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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Internet Spats 

A patron came in and approached me at the desk. He looked like a harmless, aging hippy, sunblasted but not exposure tanned, slightly grimy but not filthy.

Although I had never laid eyes on him before he said, "I know you, baby. You and me go waaaay back."

He leaned over me and drummed his fingers right in front of my keyboard impertinently. As if violating my personal space weren't enough, he then chewed his gum loudly in my ear a few times as he was leaning over me. One of the things that I hate most in the world is the sound of gum smacking. It is my bete noire . I hate it so much that I think it would be worth immigrating to Singapore, where it's banned and I think you get (rightfully) caned for being caught with it, so I don't have to ever hear it again.

He then whispered in my ear, "Where's that internet?" I pointed at one of our free terminals and he winked in this greasy, insinuating way and said, "Check ya' later." Acting like he owned the place, he sauntered over to the computer and got comfortably settled. Because this branch is inadequate in every way, especially in the way its wired, our three internet terminals are sandwiched together in a very tight nook. It is a tragic experiment in environmental psychology. Many of our internet users are borderlines who have a tenuous grip on reality in the first place, and being forced in there tightly and having their personal space boundaries violated often pushes them over the edge. The situation at the internet frequently degenerates into quarrels, screaming matches, and, if I'm on duty alone with no reinforcements, fist fights. It's volatile and is the single largest source of on the job stress for me.

I was keeping my eye on him and I overheard him bragging to the women next to him that he was in the special forces (more like the very special forces) and got to carry a concealed weapon. This comment alarmed me, and apparently alarmed the woman as well because she got up and left in a real hurry. A large muscular man with a shaved bald head took her place. Because the spacing between the terminals is inadequate, each of them spilled over into the other's space like passengers en route to some NASCAR event on a Southwest Airlines flight and there was unwelcome physical contact. They started to get into it, and one intentionally shoved the other and they got up to fight. My manager intervened and asked them to both leave. The hippy man then started making this really powerful hawking noise like he was drawing up his every drop of available moisture in his body to spit at my manager like some sort of angry llama or agitated cobra. It was all a bluff, though, because after hawking and filling his mouth with spit and holding us all in terrified suspense for about 30 seconds he swallowed loudly and then stormed off.

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