Saturday, May 01, 2004

I want me a manservant

Do you recall this patron, the paranoid schizophrenic grand dame who looked like she had just wandered off Sunset Boulevard? Lately she has become infatuated with one of the substitute librarians, a wise, rabbinical man with a bottomless reservoir of kindness toward the numerous mentally ill citizens who darken the doors of the library, no matter how difficult, deranged, or tedious they may be. I think she has become determined to make this particular librarian her personal manservant, just like Max in the movie Sunset Boulevard. He would make a good manservant, too, because he has an overdeveloped professional service ethic that borders on masochistic martyrdom. He will cheerfully undertake and entertain even the most insane reference question she throws out at him, as well as listen patiently to her increasingly delusional and longwinded rants and conspiracy theories. He really goes way beyond the call of duty, which makes him a hard act to follow, especially if you’re a glum, burnt-out case like the other librarian that frequently substitutes at the branch.

I've seen this sad case in action. She greets patrons who ask a reference question with a put out grimace, like their question has inflicted a case of terrible menstrual cramps upon her. She then releases a world weary, pessimistic sigh of yogic lengths and says, “We’re probably not going to have anything on that." The librarian will then direct the patron down to the main library if the reference question is any more complicated or involves more work than reserving a current best seller.

Perhaps unionized civil service (can you imagine such a combination?) isn’t the best fit for everyone. Maybe the Myers Brigg test could reveal that to people of a certain personality type before they embark on their career and ruin their lives. Maybe it could warn these people that following such a career path will turn them into intolerable monsters, thereby saving them and everyone else the misery (see Department of Motor Vehicles). It certainly hasn't done this particular librarian any favors in terms of character, professional development, and personal fulfillment.

Even though the Norma Desmond-y patron is mentally ill, she recognizes the vastly different levels of service she can expect from the two librarians, and only will work with the saint-like librarian. For a while, she would stride into the library, imperiously flare her nostrils, and demand,

"Where is that little Jewish man? I must speak with him immediately."

Now she doesn't bother even coming in if the other librarian is on duty. The library tech told me he has seen her hiding and crouching in the bushes, peering through the window to see which librarian is working, and if she sees that the burn-out is manning the reference desk she will scurry off. The library tech said she is easy to spot in the bushes because she has traded her white silk turban for one that she has fashioned herself out of aluminum foil, and on sunny days it will glint blindingly. I assume the change in turban material is in an effort to deflect the stream of mental chatter that she’s receiving from the CIA or the Kennedys or Martians or whomever else it is that figures prominently in her auditory hallucinations.

Even if she is crazy, who can really blame the patron for wanting her own Max? I myself would like one day to have a devoted, white gloved manservant, one who would forge mailbags full of adoring fan letters, pamper me and wait on me hand and foot, fuel my monstrous but fragile ego, expecting nothing in return but to bask in my fading radiance as I smoke Arabian cigarettes on my chaise lounge while my mansion crumbles around me. Is that too much to fucking ask out of life?

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