A lady came huffing and puffing through our double doors, lugging a medium-sized box which she set on the circ desk.
"I've brought you a box of donations," she said.
"Oh. Thank you very much," I said. One flap of the box was open and allowed me a limited glimpse into the box itself. There I could see a row of books that looked remarkably close in size and shape to text books.
"Are some of these text books?" I asked.
"They're all text books," the lady said.
"Um... I'm sorry, but we don't accept text books," I said. "We don't take donations of Readers Digest condensed books and we don't take text books."
The lady stared back at me, but was not angry at my dismissal of her gift. "Yes, that's what the woman I spoke to on the phone said. But," she added, adopting a hopeful tone, "she said you could sometimes get rid of them for us?"
No, what the woman she'd spoken to on the phone had probably said was that if we received any text books we would just throw them away. Not the same thing, but I could now see her angle on this. This lady wasn't thoughtfully donating books she thought we could use; she clearly knew we wouldn't use her text books. Instead, the idea of throwing them away herself was so repulsive that she was intentionally passing her moral book-dilemma on to us. She had already been told that we would throw them away, but if she didn't have to be there to see it then it somehow wasn't as bad. It's like the practice of loading one gun in a firing squad with blanks; she's allowed to live in a world where she can hope that maybe, just maybe, we took pity on those books and added them to our collection despite policy. This is, after all, the primary reason people donate so many boxes of moldy, rat-gnawed, estate-sale books to us: because they can't bear to throw them out. And it's why our annual book sale is such a public service. We throw out a vast quantity of books most years, but the public is spared the horrors of seeing us do so.
In retrospect, I probably should have been Mr. Cool, taken the lady's text books, patted her on the shoulder and assured her we would take good care of them. I could then have put the box out by the garbage and she could have gone on living in her happy, sunny, little candy-colored world, where all books are loved and have cozy homes and get snuggles and treats. Yep, that would have been the Mr. Cool move to make. But I wasn't feeling like Mr. Cool. I'd had a bad afternoon of it already and had just spent several tense minutes trying to teach Gene Gene the Geneal0gy Machine how to use his #%&*ing jump drive, YET AGAIN, and was not in the mood to coddle anyone. She'd turned up knowing full well that we didn't accept what she was bringing and she could therefore throw her own books away.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't know who you talked to, but our policy is that we do not take text books."
The lady looked a little sad, but gave me a sheepish grin and hauled her box away.