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.

Have to say, I'm so awfully glad I work where I do and not in that branch you visited. I get plenty of crazy, but most of it is uncertifiable or at least as yet uncertified.
Let this be a word of caution to all tiny pink flying elephants. Do NOT come between The Crazy and their 'Teen People'. They need a good cry over Jen and Brad just as much as we do.
Sorry. Did I say Jen and Brad? I meant Aaron and Hillary, their teen copies.
The sorting of personal effects isn't so bad; I'd have been leaning over his shoulder, trying to read some of those letters and papers, nosy Nelly that I am.

What I wonder is this -- what do those people do with those gallon jugs of urine?
These men who stare at the wall catatonically, whom you describe as Vietnam Vet types: I presume that you have checked their service records to make sure they are Vietnam Veterans?

You see, I'm a Vietnam Veteran, and I don't do that. And of all the Vietnam Veterans I know, none of them behave like that, or look like that. In fact, we look more or less like everybody else.

Since you work in a library, there is a book you might want to look at, titled Stolen Valor, by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley.
Ugh, ugh! For all our craziness and horridness, we've never had gallon jugs of urine around. Shopping carts, garbage bags, people changing their clothes, imaginary conversations, yes. But happily no stored-up urine. Who do they think they are, Howard Hughes? (Just saw the Aviator last week. :) )

Tiny Librarian
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