Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I used to be disgusted

When I am not annoyed I am often fascinated.

There I am out at the front desk with a long time co-worker with whom I long ago passed through a horrible trial of irritation. I made it to the other side only to find myself frequently dazzled by him. How is it possible to spend so much time with each patron? Why does every transaction require a long, lengthy wander in the back room in order for it to be concluded? How can every interaction devolve into such complexity?

With some of my more bizarre co-workers I know that it is better to look away, that the rage it stirs in my heart will be too great to bear should I delve into the mysteries of their dysfunction. But with today's partner I am immune. I am innocently fascinated.

It can be hard to see what my desk partner is doing and how they work. The main problem is that I am also working. I am busy at the desk and finding a nice chunk of time, one where I am unoccupied and can watch them while they are conferring with a patron, is hard to do. Curiously this is much harder when I am working with one of these bizarre and broken co-workers. I can watch my colleague Dave work anytime I want to because he will gobble up patrons and leave me to my leisure as long as I want, just as I will with him. But the messed-up co-workers are playing dark games, complicatedly deferring as much as 80 or 90 percent of all work away from themselves. They leave me too besieged to see just how I have no time to see what they're up to.

But with today's co-worker I make the effort. I observe when I can. I find it hard to penetrate the facade of him amiably chatting with a patron, and with his merely being of extra thorough assistance. Most single moments with this co-worker don't look wrong, but I persist. I accumulate my glimpses, my paying attention, and slowly a pattern starts to present itself. I soon notice that every issue and interaction he has is pulled into its longest possible expression. The most exhaustive version of every policy is expressed. Everything from a street name to a book cover is an opportunity for a chat, an anecdote, or a question.

It is hard to come up with an example, both because what I'm talking about is a way of interaction more than an incident, and because due to the chronic length of my co-worker's interactions I have never been able to follow one in its entirety. And yet, there is this, from just today:

A young woman wanted to know if he could tell her where the nearest mail box is.

"Yeah, I could tell you." He said, smiling impishly. "No, don't worry. I'll tell you. I'm just kidding." Then he good naturedly began to tell her. 

Many local landmarks came into it. I was astonished at the breadth of the description and its accompanying geographic references, I dazzled at the complicated laying of the scene, the detail, the local history of mail boxes, but just as he seemed to be warming up I was torn away to help a patron. Perhaps that was just as well. There is a kind of vision, or film really, that I want to show you at this point anyway. Picture one of those time lapse cameras where everything moves fast, at twenty times speed. The camera itself is static. There he is, talking to the woman, flickering movement in a small space. And behind him you see me zipping back and forth in that weird, insect like high speed movement. I am taking fines to the cash register. I am getting receipt paper, and I am putting books on the return cart. I dance by myself for fun, then I start scribbling blog notes. I am helping someone on the copier. I am hunting down a book for a patron. I am napping on the desk. I pick up three lost and found items and start messily juggling. Now I am taking more fines. Now I am chasing after a book thief. I am playing a game of "pickle" with a couple of ten year olds. There I am looking for something on the floor. I am making pancakes for everyone in the library. I am registering cards for a family of eleven. I am lounging about, idly surfing the internet. I am chatting amicably with some old guy. I  advise a couple on DVDs. I am going to the bathroom. I am diagnosing someone's laptop problem and so on and so on, all at a million miles an hour, two hours condensed into a few minutes. And there is my co-worker the whole time, with that same person, instructing her on how to cross the street.

Because what are the necessary instructions to direct someone to a mailbox at my library? This: "Across the street there is a tall building. There are two drive up mailboxes behind it." 

That's it.

Three hours later my co-worker is still out there giving directions.

And yet, oddly, I don't mind.



  1. I will tell you what really mystifies me. I had a former co-worker, who was exactly the kind of co-worker you describe in your essay here. Slow, meandering, lengthy reference interviews of the most byzantine sort. And yet... and yet... I never witnessed a patron walk away from her once ensnared! For me, if I can't answer the most obscure questions in just a few seconds, as fast or faster than Google, then I've lost them and they're already wandering away. How did she do it? It's quite the Jedi mind trick.

    1. Yes! This is a piece of it I wish I had thought to include up above. I used to be more aware of that aspect in the days when he drove me crazy. I would gnash my teeth watching him have these endless chats while the other person would look relatively happy and I couldn't understand it. Knowing him pretty well now and actually getting along with him (a story for another time) I can see a little better the amiable, anecdotal, pointless, but not unpleasant space one enters into with him. But that doesn't make it any less mystifying, Jedi mind trick indeed!


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