Friday, December 24, 2004

The Return of the Cranky King

Mr. B-Natural, crankiest old man in all the world and long lost missing rogue since we banned his dog, Bubba, for infesting our library with fleas this past summer, came in Wednesday at around 5:30. Wow, he was cranky! I've not seen him that fired up in a loooong time.

He came in, sans dog, just behind two burly gentlemen wearing ball caps that advertised heavy construction equipment. They also had a considerable amount of dried mud on their feet, much of which they left on our runner carpet. The mud-caked gentlemen wished to use computers. Mr. B-Natural, who we rarely saw after 5 back when we regularly saw him, also wanted one. The cranky part came next.

I'll have to take his word for this, as I did not smell it myself, but according to Mr. B-Natural, the older of the two gentlemen was something of a farter and had let fly with a foul cloud just prior to entering the building. Again, I never smelled it. In fact, the only thing I could smell was the delicious yet lingering aroma of the club salad I had just eaten, which I'm not convinced isn't what he was smelling in the first place. (Maybe says something about my choice in salads.) He didn't tell me about it right away. Instead, he headed back to the computer hall, presumably to escape the gas.

"Don't you smell that?" he asked me while I logged on computers for the other men. He told me about his farter theory, ending with, "Gotta be that old man!"

In between bouts of being insulting, he was eyeing the computers that I was logging on. I pointed out that he'd still not signed in on the clip board up front and needed to do so before he could have a computer of his own. Loudly cursing about the horrible farty stench (which I still couldn't detect) and the sorts of old men who are full of such smells (never mind that the old man in question was standing RIGHT THERE as Mr. B's accusations flew), Mr. B-Natural accompanied me back to the circ desk. He signed in, upside down, as in accordance with tradition, then returned to the computer hall. Within 30 seconds, he was back at the desk, practically gasping for air. He began yet another loud curse-filled rant on his new favorite topic of gassy old men who can stink up entire buildings. (And this from a guy who never uttered a single word of complaint when seated directly beside Mr. Stanky, lo those many months ago.)

"Are you sure it's not my salad?" I said, pointing to my open salad container.

"Hell no, it's not a salad!" Mr. B angrily fired back. "Makes me want to puke! I'm gonna have to take my teeth out and wash them before I do anything else!" He said this, I might add, while stuffing multiple cookies from our holiday open house goodies table into his mouth. The "stench" had not dampened his appetite.

"Can't I just use one of these?" he said, indicating our card catalog computer and Mrs. C's computer.

"Nope. Patron's can't use those for the internet."


Eventually Mr. B stopped cursing quite so much and calmed down. However, that left me standing there with him staring at me as he waited, I suppose, for the place to air out.

"So..." I began, looking for some kind of small talk. "How's Bubba doing?"

"Oh, he's pretty good. Had to leave him at home to come down here cause MRS. A won't let him in anymore."

"Well, I miss Bubba," I offered. And I do. I'd rather have Bubba in than Mr. B-Natural.

"It's a goddam shame too! That dog didn't have no fleas!" Mr. B said. "He sleeps in the same bed as I do and I don't have fleas." He rambled on a bit more in this vein, explaining that he uses the Hartz flea-killer medicine on Bubba and how it's the kind you're supposed to use once every three months, but Mr. B-Natural uses it on his dog once a month, just to make sure.

"Then some woman up and gets flea bit and they all blame Bubba! Shit!"

Finally, Mr. B-Natural left me alone and returned to the computer hall. I set about trying to write down as much of the encounter as I could. I didn't get far because he was back, barely three minutes later.

"That internet has to be the most goddam frustrating thing in my whole life!" he said. "I can't make heads or tails on how to send this e-mail to somebody. Can you help me send an e-mail?"

Aw hell, I thought. The last thing I wanted to have to do was hand hold him through the Hotmail signup process. It's bad enough with pleasant patrons. Still, there was a chance I might not have to.

"Uh, do you already have an e-mail account?" I asked.

"Yeah. I got e-mail with Yahoo. But I hit compose and it's not working and it's the damndest thing. Jesus Christ!"

I walked around the desk and back to the computer hall where I found a blank Yahoo e-mail compose window on his screen.

"That wasn't there before," he said. "It had to have come up while I was gone."

"Well, you can just type their e-mail address in that blank there and then write the e-mail," I said. "You do know their e-mail address right?"

"Yeah. I have to check something on it first," he said.

I left him to it. Occasionally, I had cause to go back to shelve books on tape or log someone else on and every time I would hear him grumbling and adding the occasional "Jesus Christ!"

Mr. B-Natual's half hour ended and then another ten minutes crawled by. I left him alone. He was not, however, going to extend the same courtesy to me.

"This has got to be the most frustrating damn thing in my whole life," he repeated on his way back to the front desk.

I followed him back to his computer to see what was wrong. There on his screen was, of all things, Martha Stewart's home page. As you might have heard, Martha is currently residing in our fair state as a guest of the Alderson Women's Prison. Mr. B-Natural next showed me a news article, several browser screens back, that was about sentencing reform, which also mentioned Martha and her new digs and gave the address for her home page. Mr. B-Natural wanted to write an e-mail to Martha, but every time he clicked the "e-mail Martha" button from her home page it refused to "do any goddam thing." I could see that this was because the "e-mail Martha" button was actually a "mailto:" link with her e-mail address in it. Whenever he pressed the button, the computer tried to load Outlook Express in order to plug the address in. Trouble is, we don't have Outlook on those machines, so Windows just opened up the executable search to try and find a suitable replacement.

About that time, Mr. B-Natural started a new rant against technology the likes of which the Unabomber would have been proud to have penned. While he was busy with all that, I did a copy shortcut on the link button and then told him to open up his Yahoo mail page again. When he finally got a compose window open, (which, in his defense, did take an irritatingly long time to come up), I pasted Martha's address into the TO: blank. Mr. B-Natural was astounded.

"How the hell'd you do that?"

I showed him how the hell I'd done that.

"Well, I'll be," he said.

After that, Mr. B-Natual whiled away another half hour typing his e-mail to Martha. When he had finished and sent it, he came back up to the circulation desk and thanked me for helping him. He seemed genuinely pleased about it. Before he left, he said, "You know, I could have said the same thing to a person face to face and it would have taken less than 30 seconds."

I just smiled and watched him go.

I would truly love to know what he said to her.

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.