Thursday, May 19, 2016

A thousand miles

My library employer is not noted for its great generosity to us employees. Perhaps the library's outpouring of free books, movies, provisional "day" housing, classes, and information to the local community has exhausted its ability to give. Instead I have my strict employment contract, hammered out every three years between my union and the county. Never in all the years of contracts has my library ever said "Let's just this once throw the rule book out the window. What say you to a four percent raise! More vacation? A sushi lunch?" No, ever has it been a strict exchange of labor for an exacting attempt at fair compensation. We receive no special perks as library users other than that which craftiness and knowledge affords us. Our no-late-fines perk was nailed to a cross at least a decade ago. I regale new employees with stories about it. They are not sufficiently dazzled. Perhaps they recently worked somewhere that provided something amazing, like free pizza twice a year.  The most lavish holiday gift ever provided to the staff here consisted of a large, three flavor tin of popcorn: orange flavor, brown flavor, and tan flavor. The annual In Service Day has long ago been stripped of any moments that might be seen as entertaining or engaging, let alone non work oriented. The desperately anticipated free lunch provided on that day consists of three dozen day old whole loaves of bread dropped simultaneously onto four tables. Each table also includes two jugs of water, one with a thin slice of lemon floating in it, one not. If you want to drink the water you must remember to bring your own cup.

This explains, perhaps, why I feel as I do about our paper towels. Loaded into the dispensers in ready locations, they are great big rolls of cheap, white, sort of absorbent towels. Tear a healthy chunk off and more towel spits out at you, all with a pleasant whirring sound. It seems to cheerily insist "Have more!"

"Don't mind if I do." You say as you help yourself to seconds. Two towels are better than one towel. Rainforests denuded? Global warming wastefulness? I don't care. I have so little. Let me have my endless towels!

I use these towels for everything. They are my plate or bowl for food. They are a safe work surface. They function as gloves. I dry my hands with them. I store things in them. I have made costumes out of them, and provisional garments. They are useful for cleaning and as a dish mat. Folded enough they function as padding, perhaps for an uneven table, or one can make a witty book cover out of them. One can sneeze into them or spit out into them the food one has inadvisably sampled from the free food table. I have made ice packs out of them, written on them, and applied them as a cooling poultice to my fevered brow. I have piled great gouts of them into a giant mop. And in a pinch they can be used to strain things like coffee or curds and whey. Endless towels are what I have here, my one free gift, and they are all the more dear to me for that.

I have always measured my time at this library in years. I have been here 21 years, almost 22 now. But perhaps I have gotten it all wrong. Rather I should measure my time here in towels, miles and miles of towels.

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