get away with it.

    As far as I can tell, Lennie's ability to create and convey thoughts of his own is pretty limited. He tends to function better as a parrot of what he hears other people say. This isn't to suggest you can't carry on a conversation with him, which you can, but in conversational lulls he tends to return to whatever his theme for the day is, usually some bit of news he's picked up at one of the other businesses he hangs out in or at his grandmother's house, where he lives. If left to replay this theme, he'll play it all day and talk your ear off. We've learned that Lennie must therefore be kept busy when he's in house and must not be allowed to remain in house past his expiration point, (which is the point at which we want to say, "Take off your hat, Lennie. The air feels fine.... Now, just think of the rabbits and don't turn around...").

    Before I began working at the "liberry," the staff used to have a regular problem with Lennie overstaying his welcome. After he'd been in for several hours with no sign of leaving, the staff would tell him it was time to go home and he would steadfastly ignore them. Mrs. C is just about the only person he'll pay any attention to in such circumstances, but if she wasn't on hand all bets were off as to when Lennie would leave.

    Around this time, word filtered up to the library that Lennie had finally worn out his welcome at one of the barbershops downtown for refusing to leave. The barber had even gone so far as to call the police on Lennie--not that Lennie was doing anything that required police intervention, but the barber just wanted them to scare him a bit. Well, scare him they did. Badly. I'm sure they didn't mean to traumatize him, but for a guy of Lennie's mentality being put in the back of a squad car and then told it was because he stayed at the barbershop all day is very traumatic. Lennie cried and cried and avoided the barbershop for months for fear of being hauled off to jail. Instead, he began spending twice as much time at the library, which was not great either. Something needed to be done, so Mrs. C developed a plan...
    Mrs. C's solution to our Lennie-Never-Leaves problem was to hire Lennie as a volunteer worker and make up a schedule for him where he could come in twice a week to help out for an hour or two at a time. And when Lennie's scheduled time was up, he had to leave with no argument. This was a stroke of creativity that continues to serve us well today. Mrs. C even negotiated a deal with the barber-shop in which they would be added to Lennie's schedule, permitting him to go back and regularly visit once again. (Although, we've noticed that Lennie has kept his hair military short since then, so we think perhaps he parleys his role as a customer into extra visits with them.) Several other area businesses have been added to Lennie's schedule and now every month Mrs. C prints him several new copies to take around to his hangouts. She even lightly chastises Lennie on the days when he fails to show up for his scheduled volunteer time at the library, just to keep him in good practice.

    During his "work" days, Lennie helps out by shelving books in the children's room. These mostly go in the Easy Reader section, where it isn't important where in each letter section a book goes provided it goes in the right section for the first letter of the author's name. However, I've learned not to underestimate his ability in this department. I discovered one day that he is quite capable of shelving books in the Juvenile and Adult sections where a more precise alphabetizing system is used. Sure, he doesn't get them all absolutely correct and you do kind of have to go behind him and make sure they're placed properly, but his ratio of correct to incorrect shelvings is definitely skewed toward correct.

    Lennie's also in charge of hauling non-fiction books upstairs on his workdays. Sometimes, if we don't pay close attention, he stays upstairs and attempts to help patrons find books. Often, the patrons are completely unaware of Lennie's limited capabilities ("he can fool you sometimes") and gladly accept his help. He then leads them on a merry romp around the library, going from shelf to shelf, stopping at each and peering thoughtfully at the spine-labels before moving on to another across the room. After a while, the "helped" patrons usually filter down to the circulation desk to say, "That guy you have working up there doesn't have any idea where anything is."

    Lennie has also caused occasional trouble for us when he's not even in the library.

    One day I got a call from a patron who explained that she doesn't see very well and that she wanted us to print out a list of all of our books on tape for her so she could go over it with a magnifying glass and pick out books she'd like to hear. I would have loved to print such a list for her, but our current computer cataloging system, VTLS, is royally incapable of such a feat. I explained this to the lady on the phone. She got mad at me and claimed she'd spoken with someone who worked at the library who assured her we could print her out a book on tape list. I told her that I'd never heard of such a thing being possible for us, but invited her to call back when a librarian was on hand to find out for sure.

    "Well, I suppose I'm just going to have to come down there and make your computer print one out myself!" she said.

    "You're welcome to try that too, ma'am," I told her.

    Then she got another idea. "I think I'll just send Lennie down there. He said he can make it print."

    "Excuse me, but who did you say you'd send?" I asked. I'd heard what she said, but I just couldn't believe it.

    "Lennie," she said.

    "Lennie?"

    "Yes, Lennie. He works there! He's my neighbor."

    "Yes, ma'am, I know who he is, but I assure you that if anyone DOES know how to print out such a list, it's NOT Lennie."

    Evidently, Lennie's face-card lacking deck was able to fool her just fine.

    Occasionally, we do still have trouble getting Lennie to leave, particularly when Mrs. C isn't around. However, we have since developed a solution to this problem that doesn't involve calling the police on him...
    Sometime in the past few years, it was discovered that Lennie has an intense aversion to the song "YMCA" by the Village People. Our theory is that he was once forced to dance to it at a wedding reception. (How exactly we know it was at a wedding reception and not, say, a high school dance, is apocryphal knowledge at this point. It may have once been known for certain, but memories are becoming more and more like Lennie's as the liberry staff ages.) The upshot of this is, when Lennie doesn't want to leave, all we have to do is start singing "Young man, there's no need to feel down... I said, YOUNG man..." or even just raise our hands to form the Y and suddenly Lennie can't gather up his stuff to leave fast enough. It's amazing to watch. You've never seen books get checked out with such speed.

    However, such a degree of magic button control over another human being is kind of scary, really. And with the whole "With great power coming great responsibility" thing, and all, we realize this is not the sort of power to be abused. We only use it when all other avenues have been exhausted. But on the rare occasions when we do, it's pretty damn funny.

    Mostly, we really do like having Lennie around, but usually in regulated doses. We have been known, though, to make exceptions.

    Last year Lennie's father died of a heart attack. While Lennie didn't live with his dad, they were pretty close and Lennie admired his father more than anyone. He was understandably shaken by his father's death. We wanted him to feel like he had people to turn to if he needed to talk so we decided that Lennie could stay at the library as long as he wanted to. It took a while before Lennie was back to his old self. His daily theme-topic stayed on the loss of his father for weeks. He was apt to go up to perfect strangers in the library and blurt out, "My daddy died. I'm sad." Or, he would repeat much of the warm words of comfort other people had told him about his father. "It's gonna be a rough time for a while," he would say. "Gonna be a rough time." He would bring in pictures of his dad and would wear his dad's old hat habitually. It was heartbreaking.

    Lennie seemed to fall off the radar for a while around then. I didn't even notice he wasn't coming in at first, but eventually I realized that I hadn't seen him in a month or two. And when I did finally see him again, I realized I'd missed having him around. For the trouble and occasional grief he'd caused, it was nice to have him back. I've since made it a point to pay more attention to him when he's around. I think we often tend to file him away as background noise rather than treating him as the honorary co-worker that he is.

    Though he doesn't read much, Lennie does check out books. When it's near time for him to go, Mrs. C asks him if he's picked out any books and he goes around the library and selects around 8 books. Some are easy-reader books, some juvenile, some adult, some non-fiction. He almost always takes some from the non-fiction new book section. These he proudly brings up to the desk to check out. And when he returns a week later, he makes sure to proclaim to any patrons nearby how much he enjoyed them, usually recommending certain books from his pile to them. And I'd say about half the time, the patrons take his recommendation and check the books out for themselves. Lennie's good for circulation.

    It's pretty apparent that Lennie has a deep crush on Mrs. C. He's known her for a long time and she is his age, after all. To us it not only helps explain why a guy who doesn't read spends so much time in a library, but also why he almost always obeys her without question. I had suspected he had feelings for her for a while just based on how he acted when Mrs. C was around. However, it wasn't until Mrs. C's wedding last summer that Lennie's crush on her was pretty much confirmed for everyone, including Mrs. C.

    The future Mr. C, you see, occasionally worked with Lennie's father and he and Lennie had been friends from probably before Mr. C met Miss C. Lennie seemed okay with the two of them dating, but when it was explained that Mr. C would be marrying Miss C, Lennie didn't much care to hear about it. In the months leading up to the wedding, Lennie would ask Mrs. C if she was still planning to get married.

    "Yes," she would say.

    "Darn it," Lennie would say.

    Everyone was a bit apprehensive at the prospect of Lennie coming to the wedding itself. We weren't so much worried that he would say something at the "Speak now or forever hold your peace" bit, as we were pretty sure he wouldn't understand what that meant. Mostly, we were worried he would get up and walk down the aisle with the happy couple, as we had been warned Lennie had done at previous weddings he's attended. Lennie's a big guy and it might take a couple of people to hold him back, depending on how determined he was. However, it also seemed wrong not to invite him.

    I don't know whether it was fortunate or not that Lennie didn't attend the wedding after all. I offered to sit with him and try to run interference, should it come to that, but he didn't come at all. Maybe he was afraid we'd make him dance to YMCA.

    Weeks later, he asked Mrs. C how she was enjoying married life.

    "It's very good," Mrs. C said.

    "Darn it," Lennie said.