Saturday, January 29, 2005


An older man, casually but very neatly dressed, approached the reference desk. He was wearing good walking shoes and looked like he had just wandered away from an upscale tour group. I expected him to ask for directions or to use the internet, but instead he asked if I could print out the contact number for the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and the Office of Consumer Affairs for some cities. I asked what cities he would like the information for and he presented a long scroll of paper filled with columns and columns of miniscule writing, a list of cities as long as the Southern casualties at the Battle of Gettsyburg. As I squinted at the tiny, migraine inducing script I noticed a pattern, that all of the cities had the word White in the them: White Settlement, Texas; White Fish, Montana; White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

He then wrote a note on a scrap piece of paper and showed it to me:

"Old administrator here, VERY CORRUPT"

As he handed the note to me his eyes darted around shiftily like spies were everywhere. After he was sure that I read the his note he destroyed it by tearing it into tiny pieces. I almost expected him then to start swallowing them out of paranoia that someone else might be able to piece the note back together and read it. I examined the list of cities again and told him that I would do 5 of them for him but if he wanted all of the cities he would to look them up himself, which I would be happy to show him how to do. I started at the top of the list and looked up the information for the first five cities for him. As I was finishing he asked,

“Does that thing,” pointing to the monitor, “have white lines that jump out you?”

“Wha-? Uh, no, it’s a very good monitor," I replied.

What about those cords,” gesturing toward the cables circled around the base of the monitor. “Do they ever try to come out and wrap themselves around your wrists and neck?”

As he waited for my answer, which wasn't exactly tripping off my tongue, he pulled out a roll of Mentos from his pocket and offered me one, just as if we were at the end of a really creepy Mentos commercial. He then muttered to himself, “No, those cords, they’re just playthings, I guess.”

I declined the Mentos and handed him the list back. I told him that my manager would be happy to show him how to look up the list, but I was needed in the back - a lie, of course. He said not today and then wandered off to the stacks. A few minutes later he went to the circulation desk and told the page, who was wearing a black sweater,

“Shame on you for wearing so much black.”

He then left the library.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Dude 

Most men have at least one friend who drives their girlfriends batty. This friend is usually a slovenly deadbeat - an obnoxious drunk and habitual stoner who parties way too much for her taste. She feels he is a bad influence on her boyfriend. He has a low grade telepathy for knowing just the wrong time to drop by (always uninvited), and he stays for hours situated on the couch mooching beer and weed and doing things like belching and talking with his mouth full that infuriate and outrage female sensibilities. For sentimental reasons, or out of a misguided sense of loyalty, or because they like to let their wild idiot side play out vicariously through him, men will not cut this guy loose. They seem to romanticize their one friend who is living free outside societal constraints, perhaps because they feel that they have been tamed and forced to settle down. For whatever reason, guys will obstinately defend their friend and chuckle indulgently even as they have to bail him out or loan him money for the infinite time. They refuse to find fault with him,

“Poor dude! He just has the worst luck! The cops completely overreacted. Talk about police brutality.”

“He just keeps dating these girls that turn out to be psycho bitches that screw him over completely! Oh, by the way, he needs a place to stay so he’ll be moving in for a while.”

Even though the girlfriend will try to undermine their friendship with all the effort and dirty tactics of the CIA destabilizing communist friendly governments in Latin America, the boyfriend, no matter how pliable and whipped in every other aspect, remains stupidly, stubbornly loyal to his friend. It enrages the girlfriend that she can’t win this one battle, which makes her hate the friend all the more.

I had an old boyfriend Birmingham who had a friend just like this named Tony. In usual fashion Tony got thrown out of his current living arrangement so my friend took him in and let him sleep in a room in the back of his apartment. The room was small and there was only space for a bed, but somehow Tony also managed to cram his extensive porn collection, which was about as large as the Library of Alexandria, into the room as well. He had inherited the collection from his long time bachelor brother when he got married and it was Tony’s single largest material asset. Girls of every nationality performing every fetish imaginable were represented on the porn's pages, many of which were expensively laminated. Because space was limited, porn was strewn about in a thick porn carpet around the room and in large, precarious piles, stacked up as shamelessly as New Yorkers and LL. Bean catalogs. There was even porn shoved between the mattresses, poking out like a dust ruffle or lettuce leaves from a sandwich. Tony didn’t bother using a mattress cover or fitted bottom sheet and had only a grimy sheet laid across the top, only partially covering the stained mattress. His room, which had no door, was quite a sight, and girls would stand before it in mesmerized horror like a bird before a snake.

The worst part about Tony was that he would inconsiderately monopolize the single apartment bathroom. He would either spend hours locked in there with his harem of porn or anchored on the toilet in peristaltic spasms from all the cheap cocaine cut with baby laxative he had done the night before. No one else could, or wanted, to use the bathroom.

Tony eventually moved on but one day my friend was telling me about how months after Tony left he opened up a Monopoly game and found the magazine Swingers of Birmingham. My old boyfriend suspects that Tony had been interrupted while perusing it and had hurriedly shoved it in the Monopoly box. I asked where it was and my old boyfriend said that he had thrown it out because it was absolutely disgusting, full of very unattractive hillbillies, about the level of glamour and taste that you would expect from Hustler's Beaver Hunt (link not safe for work). I would have given anything to see such a thing. I remain deeply disappointed to this day that I didn’t get to see it and I still haven't forgiven him for throwing it out.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

What are you reading? 

When I went to cover for the other branch last week I was relieved to miss my ‘date’ with the Tuesday night vaguely obscene phone caller. He called again the night before I left for Asia, leading me to the conclusion that this was going to become a regular Tuesday night event, just one more thing to look forward to on nights that were plenty creepy enough. I recognized his mysterious European accent immediately and he stuck to his habitual script and began the phone call by asking whether the reference librarian was available. I said that he was talking to one, and he started off innocuously with a question about books that refuted or explained the Da Vinci code. Because of the controversial nature and obscene success of the book there have been a passle of them, and he wanted me to read off each title to him slowly so he could write each one down. After finishing that long list, he dispensed with his version of foreplay and asked for books we had about the Marquis de Sade. I thought, “Here we go.” He wanted to me to list each one and describe them in as much detail as possible. His breathing was starting to get a little heavy so I lied and said that I had a line at the reference desk. He replied that he would call back in about 30 minutes. I told the children’s librarian what was going on and she said,

“Did you look at the caller ID?”

DUH! I forgot our recently installed anonymity destroying feature. When he called again to continue my description of the Marquis de Sade collection I wrote down his number and did a reverse look up. He was calling from some photography studio all the way across town. A frustrated photographer working late and needing to blow off a little steam? Although I am committed to public service, this isn’t one that I am willing to provide, certainly not at my salary. I ended the call by telling him that we were a busy branch and if he needed in depth reference he should call the Main.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Horrors, the horrors 

Today was my first day back at work, but as soon as I arrived I was summoned to another branch to cover for a colleague who had called in sick. I was reluctant to go because I had anticipated being at my home branch and catching up with all of my coworkers and favorite patrons, who I had heard were full of anxious concern over my wellbeing, even though they manager assured them that I left days after the tsunami. I’m glad they didn’t have to see me laid up in my hotel room in the tropics suffering the effects of my own tsunami, the one that took place in my gut. I spent several days of my trip listless from the heat and loss of electrolytes, with no television to comfort me, feeling as though I were going slowly insane in my jungle sickbed just like Kurtz. I’m glad that even when I querulously whined, “The horror, the horror” E made me suck it up and swallow toxic amounts of Immodium and go participate in the wedding festivities. Anyway, today I barely had time to tell everyone hello before heading off to the shorthanded branch, which is in a neighborhood renown for its freaks, dropouts, bohemians and homeless.

When I arrived at the branch there were four grocery carts parked in front of the library steps filled with blankets, clothes, portable radios and the other detritus the homeless accumulate, including large plastic milk jugs full of urine. I was then distracted all day by a man sitting on a couch near my desk swatting at the imaginary flies/hornets/devils/tiny pink flying elephants/spacemen swarming around his head. He somehow managed to balance a Teen People on his lap, which he monopolized all day. In between swats he would either chuckle or exclaim angrily at something he read in magazine. Scattered throughout the library were a few hollow eyed Vietnam Vet types in fatigues staring catatonically at the wall for hours, as still and blank as Oliver Sack’s patients in Awakening.

The oddest patron was a homeless man with a trash bag AND large army duffel bag full of paper: old letters, receipts, bills, magazine articles, birthday and greeting cards, school reports, tickets, religious pamphlets, bus transfers, junk mail. I’m talking mountains of paper, a lifetime’s worth, which he spent our entire open hours carefully, methodically sorting through. He would examine each piece as he smoothed out its wrinkles and then he would place it in piles, only to sweep them hurriedly all right back in his bags before the library closed, destroying any order in which he might have just placed them. I’m curious as to whether he spends each day performing this task, only to start over when he’s completed like Sisyphus. He looked liked peaceful and content while he was sorting and making the piles, though, so I guess as far as paralyzing compulsions go, this one isn’t so bad.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I regret to inform you that yo, you got the crabs, motherfucka! 

I’m still cRaZy from jetlag. I just drove back from dropping E off at the airport and feel that it was irresponsible for me to be operating heavy machinery. It always hits me viciously going west to east for some reason. When I came back from Asia the last times a few years ago I thought I was going to lose my mind. I’m sure all of the cheap, foreignly manufacture benzodiazepines I had wheedled out of the hotel doctor in Indonesia for the flight home didn’t help my mental state of affairs. I wanted them because in some sort of retarded folly I thought I could avoid all of the terrifying turbulence by putting myself into a chemically induced state of suspended animation. I don't recommend this.

Since I’m incapable of writing coherently right now I’ll do a little reader’s advisory, the excellent Blue Blood. It is the memoirs of a Harvard educated New York police officer Edward Conlon. He’s a fantastic storyteller and he accumulated some great material during his time as a beat cop and narcotics officer on the mean streets of Metro New York. The book is fascinating, horrific and hilarious and reminds me of my own time at the Sheriff’s Office, although my experiences were a little more country fried and less hardcore than his on the public housing project beat in the Bronx.

He talks about one of his crack head confidential informants who had a joke involving a freshly released convict and a five dollar hooker. She enjoyed telling it to all the police officers and district attorneys, and since her repertoire was limited to this one joke, he heard it repeatedly. One of the punch lines involves the doctor informing the parolee that he has contracted public lice. The way the confidential informant has the doctor breaking the news to his patient is: “And the doctor says, ‘Yo, you got crabs motherfucka!”

I always laughed when she came to the part about the doctor. It reminded me of Crazy Larry’s notes to his ex-girlfriend on hospital stationery – You got the AIDS, Bitch! – or maybe there was a South Bronx doctor with that exact bedside manner. A few ADAs’ laughed, but more than one felt it necessary to caution her, “That’s a good joke, but you have to promise you won’t tell it to the judge.”

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Sweet Home Alabama 

I have returned safely from indolent climes, where I had the time of my life at the best destination wedding I have ever been to. A few uninvited monkeys even made an appearance to give their simian blessing - what more can you ask for? As usual, I was reckless about what I ate and drank and spent more than a few days a puling invalid, in a listless stupor with nothing on the television but footage of the tsunami disaster, which I have to say really became sickeningly pornographic as it lingered on the stricken survivors and photographs of the missing. My belly is gravid with what I hope is beer chub but I fear more likely worms, and if that is the case, judging by the havoc they have wreaked on my system, they are the size of the sandworms of Dune. More happier, less revolting tales soon.

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