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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ain't it a crying shame 

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I lost patience with one of our patrons the other evening and I feel a bad about it. I believe that this patron is a transient who blew into town couple of weeks ago. Since then, he's in the library from the time the doors open until security hustles him out at closing. He has an asymmetrical bowl haircut, the buggy eyes of someone suffering from a thyroid condition and a garbage bag filled with all of his earthly possessions slung over his back. Although he seems nice enough he has the disconcerting habit of slouching up to the desk right before we close and reciting:

“Yellow and green strings come out of sores. You can always tell that the pope has blessed it because a recognizable string, sometimes green, sometimes yellow will be coming out of the weeping sore. There are sores all over the bodies of believers and that is proof that they have been blessed by the pope. Check your body for these sores so you will see if you have been so blessed. Pus and strings, strings and pus.”

I had heard the speech four nights in a row so when he approached the desk the other night and took a deep breath I pointed my finger at him and said, “NO!” He drew back like I had slapped him and then glared back at me indignantly. "God! I wasn't going to say that! You didn't know what I was going to say!" He then lurked by the side of the desk giving me the stink eye until we closed. I don't know why I just didn't let him say his piece. In these cases I usually just grit my teeth and internally recite, “There but for the grace of God” but there is something unseemly about his little speech, as if he’s a flasher, showing me something nasty from his brain and getting off on it. I get the feeling that he enjoys the shock value and the look of revulsion his words cause.

I must be suffering from a case of compassion fatigue. Since the city uses as (unofficially, expediently, cynically) as its mental institution/homeless shelter we get so many lost, mentally ill people in libraries. Often we become the only ones who will listen to them. Usually I just let them run their script and smile and nod, but I just wasn't in the mood to hear his gross delusion for the fifth night in a row.

How cruel to have your mind turn on you like that, what a special walking hell it must be. The brain is such delicate, daedal piece of machinery. It seems so tragically easy for something to go haywire, and once it does your entire personality, who you are - your soul, your essence - can be altered into this grotesque caricature of yourself.

I read a heart wrenching, devastatingly honest piece in Harper’s a few years ago about a woman who chronicles her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s, the most perversely cruel disease that exists. She described how, before the disease, the sound of her mother calling her name used to be the sweetest sound in the world. After her mother got sick she would follow the author around the house repeating it until she couldn’t stand the sound anymore, until it made her want to tear out her hair in rage and frustration. “This person looked like my mother, sounded like my mother, but she was becoming everything that had been anathema to her: intrusive, complaining.”

She expanded the piece into a book called Death in Slow Motion which I will never, ever have the guts to read.

Comments:
Well said. I've been there and done the same thing and felt the same way afterward. Thank you for putting it so eloquently.
 
Girlfriend - water off a ducks back.

We deal with this so much, you are not being cold, it is called self preservation. If we let every patron do what they wanted to do, with out us drawing lines in the sand.

Skewed bowl cut & bug eyed - would you have taken that from an old woman with a fur on? Or a young blue eyed blondie? NO WAY!

Do what you do best - be a great librarian. OR e-mail the awful thoughts to me, and I'll print them for you anonymously!

xo,
WDL
 
It has to be the most scary disease, both for me getting it, and losing people so close to me to it. My father in law got it at 62 and lost his job. Now he just wanders around the house by himself. Breaks my heart.
Pete
 
I could never do what you do.

I managed to get an academic library job, where they support my research. I am forever grateful for that and admire librarians who put up with what you do. Thank you for doing that. I couldn't do it.

I promise if I am ever in your library, all I will ever subject you to is a nice, quiet request for the location of the Dictionary of National Biography, please, and whether you have the new Oxford edition of it or just the old one. And I won't get mad if you have the old one. Oh, and I'll thank you on the way out.
 
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