Thursday, December 20, 2018

The patron and the librarian substitute

He's a big guy well into his sixties. He used to wear this strange, giant hockey jersey, gold and black, from some team I remain unclear on, was it Russian? I think he recently switched to a new shirt. I think he's an "own one shirt at a time" kind of guy. He gets obscure military books from interlibrary loan. And he likes to tell me stories from when he worked on the edge of the Intelligence services during the end of the Vietnam War. These stories can be a tad allusive and hard to follow. They often involve strange, outsized characters from the CIA.

Usually all our interactions happen at the front desk of the library, but yesterday we spotted each other when I was upstairs shelving some non-fiction books. He popped over to tell me that one of our new employees is fascinating.

I started wracking my brain for who that could be. We've been training in a slew of new circulation workers this past month and none of them could easily be defined as fascinating. Maybe I missed something?

No, he was talking about one of the substitute librarians. 

I am not generally keen on the substitute librarians. But I should first say there are currently two kinds of substitute librarians. One kind, a more rare type, seems to know that at the library we also have a circulation staff and some complex, wide ranging systems. These librarians might find themselves with cause to ask some of those people questions, or have a reason to mingle among them in order, for instance, to track down a book. I'm okay with this type. The other more common type tends to isolate themselves at the desk where they fill in, feeling perhaps that everything not at the desk is beyond their purview. It is possible to co-exist with them at work like they are ghosts, ephemeral. It is possible to never know their names or talk to them.

The person the big guy was talking about was one of these latter librarians. And when he said "He's like Pee Wee Herman or something." In a kind of incredulous, amazed tone, I knew exactly who he was talking about.

But he's hard to describe.

He looks a little like Dobby the house elf. He has this strange pony tail that comes from out of his hair in a place I've never quite seen before. The hair is strangely straw-like. Earlier, when I had walked past this substitute at his desk and nodded at him, there was something in my brain that vainly tried to match him to some type, to some category: Wood elf, a Martin Short character named Ed Grimley, Transgender, Disabled American Alien, all with none of these categories working, leaving him spinning loosely in my head.

Thus, I suppose, the "fascinating" comment from the patron.

"He's like Pee Wee Herman, but not a funny Pee Wee Herman. Like a Pee Wee Herman in real life."

Okay. Maybe I should talk to that librarian sometime and learn more about him.

 And like that my visit with the patron was over.

But then the big guy was back, ten minutes later.

"I bet you're good at shelving the books on the bottom shelves." He said.

Like with many bizarrely offensive statements I didn't understand it at first. Then he added "I'd be good at shelving the top row."

Ah! He was noting that he was taller than me. This was, a. obvious, and b. only by like nine or ten inches! I patiently explained to him that the mechanics of shelving don't work like that, and that my ideal to shelve shelf was shelf number four. Whereas his ideal shelf to shelve would be shelf number five.

He retreated once again.

But the third time is the charm.

He came back with a library book, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks. Had I read it?

No, I hadn't.

He had read everything by Oliver Sacks and he loved this book. He could put it back, but, well, did I want it?

"Sure." I said. It looked interesting and I think he was somehow trying to make up for his idiotic comments referencing height and shelving. 

My shelving finished I headed back downstairs with my Oliver Sacks book. But I stopped off at the Reference desk and held up the book. "Have you ever read this?" I asked the substitute librarian.

"No." He said.

Hmmm. Fascinating...

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