Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Weird Wednesday

Yesterday was Weird Wednesday.

Not every Wednesday is a Weird Wednesday, but when we have more than our usual share of mentally unbalanced or otherwise questionable patrons who weird us out, they are. It's not always on a Wednesday either. Sometimes we have Terrible Tuesdays, In Need of Therapy Thursdays and Freaky Fridays. Oh, and of course, Manic Mondays.

Yesterday didn't even have all THAT much weirdness, but still more than qualifies because of the appearance of two people, one of which was Ron the Ripper.

We've not seen Ron in several months now and the past few times he's been in he has been startlingly well-behaved and failed to rip anything, let alone a magazine. The only really notable thing about Ron's appearance today is that accompanying him was a woman who had to have been his mother (Ma Ripper) because she looked exactly like Ron except 20 years older; which is to say, a stout fellow around 5'7" with salt & pepper hair, well-shaven (for once) and not quite as manic a gleam in the eye as he once had.

The two of them went upstairs where I imagined they would both snatch up a couple of our good magazines before sitting together at one of our tables where they would both proceed to page-flip the magazines to death. I wondered if maybe Ma Ripper would emit caveman growls like her son when confronted about their destruction.

Alas, nothing so colorful happened. From what I'm told by my fellow staff members who observed them, Ron and Ma Ripper sat upstairs in the chairs by our magazine rack where Ma Ripper flipped very slowly and carefully through a magazine while Ron sat obediently in his own chair with no magazine whatsoever and seemed happy for the opportunity.

That guy has really mellowed out.

The other Weird Wednesday qualifier came just half an hour into my shift, when we were visited by yet another in our long string of computer illiterate technophobes.

Two Mondays ago (Manic Monday!) a gentleman phoned the library toward the end of one of the many bursts of Monday chaos to ask if we had internet access.

"Yes, we do," I told him.

He then politely explained that he was not at all familiar with how to use the internet and asked if we would show him how to use it should he come by. He said he needed some tax information from the IRS website. I explained that that particular day, again, a Monday, we would be unable to assist him in that regard being as how we was really just me and I was stranded at the circ-desk dealing with the Monday and wouldn't be able to slip away, even to take myself a whiz. However, if he wouldn't mind coming in on nearly any other weekday, we'd be happy to help him out.

This may seem strange behavior for me, as I've done my share of complaining bitterly in the past about computer illiterates and the techniques they employ toward their ultimate goal of driving me insane. (See: Ms. I.N. Phyte and Mr. Little Stupid.) However, this man was at least not delusional about having any computer skills and was willing to admit it, politely, and ask for my help. He hadn't just buzzed on by that Monday afternoon to insist upon it nor did he pretend he knew what he was doing and just plop down and stare at the screen for 20 minutes until someone noticed he was a moron. No, this gentleman had phoned, in advance, to inquire if we would be willing to help him! Now that's refreshing!!!

I told the man to come on down Tuesday through Friday, preferably in the afternoon when we have the most available staff. And, at this, he thanked me for my time and help.

Yesterday was his chosen day. Once again, he phoned ahead and spoke with Mrs. A, asking her if we could help put him on the internet should he come down. I know this because as soon as he'd asked it, Mrs. A looked to me--the guy who would be doing the actual helping--and asked if I was willing. "Sure thing," I said.

Fifteen minutes later, the man arrived. He had evidently been working out or jogging or was preparing to go workout or jog, for he was wearing nylon exercise pants beneath a pair of shorts. I've seen this look before and I've never understood it. What are people who do this trying to say? Is it: "Hey, check out these cool shorts I'd really like to be wearing except that it's too EFFing cold to just wear shorts, so I put `em on over my fancy nylon workout britches! "? Sorry. I just don't understand the look.

Anyway, we signed Mr. Shorts in at the clip board and I took him on back where I thought I would have to hand hold him through the process. Once in the computer hall, the man explained that he owned a computer but it wasn't hooked up to the internet at all. You might think this would make him a candidate for at least SOME computer skills, but, alas, no. Evidently Mr. Shorts's computer was not only not hooked up to the internet but it wasn't hooked up to a mouse either, cause he had quite a bit of trouble using ours. I explained the whole left click & drag the scroll bar thing in order to let him scroll down our home page to the IRS links I've helpfully placed there. It took him a few tries and I still don't think he was left-clicking properly. Eventually, he decided instead of dragging the scroll bar, he'd just click in the space beneath it so it would jump down to meet the mouse. He still wasn't left clicking properly, though, so it didn't work the first time either. Finally we got to the bottom of the page and he successfully clicked (double) on the IRS link.

Mr. Shorts explained he was looking for a publication that would help him with charitable deductions. I showed him where the forms & publications page was and how to search for things with the IRS search engine. I suggested some search terms and was prepared to stand there and further assist, but dude indicated that I'd helped enough and he thought he could handle it from there, so I told him to let me know if I could help further and returned to the circ desk.

For the most part, he was right. It took him ten minutes or so, but he did mange to find the publication he was searching for. However, he was mystified about how to get to the publication from the search page. He didn't realize that the linked publication title could be clicked to take him there. My fault for assuming he knew how.

Now, it might seem that I'm making fun of the man at this point, but I'm really not. I understand that there are people who don't know anything about the internet, even people as young as this guy (who was in his 40's, I'd say). I also understand that there are people who think it's fine and dandy to wear shorts on top of their pants regardless of how retarded it might look. Whatever. I'm still not making fun of him; just observing. The part where I actually make fun of him is coming up.

After he finished copying down the information he needed from the online publication, Mr. Shorts came back up front and once again thanked me for my time and for helping him out. Again, mighty nice of him. He then began browsing through some of our new non-fiction. This is when warning bells began to go off in my head and I became preoccupied in typing up spine-labels for some incoming new books in order to keep as far away from the circulation desk as possible. Mrs. A and C were both in proximity to the desk, so I was hoping they would be the ones who had to deal with what I knew was coming next.

After a few minutes, Mr. Shorts began to look as though he was ready to check out. That's when I took my avoidance of the circ-desk a step further by hauling ass out of the room with an armload of non-fiction to take to the book cart upstairs.

See I knew there was no way in hell this guy actually had a library card with us, except maybe on the old defunct system and not the new freshness. And as techno-phobic as he'd seemed before, I also knew there was no way he was going to want to jump through the hoops we require to get a library card without some kind of paranoid tantrum. Upon returning from upstairs, I discovered that I was very very right on this count.

Mrs. A was at the desk, peering down as Mr. Shorts filled out his application for a library card. He had only made it as far as the drivers' license number.

"That's a drivers license number. That's personal information," he was saying. "That's just as dangerous as giving out your Social Security number! There's no way you can guarantee me that that this system is secure!"

Mrs. A didn't even attempt to guarantee him that our system is secure. After all, it's not our job to have a secure system; that's the job of the tech-boys back at the head office. They say it is, we have to take their word on it. What Mrs. A did do was politely explain to dude the reasons why we insist upon having a drivers license number in the first place. I knew it was futile to do so. It always is.

Dude didn't hear a bit of it. He was too busy waiting to say what he said next, which was, "All a thief needs is your social security number and your drivers license number and he can steal your identity. I don't even put that information in my own computer."

That's right.

He said he didn't put that information in his own computer.

Y'know, the one that's not even hooked up to the internet in the first place.

Mrs. A continued to skillfully ignore his rants. She'd given her explanation to him and he hadn't torn up his application. In fact, he'd gone ahead and written down his license number for her, which she confirmed from his license, so he wasn't so bent out of shape that he didn't want the card anyway.

My master plan of not being the guy on the desk when Mr. Shorts did what I knew Mr. Shorts was gonna do worked like a charm. Mrs. A is far better suited to not going off on people than I am in such situations. Her philosophy of answering the questions she can and politely ignoring the rants in between seems to work for her pretty well.

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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.