Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Touched by an Angel... of Death 

We have a lot of patrons who come to this branch quite consistently, many on a reliable, predictable schedule. Every so often one of these regulars will abruptly terminate his or her visits and I'll never see the person again. It's as if the patron has vanished from the face of the earth, and often I ponder their whereabouts. If the patron is elderly, I fear the worst, like in the case of of a patron in his eighties who used to come in without fail every Tuesday. He was a bit of a rake and was always trying to take me to lunch. Even though I always would demurely decline, each time he came in he would go through the same little routine of harmless courting. Because of his age and his charm I found it sweet and flattering rather than harassing and annoying, especially when he started to lie about his age to me by subtracting 40 years from his 83. When he suddenly stopped coming in I grew concerned and considered calling his home number to check on him. Before I did he came in with his son, who is 60, and explained that he had surgery and had been convalescing, but would soon be as good as new and resume his regular schedule of library visits. I was so relieved that I think I might even break my non fraternization policy go to lunch with him to celebrate his recovery.

The other day I was fortunate enough to get closure on another patron, who is also a
senior citizen. She always wore purple clothing, just like the poem. She usually had a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, but her adorable old lady act was actually a form of diabolical mimicry, because in reality she was a vicious, nasty shrew.

Instead of reaching into her pocketbook to hand you a piece of candy, she would instead hand you a piece of your ass. She used to come in to use our internet almost daily and was extremely territorial and possessive of the computers. She would start fights and bully people off so they would relinquish their turn early to her. Usually people were so startled by this unexpected behavior out of this sweet old looking lady that they wouldn't challenge her and would wander off stunned. I saw her make a young English tourist girl cry one time.

Before I knew the extent of what an old C U Next Tuesday  this woman was I noticed her flailing at one of the computers one day. Our internet booking software locks out the computers 5 minutes before each half hour, and she was trying to log on at 25 minutes after the hour. I made the mistake of leaning into her and asking sweetly and softly,

"May I help you? Are you trying to log on?"

She whipped around and sneered, "What do you mean to ask me that? What does it look like I'm trying to do! Don't assume I don't know how to use a computer! And I just got a new hearing aid, so don't scream at me!"

From her overreaction, I thought she must have assumed that I was just another patron who was trying to muscle in on her time.

"I'm sorry - I didn't mean to startle you. I’m not trying to take your spot. I work here. I was just going to tell you that our internet booking software won't let you on until the half hour.”

"Oh, I know you work here! I know who you are. My tax dollars pay your salary, and don't you forget it!"

I have learned not to take these kind of encounters personally. I have also learned that trying to explain or reason with people like this just escalates matters. So, I said, "Well, OK then." and left her to her own devices with the computer for another 5 minutes until the software allowed her to go on.

She continued to come in, always starting fights, always wasting the support staff's time with these lengthy, monotonous complaints about how other people were overusing their time on the internet, a crime that she was almost always guilty of herself. Then one day she stopped coming in, and things became much more pleasant around the internet stations.

A few months later I was at another branch and I saw a small photograph of her under the plastic cover of another librarian's desk. It was unmistakably her, because she was wearing the same purple clothing that was her signature style. I asked the librarian if she knew her, and explained that she was a patron who came in the library all the time but I hadn't seen her in a few months.

"Oh, yes! That's -----! She was such a wonderful, involved activist! You name the cause, you could always count on her to be leading the march! I participated in many a peace rally with her."

Apparently old purple pants had been a real union activist and involved in all the peace activities for years, which just goes to bolster my theory that many of those crusading, save the world types are the biggest interpersonal assholes. Please explain to me if they love humanity so much why they are invariably the nastiest people you've ever met one on one?

The librarian then went on to tell me that she had died of a stroke recently. I actually had to cover my mouth and bite the inside of my cheeks to stop from smiling when I heard the news, and the librarian was touched because she thought I was overcome with emotion. When I got a hold of myself I told the librarian that I was so sorry to hear that and that the branch just wouldn't be the same without her.

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