Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Our brutal return instructions

If you want to return items to our exterior, drive-up, automated return book drop you drive up to a little door, in the middle of a brick wall,  just maybe about five inches high, that raises up very smoothly and slowly when approached.  And just as you activate it by approaching, a deep voiced recording says nicely "Please return your materials one at a time." At this point you put a stack of six children's books into the slot, then a stack of three dvds, and finally two fat novels that you have to sort of squeeze and shove to get through the slot together.

Just kidding. You don't do this. Some people do, but not very many and not you. But, alas, some people really do. I have tried to listen in my heart for who these people are, but it's a lot of work. The best I could get to is that they are so wildly distracted by the cure for cancer they are working on in their head that they don't hear the voice.  Or, maybe, if the belt is moving super slow, because the machine is under heavy return load, they are making the executive decision to defy the return process request of "One at a time" because they are dropping off their items while on the way to the hospital to have a finger reattached, or they could be firemen on the way to a fire. They could be deaf. They could be rocking out too intensely to the most awesome, blistering guitar solo ever recorded, they could know that "One at a time" guy from somewhere and have a really ugly history.

Whatever they are up to that causes them to return items in a stack, in defiance of deep voiced instructive guy, it should be a very very powerful thing, such a divine emergency, or so understandable a mistake. And the reason it should be such a strong thing is because on our side of the wall, when all the little items come in, and, suddenly, unexpectedly they are in stacks, each stack feels like a little slap in the face, or like someone put a gob of phlegm in there,  or maybe, instead of three books, like they put in three sheets of paper, one after the other, and the first one says "I", and the second says "HATE" and the third says "YOU."

Maybe the fact that these stacks feel like hate mail, or spit, seems silly to you. But you would be no different working this machine. I have seen even the mildest mannered of us all, the least confrontational, yelling "One at a time!" at the slot even though it is unlikely they can be heard. They try to sound reasonable, but you can hear them coming unhinged.  No one is immune. Some leave notes on the patron record. Some take it out on the books. I personally like to pick up one of the offending books like maybe I'm going to throw it in the garbage. I think I even mean to for a second. An unrealistic scenario plays out in my head. The patron saying "I know I returned it in the book drop."

"Did you return it in a stack?" I ask "The machine will easily lose items returned in a stack, destroys them, we have to charge the patron. We have no choice."

It all passes. I don't throw good books in the garbage, or yell through the slot. I unstack the books. It is a small indignity. Small is too big. It is a tiny indignity, and it is just part of the job. I can handle a few stacks a day, I can shoulder these little indignities. What do I expect anyway, what with all our confusing rules?

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