Monday, June 12, 2006

Barbie T.: Master of the Internet (PART 1)

The situation: Late last week my boss, Mrs. A, secluded herself in her office to take care of “liberry” business. My co-worker, Mrs. B, had secluded herself in our storage area to work on more book donations. Everyone else had either fled town or at least the building. I was therefore Cap’n Solo when it comes to running the joint. I’d just logged a patron onto a computer and was on my way back to the front room when I crossed into the children’s room and saw an unwelcome sight blocking my way back to the desk.

“Excuuuuse me,” Barbara Turdmurkle said in her usual slow, breathy, singsong voice. Her voice was nearly a whisper and she began beckoning me over with quick waves of her hand. Beyond her, I could see there were three people lined up at the circ desk. I SO did not need this.

“Excuuuse me, but I’m going to need your help with something,” she said. Before I could stop her she continued, still in a whisper, “I’ve been getting these very eerie phone calls at my house recently and I think someone may be trying to interfere with my credit.”

“Okay, I’ll be right with you in just a minute,” I said. "I need to go back to the desk." I then wedged my way past her in the door frame

"No!" she said, then remembered to whisper. "no."

By then I was moving away from her at a sideways angle so I could look back at her and still keep moving toward the desk. “I have to go back to the desk."

“No, no,” Barbara said again, frantically waving her hand for me to come back. She too was now edging away, moving back toward the computer hall, “I need your help.”

“I’m sorry, but I need to go to the desk right now.”

“No, I need your help with…”

“I. Need. To. Go. To. The. Desk. Right. Now,” I said.

Barbara blinked at me for a second. “Are you the only one here?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m the only one running the desk right now and I have to get back to it, right now. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

With that, I turned my back on her and went to the desk to take care of the patrons who chose to wait in line, rather than in ambush. When I was done and had signed the last of them onto a computer, I returned to the task of Barbara Turdmurkle. She had, by then, come into the main room and was waiting near the desk. Barbara Turdmurkle explained that for the past week she had been receiving odd phone calls at her house. Each time, the caller asked if she was Brenda. Rather than simply admitting that she was not Brenda and that this was likely a wrong number, Barbara T. had chosen to insist they the caller first tell her who they were and then she would say whether or not she was Brenda. The caller, in turn, insisted that she confirm her identity as Brenda first before they would say who they were. Eventually, stalemate realized, one of them would hang up on the other. Or, sometimes the caller would leave a message on Barbara's machine asking Brenda to phone him at a specific number. Adding to the oddity of this, Barbara Turdmurkle claimed the last four digits of the caller’s out of state phone number, as seen on her caller ID, matched the last four digits of her social security number. However, it did not match the number the caller had left on her machine. So Barbara Turdmurkle tried to phone the caller back at his given number. When the other line picked up it was answered, “Accounts.” And when Barbara began insisting that they tell her what sort of business they were running, the person on the other end said, “Brenda? Is this Brenda?” All of this evidence had thus convinced Barbara Turdmurkle that someone was trying to steal her identity and ruin her credit.

Now, I had to admit the events she described were odd, but not beyond the realm of explanation. Barbara Turdmurkle, however, was convinced her evil neighbor was behind it. (I’m not sure if this is the same evil neighbor she’s told us that she’s been to the police about on many other occasions, but it seems likely.)

Fortunately, Barbara is a member of some sort of credit protection program which she phoned right away. They told her they’d send her a credit report, but she needed to go online to their website and check her credit reports that way to make sure nothing seemed amiss. That’s what Barbara needed my help with because, as she said, "I don't know anything about computers."

I think we all know from my past experiences with Barbara Turdmurkle and technology, not to mention with computer neophytes in general, how well this is going to turn out.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Borrowers, Get Out!

Our usual Monday Madness came late this week. It came on a Thursday. And while we had the staff to deal with it, none of us wanted to. We all had our own projects we were trying to attend to and wanted nothing to do with the circ desk.

Meanwhile, the phone would NOT stop ringing and the Brent & Brice auxiliary league of neighborhood kids would NOT stop coming in and demanding computers, which they insisted on sitting at in groups of three per computer, despite being told by Mrs. C and then again by Mrs. A and eventually again by me that they could only have one per cause they’re too damn noisy otherwise. Soon we had a 45 minute wait time for computers due to the backlog of patrons, neighborhood and otherwise. That's when I heard a familiar and horrifying voice at the circ-desk. Yep, it was everyone's favorite Vid-Borrower, Mrs. Bellows.

Mrs. Bellows was turning in all her videos from the last time she was in. On the counter, next to her heaping stack of returned videos, was a half-empty 2-liter bottle of Pepsi and a large clear plastic box with a handle on top in which every ratty-assed audio cassette tape in the world had been crammed. I prayed none of the audio tapes were ours and she didn't open it to disgorge any, so probably not.

After piling all her videos on the desk, Mrs. Bellows seemed to have several brain-farts in a row, then said, "Is there a... do you have one of them... You got a computer I could sit on for awhile?"

No!!! Please NO!!!!

Mrs. C informed her it would be a good-sized wait for one, as they were all still clogged with neighborhood kids for the foreseeable future.

"I'll just be over in the videos, then," she said. Well, naturally.

After about half an hour, the neighborhood kids left in mass and the computers were all finally free. This coincided with Mrs. Bellows finishing her selection of more painfully bad videos and bringing them to the desk for checkout. Mrs. C asked her if she still wanted a computer. No response. And it wasn't like Mrs. Bellows was clear across the room, either. She was right there at the circ-desk. So Mrs. C asked her again, but Mrs. Bellows was far more concerned with obtaining a large plastic grocery bag from us in which she hoped to carry her selection of bad videos home. After loading it full, she stuffed in her box of tapes too, causing the whole thing to bulge.

"Do you have a refrigerator I could put my pop in?" she asked, indicating her half-empty 2-liter. "I want it to keep cold."

Mrs. C said, no, we didn't have a refrigerator. Not precisely true, as we do have a little tiny one, but it's not for public use and Mrs. Bellows would be hard pressed to find room in it for something the size of a 2-liter anyway.

Mrs. Bellows walked away and Mrs. C, seeing that I was about to go refill my water bottle, asked if I would go try to tell Mrs. Bellows she could have a computer. I did and it took a couple of tries to get through to her, but she declined needing one. Then, as soon as I’d fetched my water and returned to cataloging, she decided she needed one after all. Mrs. C, noting my ire, told me to stay put, that she’d take care of it. She went back and logged on the last computer back and then told Mrs. Bellows which one she could use. Naturally, Mrs. Bellows sat down at the middle computer and, since it wasn’t logged on and therefore not of use, began bellowing for help before Mrs. C could even get away.

After that, I sat back to wait for further inevitable bellowing on her part, as she has never been known to use a computer without some need of assistance.

And I waited and waited and waited.

Soon everyone had left for the day except me and Mrs. A, who was still trapped in her office doing work. After a while, Mrs. Bellows collected her overstuffed grocery bag and departed. Only then did Mrs. A come downstairs and ask if I’d heard all the bellowing. Apparently, Mrs. Bellows had been bellowing for several minutes and Mrs. A had nearly abandoned her work to stomp downstairs and tell the woman to stop screaming for help and get off her lazy ass and walk to the front room to ask for it. Oddly, I’d not heard a single bellow, and I’d been listening for them.

I was already thinking that Mrs. Bellows should probably get her hearing checked, but now I’m starting to think I should too.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Winston’s Story (Or “The Amazing and Miraculous Thing that Truly Happened to Us”) (PART 5)

In the morning, I found myself very slow to get out of bed. Sure, I wanted to get a good look at our kitty visitor/captive in the daylight, but found I was hesitant to actually do so. What if my daylight glimpse somehow proved this was not the cat? What if all the evidence that had seemed so clear the night before had been misperceived?

I finally got up and went out on the deck, armed with our little Tupperware cup of cat hair samples. Kitty was still quite angry, as any wet trapped cat might be, but he was considerably drier now, thanks to the umbrella. Despite his scowl, he was not an ugly cat, by any means. In fact, he was sort of pretty, though in a hateful, claw-your-eyes-out kind of way. He looked like a small, lighter-colored bobcat, complete with tufted ear tips.

I studied the fur samples in my cup and then studied his damp fur. They still seemed a match in daylight. I could even clearly see the grayish blotches intermingled with the black and sandy colors in his fur, matching the gray hair in the sample. Our sample didn’t contain as much of the two-tone black and sandy hair as he had on his back, but most of Winston’s self-defense back-clawing would have taken fur from the cat’s underbelly, where there was no black hair that I could see. Our miracle-capture looked good, but part of me still wanted more confirmation.

We rolled in to the vet’s office around 8 a.m. Dr. Barrier was just arriving as we pulled up and saw me carrying my new live-trap with its trapped live contents.

“Merry Christmas,” I said.

“You got him?” he said, his eyes widening.

“Looks like it,” I said.

Once our trap cage was on the examining table, Dr. Barrier gave the cat a look and said, “Wow, he’s a big guy.”

We passed Dr. Barrier our cup of hair samples and told him what it was. He took one look the sample, then looked at the cat and said, “That’s this cat’s hair, all right.” Those were beautiful words to hear. It was confirmation—from an expert, no less—that I wasn’t just forcing the evidence into a desired mold.

“He’ll probably have some wounds on his stomach, too,” I said, recalling the blood on one of Winston’s back claws. Of course, he probably had a puncture wound as well, since Winston had quite literally broken her tooth off in him.

Dr. Barrier asked us if we knew if this cat belonged to anyone. We explained how it did not belong to any of the neighbors we’d spoken with and that some of those neighbors already knew of it and believed it feral. Granted, it could still have belonged to someone in the area, but I didn’t feel a bit bad about turning it over. I’d seen this thing tearing into my cat with my own eyes. No, I didn’t like that this cat was going to have to die in order to prove whether or not my cat had rabies—and would then either die or live herself—but if a cat was going to have to die in this situation, I was happy to choose the one who had come onto our property and viciously attacked a member of my family. If this cat was infected with rabies, his death would be far more pleasant than the one he would have had. If not, he would be a dangerous and aggressive cat removed from the kitty gene pool.

Dr. Barrier explained that the cat would soon be euthanized and the pertinent bits of him shipped out to a state lab for testing. He said that just looking at the cat, it didn’t seem to be rabid, so likely it was just a particularly aggressive. Being a Friday, we’d probably not hear from them until early in the following week. Still, it bothered me that this cat had attacked Winston at all. She’s the wussiest cat in the world, so she wasn’t the instigator. We don’t have cat food on the deck, so he wasn’t after that. And, having been spayed in 1993, she should not have been a target for mating. The situation seemed comparable to a young punk attacking an old lady for no reason—though an old lady apparently not afraid to scrap it up a bit if it came down to defending herself.

After having her broken tooth extracted, Winston was released to our care, taken home and showered with canned cat food, extra Pounces, painkillers, antibiotics and love. It took her a couple of days to get used to the feeling of having a missing tooth, and her face looks a little crooked as a result, so she’s picked up yet another nickname, “Snag.”

Tuesday morning, Dr. Barrier phoned with good news. The test results on the other cat came back and were negative. Just as he’d suspected, the cat that attacked her was not rabid, so Winston was in the clear, rabies-wise. I scheduled an appointment to come in and get all her vaccinations and a kitty tune up.

This morning, I brought her in for her appointment. Dr. Barrier looked her over and pronounced that her wounds had all but completely healed and her broken tooth looked free of infection. He said she was ready to go outside again whenever she felt like it. So far she hasn’t, but when she wants to I’ll be there to open the door for her.

Winston Churchill: a kitty still poor and little, but as of yet not dead.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Winston’s Story (Or “The Amazing and Miraculous Thing that Truly Happened to Us”) (PART 4)

(Just to warn you, I’m about to get all religious on your ass. So atheist and agnostic readers can just sit on your hands for a bit or stick your fingers in your ears and sing the theme song to Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi really loud. Or, if you like, feel free to read on.)

I spent a good twenty minutes putting the live trap together and figuring out how to set it. It was a simple design, but proved quite effective when tested. All it needed was to be baited and placed. I chose our last remaining can of tuna for the bait. I’d nearly eaten it for lunch, earlier, but had decided not to at the last second. I opened the can, then placed the trap in the grass near the deck’s support post and shoved the tuna to the back of it. I then said a little prayer over the trap, but didn’t put much effort into it.

Before bed, Ash asked me if I wanted to pray together. I decided it was a good idea, since I feel like Ash has more bars on her connection to the man upstairs than I often do and I figured she could maybe act as an antenna booster for me.

My prayer was a meandering one over the course of several minutes and with many pauses. I began by thanking God for giving us Winston. She’s been my constant companion and friend through times when I had no one else around. As irritating as she can be, she’s been there with me, and later with me and Ashley, through good times and bad. Winston didn’t deserve the death in store for her. It would be one thing if we knew for certain that the cat that attacked her had rabies, for I would have no problem putting her to sleep to spare her such a fate. It seemed wrong, though, for her to have to die when we didn’t know for sure. This line of thought, however, lead me back to the whole I didn’t get her vaccinated like I should have and am a horrible person line, which just sent me off into self-pity land, mid-prayer. So I apologized to God for not getting her vaccinated and admitted that it was fully my fault. While I didn’t actually say it aloud, I was kind of hoping God would see fit not to allow Winston to die for my mistakes.

While I was on the subject of giving thanks, I thanked God for my family—in particular my step-mother, Myra. A month and a half ago, Myra learned that she has ovarian cancer. By the time it was discovered, it had already metastasized and spread to her colon, which is where they first discovered it. So Myra underwent surgery to remove the masses in her colon and then, three weeks ago, had her first session of chemotherapy. It’s not been a very pleasant experience for her thus far, but she and my dad seem to be dealing with it pretty well and they have a huge chain of people praying them some backup. Earlier on the same evening Winston was attacked, Myra and my dad had phoned to let us know that she’d been in for some tests and had learned that her body seems to be responding very well to her chemotherapy. Her doctors are already suggesting that so far she’s exhibiting progress similar to what they see in patients who go on to have lengthy remissions. She’s not out of the woods by any means, as her chemo sessions are to continue through August. But it’s a very good sign. At that moment, I realized I’d not yet thanked God for Myra’s progress. Quite frankly, I felt very guilty that here I was boo hooing over a cat when my own step-mother was fighting off cancer. At the same time, it also seemed to me that we should use a prayer technique for Winston similar to one we used for Myra.

On many occasions in the past, I have recognized that my control over a given unbearable situation is little to non-existent. On some of those occasions, I have chosen to go to God and offer that situation to him to deal with as he would see fit. There’s something very freeing about this, but admitting powerlessness and actually giving a situation into the control of a being who might say, “No,” is one of the most difficult things you can try to do prayer wise. It sounds easy enough on paper. It seems easy to just say, Oh, well, I can't do anything about this so I may as well give it up to God. However, truly giving something to God is far more difficult. It means you’re not allowed to keep worrying about it. It’s completely natural to want to keep worrying about it, but doing so does not show the proper degree of faith. Sure, you can express your preferences, but once you’ve given it into the creator’s control, it’s time to step back and trust him.

So I prayed then that God would take the situation from me. I had no control over making that cat go into our trap. I hadn’t even used particularly good tuna for bait. But I didn’t want to bear the thought that Winston went to an unfair death because of my negligence to get her shots updated and the only way to prevent that was for us to trap this cat. I had done all I knew to do and it was probably not enough. I therefore prayed that God would lay his hands on the situation, to take it from me and, hopefully, see fit to accomplish what I could not.

With that said, I wiped my eyes and took a deep breath. I tried to release all the anxiety I had over the matter and truly let it go. It must have worked, because I was asleep within minutes and slept remarkably well.

Around 4 a.m., it began to rain very very hard. The roar of the rain alone woke me up, but I probably would have known something was going on because Ashley, as usual, had to get up to go roll up her car windows. Hearing the rain pouring down began to worry me anew. To me it sounded the death knell of my efforts to trap the cat, for the tuna can had surely filled up with water, possibly flooding the tuna out of it entirely and certainly masking the smell. And what kind of cat was going to come out in the rain for wet tuna, anyway? I quickly began envisioning the week ahead—for surely the vet would only give me a week to accomplish my capture before punching Winston’s ticket—during which I would continue to set the trap, night after night and then wait in vain for the sound of it snapping shut. Ashley was right: there was no way this cat would return.

I lay there for several more minutes, unable to sleep, my mind whirring. Shortly, though, I realized that I was becoming ensnared in my own trap. I wasn't behaving at all like someone who had given the matter over to God, for that someone would have given the matter little thought and gone right back to sleep. Instead, I was allowing the hour of the wolf to creep in and stir up dread in my mind.

Once again, I took a cleansing breath and tried to clear my mind of all worry. I lay there for perhaps a minute when through the screen of our open bedroom window I heard a *SNAP * and my eyes shot open.

I wasn’t sure it was the trap, but that was definitely what it sounded like. Part of me didn’t want to believe I’d really heard it, because I didn’t want to be disappointed if I was wrong. But I got up anyway, put on my glasses and went to fetch a flashlight. Ashley woke up as I was doing this and I told her what I'd heard. She didn't seem to understand me and said that she'd checked the trap when she went down to roll up her windows and it had been empty.

“No, I just heard it,” I said.

I went to our bathroom window, opened it and shone the light down onto the ground where I’d left the trap. Staring back at me were two glowing eyes.

“There’s a cat in there,” I said.

“Are you sure it’s not a skunk?”

I was momentarily chilled at the ramifications of trapping a skunk. I’d not considered that possibility.

“No, it’s a cat,” I said.

I put on clothes and flip-flops then went outside into the now light rain and descended the deck steps. Ashley watched from the window above as I turned my light on the cage itself, revealing a large, medium furred cat growling at me. And while its fur was wet, I could see that it was primarily of a sandy color.

“I think this is it,” I said.

I carefully picked up the cage by its handle and held it at arm's length as I started moving toward the steps. The cat growled and thrashed itself against the ends of the cage, throwing it off balance and showering me with tuna water. I held on tight and made it up to the deck itself, where I set it down. Ash came outside and we turned on the floods for a better look. The cat was very wet and much of his fur was dark as a result, but there were actual streaks of dark hair along its back too. Several of his darker streaks were actually sandy colored hair with dark tips. On his underside was a thick layer of soft sandy-colored fur.

“That’s a big cat,” Ash said.


“The fur looks like a match, though.”


“Is it the one?”

I stared at it for a long time. I was firmly aware that I was now in a situation where I was prone to want to say yes to save my cat’s life. However, if I was wrong and Winston had been bitten by a different cat infected by rabies, we could be in huge huge trouble down the line. It was very important that I was certain this guy was the cat; I couldn’t allow my emotions to rule this decision; I had to rely on the evidence. From the size to the coloration to the attitude, though, the evidence pointed to this cat being the one. And that wide noble face certainly looked familiar. Was I just conjuring that, though?

“I think it’s him,” I said.

We left the kitty in the trap on our deck, but put a large umbrella over the cage so that he wouldn’t be rained on anymore. We then went back to bed where we lay crying with relief for a long time and thanking God for answering our prayer. Eventually we fell asleep.


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.