Friday, May 10, 2013

It's not lying, it's something far stranger

I work the automated check in machine with a strange mash-up of busy contentment and wild rage. Setting aside the contentments, which are covered elsewhere (here, if you like, though I suppose it's more complex than just contentment), I will discuss the rages, which are triggered by tiny things sometimes. Actually, looked at sagely, from this distance, the rages are exclusively triggered by tiny things. There isn't much to begin with in clerking that isn't a tiny thing (much to the contrary of how we clerks talk of them to each other), and I can't think of a single non tiny thing with the machine that has ever induced rage in me. I think it's like a leaky faucet. That tiny periodic drip is maddening, whereas a bigger problem is simply one to be fixed. Or it might be more like the princess and the pea. Something about the machine makes me want to get things absolutely perfect, which is a futile and yet magnificently compelling quest. It makes me think of the wildly underrated movie Ocean's Twelve, where Reuben (Elliot Gould) tells Rusty (Brad Pitt) that he's micromanaging his hotels and needs to delegate to have a life. Rusty says "I don't want a life. I want the hotel to run like a hotel should." So, likewise, I'm not so sure I want contentment with the machine, I just want the machine to run like the machine should.

Anyway, the main group then of these machine triggered rages comes from things the machine is not supposed to do; an unpropitious jam, where book covers and pages wind into the rollers, or the machine mysteriously not figuring out how to route a series of books and dumping them into an exception bin, or bins not lowering or not raising or not attaching as they're supposed to, or "ghost" jams, where a belt shuts down because it is having a hallucination that books are stuck on it when they aren't. But there is another small group of rages that comes from things the machine is absolutely supposed to do. These are the ones of particular interest to me here. Most examples of this have to do either with bins filling, or with items going into the exception bins. But the particular rage inducer I find fascinatingly insane, in my relation to it and loathing of it, is the return of books from other library systems.

Bear with me here and I'll briefly explain. Well, not briefly, exactly, I'm not huge on briefly, but I'll do my best. Our library system is linked with other library systems in the state in various ways. The main way this effects the average library user is that they can register their library card in almost every public library system in the state and have one card that works in all these library systems even though they are totally discrete systems. The other main effect is that a patron can return their books in between systems. Checked out something from St. Paul, and it's due today, but you're in Minneapolis? No problem, you can return it to Minneapolis, they will put a slip in it with that days date and ship it off so that it eventually arrives in St. Paul, where they will backdate their check in to when you returned it. The books and libraries are all reunited and everyone is happy.

There is only one, tiny, tiny, problem. When a person returns their 20 St. Paul library picture books onto our machine they go one by one into our exception bin and have to be hand processed. Actually, that is not the problem. The problem is that when they do return their books that way it makes me furious. It breaks my flow. It separates me from machine perfection. It overloads my tasks. And I hate it. And, furthermore, I hate the person who returned all those books. I hate them! No, I'm not kidding, when those books are rolling down the machine one after the other, I am seriously hating the person who returned them. My whole coiled clerk being is despising them. Oh, yes, it's crazy. Is this common among clerks? I am pretty sure it is not uncommon. Do I hate these people, who merely did what they're allowed to do, right now, after the fact? My god, of course not! I'm not even mad at them. And when they came to me at the front desk and asked me if they could return their St. Paul books to my library did I say, yes, they could, but I will hate them if they do? No. I explained the whole process thoroughly to them and enthusiastically recommended it to them if I thought it would be of any help to them. And I meant it. From the bottom of my heart, I meant it.

Maybe it is all the simple reality that as I do these separate jobs I identify with them and I occupy them. If my feelings and relations within those jobs wildly contradict it doesn't matter. It's not me, it's just the place I go, just like I can be famished if I haven't eaten for a long time, and uncomfortably full if I've just had a huge meal. Perhaps, so long as these feelings aren't simultaneous, it's all going to be okay. But still, it does seem a bit deranged, so I thought I'd tell you about it. And now I have.

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