Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A how-to for Dan

I have told this story around my workplace perhaps as much or more than any other story. It might not be because it is so much a better story than others, it's actually a hard story to tell if you don't know the principals. Rather it might just be because even now, so many years later, it still amazes me. 

Or it might be because it has a universal quality among my co-workers. 

Or it might be because it can give the newer people hope.

It's about Dan, who I have worked with for maybe 15 years. He used to drive me crazy. No, really, it was agony. I would bitterly complain to my co-workers.  I would go home to my wife and ask for advice on how to endure. But it might be hard to explain why. There's the way one might go into the back room to look for something for a library patron and Dan would immediately and eagerly ask "What are you looking for?" even when he had no intention or ability to help in its finding. It might be the way he'd wander off from the desk, leaving me alone for twenty minutes, only to return after there was no one to help and say "I'm going to go on break then." It might be the way he'd spend so much time with a single patron, engaging them in banal, irrelevant discussions, so that I might end up helping five people for his every one. It might be the way he'd race around on some peculiar, obsessive, mildly useful job of his own, then proudly tell me about it before leaving me with a swath of unfinished details and untended tasks that might take me most of an hour to take care of. It might have simply been all the inattentive, frenzied chaos he always seemed to leave in his wake.

I seethed. I would see him talking with people, patrons and co-workers (and it is almost always for a very long time), and I'd think "Why are those people smiling? How can they stand it?" I was mystified.

Then one day I sort of yelled at Dan.

I'm not much of a yeller. And I'm sure this wasn't too much of a yell. It was probably something like "Don't ask me what I'm looking for! It's not helpful!"  Or "Dan! You left all these books that are supposed to go to St. Paul sitting here! Take care of them!"

And to my surprise he said something like "Oh. Right. Sorry. I know I can be irritating." Or he said, really apologetically "Yes! Sorry. I'll take care of them, just leave them there. I know. I'm a mess."

And I said "Hmm." And I felt better.

For a while it would build up and I'd get all irritated, and it would build some more until finally I yelled (in my small way), and I felt better. And slowly the peaks and valleys of irritation and correction came closer and closer together until I didn't wait anymore. I just said whatever. I didn't even worry about being so justified. I'd just blurt out anything with Dan. I would tease, cajole, and condemn freely.

Dan would say "Look, I emptied all the bins for you!" and I would say "Thanks, but you didn't put any tags in them." And he would say "Right, right. I'll get tags in them."

And all of the sudden one day I realized I liked Dan. He's fun to talk to, ridiculous, has some interesting experiences and Twin Cities lore to share. He's good to yell at. Even the way he undercuts two parts of real productivity with three parts destruction can be amusing. Sure, he's a person I like and feel sympathy for and will treat occasionally with respect, but he's also like a cartoon character, or a friendly stuffed animal. Yes, I quite like him. I find him sort of comforting.

And when co-workers who have been around not super long, but long enough to have established their place in our library world, complain to me about Dan I absolutely understand. "Oh, yes." I say. "He is unendurable, and that was so rude of him. But give it a year or two and you'll probably feel differently about him." Then I tell them some version of this story. 

And then one day they sort of like him too. I mean, not enough to stop complaining about him, but well enough.


  1. I love this post. It's embodies what I miss about working at the library.

    1. Hey! You're out there! You're actually an important part of the early days of this story. I'd always be confounded as to how you could stand him. Perhaps that helped me persist, thinking that maybe he had some super secret virtues, and that helped maintain Dan himself as a kind of puzzle that could be solved rather than a person to simply write off.


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