Monday, May 08, 2006

More Salad Days

Last week, we the "liberry" staff left our branch in the semi-capable hands of a greenhorn while we hoofed it down to Town C for their branch's first annual fund-raising salad lunche0n.

I think Mrs. A was a bit worried about how their salad lunche0n would go, since they've never done anything like it before. There was much hand-wringing over whether or not they had enough salads or whether the venue they'd chosen to hold this in was big enough. However, when we arrived, everything seemed to be going gangbusters business. Though the hall they used was small, there was sufficient seating space and patron turnover to keep things rolling right along. The salads were also outstanding. However, some of the dining company turned out to be every bit as quirky as you might expect from “liberry” patrons.

While there were enough seats to accommodate our employee delegation, the seating was not all together, so Mrs. A, Mrs. B and Mrs. J sat at one table while Mrs. C, Mrs. Publicist and I sat at another. Before we could even start in on our salads, a very wide middle-aged man sat down in the other spare place at our table bearing the most enormous plate of salad I’ve ever seen. The simplest and most accurate description of this man’s plate of salad is to call it convex; it was a heaping, rounded dome of salad and it retained that shape for quite some time because this man would not stop flapping his salad hole long enough to eat any of it. From the moment he sat down until the three of us were finally able to disengage from him and flee the building some fifteen minutes later, this man ate maybe–MAYBE—four bites of his salad.

“I thought at least one of you would have shown up to that meeting up in Morgantown,” the man said. This was his opening line to us as he sat down and it was made in a very accusatory tone for someone none of us knew at all, nor he us. However, none of us knew that none of us knew this man, so we all just sort of gave each other odd looks while the man proceeded to hold us personally accountable for not being at a meeting the subject of which none of us had any idea about. Turns out, the meeting was something to do with a possible new levee or dam which this guy claimed could somehow cause the river levels in our neck to rise by 30 feet. We’d never heard of any of it and said so, which seemed to irritate Mr. Wide & Mouthy. He paused to take his first bite, giving me the chance to try and steer the conversation away by asking Mrs. Publicist an unrelated question or two. Nope. In the middle of chewing his bite, Mr. Wide snatched the conversational reins back and began telling us his family history.

“See, me and my brothers are down here to take my granddaddy to the doctor. He’s 107 years old,” Mr. Wide said. He then went into more detail about his 107 year old granddaddy and how he was getting to be kind of a mean soul in his old age, unafraid to speak his mind. They practically had to trick him, B.A. Baracus-style, to get him to come to the doctor at all. (“No fly! No fly!”) We gathered that they were all visiting from a neighboring county. Mr. Wide then went on to detail how his grandmother had lived until just a few years previous and his great-uncle had lived to 114. Some of this was interesting enough, if a bit out of the blue, so we listened politely, nodding and trying like hell to get through our salads as quickly as possible. Minutes later, he was still at it.

“And then, granddaddy didn’t want to give his concentration pictures to his kids, so he gave `em to me. I wanted to make copies of them, but I don’t want to mail them anywhere cause they’re valuable and I don’t trust the mail.”

“Uh, what are concentration pictures?” I asked.

Mr. Wide looked at me as if I had just asked if cheesecake is tasty or if gasoline is expensive. “WHERE are YOU frum, buddy?” he said.

“Mississippi,” I said. I know, I know--hardly my best defense.

As Mr. Wide then irately explained, “concentration pictures” were photographs taken during World War II by soldiers who helped liberate German Concentration Camps. Despite my government-sponsored education, I was, of course, familiar with the history of World War II, and the fact that pictures had been taken at Concentration Camps. However, I had never once heard the term “concentration picture” associated with them nor do I think I should be expected to since “concentration picture” is clearly missing the necessary noun “camp” that might have given me a bit more of a clue as to the definition of the term. This didn’t stop me from feeling a bit smaller in intellect, though, particularly since I was now being lectured on the subject by the likes of Mr. Wide.

The next ten minutes passed very slowly, as Mr. Wide continued to jump from topic to topic, dominating the table chatter. (It was NOT a conversation, as that involves more than one person speaking; it was a lecture.) I eventually tried to change subjects to one where he would have no firm ground to stand, by asking Mrs. Publicist if she was writing any stories for a local publication she and I have both freelanced for in the past. Unfortunately, she was writing a story about a historic building in a neighboring county--the very neighboring county Mr. Wide was from. Once again, he had a conversational foothold. He immediately began interrogating Mrs. Publicist about the county and managed to learn that she used to live there herself and still owned property there. He then lectured us at length on the history of the county, the latest gossip as to who was doing who wrong and who was in trouble with the law, etc. It was painful.

We had completely finished our salads before Mr. Wide had even made a noticeable dent in his. Fortunately, we all like each other, so no attempt was made to flee the table and strand one of us in Mr. Wide’s gravitational pull. Instead, we had each other’s backs, and brought up the topic of how great the desserts looked and how we should all go see what was available. With that, we made our escape.

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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.