Friday, January 04, 2008

Meet the Hackers

The "liberry" has been hacked. No, not this blog, but the "liberry" itself. And, no, not the "liberry's" computer systems, but, instead, our immune systems.

Let me back up.

One of our long-time regular and allegedly "good" patrons is a guy who I will call Johnny "Hacker" James, after the kid who hacked NASA. Johnny's a young adult who still lives at home when not attending the local community college. He and his family visit us several times a week to use the computers, read periodicals and occasionally check out books. They're all very nice people.

Johnny came in last evening and signed up for a computer. I logged him on and he sat down. During the sign up and login process, I heard Johnny cough a couple of times. They were little, hacking coughs of the sort you hear when people have a tickle in their throat. Usually, with such throat tickles, you can hack a couple of times and you're done, no? Not Johnny. He proceeded to emit one or two of those little hacking coughs every 10 to 20 seconds for the next three hours. And let me assure you, I am not exaggerating AT ALL.

Sometimes Johnny's hacks were quiet little coughs. Sometimes they were quite loud. Sometimes Johnny would add a bit of voice into it and really give it some power, but his throat evidently continued to tickle and he continued to hack away every 10 to 20 seconds. This very swiftly began to drive me crazy in a water-torture kind of way.

As my wife can tell you, one of my greatest pet peeves in life is the coughing of other people. I know, I know... coughing fits are beyond the control of most human beings, myself included when I get sick. Doesn't mean I have to like hearing them. Not only are they offensive to me because they usually mean a sick person is potentially spreading their illness into our shared atmosphere, but also because coughing is a full stop interruption to whatever else might be going on--say a conversation taking place or dialogue in a movie that can be difficult to undertand through a torrent of coughing. And if there's one thing I've learned in my years of working at the "liberry" it's this: no matter what illness a person might have, no matter how communicable it might be, no matter how many days they've been out of work because of it or how miserable they feel, that infected soul will not think twice about coming to the library and staying for hours on end, coughing and sneezing away, because damn if they're going to miss out on some innanet time.

As crazy as Johnny's hacking was driving me, I knew it had to be completely freaking out Germophobe Gary, who was seated at the opposite end of Johnny's particular row of computer terminals. Germophobe Gary is another recent addition to our "good" or Sundry Others patron ranks. He's only been visiting us regularly for the past couple of months and has proven himself notable for the frequency of both his visits and his requests that we supply him with Clorox wipes with which he can protect himself from the patron squeezings of previous users. As irritating as this is, I can't really blame him.

Meanwhile, Johnny continued to hack and hack and hack and hack and hack and hack and hack. I desperately wanted to go up to him and scream, "Listen, Cap'n Tripps, you're going to need to take that shit outside and HACK IT THE HELL UP! Cause, if you keep coughing like that, I'm going to have to haul our PDR over here and bust you in the head with it! Try coughing when you're unconscious!"

In Johnny's defense, he did politely cover his mouth with his hand with each and every hack I witnessed. And then he would lower that infected hand back to the computer keyboard and contaminate it further. He also at least had the decency to look ashamed whenever I caught his eye during a particularly loud burst of hacking.

At one point, Mr. B-Natural happened in for a computer. I tried to put him on the available computer farthest away from Johnny--after all, Mr. B-Natural is elderly and more susceptible to infection--but Mr. B-Natural doesn't like the other computer because one time it crashed on him mid-crossword puzzle, so he insisted I move him to the one directly beside Johnny. I complied. Mr. B-Natural didn't stay very long.

After two and a half hours of solid hacking on Johnny's part, his parents arrived. Johnny's father, as usual, grabbed a few magazines and had a seat in a comfy chair where he too proceeded to hack and hack and hack. Oh, great! A whole family of hackers! Granted, Mr. Hacker's hacking was not as incessant as his son's, occurring only once every few minutes, but clearly the virus had spread.

Johnny kept right on hacking away, but also upped the ante by demonstrating how his cold had progressed into his nose by pulling out an enormous hand-towel which he blew his nose into repeatedly and ferociously, returning his freshly snotty (or at the very least snotproximate) hands to the keyboard afterward. I shuddered with every honk.

Following several particularly loud and voice-intensive hacks in a row, Johnny's mother walked over and spoke to him in stern yet hushed tones. He looked a little embarrassed at first, but then seemed to offer some protest in a kind of "What do you expect me to do about it? Stop using the innanet and go home?" sort of way. I didn't actually hear her statement, nor his reply, nor her reply to his reply, but the answer to what I presume was said seemed to be "Yes." Soon the whole family departed, hacking away.

After enough time had passed that I was sure they had cleared the parking lot, I grabbed our Clorox wipes and used three of them to scour Johnny's keyboard, mouse, monitor, his chair and the surrounding area. I also cleaned all the front door handles, the handles of the restroom door, the water fountain where he'd sipped water and basically anything I even suspected Johnny might have touched.

I never caught Germophobe Gary's gaze during the detoxification process, but I'm sure he appreciated the gesture.


Turi said...

"Snotproximate" has to be one of the best words ever. Thanks for that one.

Gardenbuzzy said...

We had a patron come in our hospital library who was not a doctor or health professional but a patient's family member. She had a cough that seemed to emanate from the very depths of her being. You could just hear things rattling around in there. She also seemed to have a runny nose that she blew intermittantly. I privately (to myself) called her Typhoid Mary and rushed out to disinfect the computer she used as soon as she cleared the door.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I think that I've been hacked. I'm feeling a bit under the 19 degree weather... It could be any one of a number of plague ridden patrons who infected me. :-(

Anonymous said...

Didn't I read somewhere that WV had an outbreak of TB? Just a thought :-P

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.