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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Typing Pool 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comDespite the myriad classes the library offers, many patrons refuse to use computer word processing. Because one of the library’s missions is to help these people left behind by technology’s inexorable advance, the library offers typewriters for these public to use. Because repair and service contracts are increasingly hard to come by, however, the number of typewriters in this system has lately dwindled down to one. I’m afraid soon our last typewriter will become out of commission and these people will be forced to adapt. In the meantime, this typewriter is in great demand, and there is always a line of restive patrons waiting to use it.

I thought that these patrons preferred the typewriter because they didn’t know how to use word processing, but the security guards informed me that many patrons refuse to use computers because they're fearful government or some other sort of agency or organization will monitor them through the computers.

One woman complained to the guards that every time she went to use the typewriter she would fall asleep. She blamed this on her enemies, many of whom happened to be competing for the typewriter in line with her, rather than on the hot, rather airless glassed in office where the typewriter resides. Another woman claimed that she and Vice President Dick Cheney collaborated on an invention together and it’s an issue of national security that she contact him. Every day, as soon as the library doors open she races to get in line for the typewriter so she can write Dick Cheney long letters.

Because there are so many paranoid people in line eager to pound out their manifestos, complaint forms to government agencies, etc., the situation can become volatile. Because of the high levels of paranoia, many in line consider eye contact a prying act of aggression, and fist fights and shoving matches erupt occasionally. I've also found that conspiracy case nuts are the least tolerant and most dismissive of conspiracy theories that differ from their own. In any case, the desk near the line for the typewriter is the best seat in the house for paranoid watching and conspiracy theory eavesdropping.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Stench 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comLately I’ve been charged with pulling older books in the new fiction section. I really enjoy the task and find it deeply relaxing, almost meditative. I receive great tactile pleasure from running my fingers across books spines and shifting and rearranging the books from shelf to shelf. Unfortunately, the back of the section is an inviting place for the homeless to nap and for junkies to enjoy a nice heroin doze. Often they will shoot me a bleary stink eye if I drop a book or disturb them in their favorite haunt.

The air is thick with the smell of hair grease, fortified wine tinged sweat, unwashed body, clothes that haven’t been changed in months, perhaps years, wet wool, and that curious metallic odor of mental illness. It is a heady symphony of odors both acrid and cloying and it permeates your nostrils, your clothes, your hair and your memory. The odors overwhelm our HVAC system and I could make a case that the odor situation is becoming an OSHA issue.

One of our pages who works three different jobs told me that his girlfriend can always tell he's been at the library because his clothes reek. She makes him leave them outside the door, like I used to do when I would go to the bars and my clothes would reek of cigarette smoke. I remember how a friend who dated a nurse could always tell when his girlfriend did a round at the burn unit, because the odor of burned human flesh would permeate the fibers of her clothes. Or how a colleague told me that to this day he will still unconsciously hold his breath when his brother walks by, a conditioned response because of the stench his brother would throw off when he worked at a chicken processing plant one summer twenty years ago.

Private, free, no strings attached showers abound in this area, as do places to acquire free clothing. By no strings I mean that the people who use the showers face neither condescending nor humiliating requirements to use them. Sobriety is not a stipulation, there is no gospel preaching, no gauntlet of sanctimonious, smugly cheerful do-gooders (God spare me and all of humanity from this type) - none of the regular humiliations the homeless must endure and surely resent in order to receive charity. Why don’t they avail themselves of these showers? The only parallel I can draw is to animals that stop grooming themselves when they’re very sick or dying. Yet we allow these people to rot in their stench like not to do so is a violation of their inalienable rights. I guess that’s the society we live in.

Smells are life. I enjoy rich, pungent odors: Morbier cheese, the carcinogenic smell of gasoline when I fill up my car, the odor of books burning and decomposing from acid treated paper, the smell of mulch, horse sweat when I worked at the stables, but I often wish I could shut my nostrils like I do my eyes. That way I wouldn’t have had to endure at an old job a colleague who doused herself with some cheap, chemical perfume that clawed at my nostrils and choked my throat. I could never identify the brand, but I’m suspecting one of those awful ones named after a celebrity, like J-Lo. How depressing that anyone buys that shit.

Sometimes my sense of smell provides me with information I wish I didn’t know, knowledge that puts me in an ethical quandary. One time a yuppie soccer mom type surrounded by children approached the desk. Her breath was flammable with vodka fumes at 3:00 in the afternoon. I felt like saying to her, “It’s a myth that vodka is odorless, so whom do you think you’re fooling?” All I could wonder about the rest of the afternoon was if all of those kids were going to pile in a van piloted by this woman. What is my obligation to interfere?

One time a toddler crawled in my lap at one of the branches where I was substituting. His teeth were rotten and stained brown like a betel nut addict, and the memory of that sweet, putrid stench makes my mouth fill with water as I type this. I guess his parents were putting him to bed with a bottle of juice each night and the sugar had rotted his teeth. Was this child in agony from his rotting and abscessed teeth? If so, did he think that this suffering was just part of existence, a fact of life? How or is it even my place to explain to his parents, who didn’t speak any English, about free dental care? Do I unleash the blunt tool of social services on this family whose name I don’t even know and whom I might never see again at the library?

Strong odors at the library are an occupational hazard to which I should probably just resign myself. And on the bright side, at least if people reek, they won't be able to sneak up on me in the stacks.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Daddy, Eugenia and I have something to tell you! 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comAm I the only one who snickers at this book's title and cover art? I mean, I know that the relentless Ms. Steel's latest effort is about the debutante season or something or other, but the double entendre, however unintended, is quite obvious to me. It doesn't help that the man looks taken aback, as if one of the girls is announcing something rather shocking about the nature of the two girls' relationship.

I'll read anything, and I mean anything, but I have yet to make it through any of Danielle Steel's incessantly expanding ouevre. It's not adequately trashy or racy to be entertaining enough for the escapist fare it's supposed to be, and the characters are just completely dull to me. I find serial wedder Danielle Steel's personal life much more fascinating, especially her pretentions to high society and her rough trade phase, which culminated in her prison marriage to serial rapist/recovering heroin addict/overall thug Danny Zugelder. A colleague's cousin was one of Zugelder's victims. He kidnapped her and spent the night raping her and extinguishing cigarettes on her breasts.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Trouserless Tuesday! 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comA colleague proclaimed yesterday Trouserless Tuesday. That morning she was watching people walk by her desk when it occurred to her, “Hmmmm, there’s something odd about that man. Why, he’s not wearing any pants!” A man with nothing but a t-shirt strolled right by her. He waved good naturedly and wished her good morning as he passed her desk. She called security, who promptly escorted him out.

Later I was at the desk when a man stormed up, seething with righteous indignation. “I want to speak to someone in administration. I am being unfairly harassed by your guards!”

“I’m sorry about that. Let me call someone for you now.” I could see our two female guards rolling their eyes as they slowly closed in on him.

“I asked them at the entrance whether my attire was acceptable. They said that it was. But now they’ve arbitrarily decided that it’s not and they’re kicking me out! They are going back on their word.”

He looked perfectly presentable in his button down oxford shirt, but when I peered down over the desk I saw that on his bottom half he was wearing a micromini kilt, a tiny swath of tartan about two inches in length that barely covered his inseam. He whipped around to the face the guards, and the fabric swirled up, exposing himself to me and the guards. “Are you telling me I can’t wear a kilt! It’s part of my cultural heritage! You’re discriminating. Stop this harassment! I demand to speak to a supervisor NOW!”

The guards led him away into the security office. They later told me that several other patrons complained that he was purposefully dropping pencils down in front of their chairs, then bending over and backing up his bare bottom, displaying it inches from their faces.

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He reminded me of one of Jack Plotnick’s characters in Reno 911! Under the guise of a magician, carnie operator or puppeteer, he is always trying to unleash his perversion on an unsuspecting public. My favorite is when he portrays a carnival puppeteer who has a small portable stage attached to his waist. He announces that behind the curtained stage lies a magical, albino snake that “grows rigid in your grasp.” He tells the deputies sent out to investigate that they can't see the snake because "it's very sensitive to light and it's really more for women."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Phone vs Desk Reference 

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Some of my colleagues prefer answering the phones to the face to face interaction of the reference desk. Each has its pros and cons and inherent risks. At the desk, you can pick up all of the non verbal cues of the patron, so it’s easier to read and connect with people. On the desk you get to witness and interact with humanity in all of its resplendent and degraded and fascinating forms, from the criminally insane to wizened scholars to sweet children and elegant society matrons. Of course you’re physically more vulnerable on the desk, not to mention subjected to revolting smells beyond my power of description. Often it can be hard to shake a patron, like one off his meds on a manic upswing talking jag, or a nasty borderline who will turn you in her mind from her best friend to her worst enemy in a matter of seconds, or unreasonable yuppie moms who are under the mistaken impression that screaming at a civil servant will get them their way, or mentally unstable malcontents who desire a captive audience for their soapbox issue.

Angry bicycle messenger guy: “Do you know what the rich people would do if we took away all of their money?”

“Is this a reference question?”

Not listening, “They would die, of course! They would completely fall apart! This society hates the poor, and I should know! Rich people couldn’t survive if you took away all of their money and power - ”

“I’m sorry, Sir. There’s a line of people. Unless you have a specific question that I can help you answer?”

“Oh – O.K. But think about it! I’ll be back later.”

Obviously no one else in their life will listen to their tired old rant, but they still want and need to be heard, so we get the pleasure at the desk. In most cases, if you just smile and nod while they finish out their script they will wander away. My particular weakness at the desk is for lonely old men, men who obviously live alone and have stopped looking at themselves in the mirror. They don't have anyone to tell them that their fly is open, that their socks don't match, or they cut themselves shaving. Some of them smell as musty as an old cellar. For the most part they’re heartbreakingly kind and courteous, though, and so sweet and desperate for human contact, I have a hard time disengaging and keeping a professional distance and sending them on their way.

Although the phones can be interesting, misunderstandings arise more easily from its communication limitations. People also can have appalling phone manners, and chew food and smack gum and squabble with their children or spouses in my ear. Often they won’t even bother to turn down a blaring television. One regular who is running a small business from his home is a notorious multitasker who never extends you the courtesy of his undivided attention. You can hear him rummaging through papers, or taking calls on his other line, which he’ll then confuse the line on which he has the librarian. He also has all of these maddening habits like playing with the spit in his mouth, and once the librarian could hear the unmistakable sound of him urinating and flushing the toilet. My colleague was outraged. “Call me back when you’re not otherwise engaged!” The librarian slammed the phone down.

Some calls are vaguely obscene, and people who don’t know that we have caller ID are emboldened by the perceived anonymity to be ruder than they would dare to be to your face. But, you can always hang up on a person, while it’s a little more challenging to shake them at the reference desk. My overly active imagination always creates scenarios for the people on the other end of the phone line, like for the mellifluent African American man who calls to order various jazz CDs. He always has some cool jazz playing like Miles Davis or John Coltraine in the background, so I imagine him in a turtleneck swirling a glass of cognac in front of a fire place. Other times my imagination has a more morbid bent, and the scenarios I imagine are much darker.

A woman called whose voice sounded strangled by fat. She told me she had lost track of her children but she needed to find addresses for them. Through labored breathing she said, “Wait, I can get you their social security numbers, if that helps. I had to get their numbers all at once when I got them on the welfare.” I could hear rustling and she began to grunt with exertion. “Uggh... Wait a minute – I have this device, this gripper, you know? I think their cards are in one of these piles next to the bed. I’m going…to try…to reach them. Mmmmmhhh…Uggghh…Mmmmmmg.” I could hear rustling and things falling over. After a while she panted into the phone., “Got ‘em.” I could just see her, this morbidly obese woman trapped on a bed, the television blaring, papers and objects surrounding her in filthy piles.

My favorite call was handled by a colleague. A man with a deep voice asked where he was in line for the latest Harry Potter book.
“Sir, you are 75th in line.”
Unable to contain his excitement, he shouted off the phone, “Mommy! Guess what? I’m 75th in line!”

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bats have an impressive land speed 

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Go, bat, go! I’ve made no secret of my fascination with parasitism, but this interest also extends to other more benign forms of cooperation and symbiosis in the animal kingdom. Vampire bats live off the blood of other animals, but they are one of the few animals to practice what is known as reciprocal altruism. A vampire bat who has had a fruitful evening will regurgitate blood for less successful members of its colony. Vampire bats will starve to death in a matter of only a few days if they don’t feed, and every creature has a run of bad luck eventually, so this sort of sharing policy is good insurance for all. Cheaters are noted and evicted from the group.

A humorous image: a vampire bat will flutter down about 10 feet behind its victim (usually a cow or a horse) and then sneak up in this hunched tip toed waddle until it can latch on to the flesh behind its victim's tail. Bats can also run, though. Using the end of their wings like crutches, they can brachiate to great speeds. Scientists put some on a treadmill to measure their speed and were amazed at how fast the little devils could move.

At Rancho Transylvania, a farm/bat research facility in Mexico, a scientist is studying rare and endangered bats that feed exclusively on chickens. The bat will sneak up on a sleeping chicken, bite its toes, and lap up small amount of blood. Often the bats will make a cheeping sound like that of a chick, a sound that seems to soothe and quiet the chickens, as if to say, “Don’t mind us! Nobody but us (baby) chickens here!”

Friday, September 01, 2006

This Little Piggy Got Broken 

Image hosted by Photobucket.comBilly broke his sweet baby toe disporting himself with his tennis ball, his household god/significant other/magnificent obsession/teacher-mother-secret lover/preeeeciousss. He has to wear this ungainly cast for 6 weeks. He's not gnawing on the cast so at least he is spared the indignity of the lampshade. He is extremely high on rimadyl in this picture.

Our teen summer reading program just ended, and I've had a good time reading the book reviews the participants had to write to claim their various prizes. Some of them didn't even try, though.

The book I read was Ashley's Ashes by Frank McCourt. It is about a Jewish family's struggle from childhood. It was funny when the author wrote some of his experiences in a childish voice. They were a poor but loving family.

More later...

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