hereticalphysicist
Friday, November 04, 2005
  Loco en la Biblioteca

I've learned something important these past two months. If you have more money, you don't need a free account on Blogger to get people to like you.

Some time ago, I believe I briefly mentioned a short-lived foray I made into the head-hunting market. In short, I was looking for a second job. My half-hearted attempts, however, proved fruitless until late September, when I finally heard a call back from the Public Library, on whose application I had tried to be inventive. Under "Special Skills," I wrote:

"I have hundreds of books at home, and I take no greater pleasure than in organizing (and reading!) them."

I put my whole self out there--here I am, World!--and my future boss, who turned out to be a pushover for passionate displays of candor, called me back. Long story short, I now reshelve books at the Public Library 20 hours a week, with some minimal, but unexpected, benefits.

The greatest benefit is interacting with the patrons. By patrons I mean, by and large, the omnipresent West Coast bums, for whom the Public Library is a public bath, the home office, the forum and, lastly, the library. Many of them are quite polite, but they're all crazy. Consider the following:

I am assigned to reshelve books in the 700-759.999 section. This is all art books and crafts books and some collecting books. The area's a little isolated on the second floor, but at the end of the stacks is a big open area with sky lights that I can see just by turning my head. A few stacks ahead is a large space before the next set of shelves begins. Here was the scene of intense human drama, as heard several rows away.
A girl who sounds my age yells, "What if I called you a fucking bitch?"
"Aw, she's going to call you a fucking bitch! What're you gonna do?" An old man-sounding voice is heard.
An old-lady voice replies, "I'd have to come over there and beat you up!"
Old man: "Aw, she's gonna beat you up!"
Young girl: "Well, I'm going to call you a fucking cunt! What are you going to do now? Huh?"
Old lady: "I swear, I'm going to come over there and kick your ass..."
Old man: "She's gonna kick your ass!"
And so on, until the reference librarian is heard thanking them for their patronage of the library but if they do not keep the noise down they will have to leave.

"I do NOT have to read a book over there." A large woman stands over me as I place books in the "Sorting Area" in the downstairs main room. She has warts on her face, triangular yellow hair. I look in the direction of her finger, and I think she is pointing at the "Books for Sale" shelf.
"Hmmm..." I say.
"Yup, I do NOT have to read one of those books." She defies me to disagree.
I don't know what to say. I want to tell her that that's the beauty of the library--you can read some books there that you want to read, and also there are some books that you don't have to read because you're not interested, or you've read them before, or maybe you know all about that subject. That's books for you.
I say, "Okay...well, you know, a lot of withdrawn books end up on the 'Books for Sale' bookshelf, so...."
She shakes her head. "No, in the paperbacks. I don't need to read a book there."
I do not want to ask the obvious question. I refuse to be led into it. I have to work; I have books to reshelve. Luckily, I don't have to think of a response.
"Yep, it's about the Yosemite murders." She gives me a meaningful look.
"Oh, well, I'm not from around here..."
"Oh, a bunch of people were killed there. I knew them. Not the people that were killed. The murderer."
Again, I am at a loss for words. I mean, if I comment on how awful it is that people get murdered, will she be offended because she was friends or something with the murderer? What do you do when someone you know murders someone? I try, "Umm..."
"Yeah, he was the kid who was kidnapped."
"Oh, I don't know about that. I, uh, you know, not from around here [read: don't care, go away]."
"Well, this kid was kidnapped for 7 or 8 years, and then they found him. You know Robert Walsh?"
"No."
"America's Most Wanted."
"Oh, yeah." I mentally kick myself for my momentary lack of apathy.
"He was at the funeral. I met him. We were both at the funural....You want to hear something really sick?"
No! No! No! "Um."
"At the funural, someone tried to steal R0bert Walsh's car. Can you believe that? At a funural!"
Okay, that wasn't so bad. But then she asked me if I wanted to hear something worse. I don't think I even answered her that time. I guess I must have, because she kept talking.
"People were actually stealing stuff from the Twin Towers!"
"New York? After September 11?" The words just spilled out of my mouth before I could stop caring.
"Yeah, they were stealing stuff from Ground Zero. Can you believe it?"
Fortunately, after shaking my head and mumbling, "It's a sick, sick world," a few times, she wandered away.

The woman slipped in the elevator behind me after I had pushed the cart of books into one corner. The cart took up much space in the elevator, leaving little standing room for two people. I had seen the older woman before--she wanders around town in slacks, surprisingly nice men's shoes, a trench coat, a cigarette and a large woolen cap pulled low. She's tan and leathery, a little mannish, sort of a Georgia O'Keefe missing a few...okay, I'm gonna do it...teefe. She looks shrewd. She looks at me out of the corner of her eye. So far, I am only slightly uncomfortable, as female townies make me less nervous than the male townies. That, however, is a misperception.
"You look very sexy in your low-cut shirt."
First thought: Hm, thank you. Second thought: That's an inappropriate way to pay a compliment. Third thought: Homeless people probably don't have the finest social graces. Fourth thought: This crazy homeless lady is staring at my tits and we are in a small elevator. But, I must be polite to the patrons. The Page's Handbook.
"Ummmmmmmmmm....hmmmm...thanks...." I raise my hand to my chest like I'm flattered, but actually I'm just covering my bare skin.
"I can tell the stone on your necklace is real. I saw some earrings that would match it. But they were fake. Your stone is real," she rasps.
I am uncomfortable now for two reasons. The first is that my sapphire necklace (which by no means was ostentatious) plunges into my cleavage, and if she's staring at my necklace, that means she was still staring at my tits. Second, I did not feel comfortable discussing how I was wearing real jewels, however modest they may be, with a homeless woman. My only response was to back myself as far as possible into the corner made by the book cart and the wall of the elevantor and shrink smaller...and smaller...and smaller. 

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The story of how I became a very, very bad physicist. But not really.

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