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.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Here's your handbasket, now get in line.

Well it was plenty peaceful at the "liberry" Thursday. The computer traffic had calmed down and the final day of Summer Reading went splendidly. Unfortunately several other things went to hell at work.


It appears Miss E may no longer be with us as an employee. It's not that anyone wants her gone or even wants to fire her, but she's not leaving anyone a lot of choice at this point.

Last Thursday, her mom called in to say she'd be out for all of her weekend shifts due to being sick. No prob. We covered just fine. However, an anonymous male also called shortly after her mother's call and told us the same thing. We assume this is her boyfriend, but we don't know for sure. And neither call mentioned anything about her missing the rest of her shifts for the remainder of this week. It's now been a solid week since she's been in and she's not phoned or returned any calls or messages.

We've checked into it enough to determine that she is still alive, but her refusal to call Mrs. A is more than a bit odd. There are other circumstances that may shed light on this, but I'm not going to go into them now, if ever. Most of what we think we know about the situation is gossipy speculation at best, which Miss E would not wish to be repeated. Rest assured, there's Drama O' Plenty at every turn.

Meanwhile, I'll be picking up some extra hours as I fill in for Miss E's Sunday shifts.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"Lemme in! I gotta use the innanet!"

Wow. Today was craptastic, bordering on shitacular!

Lots of irritating and bad things happened to me today and most of the worst of it centered around computers. Sometimes it was our new circulation software, which crashed our circ computer twice for no reason then abandoned all its saved settings in the interim. Mostly, though, it was the patron computers--specifically the patrons using them--that gave me the most headaches.

We were lousy with computer patrons--a full 42 of them by the end of the day, which I think may be a new internet crowd record. At no time between the hours of 1 and 4 were there fewer than three computers in full use with at least one person, usually two, waiting to take a turn. It was amazing and incredibly frustrating.

And yet people kept coming in--often in groups. Yes, sir, they'd arrive, three deep already, with hopeful happy "I'm going to use the internet" expressions on their innocent little faces only to have their expectations crushed by the grumpy "liberry" ass. at the desk.

My oft-repeated mantra became: "Sorry, it may be a while. They're all full right now and there are two people waiting ahead of you. The soonest I could put you on will be 29 minutes from now unless one of them dies or gives up."

One of the computer patrons was an utter newbie to the world of the internet. She signed on as instructed and asked, "Could one of you come put me on the internet. It's been a while since I've used it." I think by "a while" she really meant, "I once saw someone else use a computer.  On TV.  From across a very smoky room."

I logged her on and showed her the Internet Explorer icon, which I activated, bringing up the program. I assumed she knew what to do from there and left her for her half hour. She departed a while later, but came back after a couple of hours to sign on again. This time, I just logged the computer on, figuring she'd been taught about how to load IE already. Well, she did load it, but just barely. After she eventually called me back to help her again, I saw that she had made it as far as our home page and had managed to open up some kind of funky Windows program screen that I'd never seen before. I had to close it all out and double click the IE icon for her, a feat which seemed to delight and amaze her.

As she shortly explained, she was trying to apply for a job somewhere but needed an e-mail address. Someone had suggested she come to the library and sign up for a Hotmail address. They'd even written www.hotmail.com on a piece of paper for her, but she had no clue as to where to type in the address. Only then did I finally realize just what an internet neophyte she truly was.  Still, I'm happy to help educate newbies where I can, so I showed her the address field and instructed her on the minor points of typing in hotmail.com there. Once that came up, I showed her where to click for a new account, showed her around the application screen.  I pointed out the important bits, such as the fact that there was no way in hell she could use her own very common name as the username and not have a five digit number affixed to it. I should have known something was amiss, though, when she seemed to have trouble with the whole concept of passwords. She kept asking me if the password was supposed to be the same as her username.

"Well, I guess it could be, but I don't recommend it," I told her. "Hotmail might not even let you do that."

No, Hotmail most certainly DID NOT want her to do that. In fact, this is exactly what Hotmail was telling her to stop doing when I went back to check on her 15 minutes later. It also didn't want her to use spaces or punctuation in her password.

"I don't understand," she kept saying. "I'm not typing in any spaces or punctuation but it says I can't use that password."

"Is your password your name then?"

"Uh, yes," the woman said, looking at me with an expression that suggested she thought I was some sort of psychic to have guessed her impossible password.

"Don't use your name," I said. "Hotmail won't accept it."

"Oh," she said. She immediately typed in variations on her name twice more and twice more Hotmail refused to accept them.

Over the course of the next ten minutes I struggled to persuade her to stop doing this and to choose something different. I also told her she needed to write down whatever she chose. Did she? Oh, no. Instead, she moved on to the next screen where her chosen user ID of her name was rejected on account it didn't have the aforementioned 5 digit number affixed to it. She didn't like that option, though, so she decided to use her dog's name. This also didn't work, cause there are thousands of other Hotmail users who use her dog's name too.

While sorting this out, she wound up having to go back through the password business again as apparently something had gone amiss somewhere in the process, then back through the username section where she finally settled on her dog's name plus 278. I then made her take my pen and write this down.

Eventually, we got into her new Hotmail account. Knowing how confusing the whole process was for her, I wanted to log her out, then hold her hand and lead her through the login process and show here how to use the damned thing. And, of course, when she tried to log in, Hotmail refused to accept her password.

Another ten minutes crawled by as she tried variations on her name, her dog's name and then capitalized versions of the previous. And because she hadn't written the password down at the same time she wrote her username down, both of which I'd told her to do, she now had no idea what password she'd chosen.

Finally, I convinced her to just use the I'm a damned moron and can't remember my password for five whole minutes link, answer her secret question, (answer: her dog's name), and finally get to choose a new password. Naturally, she tried to use her frickin' dog's name again and screwed it all up!

"Ma'am, you CAN. NOT. use your dog's name, nor YOUR name as a password," I said, practically hissing. "Your username is already your dog's name so Hotmail will NOT accept it as a password. You will HAVE to use a completely different and unrelated word."

"Well, I don't know. You pick one for me," she said, when we'd brought up the new password screen again.

I pointed to our new orange internet sign, flipped back over the top of the monitor.

"Orange," I said.

She shrugged and typed it in.

With that Herculean task finally accomplished, I prepared to leave her to her own devices.

"So now I can just go to the job site?" she asked. I looked and saw her pointing to her piece of paper, where the job site's address was written as well.

"Sure thing," I said. "Just type it in the address line there."

I then left the computer hallway, hauled ass for the circ desk, and told Mrs. C I was going on break.

When I returned, half an hour later, the lady was gone. Mrs. C said she'd had to go back and help the woman twice before finally realizing that the woman firmly believed her new Hotmail username and password would serve as her username and password for the job site. They might have, if she'd had an account with the job site to begin with. Both of them quickly realized that this was not something that needed to be tackled today and the woman left.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Mr. B-Sighting

My wife is home this week, studying for the boards next month and readying her resume and personal statement for her upcoming residency interviews.

Yesterday morning, we had to pop by her school to pick up some study-guides and stop in the school library to look up some information. Whose car should we see parked outside but that of Mr. B-Natural.

I've long since known that our library was not the only one Mr. B-Natural frequents, particularly on Monday mornings when my library branch doesn't open until 1. We know he goes to the med-school's library and sometimes the community college's.

When we parked next to his car, I knew exactly who I would find sitting in its passenger seat. Sure enough, Mr. B-Natural's dog Bubba was curled up there, the gnawed remains of a Hardee's biscuit resting on its wax paper wrapper beside him. I had known Bubba would be there because, sweet dog or not, there was no way in hell the school's librarian would have allowed the pooch inside. She has enough problems keeping Mr. B-Natural from smuggling his coffee in, let alone having to watch out for Bubba-droppings on their clean carpet. (In Bubba's defense, we've never known him to actually leave any droppings when visiting us. He's a very good dog.)

"Hey, Bubba! How ya doin'?" I said, cheerfully waving to the dog through the open window. Bubba looked nervous and conflicted. Sure, I was a familiar enough guy to him, but I was completely out of my usual "liberry" context and therefore might be considered a questionable figure to be lurking around his owner's car. So while Bubba didn't bark, he also didn't wag his tail or look at all happy to see me.

The wife thought it was sweet of Mr. B-Natural to give Bubba his own Hardee's biscuit.

Summer Reading Day 9

I woke up Monday thinking, Joy! It's Monday. It's Summer Reading Day. And I get to run the desk all by my lonesome!

That's right, Mrs. A was out of town at a meeting so I had to run the circ-desk by myself while the rest of the staff was outside conducting a water fight with the Summer Readers. So in addition to the usual Monday Madness, my day was punctuated by the occasional soggy dripping child padding through in search of books. I don't know how many friendly fire water casualties we had among our book population, but I'd imagine there were some.

One child even wanted to check out our gigantic Norman Rockwell retrospective, a book I pray was protected in the dry confines of our activities room before the water fight started. In addition to requiring a good sized wheelbarrow to move, this book is so huge that we don't have any plastic jacket cover big enough to fit its dustjacket. So it's one of the only books in the place not protected by plastic. A water fight goes down around it and we're talking serious collateral damage.

As busy as it was--what with fifty librarians and sundry relatives phoning up YET AGAIN to ask if the people they knew good and well were outside involved with Summer Reading could speak to them for a minute--my only real trouble came late in the day, after the Summer Reading crowd had left. A patron had been browsing the shelves for twenty minutes or so before bringing her finds up to the desk and giving me her name to check out.

"Um, do you have your library card, ma'am?" I asked.

"No. It's back home. Why?"

"Well, erm... we kind of need your card to check books out. It's part of the policy for our new system."

"What? You're kidding, right?" she said.

"No, ma'am. I'm afraid not. We really do need the card."

"But my card's at home. It's back in NEIGHBORHING county. You mean I'm going to have to drive all the way back to NEIGHBORING county just to check out a few books?"

"Well, ma'am, I'm not saying you have to do that, but we DO need the card to check books out to you."

Fire flashed through the woman's eyes. She was getting hot about this. She left her books on the desk and started moving toward the door, talking back at me over her shoulder and occasionally stopping to give me fiery glances as she went.

"So even though I could just show you my driver's license and prove that I am who I say I am, I can't check out any books?!"

"Oh, well, ma'am, if you..."

"This is just ridiculous! I already drove over here once today, then saw the sign saying you didn't open until 1 and had to turn around and go back home!" She was really screaming now and was quite angry.

"Ma'am... if you..." I tried to start again.

"Now I have to drive all the way back home and come back for a few books?!"

"Ma'am..." I said, a bit louder than I meant. "Ma'am, you do have your driver's license on you?"

"Yes!"

"Well, I'll take that, then," I said. Sure, it was against the policy by letter, but if I could match her drivers license number to the one in her patron record it was just as good as having her card there. That's part of the whole reason we require driver's license numbers in the first place.

This instantly took the wind out of her sails. Suddenly, she didn't have anything to argue about and was forced to realize just what a big deal she had been making about it all in the first place and became suitably apologetic.

She began fishing out her ID and I asked her name so I could go ahead and bring up her record. Only when I checked, there was no such record for her to be found. It was only then that I realized she didn't even have one of our new cards. I had to direct her to our applications, feeling terribly silly in the process for not having realized my error before. By now the woman was feeling so bad about screaming at me, though, that she completely didn't care that it had been my error and gladly filled out a form.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Weekend Interlude

(We'll return to our regular storyline in just a moment, but first a weekend interlude...)

This Friday was supposed to be my Friday off, but Mrs. A asked me to come in anyway. Miss E, our usual Friday night closer, was sick; Mrs. B had to take her mom to the doctor; Mrs. C was taking the day off; and Mrs. H was leaving at 3. I rolled in at 4 to find Mrs. A recovering from a sudden patron rush and the book cart brimming with books to shelve.

I'm glad I came in, though. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have had the pleasure of issuing Paranoid Rick James a library card.

Shortly after Mrs. A left, Rick James's girlfriend Gladys Knight came in. She turned in her books on tape from last week and went back to find some more. A minute later, in walked Rick James. When he saw me at the desk, he almost immediately began digging in his wallet and soon brought out his driver's license.

"I've decided to get a library card," he said.  This flew in the face of his reported tantrum about both getting a library card and having to supply a drivers license to do so from last week.  My theory is that he thought he was somehow saving face by getting me to sign him up since as far as he knew I didn't know anything about said tantrum last week. I smiled and told him to fill out one of our application forms. He did. No fight whatsoever. Put his drivers license number down and a physical address and everything. Then he passed his license over for me to inspect as I began typing in his information.

I was suspicious. Rick was giving in far too easily. What was the trick here? I kept examining his license to make sure it was actually his and not someone else's he was trying to pass off. He seemed far too agreeable to the situation for this not to be a ruse, but I couldn't find anything wrong with it.

"That must be some big database you guys have," Rick said.

"Yeah. Gettin' bigger all the time," I told him.

While I typed, Gladys Knight came back into the main room and caught sight of Rick at the desk.

"What is this?" she said with a knowing grin. "What are you doing?"

"I'm... uh. I decided to go ahead and get a library card," Rick said sheepishly.

"Oh, you did?" Gladys said, now grinning from ear to ear. "So does this mean I get to yell at you for twenty minutes when we get home?"

Rick really seemed to want to change the subject. After I gave him his card, he quickly ushered Gladys back toward the books on tape to continue their discussion out of earshot. I just laughed inwardly.

After a while longer, Gladys came back and checked out some books on tape. She also had a novel that I'd seen Rick walking around with earlier. I knew good and well it was his, but she seemed to want to check it out.

So that was the trick, was it? He was going to get a library card for himself but continue using hers anyway, just to spite us! He'd discovered a way to subvert our system and keep on checking out books semi-anonymously.

Trouble was, I didn't think there was much I could do about it. Sure, I could have raised a stink and told him he had to check the book out on his own card, but I think that's what he wants. He's inclined to cause trouble to begin with and probably wants something to get good and worked up about. Especially since it would just prove to his pea mind that what we're really out to do is keep track of what our patrons read in collusion with "the government". Also, if Gladys wants to check a book out on her card for Rick or anybody else, she's welcome to do so. She's still responsible for the book getting returned to us and if she wants to take on that risk for her boyfriend then who are we to say otherwise?

I checked it all out to her and they left. And maybe I'm just projecting this, but I could have sworn Rick James looked smug.

This irritated me and continued irritating me throughout the rest of the afternoon. I could already foresee what Rick's next move would be. Next time, he will just borrow her card and come in to check out books for himself. And he'll do it with the satisfaction that he's pulling one over on "the man" and subverting our carefully constructed conspiracy to keep track of what he reads.

Oh yeah? Well Rick doesn't know from subversion, I thought. I then went into the records and moved Rick's novel onto his own card. Sure, it was petty and childish of me to do this, but damn it sure felt good. Of course, if he ever sees it there--which I doubt he will--it will confirm his misguided suspicions, but first it will make him extraordinarily mad and he will know who really won the day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Spot the Fake Shemp

This morning one of our regular kids came in to use the internet. He signed the clipboard as usual, but Mrs. A was manning the desk and carded him. Surprise of surprises, he didn't have a permission slip on file.

Our policy is that children under 16 have to either have a parent with them while using the internet or have a parental permission slip on file saying it's okay for them to use the internet. We're only mostly strict on this. Sometimes, a kid will sneak through, but not because we don't care. It's usually that we've assumed they have a permission slip when they don't.

"But I use the internet here all the time!" the kid protested. This was true. I've been logging him on at least twice a week since school let out and all he ever does is surf the Magic: The Gathering website. Still, Mrs. A didn't care how much illegal surfing he'd done already, he would be doing no more without a permission slip.

Kid asked if he could take a permission slip outside where his dad was waiting and have him sign it real quick.  Mrs. A gave him one, let him leave, allowed him enough time to start incriminating himself, then went outside to see what he was up to. 

Outside there was nary a dad in sight. Instead, kid was sitting at our picnic table filling out his own permission slip. He even looked up and saw Mrs. A watching him do it, then had the sac to come back in with it and try to pass it off anyway. 

"Um, my dad had to go run an errand, but he signed it first," kid said. He pointed to the parental signature blank where the letters "J.D." had been scribbled.

Mrs. A looked over his sad little forgery and then verbally pounced on his head. She told him she'd seen him fill it out himself and knew his dad was never there in the first place.  No, if he wanted to get on a computer ever again, he was going to have to drag Dad inside in person and have him fill out the slip with witnesses.  The kid then left, sans slip.

This all happened while I was down picking up lunch and they told me about it upon my return. I'd even passed the kid on my way back up the hill so I knew exactly who they were talking about.

Around 10 minutes later, kid returned with his mom and little brother in tow. Mrs. A explained to her about the earlier forgery, but Mom seemed unconcerned that her son had tried to forge Dad's name on the permission slip. She signed him right up and put him on a computer then signed her other son up while she was at it.
 
That's right, Mom--reward the bad behavior!  Why not, indeed?  After all, he's only just entering his teens, so it's only gonna get better from here on out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Actual Telephone Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #5

*RING*

ME: TRI-METRO County Public Library.

MALE PATRON: (GRUFFLY) Yeah, I'm gonna need some information. Do your computers subscribe to Consumer Reports online service?

ME: Well, we don't have any kind of special on-line subscription to their site. We do have a regular subscription to the magazine, though.

MALE PATRON: So do you have the CAR issue for this year? Every January they put out a special CAR issue with all the CARS in it. Do you have that?

ME: This would be part of the regular magazine subscription, right?

MALE PATRON: Yeah.

ME: Then, yes, we should have it.

MALE PATRON: (SUSPICIOUSLY) You have that?

ME: (YES, DAMMIT!!) Yes.

About half an hour later he comes in. The man suspiciously resembled Special Prosecutor Ken Starr in both appearance and interrogating manner. We store all the Consumer Reports Car issues behind the desk (along with the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Issues) as they otherwise get stolen from their storage box upstairs. When I pass him this past APRIL's car issue, he completely fails to notice that it IS in fact the CAR ISSUE that he requested and concentrates entirely on the big "APRIL" printed on the corner of the cover. Apparently this doesn't jibe with when the CAR issue is published on his planet.

MALE PATRON: No. I said I want the January issue! The CAR issue!

ME: That IS the CAR issue.

MALE PATRON: (FINALLY READS THE REST OF THE COVER) Oh.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Summer Reading Day 7

I wasn't scheduled to be at work at all for today's Summer Reading desk-riding session.  I figured if they needed me they would have asked.  When I got back home from some errands, though, there was a message on my answering machine from Mrs. A saying it would be perfectly all right with her if I wanted to come in.  There was a hint of desperation in her voice, so I rolled on over.  It was a good thing, too, because today brought a more traditional level of Monday/Summer Reading Day chaos than the past two weeks, not to mention a few surprise guests. 

It never ceases to both amaze and irritate me how many people, who truly should know better, call to speak to my fellow employees during Summer Reading Day.  I understand that not every caller realizes this is any big thing, but I'm talking other librarians who have summer reading programs of their own and know how intensive and non-conducive to taking phone calls such programs are.  Yet every single week, who calls?  Other librarians.
 
THEM:  Is Mrs. C there?
 
ME:  Yes, but she's busy with Summer Reading right now and cannot come to the phone.  May I take a message?
 
Multiply that by about five times and that's the average for that little phone script.
 
And if it's not librarians, it's relatives and/or significant others of our staff who call.  And again, it's not just a one-time "Oops, I forgot" sort of call, it's a weekly "I'm completely oblivious to the fact that this scenario has played out exactly this way for the past four weeks" sort of call.  I want to scream, "Dammit, you people know better!  Quit EFFing CALLING!!"
 
I mentioned this to Mrs. A.  She said she's had the same problem for much of the past decade and it never stops.  One fellow librarian from another county made it a point to call every Thursday morning during Story Hour.  Thursday mornings are perhaps the only time during the regular year that Mrs. A is chained to the circulation desk while the rest of the staff is wrangling kids.  In this state, she is unable to answer any detailed questions from other libraries because all the answers are upstairs in her office.  So every Thursday morning for months this librarian would call and every time Mrs. A would tell her she would have to call back later.  Mrs. A even asked her not to call on Thursday mornings, to no avail. Finally, Mrs. A point blank told the woman to stop calling on Thursday mornings.  The following Thursday, guess who called?  Mrs. A said their conversation went something like this...
 
MRS. A:   What day is it?
 
OTHER LIBRARIAN:  Thursday.
 
MRS. A:  What time is it?
 
OTHER LIBRARIAN: Ten thirty a.m.
 
MRS. A:  And what is the significance of those two pieces of information?
 
OTHER LIBRARIAN:  Um... I'm not supposed to call you on Thursday mornings?
 
MRS. A:  Riiiiiight!

So after fielding similar calls from about four people who knew better, I was in a fantastic mood. 
 
It was about to get even better. 

After about an hour of steady circulation, I looked up from checking out a book to find Chester the (Potential) Molester standing not seven feet from me in the middle of our main room.  I was unhappy to see him, to say the least, and tried my damnedest to let him know this with what I hoped was a multi-daggered stare. If it had any effect, it was to make him start stammering.
 
"I was... I was just... I wanted to use a computer," he said.
 
Mrs. A stepped up and told him, "They're all full right now."  

This wasn't a lie--the computers really were all full and none were due to open up any time soon.  I don't think either of us were prepared to let Chester wait around for one, regardless.
 
"Oh," Chester said.  "I guess I should come back another day."
 
"Yeah.  I think that would be a good idea," I said.  I was mad, but mostly I'm still smarting for failing to banish him for all time during our last major encounter
 
What happened next, though, surprised me.  Instead of turning tail and leaving, Chester walked closer to where I was at the circulation desk.  I can't be completely sure, but it looked like he had tears in his eyes, or had at least been crying recently.  His eyes were certainly red, puffy and watery-looking, so maybe he'd had a recent allergy attack.  I somehow don't think so.
 
"I... I just wanted to apologize for...  mumble mumble mumble," Chester said in a low voice.
 
"What?" 
 
"I... I want to apologize for... if... if I scared any girls... last time," Chester said. 
 
I couldn't believe it!  He was actually trying to apologize--not for staring lasciviously at our young patrons, mind you, but for startling any of them while doing so.  What was this, some kind of twelve step pedophile program?  Step 1: You must apologize to all the library assistants who got pissed off that you were ogling their underage patrons?  Step 2: Stop ogling their underage patrons!
 
Then, like a dog lifting an injured paw, he held out one of his hands for me to shake.  I'm very proud to say I had enough presence of mind to keep from shaking it, even out of reflex.  No, sir, I will not be accepting an apology from that bloated sack of shit!  Not even if I witnessed him wash it first would I ever shake his hand.  Moreover, I refuse to give him any reason to believe we're at all cool with his presence in our library.  
 
There passed an awkward moment, during which Chester realized that I had no intention of touching his greasy paw.  He withdrew it, then offered it back again, then withdrew it again, as though maybe I might reconsider, then again, no.  Then he stood there looking back at me with a kind of hurt, swollen-eyed expression that failed to stir any sympathy in me.  
 
My only response to him was to raise my own hand and give him, not the bird, but instead the kind of finger-flapping bye bye wave favored by toddlers worldwide.  Chester turned to the door and went bye byes.
 
After a minute of standing there fuming, I tagged out from the circulation desk and went outside to make sure he was gone.  Mrs. C said he drove off pretty fast, but had made it a point to park his car--poorly, once again--clear on the other side of the Summer Reading activities so he'd have an excuse to walk by the kids on his way to and from.
 
Since my last confrontation with him, the library staff has been debating whether or not he would ever return.  It was pretty much a half and half split between the Yes's and the No's, with me in the middle as a Probably.  I guess we have our answer now.  We also need to figure out what our new Chester policy will be. 
 
Now that the cards are on the table, do we let him back in? 
 
I know that a number of libraries have policies allowing them to ban patrons from the building, and we've even been known to ban people before ourselves.  Where are we going to fall on this guy?

Superfreak!

We've officially had our first complete patron freak-out about the new library cards. I only wish I had been there to witness it first hand.

Let's call the superfreak patron in question Rick James, just to establish a theme and for no better reason than I happened to see the real Rick James on a rerun of the Surreal Life a few nights ago. Our Rick James is a guy about my age who, being the wrong race to begin with, of course looks nothing like the real Rick James. In fact, he looks kind of up-tight most of the time. As far as his patronage goes, he's actually only an intermittent patron at best, coming in only once or twice a month, sometimes skipping several months on a stretch. Even with infrequent visits, though, Rick James has skirted the edges of Rogue status on a couple of occasions in the past.

For instance, Rick James is a big fan of our books on tape. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen him check out an actual, honest-to-God book from us before. So, one time Rick James checked out one of our books on tape and managed to break one of the tapes. Mind you, this would have been okay with us, as we know that the tapes do break due to the constant wear and tear. We wouldn't have even made him pay for it. However, Rick James not only broke the tape but then tried to repair it on his own. I don't know how exactly he did this, but images of glue and nails come into my head whenever I think about it. In the end, he failed miserably at the repair job, screwed the tape up even more than it had been, then returned it to us. He explained what he'd done and suggested we could probably do a better repair job than he did. I wanted to say, "So could most paraplegic rhesus monkeys," but refrained from doing so.

Now, that's certainly annoying. However, Rick's actual claim to fame is his utter refusal to check anything out on his own card. Ever. It's not that he's even a Seefile or anything--he just refuses to use his own card.

On the first several occasions that I had to deal with him, I would ask his name so I could look up his record, as per our old VTLS system and library policy. Rick James would just shake his head at me and tell me to put it on the card of his girlfriend. Rick's girlfriend, Gladys Knight, used to come in with him fairly often and they always checked their items out on her card then too. I figured it was therefore an authorized move and began putting his books on her card when he was in solo; and it was cool with her. Sure, it was odd, but we didn't care if he used her card so long as she was okay with it. And Rick James was far from the only person to exclusively use someone else's card. Several male patrons used to use their wife's card, which we just chalked up to laziness on their part. With Rick there turned out to be another reason.

For the past several months, Rick and Gladys have seriously cut back on their visits. If I'd thought much about them, I might have assumed they'd moved, but I don't so I didn't. Rick just suddenly popped up again a couple months back, causing me to think, "Oh, yeah, the book-on-tape-won't-use-his-own-card guy. I remember him." And, of course, Rick also returned to checking out more books on tape to Gladys's patron record.

Neither Rick nor Gladys have been in for the past four weeks since we upgraded to our new circulation software system, however. That is until last week when both of them stopped by.

(Again, I only WISH I had been there, so most of the following dialogue is paraphrased from second hand information.)

After bringing their book on tape selections to the circ desk, Miss E told Gladys that she would need one of our new library cards before she could check out. No prob for Gladys Knight--she's easy-going. She even had her old card with her, proving she's a responsible patron. Miss E then asked Rick if he needed one too.

"No, I'll just use hers," Rick James said.

Sorry, but no. We no longer allow patrons to share cards like that. You'll need one of your very own.

Rick James grumbled and griped at this, but went over and started filling out a new card application all the same. It didn't take him long to find something to whine about.

"Hey, why do you need my driver's license number? Do I have to give that?"

Yes, you do.

"But why?"

All of our patrons have to have a unique ID number so we chose a driver's license number since most people have them.

"How come?"

Because we need to be able to tell patrons with the same name apart.

Naturally, Rick didn't like that one little bit.

"This is just the government!" he said. "The government is trying to get this information and keep tabs on what we're reading. Your new system probably keeps a record of everything we read!"

Now first off, the government ALREADY HAS everyone's driver's license information. After all, drivers licenses are issued by THE GOVERNMENT in the first place.  Secondly, our system does NOT keep records of everything our patrons have read. Some patrons wish that it did, because they can't manage to keep track of what they've read by themselves and wish we could tell them so they didn't keep checking out the same Patty Cornhole book. But, no, we don't keep patron book records. Even with the new circulation system, we only have the ability to see who the last patron to check out any given book was, and this is for purposes of tracking down patrons who might have allowed their dog to have a bite of a book should we wish them to pay for it. It's hardly a grand scheme of the Homeland Security Conspiracy, but there was no telling this to Rick James.

About this time, Mrs. C stood up from her computer where she'd been listening to Rick James's ranting.

"It's not the government," she told him. "We have nothing to do with the government." (Well, outside of a miniscule amount of funding.) "And we don't store records of what patrons read."

Mrs. C then explained that the drivers license number was necessary to differentiate Rick James from any other Rick Jameses who might be patrons of one of the libraries in the surrounding consortium counties, (or indeed the real Rick James). We're in essence trying to protect our patrons from having other people with the same name check things out on their card, saddling them with the bill if the items aren't returned.

Rick tried to grumble some more about this but relented after Gladys told him it made perfect sense to her. He finally put his license number down and turned in his application to Miss E.

As she was typing it in, Miss E noted that Rick's listed address was a post office box.

Sorry, if your mailing address is a post office box, we'll need a physical address as well.

This is what ignited the powder keg.

"You need a physical address?!! You need a physical address?!! Why would you need a physical address?!!" Rick was really starting to shout, getting far more angry than necessary.

Mrs. C stepped in again and tried to explain that people change post office boxes and telephone numbers all the time and we really have to have a backup method of contacting patrons when we need to.

"But why would you need a physical address?!!" Rick continued to shout, ignoring everything she had just said. It was like his brain was stuck in a loop and just kept repeating, Why would you need a physical address? Why would you need a physical address? over and over, drowning out all explanation to the contrary.

Then a new voice entered the fray. Our head librarian, Mrs. A had come downstairs just before Rick's tantrum began, had witnessed it and now she was having no more of it.

"Now look here!" Mrs. A said. Rick immediately stopped grousing and looked here. Mrs. A marched up to him and said, "The reason we need your physical address is so we'll know where to send the sheriff when you don't bring our books back!"

I love Mrs. A.

Rick didn't have much of a defense for that, but he still had a fallback position: "But why do you need a driver's license number?!"

"Because we don't want anyone getting more than one library card in our system. And if we require a unique ID number like a drivers license we can stop people from getting multiple cards."

"But why..."

"No. Let me explain," Mrs. A said. "Before we put this system into place, there was a patron in another county who got five different library cards from five different libraries with five fake home addresses. She then checked out ALL the arts and crafts books from those libraries and has now disappeared with them. Thousands of dollars worth of books are gone because we didn't require proof of ID to get a library card. Now that we require the drivers license number, if we try to make a new patron record and type that license number in, any existing records with that number will pop up automatically and we won't issue the patron another card."

"But why do you need a physical address?"

Yes, indeedy, Rick had waited through all that just to default to But why do you need a physical address? once again. There was just no talking to him.

Gladys Knight went ahead and accepted her new library card, but Rick James refused to supply the necessary information for his and left saying he'd do it some other time. Our guess is he'll try to go to another area library and see if he can sneak past security measures there. He's not the only one. We've already discovered another guy who has already managed to get two cards at other area libraries by telling them that he has no driver's license or state ID. He also supplies them with faulty contact information, which is why it's important for libraries to follow policy and demand to see some form of identification, if only a current bill and a photo-id. We've now got a "liberry" APB out on that guy and have just added Rick James to the watch list as well.

The Rick James situation, however, does put me in mind of another patron and former almost-rogue who, coincidentally enough, I was already in the process of composing an entry for....

Friday, July 16, 2004

Revenge of the Seefiles!

Around 5 yesterday, a girl came in the library who I didn't think I would likely ever see again.  Her name is Caroline and she's the daughter of one of our formerly regular patrons, whose first name I can never remember but we sang in the local chorale together so we're friendly if not entirely acquainted. 
 
The reason I thought I'd never see Caroline again, nor her mom for that matter, is that a few months back I'd heard from Mrs. C that they'd both moved to Maine.  Seemed an unfortunate thing to do, considering they still had two of our books checked out.  We'd even gone so far as to add them to the short list of 2004 Seefiles for their treachery.  Not only were they in the Seefile, but they had also made it onto my Blocked Patron List of Death, which we keep by the desk to remind us of certain patrons who are NOT to be granted new cards. 
 
I pulled their Seefile records to see what they had out.  Turned out to be a couple of young adult books, but one of them was a $20 hardback of the Amber Spyglass, the third book in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.  We don't own another copy and haven't replaced that one.
 
Hmm, Mom's name is Margaret, I thought while examining the records further.  Margaret Robe.  Go figure.  Also on the Seefile slip itself was the notation that they'd moved to Maine.  Glad to know I'd remembered that correctly.
 
Caroline's mom was no where in sight, so I figured the girl was waiting to be picked up.  Mostly she stayed in the children's room, occasionally coming up to the desk to ask if I'd read the Andre Norton book she'd picked out.  She also asked me what the first book in the His Dark Materials series was. 
 
Ah ha!  Looking to take them ALL are you?
 
I pondered to myself what I should do.  I've always liked their family, even if I don't think enough about them to learn all their first names, and I wasn't itching to smack down the gavel of "liberry" justice on them.  For all I knew the books were still in Maine.  I decided to get my ducks in a row before saying anything about the books.  I rechecked the computer to make sure they were still checked out.  Not only were they out, but they weren't even listed as being owned.  This meant Mrs. C had removed them during the great purge. 
 
At nearly 15 til close, Caroline came to the desk and asked me to hold a book for her.  I said I would then asked, "You're Caroline, right?"  I wanted to make completely sure I had the right girl here.  She said she was, so I went ahead and asked about the overdues.  She didn't recognize either of them as books she'd checked out, which I thought was odd as she'd just asked me about another Pullman book earlier.  She said her friend Amy had checked that one out.  Obviously, she'd checked it out on Caroline's card. 
 
"Well, how bout ask your friend to have a look around for it.  We just got a new library card system and we can't give you a new card until we clear this up."
 
Caroline went outside to wait for her mom.  Mom turned up shortly and Caroline must have showed her the Seefile photocopy, cause they both came inside.  Mom--or Margaret, I should say--said she had never heard of the book on her card.  She wasn't mad, but definitely didn't remember it.  I told her that there was always the possibility we'd made a mistake somehow and that she might need to take it up with Mrs. A. 
 
"Well, we need to get it done soon, I guess, or we can't have cards," Margaret said.  "Can I borrow your phone?"
 
I let her use the phone to call Caroline's friend Amy.  Margaret left a message on the answering machine about it, saying that they needed to get the book back as soon as possible or they wouldn't be able to get library cards.  The funny thing was, Margaret left her name with the message, but she said it was Stephanie. 
 
Er.  Very odd, I thought.  The inconsistency was explained shortly, though, when "Stephanie" asked if she could go ahead and get cards for herself and her husband and that the could take care of the rest later.  She said this, gesturing toward the photocopy. 
 
Oh, so Margaret is probably another daughter.  I see.  I get it.
 
"Hey, why does this thing say `Moved to Maine'?" Stephanie asked.
 
I blinked at her in confusion for a few seconds.  "You didn't move to Maine?"
 
"No."
 
"You didn't move anywhere?"
 
"No.  We still live here."
 
"Huh," I said.  Now I was really confused, because Mrs. C DID say they'd moved to Maine and she's almost always on the money with area rumors.  Hell, we were the library!  If any place beyond the hair salons and barbershops is gossip central, it's the library.  "That's really weird.  I could have sworn I heard you'd moved to Maine."
 
They laughed and Stephanie started filling out her application while I waited and tried to think of something to say that would make me look like less of a dumbass. 
 
"Yeah...  I was all prepped to ask you how Maine was, but I guess that's out now."
 
"Well, I hear it's great this time of year," Stephanie said. 

Caroline suddenly grabbed at the photocopy.
 
"Wait a second!  This isn't me!" she said, pointing at her own name.  "This says Caroline and Margaret Robe."
 
"Yeah," I said.
 
Stephanie gave me a perplexed grin.  "But we're Caroline and Stephanie Turner."
 
A long time seemed to pass as I processed this.  Slowly, it dawned on me: I'm a damned moron.  Their name IS Turner!  They're not the Robes at all.  I knew that--or, I should have known that.  I used to know that.  Whatever!  The Turner's didn't have any of our books after all.  It was all just a series of coincidences and errors compounded further by my being a dumbass.
 
"Oh....  Oh, wow," I said.  "I feel really really stupid."
 
No one even politely attempted to disagree with me. 
 
I made cards for the whole Turner family while Stephanie borrowed the phone again to call Amy and her parents and tell them it was all a false alarm. I made no fewer than 5 mistakes typing all their information in, including spelling their last name wrong.  I apologized for the hassle and the false accusations and they said it was okay, but I know secretly they were thinking, "What a tard!"  And rightfully so.
 
As embarrassing as that is, I figured I'd share it here anyway.  After all, I spend most of my blogging time ridiculing patrons, so it's only fitting that they get some revenge now and then.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Cap'n Crossdresser and the World of Tomorrow!

I'd barely been on shift for half an hour when Cap'n Crossdresser walked through the "liberry's" door.
 
Today the good Cap'n was wearing a spaghetti-strap floral print sun dress with brown pumps.  I don't think he had a purse, but his appearance stirred things up quite a bit, as you might expect.
 
All of my previous encounters with the Cap'n have been when I was working by myself.  It's SO much easier not to crack up laughing at a Bozo-haired man in a dress when you don't have three fellow employees around you who are also trying not to crack up.  It was all we could do to wipe the smiles off our faces whenever the Cap'n walked through.
 
As usual, he went back and used a computer for a while before coming up front to browse the shelves. 
 
When I walked back to the computer hall to sign someone on the Cap'n's former computer, another female computer patron looked up at me and loudly said, "Okay, I just have to say ask...  Was that man wearing a dress?"  
 
I immediately held up a finger to my lips to shush her and pointed back toward the front room, silently indicating that the man in the dress was still well within earshot.  The woman looked a little sheepish at this, then leaned closer to me and said in a low voice, "So... what?  He's a transvestite?"
 
I shrugged and nodded. 
 
The woman instantly recoiled in apparent disgust at the idea.
 
Now, I wouldn't go so far as to call the Cap'n disgusting.  He's certainly not pretty and is about the least womanly man in a dress you'd ever care to see.  He also has an amount of body hair that is encroaching on the extreme levels that Parka recently exhibited, but at no time did I want to claw my own eyes out at the sight of him.  In fact, I welcome the Cap'n!  He's already one of our best patrons, is always polite, never personally causes trouble and he always livens things up just by being himself.  He's out there and fancy free, living his life to the fullest--albeit in a dress.  Sure, he looks like somebody's uncle but what's a big burly half bald lumberjack-looking man gonna do if he has such a deep-seated urge to wear a spaghetti strap sun dress out in public.  At least it matched his shoes!
 
I gave the woman a half-dirty look and went back to the circulation desk.  Presently, Cap'n Crossdresser applied for a new library card, which I proudly made without even cracking a smile while my fellow employees hid themselves.  He never gave me any indication that he'd heard the lady at the computer, but I'm sure he probably did.  He has to be used to everyone commenting and cracking up around him. 
 
The Cap'n took his new card and walked out the door in a most manly fashion, clomping his feet along, his sundress swaying as he went. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead!

No, Mrs. Carol Satan didn't kick the bucket. In fact, she's alive and well and in possession of a new "liberry" card. But enough about her...

Instead, our problems with the new Millennium system giving our printer diarrhea seem to have mostly been resolved. Today, Mrs. C noticed that the little PRINT SLIP box that had been turning itself on at its own whim, causing our printer to reward us with a cover-page and a print for just about any normal function, had simply vanished. Gone. Bye byes. We still had a PRINT button at the top of the screen, allowing us to print on our own schedule as necessary, but the slip box was definitely gone from all screens. We haven't heard officially, but it would seem someone has messed about with the master control program and sorted things out.

My theory is that someone higher-up did the math, saw how much money was being wasted by the printers of 31 libraries spitting out a steady stream of unwanted paper and told the techs to shut it off.

Now if we can only convince them to shut off the coversheets we'll be groovy.

Last Train to Clarksburg

Even after four years of marriage, I still find that I can only go for about a week of my wife's absence before I start going into the I Miss My Sweety DT's.

I'm completely fine for the whole week and even kind of enjoy the semi-slobby bachelor lifestyle (as opposed to my usual semi-slobby married lifestyle). When the weeks clock ticks out, though, and she still isn't there the DTs hit hard.

Such separations used to happen pretty infrequently, but over the past year there have been more occasions for this as, being a third year med-student, she's been out of town on clinical rotations quite a bit. Usually these out-of-towners have only lasted for a month at a stretch and were near enough that she was able to come home on the weekends. Occasionally, though, they go longer.

This month, and actually for the next three months, the wife is rotating at a hospital in Clarksburg, WV. At nearly a 3 hour drive away, it's just far enough to make for an irritatingly long and questionably worthwhile journey back and forth--particularly for a gal who's supposed to be studying for her next round of board exams and needs to be using her time wisely. So mostly she'll be staying up there, only coming home every other weekend or so. Maybe less.

Last Friday afternoon, she phoned to say she wasn't coming home as planned. She'd had a late day at the hospital, hadn't packed and just couldn't summon the energy for the soul-sucking trek back here. In a pitiful voice, she asked if I would be too disappointed that she couldn't make it home. I must have sounded pitiful too when told her I would be. (The DT's had hit me a couple days early.)

"Well, you could come see me," she said hopefully.

Seemed a simple enough solution. I had plenty of energy, having spent most of the day sitting around the house doing ebay stuff. So shortly before 7 p.m., I hit the road.

The reason she is spending three months in Clarksburg is because we're shopping for a place for her to do her internship and residency next year. She has her eye on Clarksburg and wants to get the lay of the land. We'd originally planned to try and remain here in the Tri-Metro area on the grounds that we're sick to death of moving. In the past 12 years, neither of us has lived in one location for more than three years, usually less than two, and we're just tired to our very bones of hauling our shit around. Every time we do it, we swear we're never buying another stick of furniture nor any more abject heavy crap. Then, as soon as we're settled, it's off to the comic shop and junk furniture store we go. We've only been in our current house for a year and don't relish having to leave just yet. Moreover, we don't relish having to deal with moving our big ugly Army green gravity couch and have threatened that the next time it's moved at all will be to the front lawn whereupon it will be set ablaze.

Even with that weariness in mind, she has heard fantastic things about the residency program at Clarksburg's hospital. They concentrate on her specialty of family medicine and are apparently offer wonderful teaching environment. We figure if it will make her a better doctor more quickly to do a residency there, we can maybe stomach another move. It's far from a done deal, though.

Choosing a residency is a pretty complicated business. The wife has to pick her first choice of where to go and hope that the hospital she picks also chooses her as its first choice. Beyond that it gets really tricky and if you put down hospitals you really don't want to go to you can find yourself contractually obligated to go there anyway. At the moment our main choices are Clarksburg and TRI-METRO, though we're still not sure which order to rank them. She figures that a three month stint there will let her get to know everyone so that all parties involved can make an informed decision when the time comes to chose. From what I saw of the place this weekend it's still a definite possibility. I can't say I don't have reservations, though.

For instance, when I arrived in Clarksburg, I followed the wife''s directions on how to get to the student house. The house is located just off of downtown Clarksburg in an enormous neighborhood of Victorian-style townhouses that stretches up the side of a foothill. As I'm meandering through the narrowish streets of downtown, I'm noticing at least as many empty storefronts as there are active businesses. This is never a good sign in a local economy. Furthermore, many of the townhouses in her neighborhood are in less than admirable shape.

"I sure hope it's not that house with the smashed out upper windows," I thought. Then I saw the very next house and thought, "I sure hope it's not that house that's boarded up."

Turned out she didn't live in a townhouse at all. The student housing is in a California Ranch-style house built in the late 1960s. It's like walking into an episode of the Brady Bunch, particularly since there are like 14 students living in it at the moment. It has the whole angled wood beam lined ceilings, funky Buddha wall-paper, a wide angular orange worn velour covered sofa plus all the modern conveniences the late 60's had to offer (such as sliding recessed doors, pull out recessed towel rods, food built-in countertop food processor stations, etc). And while the place is actually in fantastic structural shape, there's also that distant yet distinct smell of mildew that began its life in the Johnson administration. In a word, it's Shagadellic.

Mrs. A grew up near Clarksburg and she explained the town's ongoing slow demise to me. The area used to be thriving community with a large number of glass factories that employed much of the population. You can tell from the architecture and design sense downtown that it was once a quite the bustling and vivacious city. However, the factories shut down some time back and the town has been slowly growing weeds ever since. According to Mrs. A, the little unincorporated community she grew up in nearby has been reduced to a gas station and a grocery store, when once it was nearly a town to itself.

It reminds me a lot of Memphis, for some reason. There are parts of it that are nice, sure, but a lot of it is kind of dirty and run down. (Actually, in that regard it's a lot like Town-C where I live now.)

It's a much larger city than I currently live in, even counting all three Tri-Metro towns. There are some great restaurants there with just about any kind of cuisine you'd care to have (except Indian, dammit). It has a comic shop, albeit a fairly sad one that's only open on Saturdays and is pretty much a pickup stop for subscription customers. (There's a better one in Morgantown.) And there are actual live radio stations in the area too, with local DJs. That's what I used to do before moving to a town without such stations and I still get the Jones to return to it on occasion. (And believe me, should I ever do so, I could just pick up where this blog leaves off for all the strange characters I'd meet.)

And in case I want to stay in the "liberry" field, there are a couple of those too. We even stopped by one to scope it out. It was much larger than the one I work in and very nice, (though I noted they're still using the devil program VTLS).

Such a move is still 10 months off, if it occurs at all. Who knows, though--perhaps it won't mean the end of my "liberry" blogging career after all.

All in all, though, I had a great weekend and some quality Sweety time.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Do this, Don't do that, Can't Ya Read the Signs?

A while back, Mrs. A asked me to redo the signs on our computers. The computer room is just covered in signs to begin with, instructing computer users on the finer points of "liberry" policy regarding the computers. Mostly the signs go unread, but we do have one sign that's hard to miss. On each of the computer monitors we have taped a laminated flip up sign that instructs new computer users that they're going to need to sign in first before they can use the computer. It saves people time, as without that sign they'd just sit back there and try futilely to login for hours. So hopefully they read it, come up front to sign in on the clipboard then we go back, flip up the sign and log them on. The flip signs were looking kind of ratty, though, so Mrs. A wanted me to replace them and Goo-B-Gone the tape residue to clean up the monitors themselves.

I decided that while I was penning a new sign, I might as well incorporate many of the other signs we have back there to consolidate information and perhaps increase the chances that it might actually get read. I also decided to do a first draft of the sign--my dream sign--which I would leave conspicuously on the desk for my fellow staff to enjoy. It read:

BEFORE USING A COMPUTER
YOU MUST SIGN IN AT THE
CIRCULATION DESK. A STAFF
MEMBER WILL LOG YOU ON.

TIME LIMIT: 30 MINUTES.

COMPUTERS WILL BE TURNED
OFF 15 MINUTES PRIOR TO
CLOSING.
(Tue-Fri 6:45,
Sat 1:45,
Sun-Mon 4:45
)

PATRONS WHO REFUSE TO
LOG OFF WHEN ASKED WILL
BE HIT SQUAR' IN THE MOUTH.

REMEMBER: THE LIBRARY LOVES YOU.

Of course, this met with universal staff approval. While we're not adopting it as our official sign, we have discussed the possibility of producing REMEMBER: THE LIBRARY LOVES YOU staff T-shirts. They'll go right along with our new Big Brother Millennium Computer system attitude.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Summer Reading Day 5 (or "AHHHH!!! MY EYES!! MY BEAUTIFUL, PRECIOUS EYES!!! WHY, DEAR GOD, WHY?!!! WHY, WHY, WHY?!!!")

Summer Reading Day 5 was suspiciously unchaotic. We didn't even have any of the usual Monday Madness. It was downright peaceful.

"Well, I guess that means we won!" Mrs. A said.

"Looks like it," I said. "Word has finally gotten out not to come to the library on Monday."

Course the fact that we had most of the parking spaces out front blocked off with bright orange road cones so the kids would have space to draw with their chalk might have had something to do with it too. We decided that, if we'd known that before now, we would have been using cones on Mondays LONG ago.

Toward the end of my shift, the door opened and Parka came through it. Instead of his namesake puffy white Michelin Man parka (which he hasn't actually worn since late April) or his usual too thin white t-shirt, Parka was wearing a bright red tank top. While I'm all for diversity in clothing, I SO did not want to see the shag carpet of body hair covering the entirety of his torso that was accented, nay HIGHLIGHTED, by his low cut red tank-top. We're talking front AND back covered in an inches-thick layer of dark fur. You could not see the man's skin from the shoulders on down.

I equate the sight to that old Saturday Night Live sketch with Jon Lovitz impersonating Today Show movie critic Gene Schalit where they showed a closeup of his chest hair with bugs crawling through it. It was exactly that nasty.

What about the New Doc Ock?

I ambled in to the comic kiosk in the "mall" to see what my weekly fix might bring me. The shipment hadn't arrived yet, but I understand issues of the new Swamp Thing and Firestorm books are mine as well as old favorites such as the Liberty Meadows Sourcebook, Stray Bullets, Tom Strong and Supreme Power. All are great books and I'm hungry to receive them.

So I chatted with Garin the comic shop guy for a while until our conversation was brought to a screeching halt by one of the most Lynchian people I've seen outside of the "liberry" itself. A woman, probably in her mid 50s, came up to the counter and began talking at Garin in a thick drawl, completely oblivious to the conversation she was interrupting.

"My husband called up here and asked if you had a Doc Ock and he said the girl on the phone told him you did have a Doc Ock, which is what he wanted, so I came up here to see if you had the Doc Ock, which is what she said you had."

She said all that with no pauses. It was like someone turned on a firehose. I could only assume she meant an action figure of the Spider-Man villain Doctor Octopus, as she kept staring into the display cases where Garin keeps his toys while she rambled on.

When at last she took a breath, Garin was able to get a word in.

"Uh, I don't have a she working here," Garin said.

"Well, she said you had a Doc Ock, which is what he wanted."

"Ma'am, I don't have a she working here," Garin repeated.

The woman just stared at him.

"There are no women working here. It's only me," he said.

"But... but... well, she said..."

"There's no she... No..." Garin paused for a second, no doubt trying to allow that line of argument to die before moving on to something that could be tackled. I was pretty sure that this woman was at least five mental limbs short of a full Doc Ock herself and was amazed I didn't recognize her as a patron. Still, I watched to see what would happen as Garin tried once again to exert some logic on the situation.

"When did your husband call?"

"A few hours ago," the woman said.

"Well, I'm sorry, but I don't remember any call about Doc Ock and I'm the only one working here today. It doesn't really matter, though, because I sold my last Doc Ock figure ten minutes ago."

The woman immediately became distraught. "But she said you still had Doc Ock! He called and she said you had Doc Ock!"

"No. I... Look," Garin said, remaining admirably calm. "I did have an old Doc Ock figure, but I sold it. And I don't have any of the new Doc Ocks."

"Do you have the old Doc Ock?" the woman asked without even a beat.

"No."

"Well, what about the new Doc Ock?"

"No."

"Well, she said you had one."

"I did have one. I had the old one, but since no one called to ask me to hold it I sold it about ten minutes ago."

"You sold it ten minutes ago?"

"Yes."

"You sold it ten minutes ago?"

"YES."

"Well, what about the new Doc Ock? Do you have one of him?"

"No," Garin said wearily. This was rapidly turning into a bad Dr. Seuss book, or at the very least an anachronistic Abbot and Costello routine.

The woman began furiously checking the display cabinet again.

"Do you have one in here?"

"No. I don't have one at all."

"You don't have an old Doc Ock?"

"No, ma'am. I don't have ANY Doc Ocks."

"What about the new Doc Ock?"

"No!"

And so the routine proceeded for nearly another minute with pretty much the exact same dialogue as in the first two. I could see that Garin was rapidly running out of options that didn't include being rude to the woman and he didn't like it. Having some experience dealing with the mentally unstable on a regular basis, I spoke up.

"Excuse me, ma'am, but have you looked at K-Mart for a Doc Ock? Their toy department has a pretty big Spider-Man display."

"Where?"

"K-Mart," Garin and I said in unison.

"Where's that at?"

"Right through there," we said, both pointing toward the far end of the mall where it narrowed into a short corridor that connected it to the conveniently located K-Mart next door. The woman grinned and started toward it without another word.

"You are my hero!" Garin said.

"Welcome to my world," I told him.

I left soon after, vowing to return when UPS had delivered my books. When I came back, Garin told me that shortly after I left two other women approached his kiosk and asked if the first woman had been bothering him about something. He said, yeah, and told them what had happened. They laughed and said she does that sort of thing all the time. Apparently one of the two ladies works for the layaway department at Wal-Mart and has to deal with Doc Ock Fetishist Woman on a regular basis. From what they told Garin, DOF-Woman frequently comes into Wal-Mart to put toys on layaway. She sorts through their selection of stuffed animals, discarding the ones that she feels look too mean or too depressed until she's found that perfect happy and mentally-centered teddy bear. I know you think I'm making that up, but this was exactly what the ladies reported, including the part about bear depression. It gets better. Once she's found a bear of superb mental-stability, she puts it on layaway, urgently insisting that the clerks leave the plastic layaway bag open a crack so that the bear can breathe.

Now, that would be crazy enough for most people, but DOF-Woman has taken it to further crazy heights...

According to the Wally World employees, DOF-Woman was once purchasing a baby doll when she flew into a crying rage after the cashier accidentally dropped the doll into the plastic Wal-Mart bag rather than gently placing the doll into the bag. The woman got so upset that she called 9-1-1 to report the incident as child abuse.

I cannot make up shit that crazy!

Part of me really hopes she comes in the library some time, because she is an unfathomable ocean of comedy material as yet unfished. The rest of me, though, hopes I never see her in any kind of official "liberry" capacity. Beyond the whole issue of whether or not it's suitable for me to ridicule someone with an obvious and untreated mental condition, can you imagine the routine that would proceed from me trying to tell her why her interlibrary loan request for Doc Ock comics has been rejected? I'd have to hit her with a chair to shut her up.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Joey's New Show is Gonna Suck Too

We're still not Friends with the new Millennium software system yet.

I think most of the problem stems from our ignorance at how we can adjust the system to Not Quite So Annoying mode from the Pretty Damn Consistently Annoying mode it's currently in.

We can't seem to make it stop printing whenever we perform ANY normal function with it. Check out a book, it prints a slip. Renew a book, it prints a slip. Put a book on hold, it prints a slip. (And while I'm using the term "slip" what I really mean is "a full 8.5" by 11" piece of paper with a slip-sized print at the top of it.)

Oh, we can uncheck the little box that says PRINT SLIP and make it stop temporarily, but that box never stays unchecked for long. In fact, it rechecks itself to PRINT SLIP if you do pretty much ANYTHING and suddenly the printer starts shitting out slips again. Actually, if it only shit out the slips that wouldn't be so bad. (It might even be useful at shutting the whine-holes of some of our patrons who moved here from big cities where their libraries gave them an itemized printout of all their books with every checkout, and where they were served pastries and tea and had a frickin' Starbucks in the reference hall.)  Instead, the printer shits out BOTH a slip AND a damned cover page for each slip that tells us it just printed a slip. No kidding? REALLY? A slip you say? Damn, I'm glad you used a whole piece of paper to tell me, cause I wouldn't have noticed it among the 500 other pages the printer's shat in the last hour!

Occasionally we are able to convince the infernal thing to stop printing on a more lengthy basis, but we never know exactly how we've done it when we do. See the thing comes with more than one PRINT SLIP box to check and we think they ALL have to be checked, cause if you do only one of them it just rechecks itself when your back is turned. Another method is to shut Millennium down and bring it back up again. A box comes up that mentions something about printing capabilities and you can tell it "HELL NO." This is all very inconvenient because our circ computer is so slow that it literally takes 8 minutes to reboot, during which time the computer cannot be used for anything else. It's also merely a temporary measure, cause as soon as we really DO need to print something, say a book hold request slip, the computer assumes you want it to print EVERYTHING once again and starts doing so with gusto.

We know there has to be a way to get it to print only when we specifically request it. Our librarians are hesitant to call our state tech guys to ask, though, because: A) the tech's are busy as hell with all the other libraries calling to ask why the system keeps freezing up or eating patron records or losing its ability to search books by barcode or smoking cigarettes in the restroom and horking sandwiches from the staff fridge, etc.; and B) because we have no faith that the tech guys truly know any more about it than we do. Many of the other libraries seem to take this same attitude, which is why they call us when they have questions. Naturally, these questions tend to land painfully in my crotch.

THEM ON PHONE: Hey, Juice, this computer isn't letting us check a book out to this patron and it keeps telling us we can't access its Booginfroondle Record using that number, cause it's invalid, but we're not using that number and we don't want to access its Booginfroondle Record in the first place, we just want to check out a Patty Cornhole book to them. How do I fix that?

ME: (*THROWS UP HANDS*) Pshht! Ya got me. Have you tried turning it off and rebooting?

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Summer Reading Day 3

Since we were closed for holidays on Monday, Summer reading got shifted to Tuesday of this week. Mrs. A asked me to come in and help run the desk with her again. I was expecting the usual Chaos Hell thing to occur again, as it on Day 1 of Summer Reading, but I couldn't have been more wrong.

It was wonderful! Just an absolute joy. The kids were polite and waited their turn in line. They all still had their new library cards from last week. The adults were also nice and there weren't even all that many of them who needed new cards.

We put Mrs. J on computer sign up duty, but I don't think we even needed to do that. We had everything under firm control and even had a little downtime to relax. Hell, we were so hip to the scene that Mrs. A let me leave early to run home and make my signature dish potato salad for a party my writers group was having.

On Wednesday, Mrs. C asked me how things went for Day 3 and if it was as bad as it had been on Day 1.

"No, Tuesday went great," I said.

And then it hit me: the reason everything is awful and chaotic during Monday Summer Reading days is because they take place on a MONDAY! Mondays are EVIL enough all by themselves without the added complication of a hundred kids running around, snarling at one another for taking the last Junie B. Jones book. Why the hell are we compounding our problems by doing Summer Reading on Monday when Tuesday is SO MUCH BETTER?!

Mrs. C had the answer. It seems some time ago a certain librarian type person (*COUGH* *COUGH* *MRS A* *COUGH*) used to insist that Summer Reading be scheduled primarily on days when she didn't work so that she wouldn't have to work it. She never used to work Mondays so that's when it landed. I don't know if she was just phobic about kids, or what, but Mrs. A has never had a lot to do with any children's programming we do. (I'm not pointing fingers, cause I don't really either.) Somewhere along the line, though, she began working the desk during it to free up other staff members to help outside. And now she's wrangled me into helping her out of necessity. So my big question is: If she's going to work the desk during Summer Reading anyway, why don't we just move it to Tuesday when it's so much more bearable than leaving it on the most horrible day of the week?

Mrs. C says it's also because she herself can't imagine having it on any other day than Monday. To her, it just seems right. I told her that was crazy talk and that I'm going to become a Tuesday Lobbyist until we get it moved. Perhaps if I threaten to come down with a Mondaycentric five-week intestinal illness that prevents me from working the desk, they'll start listening.

Actual Telephone Conversations Heard in Actual Libraries #4

*RING*

ME: TRI-METRO County Public Library.

FEMALE PATRON: Yes, I need you to help me with some information.

ME: Okay.

FEMALE PATRON: I need to know the definition of Autism. I have a dictionary myself, but it's old and doesn't have that word in it.

ME: Uh, all right. Sure. (LOOKS UP AUTISM ON DICTIONARY.COM, THE HANDIEST DICTIONARY TO THE CIRCULATION DESK.) Okay. It says, "A psychiatric disorder of childhood characterized by marked deficits in communication and social interaction, preoccupation with fantasy, language impairment, and abnormal behavior, such as repetitive acts and excessive attachment to certain objects. It is usually associated with intellectual impairment."

FEMALE PATRON: Mmm hmm. (LONG THOUGHTFUL PAUSE.) Now, you said "language impairment," there. Would that include stuttering?

ME: (WONDERING HOW THIS WOMAN CAN POSSIBLY BE ASSUMING THAT I AM NOW SOME KIND OF AUTHORITY ON AUTISM) Um, we'll ma'am I couldn't really say. I'm just reading what it says here.

FEMALE PATRON: But stuttering is a language impairment, right?

ME: (NOW IMAGINING THAT THIS WOMAN IS SITTING AT HOME TRYING TO COME UP WITH SOME SORT OF MENTAL CONDITION TO WEDGE HER CHILD'S SYMPTOMS INTO SO SHE CAN SOMEHOW FINAGLE IT INTO A MONTHLY CHECK FROM JOE TAXPAYER) Ma'am, again, I'm just reading what the dictionary says here. It doesn't mention stuttering. It just says "language impairment."

FEMALE PATRON: Mmm hmm.

ME: I think stuttering might be a speech impairment, but I don't think that's the same thing as a language impairment.

FEMALE PATRON: (STILL NOT LISTENING) But the children with autism... they might stutter.

ME: (*SIGHS*) Sure. They might. I don't know. I'm not an expert on Autism. I'm just reading out of a dictionary.

FEMALE PATRON: (ADOPTS EVEN MORE DUBIOUS TONE) Mmm hmm.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Chester Submission (or "More Fun with obscure Robert Ludlum titles")

Sunday afternoon, the wife and I popped by the local "mall" to see the afternoon matinee of Spider-Man 2. Rather than driving around back to the theater portion, we walked through the mall itself so I could pass by my favorite comic shop kiosk and say hi to Garin the comic shop guy, (who's nothing at all like his namesake from the Simpsons).

The comic shop kiosk was unfortunately closed, but who should we see coming around the corner from the direction of the theater but everyone's friendly neighborhood alleged pedophile Chester the (Potential) Molester.

Well, this should be interesting, I thought.

Chester didn't notice me at first, but when he finally did see me an exquisite look of fear crossed his face. His eyes bulged wide for a second and he lost a step in his pace. By then he had already reached the closed comic kiosk and had no way of gracefully avoiding me. His only options were to turn around and head back the way he'd come, or turn around and walk all the way around to the far side of the kiosk, or he could continue toward me and the wife.  He chose the later.

I turned on my usual scowl of hatred and loathing, which never had much effect on him at the library until I finally combined it with the whole confrontation element last Monday. This time the scowl had a very odd effect on Chester.

As we got closer, Chester gave me a nervous sort of smile followed by a nervous and clearly submissive sort of wave. It was the sort of wave I imagine a schnauzer might give a rotweiler to indicate his low-caste position in the whole Alpha/Beta dog ratio.  That definitely seemed to be Chester's message to me, though.

"Uh... hey. How're you?" he said.

I couldn't believe it. Chester was actually trying to sound cheerful at me! However, his facial muscles gave him away by fighting with one another in an attempt to register new levels of nervousness.

I didn't say a word. I just kept right on scowling at him and didn't break my gaze until we were nearly beside each other. Then I walked on past and around the corner.

The wife looked at me with a confused, disturbed and vaguely disgusted expression.

"Who was that?"

"Chester."

"Oh," she said. "Oh, my."

"Yup."

We walked on a few paces.

"Sure was a gratifying look of fear he had, don't you think?" I said.

"I'd say."

It's probably wrong of me to revel in my newfound role as bully of alleged pedophiles. However, if you're going to be a bully, I suppose alleged-pedophiles may as well be your target.

By the way, Spider-Man 2 was fun and a much better film than the first one.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Emulation

I think my little confrontation with Chester has had a contagious effect on the rest of the staff. Seems like everyone's confronting problem patrons with fervor these days. Mrs. C has been particularly aggressive on this front and practically attacked Mr. B-Natural the other day. Mr. B-Natural came in for his computer crossword puzzle at around 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Before signing his name upside down on our clip-board, as per tradition, he noticed that a previous computer patron had mistakenly written 11:47 a.m. instead of 10:47 a.m. when they signed in.

"Hey, this isn't right. This guy couldn't have signed in at 11:47," Mr. B-Natural grumped.

"Oh, yeah?" Mrs. C said, rounding on him with fangs bared. "Well maybe he's just being a troublesome patron like you--signing your name upside down every day just to aggravate us!"

Mr. B-Natural wisely kept quiet, but even this confrontation didn't prevent him from signing his name upside down when Mrs. C's back was turned. While I love to see Mr. B-Natural get his, I still think it's a mistake to admit to him that anything he does is at all irritating to us. It just encourages him. Mr. B-Natural was, however, not the only problem patron to face Mrs. C's wrath that day.

Later in the afternoon Parka came in to chat with his e-skanks and was typing with excessive force as usual. No matter which computer we put him on, he bangs away at the keys like he's trying to press each letter through sheet metal or something. It drives Mrs. A crazy, as her office is directly above the computer hall and the noise floats up the stairwell to her, so we frequently hear her complaints. Yet, for all these weeks no one had actually confronted the man about it until Mrs. C decided enough was enough.

"Is there something wrong with that keyboard?" Mrs. C asked Parka.

"What?" Parka replied.

"I said, is there something wrong with your keyboard? You're typing on it pretty hard there. If there's something wrong with it, we can have it replaced with one that works better."

"No, there's nothing wrong with the keyboard," Parka said. Then he began typing again, albeit more quietly.

Frankly, I don't mind my fellow staff members becoming more confrontational. It's about time we were. As my friend Glen recently told me, "most people just aren't used to be confronted for their stupid behavior and will often yield when called on it."

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Summer Reading Day Two

Once again, I was drafted to come in early to help man the desk for Summer Reading, Week One, Day Two.

I started off by getting there just before 9. Through the window, I spied the rest of the staff gathered in the main room so I began pounding on the front door screaming, "LEMME IN! I GOTTA USE THE INNA-NET!" Unfortunately, I forgot there were several Summer Reading moms sitting in their cars, until I turned and caught some disapproving looks from them.

We have two Summer Reading sessions per week. Today was the under 6 crowd's turn. It actually went much smoother than Monday, though we're not entirely sure why. It might be because the little kids weren't as interested in checking books out as the older ones, so we only saw a handful of them at the desk. Mostly they stayed upstairs, where it sounded as though they were trying to jump through the floor. Course, as old as this place is, nearly any foot traffic up there sounds like that.

We were all prepared for the usual mass chaos, though. We even stationed Mrs. H at her own little desk in the computer hall where she had the sign-up sheet and computer timers. Our plan was to shuffle the usual internet crowd that way so we could concentrate on making cards and helping patrons. Naturally, since we were prepared for them, hardly anyone needed a computer this morning. Still, we're planning to put that system into further practice soon. A guy has recently come in to talk to Mrs. A about working off some hours of community service he'd received. We're planning on sticking him in the computer area. Maybe I can get him to start giving Parka dirty looks, just to save me time.

What little turmoil we did have today was due to a sudden rush on the bathroom by seemingly everyone in the building. Even I was trying to get in there, though only to retrieve our ladder for the local artists to put up their work in our above-the-shelves mini art gallery, which rotates monthly. I tried four times to get the ladder, but every time I would go back, I'd knock and hear a different voice say, "Just a minute..." So the artists had quite a wait.

We also had to dismiss Ron the Ripper, today. No, I didn't become enraged at for his ripping up our magazines and go "Chester" on his ass. Instead, when Ron came in with his aid, Mrs. A stopped them and explained that there were no tables upstairs for him to sit at to rip up said magazines due to Summer Reading having taken over the space. He didn't even give us a single caveman growl of disappointment. He just turned and left without a fight. I guess he was feeling "too cool" for that, in his stylin' new bucket hat, which was made from a very loud patterned fabric that looked like it would be more at home as a pair of Bermuda shorts than a hat.

Damn, that reminds me... I still haven't revealed his secret identity.