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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The (Potential) Final Conflict

And So It Begins... Summer Reading.

Day One has now passed and I feel like I've been run over by a truck. Oddly, I don't care.

Normally, I don't have much to do with our library's Summer Reading program itself. However, I've often been recruited to man the desk during Summer Reading while the rest of our staff—Mrs.'s C, B, J, occasionally A and Miss E—ride herd over the 100 plus kids who turn up. As busy as they are outside, working the circ-desk is no picnic either, as Summer Reading takes place on a Monday and Mondays at our library are already horrible to begin with. So I get the usual horrific Monday Madness as well as line after line of Summer Reading kids marching through to check out books as well. This year, however, I got not only the usual Monday Madness AND Summer Reading kids, but these were both compounded by the fact that we've got the new circulation computer system to deal with at the same time.

We tried to head off problems by making all the Summer Readers' library cards in advance. This was very helpful. It was also very helpful that the computer finally regurgitated the new patron records it ate last Friday and seems to have cut back on its cravings for patron record flesh. What completely didn't help was our usual Monday crowd, though. None of these people had new cards and most of them were in a fussy huge hurry to check out and didn't want to wait around for us to make them one. This would have been fine with us, but they decided to wait anyway just so they could grumble about it.

Fortunately, I wasn't there solo. Mrs. A was also on the desk and Mrs. J was our runner, responsible for shelving the billion books that were either checked in or merely knocked off the shelves by yungguns. This way, one of us could always stay on the circ-computer leaving the others free to help patrons, answer the constantly ringing phone, make more cards on a different computer, keep up with the internet crowd, tell the kiddies where the potty was or just answer dumb questions in general.

"Do you know why it's so busy in here today?" a patron asked, staring in bewilderment at the sea of reasonably well-behaved kids around him.

"Yes, I do," I told him.

"Well... Why?" he asked, seconds later after it became apparent that I wasn't going to answer the question he SHOULD have asked.

"It's day one of Summer Reading," I told him. Duh!

Between 1:30 and 3:30, both the interior and exterior of the library were eat up with kids and parents and regular patrons and madness in many forms. At no point during that time were either Mrs. A or myself able to utter the phrase, "Whew, finally a chance to catch my breath without eight pressing responsibilities requiring my immediate attention!" (And I know that Mrs. C, Mrs. B and Miss E outside were run just as ragged by the actual Summer Reading program itself.)

Then there was the phone... THE $#%*ING PHONE! Oh, how it rang!!!

The following exchange happened no less than FOUR TIMES during my shift:

*RING*

ME: Tri-Metro County Library?

CALLER: Is Mrs. A there?

ME: Yes she is, but I'm afraid we're incredibly busy at the moment. Can I take a message and have her call you back?

CALLER: Um, er, sure.

Then there was the call that went...

CALLER: Yes, I have a child at Summer Reading today and my mother is there with her. I'm having an emergency here, can I please speak to her?

So I break my ass running outside to find Grandma only to learn that she stepped away to run errands. Then I learn from our caller that there wasn't actually an "emergency" as per the definition of the word, but more of an "inconvenient situation" which should not have required the breaking of any ass, especially mine.

Around 2:30, at the height of the tumult, Mrs. A suddenly vanished.

There I was, swamped at the desk with a line of kids waiting to check books out and adults waiting to be told they have to leave the desk again and go fill out an application for a new card before they can check books out. Mrs. C came inside, walked around the desk and whispered to me that Mrs. A was currently indisposed as she was busy following the Patron Who Must Not Be Named, a.k.a. Chester the (Potential) Molester.


Chester! Dammit to hell, the absolute last person we needed coming in when we had a house full of preteen, elementary-aged girls was Chester the (Potential) Molester—a.k.a. public enemy #1 of the Liberry Rogues Gallery. When he comes in, we usually spread out the whole library staff in a Chester-watching dragnet, but today of all days we didn't have a soul to spare.

Chester's been conspicuously scarce over the past two months. In fact, seemingly since the day we learned of his recent arrest he's been cutting back on his visits. Oh, he's come in on occasion, but we've had no real problems out of him. Evidently he was just picking his moment.

Well, at least Mrs. A had spied him and was shadowing him. The trouble was, we had barely been holding back the tide of "liberry" chaos when both of us were manning the desk. Now I was left to face it alone, with a huge line stretching into the next room. Could it get any worse?

*RING*

Dammit!

ME: TRI-METRO County Public Library?

CALLER: Yes, is Mrs. A there?

ME: Yes she is, but I'm afraid we're incredibly busy at the moment. Can I take a message and have her call you back?

The caller identified herself as a librarian from a neighboring county. She said she was in the midst of a circulation software emergency and needed Mrs. A's guidance, stat.

ME: Um. She's in a bit of a... Well, she's... Er...

What could I say? Announce to the caller and the rest of the room, "I'm sorry, Mrs. A can't come to the phone right now, she's busy chasing down our resident pedophile"?

ME: Hang on a second and I'll see if she can come to the phone.

I put the librarian on hold, told the kid at the front of the desk to hang on a second and someone would be with him soon, then I marched through the front room, up the stairs and into the non-fiction room where I found Mrs. A and Chester.

Mrs. A was trying to look busy with some shelving while keeping an eye on Chester, who was seated at the nearest table. He was facing toward our shelves where a teenage girl in a short skirt was browsing with some friends. Mrs. A needn't have pretended to be doing anything official, because Chester was oblivious to her presence. His eyes were bulging, his mouth was grinning insanely and his entire head seemed to move in time with the girl's every motion. He was completely transfixed.

Mrs. A's eyes were wide too, though hers from shock. I don't think any of us had ever seen Chester this happy before. He was literally shaking, I presume with lustful glee, and looked to be in danger of falling out of his chair.

"This is a full time job, up here," Mrs. A whispered.

"You've got an emergency call," I said.

"What about..." she said, nodding toward Chester. He failed to notice.

I sighed. "You want to trade?"

"Okay."

Mrs. A left to take her emergency call and I was left to stand and watch this sicko ogling one of our young patrons. It was so odd too. He was staring directly at the girl and I was staring directly at him. Usually when he catches you staring at him staring at a kid he breaks off and pretends he was doing something else, but this time he didn't even register that I was there at all. This made me angry. I was also pissed because he was aiding the chaos downstairs by just being here. After all, I couldn't just leave him there while I returned to work, but I also couldn't afford to stay there and babysit Chester's pervert ass all day—and believe me, as overjoyed as he was to finally have girls to stare at in the library, there was no way in hell he was ever going to leave on his own unless all the kids left first. It was infuriating!

There's a speech I've wanted to give Chester for two years now. It's a speech in which all cards are laid on the table and where I tell him that we know what he's up to and that such behavior is not welcome nor tolerated in our library, nor for that matter is he. Even before Mr. X gave Chester a similar speech a few months ago, I had wanted to do it first. However, I have to admit that I've been too big a coward to actually confront him and give him that speech. I know I would be well within my rights to give it. I know I even have Mrs. A's blessing to give it. But I kept telling myself that giving him the speech would tip my hand too soon. I told myself that what I really wanted was to catch Chester actually doing something wrong, so we would have something to pin on him and the police could finally prosecute him. Trouble is, he's already been arrested in his home town for exposing himself to a girl in a park and somehow the charge was dropped.

I also remembered the advice of my friend Joe, a former teacher, who upon hearing my desire to give Chester that speech, recommended I go ahead and do so. I told him my logic in wanting to catch Chester at something, but Joe said, "No. You don't want that kind of thing happening on your watch."

No. I don't. And still I had not given the speech. So I'm back to a question of cowardice.

As I stood there, a mere seven feet from Chester, watching him grinning in apparent lust as he in turn watched one of my young patrons, I realized that if any moment was perfectly tailored to the application of the speech it was this one.

I walked over to Chester's table, leaned over it toward him and said, "I need to talk to you outside, right now."


I didn't wait for Chester to respond to my summons. I just turned around and started for the stairwell. Behind me, I heard Chester's chair slide on the floor as he stood to follow. He kept several paces behind me as I walked down the stairs, through the computer hall and out the back door into the sunlight.

The Summer Reading program itself was being held further out in the park area of the library's yard. I didn't want to get near it, so I stopped just outside the back door. I didn't want to cause a big scene in front of parents. In fact, the fewer parents to hear what I was about to tell Chester, the better off we all were.

I held the door open for Chester as he came out. His wide perverse grin had been replaced by a nervous frown. Frankly, my nerves were doing none too good themselves.

"I was... I was just..." he started.

"We don't have time for you today," I told Chester. "We do not have time to deal with you."

"I... I was..."

"We know what you're doing here. We know what your deal is. We know that you like coming in here to look at little girls and we don't like it."

Chester wrung his hands nervously in front of him. "But I was just waiting to use a computer... They were all full."

Through the glass of the back door I could clearly see two empty computer terminals.

"No, they weren't," I said, pointing at them. "There are two of them right there. You were upstairs to watch that girl."

"I was just..."

"Look..." I said, holding up a finger to get him to shut up. I could feel the momentum of my speech slipping away. "Look, you've been coming in here for two years now, staring at girls. We know it. We've watched you do it. And we also know about your little visit to the police department back home... from another library." Great, now my sentence structure was losing it. My hands were shaking from adrenaline and my thoughts weren't forming as logically as I wanted. I had to get through this speech before it completely fizzled. At least Chester had the decency to look scared now.

"I was just... I was just waiting..." he stammered.

"No. We know why you come in here. We know what you've been doing and we don't like it. It makes our patrons nervous. It makes us nervous. And we don't appreciate it. We're tired of it. And today, we don't have time to deal with you."

"I..."

"I think right now it would be best if you left and came back some other time."

Even as I said it, I knew how lame a closing line that was. Come back some other time? What happened to Get the Hell out and don't let us catch you here ever again? Fuck!

Still, it did get the job done. Chester didn't offer any more argument. Instead, he made a break for his car--which was parked half-way in the middle of the street, in a handicapped spot no less--and sped off.

I didn't even watch him go, though. My arms were shaking and I felt deflated. I headed back through the front door of the library, surprising Mrs. A who thought I was still upstairs. Mrs. C, who had watched my confrontation with Chester from afar, followed in behind me.

"Well," Mrs. C said. "I was going to come tell him he had to move his car out of the handicapped spot, but it looks like you took care of it."

"Yeah. We had a little chat," I said, trying to sound cool but still feeling mostly blistered. I picked up the date-due stamp and began stamping the books Mrs. A was scanning, but my hands were shaking so much that I kept getting it crooked. Dammit!  This was supposed to be my greatest triumph over a rogue ever and here I was all jittery from it. I didn't even feel good about having done it. Sure, I got the message across just fine, which was the important part, but my execution had been a little off. Granted, I doubt Chester raced home to write up a scathing critique of my speech, but I still felt like it could have gone better. It bore little resemblance to the wonderful speech I'd planned out in my head. For one thing, I forgot to accuse Chester of stealing our Teen People's while I was at it.

I didn't have too much time to dwell on my flawed delivery, though, cause we were indeed still very busy at the desk and soon I was back in the thick of it. It wasn't until the last of the kids left at 3:30 that our library began to calm down once again. The staff then began to assemble at the circulation desk, looking at me expectantly.

"I think someone has a story to tell all of us," Mrs. C said.

"Lord," I said.

So I told them. Every lame ass detail of it. They didn't seem to think it was all that bad, though.

"All I could see was your mouth moving and his head nodding," Mrs. B offered.

"Yeah," Miss E said. "We were going to sneak around the building to see if we could hear what you were saying."

Turns out just about all the staff knew something was about to come to a head from the moment Chester pulled up.

"He couldn't even get his car parked right in the handicapped space before he was out the door of it and grinning at all the girls," Mrs. B said. "He just about stepped on one trying to get in the library."

"He looked SO happy," Miss E said.

"You should have seen him when that girl bent over to get a book in that short skirt," Mrs. A said. "He didn't know where to look first."

We all had a good laugh about it, for as horrible as Chester is there are comedic moments, particularly in how inept he is at his job of being a pervert. I still felt like I'd been run over, though. I wasn't shaky any more--just tired.

Before I left, Mrs. A said she wished she'd been there to hear the speech in person and that she was sure we'd seen the last of Chester. I don't know. I hope so. I really do.

I went home, did some housework and made supper, dwelling on my day the whole while. The wife came home around 7 and asked how my day went.

"It was very odd, but I think it turned out okay."

I told her what had happened. She laughed at all the funny parts and got sympathetically angry at all the infuriating parts. In the end, she congratulated me on doing what had to be done--what should have been done a long time ago.

"But I just don't feel very good about it," I said. "I don't feel triumphant, like I always thought I would."

"You don't need to feel good about it and you don't need to feel triumphant. But don't you feel bad about it either. Just know that you did what needed doing and got him out of there."

And that, I decided, was true. In my flawed, semi-lame way, I'd finally gotten the job done, laid the cards on the table and told Chester how things stood. And in the end, it shouldn't be about whether or not I feel good about having done it, but that I finally did it.

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