Monday, August 16, 2010

Brace Yourself Bridget, Its a Long One

When I was 16 the local library offered me a job. I was in there so often that all of the check out people knew me by name and when they needed a stack slave, er, paige, they came to find me in the fiction section. I took the job, and it was, frankly, kind of awesome. It was the one job I've had dealing with the public that did not seem designed to turn me into a shriveled misanthrope without a morsel of love or kindness in my pruney little heart for others of my species. Which I think is weird because the library? That's where the crazy people hang. Also the homeless people and the generally unwashed masses. But I learned a lot of things in the 2 years I worked there that made me more accepting of people in general.

As I was helping my mom start packing her metric ton of crap this weekend, I decided to take a little break and cruise by the library. I still like to go in sometimes because they have what may be the closest thing to heaven on earth I've ever encountered. They have the Book Sale Room. You can find all kinds of wonderfulness in paperback form for less than $2.00. Being there reminded me that I wanted to blog about the three people/groups I have the most vivid memory of.

The Homeschool Kids

Being 16, I had a very negative attitude about kids who were homeschooled. They were strange and weird and definitely uncool. There was one particular homeschool family that actually changed my mind a little bit.

The first time I saw them I seriously thought that somewhere my life had gone seriously awry and I had wandered into some type of Children of the Damned situation. Imagine that a blonde man with fair skin and relatively archaic, Biblical ideas of gender roles met a similarly blonde fair skinned woman with the same views. Imagine that they are ultrareligious and they set forth to procreate and populate the world with tiny little pale blonde versions of themselves. The children are supersmart and well-behaved in that way that always makes me start surreptitiously checking for signs of demon possession or my imminent death. Their mother makes all of their clothes and all of them match. Including the mother. Tell me that doesn't terrify you to the marrow of your bones.

And yet...they were seriously impressive. They were, indeed, supersmart. I had always thought homeschool kids were poorly socialized. They weren't. It was just that the majority of their socialization was with ADULTS. And not just adults, but their PARENTS. This made me sympathize with them. I shudder to think about 99% of my time being spent with my mother even now. Also, they were so eager to be around someone other than each other and their parents that they were the least judgmental people I've ever met in my life. They were genuinely interested in other people and other people's experiences. I hope I learned to be like that.

Creepy Guy

This guy was not initially creepy like the Children of the Corn. I mean, the Homeschool Kids. This guy looked almost exactly like Johnny Galicki, except maybe a little gothier. He didn't read, he always came in to use the internet. He was in his twenties and he lived with his mother. He always wanted to use the computer in the very back corner. When his hour was up he would come back and furtively sign up again, preferrably on the same computer. Do you see where this is going yet?

Look, I figured the guy was looking at porn. He was relatively young, he lived with his mother, they didn't appear to have much money and he certainly appeared to have very little privacy. I'm not sure why the library computer seemed a better option privacy wise, but I was a teenager, and a relatively sheltered one. I didn't spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. Until I actually saw what he was looking at.

This guy was into some seriously, seriously disturbing shit. I don't even like to think about what I saw on that computer screen that day. It wasn't long before the head honchos caught on (I believe he was caught, literally, with his hand in his pants and some truly atrocious crime against sex on the screen) and there was a new rule: The girls were not, under any circumstances, to deal with this dude. Part of me felt like this was ridiculous. The guy never seemed angry or tried to hurt anyone. He could barely make eye contact with the girls. Plus, there were no serial killers where we were. Nothing bad was ever going to happen to any of us anyway. On the other hand, I abided by that rule like my life depended on it. Because it didn't take a psychology degree to realize that this guy, no matter how mild mannered, MUST have some pretty deep seated psychotic rage against women. I later learned that he did have some pretty serious anger issues. That he lived with his mother because he couldn't live alone, and that she insured he took some pretty serious medication. And that if he DID go off that medication he had a tendency toward violence. I think this taught me that its never a bad idea to be cautious. Maybe nothing bad ever would have happened if I'd had more contact with this guy. didn't seem worth the risk to prove people wrong (for once).

Schizophrenic Guy

This guy mostly taught me that mental illness is not contagious, not necessarily dangerous, and the state funded mental hospital in my town had a pretty faulty system. The guy was homeless, when he wasn't at the hospital. And being homeless, he couldn't afford or didn't care to continue the medication he was provided at the hospital. He would enter the program dirty and muttering constantly to himself. Over the course of a few weeks he would be cleaner and more coherent. Then he would be discharged and he would begin slowly showing signs of life on the street and he would mumble to himself more and more. Generally, he was a nice man with a mental illness. After a long enough time out of the hospital he would do something...disruptive. Not necessarily violent or dangerous, but something that would cause someone to notice and call the hospital. He was kind of a nice balance to creepy guy, really. Except that time he smeared poop on the chair and I had to clean it up. I was not wild about that (on the other hand, I also worked in a movie theater at the same time, and completely sane people would WRITE on the STALL with their own FESCES. So...there's that.)


  1. The local librarians also know me by name. And I've also observed all those distinctive populations in my various comings and goings there. To your list, I would add the seniors who just want to prattle the day away by talking to the volunteers, while I'm standing behind them waiting to be checked out with 400 pounds of books in my arms.

  2. Was there any particular reason why they made you clean up the guy's poop? I know you said you were their paige, but cleaning crap seems little out of bounds.

  3. I think I need to start hanging out at my library more.

  4. Steve: They come in to read the free newspapers and, yes, they are chatty. Most of them are also lonely, at least the ones who used to make me stand there for an hour. Or I assume they were lonely since I was usually hearing about some son or daughter who never came to see them.

    Amber: No janitorial staff. We all had to take turns with stuff like that. I never actually had to clean the bathrooms (cleaning up actual poop will get you out of ever cleaning anything ever again, apparently), but one of the girls found a man hiding in the ceiling one day when it was her turn for toilet duty.

    Maria: Yes. Definitely.

  5. Every time I'm in the library, I just assume all the guys in there are looking at porn. I don't know why, I just do.

  6. I love this sort of stuff. Your thoughts about the creepy guy remind me of something that I feel like I learned pretty recently through volunteer work: You can be accepting of who someone is while still being careful about who they are or who they have the potential to be.

    Also, poop-cleaning up? Not one of the highlights of the teen job years. But it does make for a good party story.

  7. "one of the girls found a man hiding in the ceiling one day when it was her turn for toilet duty." SORRY, but WHAT?

    Those are some seriously colorful characters. How did you find so much out about them, though? I volunteered at the town library when I was 13 or 14, and the most I learned about people was that they didn't book the books back on the right floors.

  8. Annabelle: A homeless man tried to hide in the bathroom ceiling one night so he would have a place to sleep.

    Also, I attract people who want to give you a disconcerting amount of personal information. Between that and the fact that librarians are a gossipy bunch of people, at least in the south, you learn more than maybe you want to. Plus, with creepy guy, the director guy called his mom and what-not to find out if he needed to be worried, if the kid was likely to hurt another patron or anything.

    Also, as one OCD chick to another, I was the most irritated by the people who would go around pushing all of the books to the very back of the shelf. A. Why are you doing that? No one can see the titles now. B. I have to go around behind you and pull them back out. Please don't "help" me.