porcelainandporcupines

While it makes sense to me that people might start a relationship with a co-worker, I’ve always been somewhat amazed by couples who work together. I’m at least partially aware that working together would not entail literally spending the entire work day together, yet the idea of spending that much time with any one person is, frankly, exhausting. One of the very few things I still enjoy about working on Saturdays is that it’s an entire day that I have to myself; if I had to share that day with someone, and then had to go and spend even more time with them later? They’d already know how amazing my Saturday was, which would really limit my conversational options.

Of course, in addition to bringing your relationship into the workplace, you’re also bringing the workplace into your relationship. By which I mean coworkers; and, though it is undoubtedly wonderful to be able to bask in the reflected glow of admiration in the eyes of your coworkers because of the purity of your love, nothing travels through a workplace like word of romantic woes that are none of anyone’s business. This was something I learned many years ago, when Vanessa sleeping with Sharon’s boyfriend rocked the call center where we all worked.

I should clarify that Vanessa and Sharon’s boyfriend did not actually sleep together. But this is a family blog, and to accurately describe the activities in which they engaged might pose a risk to my PG-13 rating.  Euphemistically, it could be said that they engaged in some adult conversation, wherein Sharon’s boyfriend was on the receiving end of quite a lecture.

How all of this came about, I can’t exactly say. The talk itself happened at a function that was work-adjacent. I myself wasn’t present for the event, in either the macro or micro sense, but instead found out about through my roommate, who was also a coworker, and was both at said function and was somehow present enough to overhear the conversation between Jordan and Vanessa. Although I am, unfortunately, unable to forget how impressed he was with Jordan’s capacity for listening (Jordan being Sharon’s boyfriend,) even at the time of the telling, I did not quite understand how it all happened to come about, and so cannot share that with you now.

What I do remember is how carefully eager everyone at work was to share what they knew. I very clearly recollect smoking with Tracey in the parking lot behind the building, me sitting on the fire escape and her standing not quite beside it, each of us trying to delicately figure out what the other person knew, each fairly certain that what we knew was worse, and, realizing that we both knew, finally unburdening ourselves of the secret we had kept for less than 24 hours.

What I also remember is that, despite this being an oft-mentioned secret in the call center, we never actually shared that we knew what we knew with the people we knew it about. This was a decision I was not entirely comfortable with: on the one hand, it seemed like Sharon might benefit from knowing that, not only was her boyfriend a titanic sack of crap, he also did not have the basic good sense of even the dumbest animal who knows not to shit where it eats; on the other hand, as the supervisor, it seemed inappropriate to involve myself in any kind of personal shenanigan that happened outside the workplace, adulterous or otherwise. No matter how often it might come up in conversation.

(I was going to include a link to a description of “subtweet” in that last sentence, but it turns out I didn’t actually know what a subtweet is. Man, the lingo today; it is so fetch.)

And it only grew more difficult not to blurt out what I knew as time went on. Although Jordan was not someone with whom I’d generally ever socialized; and Vanessa had been widely shunned even prior to her talk with Jordan, what with her seemingly below-average intelligence, her weird walk like she always breaking in a new pair of shoes, and the fact that she never, ever, ever pushed in her chair when she got up from her desk; Sharon had a sociability that her perfidious paramour lacked, and quickly became a regular part of the workplace social scene.

Which was awkward. Because a lot of Sharon’s conversation was devoted to things that Jordan did and things that Jordan said. And under the barrage of her evidently boundless admiration for Jordan and the way he lived his life, it grew increasingly difficult not to point out that, in addition to his manly feats of strength, or whatever it was that she was going on about, he had also slept with Vanessa.

After one particularly lengthy conversation with Sharon, in which I’d heroically bitten my tongue for no less than 45 minutes, I confided to the closest thing our group had to an adult – DS – the trouble I was having. DS understood; he cared about Sharon too, and it was getting harder for him not to tell her as well. I nodded quietly; DS was wise.

Except, secretly, DS did not understand. Although he was wise – let there be no confusion about that. It’s just that, through talking to him, what I realized was is that, secretly, deep down, I’m a terrible person. I didn’t want to tell Sharon because I cared about her; what I wanted was for her to shut up. Because it was annoying, how wrong she was about Jordan, and it was annoying to have to take part in an endless conversation that was a lie, and it seemed like the most effective way to put a stop to it was to tell her about the time Vanessa blew Jordan’s trumpet, and then stand back as the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.

Even considering that I didn’t actually do it, I’m still not terribly proud of that impulse. Fortunately for me, Sharon and Jordan eventually moved to California, and I did not have to unleash any WMDs just to change the subject. Of course, on the down side, I never did find out what is the limit of annoyance I can take; there’s still a chance that, someday, I might crack.

(And I apologize for that trumpet comment; I just couldn’t find a good video for “talked his ear off.”)

While I would not argue that my most defining quality is excessive laziness, I have not yet gotten, and hope never to get, to a point where I wear sweat pants in public. Partially this is because I don’t really like to wear sneakers, and heels with sweatpants strikes me as trashy in a way you have to be truly exceptional to pull off; additionally, the effort it would take to find a pair of sweatpants that don’t have something written across the ass seems in violation of the entire spirit of sweatpants.

So on those days when I can’t be bothered to put on clothes but still must leave the house, I wear overalls. Overalls capture the same laissez-faire attitude of sweatpants, but still get you credit for actually having gotten dressed.  The overalls I have are particularly fetching, because they are the striped sort (which you should be mentally pronouncing with two syllables – “stry-ped”), of the kind associated with train engineers, and with tiny children pretending to be train engineers.

It was these overalls I wore last Monday. I’d had some fancy plans – and a correspondingly fancy outfit – all laid out for the day, but these went astray due to an incredibly terrible sore throat. This would have been unfortunate in and of itself, but it was made ever the more unfortunater by a lack of planning ahead, which left me in the house with no food with soothing recuperative powers, no medicine, and, most importantly, no cat food for Oola’s breakfast the following day; though I most likely would have survived the discomforts caused by the first two, I can’t even imagine the havoc Oola would wreak if denied breakfast.

And this is why I and my overalls shuffled through the streets of Cambridge, first to the vet to buy Oola’s prescription cat food, and then to the new Whole Foods. Which, thanks to some spectacularly convenient urban planning, is directly across the street from the vet’s office. Never have I have I been so glad for corporate machinations and the slow death of Main Street.

As I made my way home, burdened with 4 cans of cat food, three cans of soup, and a two turtle doves, I heard someone call out “Miss!” behind me; tired though I was, I still turned around, and beheld a gentleman, arm stretched out toward me, holding, as though I had dropped it, a stry-ped engineers cap.

“Oh, that’s not mine,” I responded, hopefully appreciatively.

“But it matches your outfit,” he replied, stretching his arm even closer.

To him, this was a clear indication that the cap was the rightful property of mine.

I, however, was skeptical. “Are you sure?” I asked, somewhat curious about why he was apparently walking around with an engineer’s cap he didn’t want, and how he might have disposed of it had I not walked past him right then.

“Yes. Here, it’s yours.” And so he gave me the hat.

I think a lot of people are going to go through their entire lives without getting an engineer’s hat from a stranger. It took me nearly 40 years to get one, but, having done so, I can tell you for sure : it is absolutely worth the wait.

We had a tiny television on the table in the kitchen in my house in Pennsylvania. There was a special shelf we built into the wall, close enough to the ceiling that you had to stand on a chair to reach it, where the tv was placed when everyone was home for dinner, or if you wanted to see it more easily while you were at the sink, washing the dishes. But mostly the tv, which was actually a combination tv/am/fm radio, lived on the table; it was in front of this tv that I would sit and watch G.I. Joe and The Transformers while doing my homework, and it was on this tv, several years later (although fewer than I would want to detail), that my mother and I watched the 2nd to last episode ever of Twin Peaks, featuring the long-mentioned Miss Twin Peaks pageant (winner gets a free trip to the Black Lodge!), for which the contestants had been rehearsing for weeks, and which, once it finally arrived, moved my mother to proclaim boy, that David Lynch must really hate women.

I doubt there was any follow-up to this comment. In part because, as a senior in high school who had already been accepted to college, this fell squarely into the time frame where everything your parents say is the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened. Particularly in a situation like this, where there exists the horrifying possibility that the ensuing conversation might be tangentially related to sex. But also all the time, and particularly in a situation like this, because it’s just so awful how they’re always wrong.

The error in this case was not that there might have been anything hateful about the Miss Twin Peaks pageant; obviously, a show that used the murder of the prom queen as the jumping off point to explore the secrets kept in a small town – including that said prom queen was a prostitute, and, in the immortal words of the lovely Audrey Horne, “had a sweet tooth for nose candy” – is not going to have a problem with women. The error was in thinking that, in that day and age – 1991, Saturdays, 9pm, suburban Pennsylvania – anyone might hate women.

Because that sort of thing didn’t happen; not anymore. Certainly, it had been a problem in the past, but so had polio. Feminism & Women’s Lib had been a powerful vaccine, spreading equality and understanding throughout society. My mother was a doctor, for pete’s sake; if, when she went to buy a new car accompanied by her husband, the salesman referred to the lighted mirror on the passenger-side visor as a “standard feature for the lady of the house,” well, that one salesman was an antiquated buffoon,  a decomposing carp buried in silt, occasionally giving off gas that would bubble up to momentarily disturb the still pond of sisters are doin’ it for themselves, and nothing more; certainly, it was no indication of a continuing societal norm to belittle and condescend to women. No.

And it didn’t change the fact that, over on the #1 show on television (which Twin Peaks, sadly, was not), charming as Cliff was, it was still Claire Huxtable who wore the pants in that relationship. And if I occasionally found her to be a bit strident, it wasn’t because she was overreacting to things or overly emotional, but because there was no need to yell; you’re a woman, Claire Huxtable : you have a right to be heard. It wasn’t until later that I discovered how much my right to be heard depended on who was doing the listening.

Recently, I received an email from a male coworker in which he stated that I was definitely “the superstar” of a group assigned to work on a particular project. This group – which consisted of myself and two other people, both male – had, even before that email, sparked unpleasant flashbacks to group projects in library school : meetings were difficult to schedule and constantly postponed; people didn’t have ideas, and most of the meetings that were held were spent silently marveling and how people were not using any of their time to work on this project. It was amazingly frustrating to see a fairly straightforward project, which, generously, should have taken no more than 3.5 hours, stretch over 5 months.

However, eventually, as it had to, work on the project concluded. And, even though I was not the lead, I can tell you confidently and completely without boasting that 98% of our conclusions had been entirely my idea. The proposal that we submitted was written entirely by me, even though at one point another of the other group members, stating that he felt like he wasn’t doing anything (which, I refrained from pointing out, might have been because he wasn’t), offered to take a pass at it; but, after a week it remained unchanged, so I finished it up. To be fair, he did create the images for the document, although he wasn’t able to go so far as to insert them into the document, so I took care of that. And the presentation that we did was a word-for-word recitation of the document I had written detailing my ideas.

I understand that being part of a group means that credit goes to the whole, regardless of how much might have been done by each individual person. And, I don’t even necessarily mind being the only person in the group doing any work; I do love to get my own way, after all, so if no one else is doing anything, then there’s a pretty good chance I’ll get what I want.

But the ‘superstar’ email made me angry. Because my first thought on reading it was boy, I bet he never would have said that to me if I were a man. I mean, yes, it’s unlikely that one man would call another a superstar in most professional settings. But even apart from that, had I been a man, the sender would probably not have felt the need to obscure the fact that he hadn’t done shit on the project behind a feeble compliment, or to charmingly suggest that I might not have noticed that I was the only one doing anything.

It made me angry too because, after all these years, I know there’s no way to respond to a comment meant to appease the little lady. If I point out that the bar for superstardom is exceedingly low, then I’m ungrateful and kind of a bitch. Or, worse, I’m reacting emotionally rather than rationally. If I suggest that other members of the group might contribute a little more, I get either excuses for why they’re busy, or some Eddie Haskell-grade faux-feminist nonsense about how I was doing such a good job they didn’t think I needed their help. Yet, if I accept the compliment, I reinforce the idea that, as long as you tell a woman she’s pretty, you can get away with anything.

But mostly it made me angry because it reminded me of the Miss Twin Peaks pageant. Because if I go back and watch Twin Peaks and discover that David Lynch hates women after all? I am going to be pissed.

I.

Now that I have the training and (some of) the experience of a librarian, I recognize that the decision to become a librarian was one that should have been researched quite a bit more thoroughly before committing. Certainly, it should not have taken becoming an information professional to realize that a program devoted to churning out librarians would present the prospects of the prospective librarian in the most positive light, but I suppose that it did only serves to underscore a point made many times over the course of my library school curriculum, which is that without libraries and properly trained librarians no one will ever learn how to do research.

Regrets aside, the bright side of this terribly deep hole that I seem to have dug for myself is that it provides a focus and scope for any future job search I might conduct; in library speak, the topic has been selected, leaving the only the task of identifying resources that might point me to a valuable conclusion. My last non-library job search had no such focus, and, consequently, I had to review just about every ad on Craigslist. Or, at least, all the job-related ads.

There’s a certain repetition that comes from reading ads on Craigslist, partly due to the fact that, in order to stay on the first page, some companies will place the same, or slightly edited, ads over and over again; another part of that is probably that some of those companies are just terrible places to work, and so are in a constant process of replacing departed employees.

I don’t know into which of these categories Circles falls, and, despite having read their company information at least once a week for several months, I don’t have any idea at all what it is that they do. I thought, vaguely, yet unshakeably, that they probably were some kind of cult.  Like an H.P. Lovecraft story, the language in these cryptic ads was entirely straightforward, yet something was being plainly obscured by their very everday-ness; no matter how many times I read them, the key to understanding that sense behind them remained elusive.

I really liked the idea of getting a job at Circles. That it might possibly have been a cult was part of the appeal, but what I mostly I wanted to find out what it was; I would plumb the depths of Circles and surface rich with knowledge, and if the secrets of Circles into which I would be initiated were worth keeping then I would keep them, and if not, then I would probably complain about them for a little while. My sister liked the idea, too, because if I got involved in a cult, then she could lead the effort to deprogram me. And vice versa. It was fun to think about, as long as you studiously ignored the fact that we both were somewhat seriously considering a cult as a viable alternative to our respective  employment situations.

II.

Every day when I left that respective employment situation, I would walk past the old Sears, Roebuck building on my way to the bus stop. The size of the building made clear, or possibly I read it on a plaque, that the building had been a major warehouse and distribution center for the Sears, Roebuck catalog, and that countless modern, time-saving marvels had been shipped out from that building to homes all over the country. Walking past that building in the early days of the internet, when the primary purpose of this new technology seemed, as I understood it, to be to allow people to shop for things without ever leaving their home, it was hard not to consider how little innovation this actually represented, and how much of progress is really just people moving in slightly widening circles, with families making things on their own being replaced by trading and purchasing from their neighbors, which is enhanced by being able to purchase things via catalog, which becomes mostly obsolete by department stores expanding into smaller neighborhoods so everyone can buy things immediately, which then gives way to the convenience of  staying home and avoiding crowds by using the internet, which is now home to an ever growing DIY community of people trading and selling handmade goods and homemade things, which walks hand-in-hand with the urban homesteading and localvore movements, which is undoubtedly already in process of pupating into something else that I likely won’t hear of until US Weekly reports that Gwyneth Paltrow is doing it.

Twitter strikes me, too, as a point on a large circle, as free verse and the beats exploded the rigid forms of writing and poetry, and in the face of such limitless freedom of expression, people rush to confine themselves to 140 characters or less. Only now, instead of the format forcing people to think carefully about what they want to say, now we can use it to say everything we think, without putting any thought into it at all. But Twitter didn’t exist back then, so I rarely thought about it while walking to the bus stop.

III.

The next job that I managed to get was not in a cult, but in Watertown, and to get there meant taking the 70 bus. I have hated that particular bus route since the ’90s, when it was one of the very few ways a car-less student could make her way from Waltham into the actual city. Rarity did not unfortunately make it a very good way to get into the city – the 70 is a really long bus route, that makes a lot of stops, many of which are very close together and could easily be eliminated. Riding that bus end to end is a good way to meet some interesting characters, one of whom told me how the Lotus Flower blooms and seeds at the same time. But it is also a powerful way to feel your life passing; the three stops at the mall are enough to make you abandon hope altogether. And while most people use “going places”  when speaking career-wise metaphorically, it seemed a particularly bad omen to me that, despite my new job, I was not, in fact, going any place I had not already gone before.

I may not have found the bus route to be particularly ominous had I not known from the outset that I wasn’t going to like that job. Yet I had similar trepidations, perhaps unwisely overlooked, when I made my (rash?) decision to attend library school and discovered that the school itself was in the very same neighborhood as the job I had just left, and, while I would no longer be walking past the Sears, Roebuck building, I would be riding that same bus, just a few stops farther than the one to which I had walked for so many years.

My very first library job, at The Smaller Institution of Which You Probably Have Not Heard, too, was in that same neighborhood, just two blocks or so away from the Library School. Which was in a sense convenient, particularly on Saturdays, when I had class in the morning and then worked in the afternoon. But, as much as I liked it there, it did more and more seem strange to me that, with all of the city before me, I just seemed to be caught in a circuit between two points.

IV.

The Illustrious Institute changed that. Of the many reasons I was excited to work there – I could walk to work! It was a full-time job! I have a Memento-like inability to remember problems that are not my own and so had completely forgotten how utterly unhappy Derbs had been there for almost all of the years that I’d known her! – one of the most important was that it was in a brand-new neighborhood, one I had never worked in before.

However.

While I will grant that the outdoor stations on the Blue Line are more picturesque, I firmly believe that the Red Line is the best of all of the MBTA lines. Yet, I have nothing but scorn for the people who ride the Red Line only one stop. I tell myself that I don’t know them, or their lives, they may have had a really long day, or walked really far to get to the station. And no one can argue that the train will get you from Porter to Harvard faster than any of the buses that go that way. And it’s not particularly crowded. And it’s going to stop at the station anyway, so why not?

Because I would never take the Red Line only 1 stop, not within Cambridge, anyway. So no one should. The distances for which it is acceptable to take public transportation have been very clearly defined, by me, making everything else within walking distance. Which is the reason I walk to work; it’s not because I enjoy walking, although I do. And it’s  not because there is no public transportation option conveniently available, because there is – it’s the bus that, eventually, goes to The Library School, The Smaller Institute of Which You Probably Have Not Heard, and to the stop just by the Sears, Roebuck building.

V.

It was inevitable, I think, that excitement would wane over the course of years, but it was an enormous surprise, to no one more than myself, how suddenly, and violently, mine was crushed a few months ago. Certainly, there will be good days every now and again, but then I’ll remember how my new and internally promoted boss would refer to one of the library users as  Dirty ShitPig, and, when I stop wondering how I ever thought this job mattered, I realize that I have that same desperate urge to flee that I had 10 years ago, when I actually spent time pondering the merits and relative drawbacks of brainwashing and deprogramming. And now that I’m back where I started, I’m anxious to find something that holds the same intrigue that Circles did, the mystery, the promise of discovery, the secrets. Because I think that, what I’ve learned, is that the only way to beat the circles is to join a cult.

Many years ago my then-boss and I stood in the parking lot behind the building we worked in, taking a break to smoke and talk about anarchy. Said boss was of the genial sort of fellow who upon moderately close inspection reveals himself to be little more than a self-aggrandizing nitwit, which, while that would certainly be tiresome today, was a fully age-appropriate novelty a decade and half ago. And so, despite his rather pedestrian view on the banality of ties, I did quite enjoy our conversations, Joe’s and mine, and can recall them fondly today without wondering what that might say about me and my development as a person.

While I don’t remember all of the details of the anarchy conversation, I do remember the broad strokes being that Joe was Pro and I was Con, and while Joe painted a pretty picture of the freedom to do whatever you want, I really hung it on the wall by pointing out that the lack of order would apply just as equally to those with darker impulses, and once you give those guys free reign, I would be the first to die. If for no other reason than because it takes me an unbelievably long time to realize when someone who seems nice is in reality a self-aggrandizing nitwit, making it seem unlikely I would be any quicker identifying an actually harmful entity. You take away the rules, and I immediately become the dumbest zebra at the watering hole.

The lethality of total chaos, however, does not prevent me from enjoying the occasional controlled societal breakdown. On the contrary, the low-level havoc created by a brief suspension of the rules of order is, strangely, an environment in which I thrive. The need for a leader suits my natural inclinations toward bossy know-it-all-ness, while the temporary nature of the leadership position ensures that no one will have an opportunity to discover that I have no idea what I’m talking about.

The blackout that hit Cambridge back in November, for example, was exactly the sort of moment in which I shine. Being in the right place at the right time made me one of the first to be informed that the Illustrious Libraries were to be closed, and I rushed back to my primary library location, bursting with the importance of being the bearer of vital news. Once arrived, though I did first inform the ranking members of the library staff, they allowed me to inform our users of the situation. Which, not to toot my own horn (on the internet? the scandal!) I did with such aplomb that those users left in the library greeted the conclusion of my announcement with a round of applause.

Thusly justly fêted, I made my way home through the darkened streets of Cambridge, illuminated only the headlights of the cars that stretched, bumper to bumper, unmoving along the length of Mass Ave, enjoying the company not only of Devin, whose weekend had just gotten an unexpectedly early start, but of hundreds of others who recognized that without power the conveniences of modern transportation had become a burden, and that, in these reduced circumstances, the people with the most power were those who could do for themselves.

However, while the unexpected nature of the citywide blackout is part of its allure, it is, at best, a fickle beast. Its unpredictability is what makes it so welcome, yet occurring only once in the 2 decades I’ve been here makes it an unreliable source for the rush of self-worth that accompanies the exaggerated competence of laughing in the face of little-to-no danger.

Fortunately, winter comes every year, as does the thrill of a potential weather-related emergency. As a person who is not even moderately outdoorsy, I recognize that my opportunities for nature-related victories are limited : I’m not going to hike the Appalachian Trail, or scale Mount Everest, or purposely put myself in a position that could result in losing my mind in the wilderness or having to amputate my own arm. Nature and I have, for the most part, reached a detente in our conquer-or-be-conquered relationship because, up against elemental anarchy, I know that, for the most part, I would lose.

But when Nature brings the fight to me, when the whole city – yay, even the whole state – decides to back down, that’s when I have to step up. Climbing snow drifts and tumbling down the other side for the purpose only of ending up with a vegan cupcake may not be on par with doing so to find shelter or escape from a sabre-toothed tiger. But when the populace at large must stay indoors or risk being snowed upon, it is an act of heroism simply to walk out one’s front door, and I am the hero for those times. And it is with great gladness and pride that I share the plowed but still snow-covered streets, closed to vehicular traffic, with my fellow, foot-traveling champions.

The summer after my freshman year, I had a job telemarketing. I was not particularly good at it; despite the one day I was the top seller in the office, thanks to the 8 cups of coffee I drank out of a ceramic demi-tasse with a black exterior and white interior which I stole at the end of the day and which today I regret not knowing what I did with, I never was able to sell enough to meet the minimum weekly quota to earn a bonus. So, while on the down side that meant that I was not making a lot of money, it should be noted that I was at least getting rejected a lot. People do not like telemarketers, I tell you what.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that the main problem with my sales technique was that I apologetic about the invoice : the way I hit the would in our scripted “After two months, you would be sent an invoice,” let them know that I wasn’t really behind the product. Sure, they would get the Non-Profit Board Report for 2 months, and that’s cool, but, even if they enjoyed it, they’d still have to deal with this invoice in 2 months time. Like, you’re a non-profit organization and that we respect that, and our publication might help with the management of that organization (I think? I don’t know if I ever saw a copy of the Non-Profit Board Report). But we are not a non-profit organization, and we will charge you. Of course, you could cancel the invoice, but the way it was set up, we were basically coming as close to ripping you off as the bounds of the law would allow. All of that, conveyed with a simple would.

However, sometimes the problem was that the leads weren’t very good. That was the culprit the week we were selling The Marketing Report and all of the businesses that the list of contacts spit out were slaughterhouses.

As it turns out, slaughterhouses are not really all that concerned with marketing, for the reason eloquently provided by the gentleman on the other end of the phone who, in response to my request to be connected with the marketing department, drawled “Lady, all we do is kill old pigs.”

The brilliance of that response, of the unconcerned deliberation that made it clear that the foolishness of my question would not be entertained, has always made it one of the great joys of my life. However, as much as I appreciated the laconic verbal smack-down that put my self-hating would to shame before it could even be uttered, what I did not realize until this past week is that what I truly admire about that gentleman is the simplicity of purpose expressed. This is not someone who’s ever had to worry about an elevator pitch, of breaking down an overly complex process into its component parts, who has to chase fads, keep up with the latest technology, or worry about obsolescence. As long as there is an old pig that needs killing, this guy is in business : that is the hedgehog-like focus that proves elusive for most companies.

It’s the professional equivalent of my gastronomical envy of pandas, who only eat bamboo; fortunately for the panda, bamboo is only eaten by them. I enjoy the lovely natural symmetry of that relationship, in no small part because it relieves all of panda-kind of most food-related stressors : a panda never has to figure out what to do for lunch, or what it’s in the mood for. There are no ethical implications to panda’s diet, it doesn’t matter if the bamboo has been humanely raised or if it’s locally sourced. The question of what to eat has been so solidly settled for pandas that it never even needs to be raised; a panda only gets as far as “what” before it realizes that the answer is “bamboo”. It’s bamboo; it’s always bamboo.

Make no mistake : I don’t want to switch to a diet of only bamboo any more than I want to make a career of killing old pigs. Or pigs of any age. It’s just that, every now and then, instead of answers, what I would like is a lack of questions.

(Warning : portions of this blog have appeared elsewhere. Like on Facebook. Yesterday.)

I had a weirdly aggressive encounter with a patron yesterday. Although a recent arrival, she has quickly become a frequent visitor to the library; while it’s difficult to make assumptions about people, I would guess, based on her behavior, that she is neither Illustrious student nor faculty nor staff, but instead is of the sort of person who eschews the public library despite being the sort of person one imagines when coming up with reasons to eschew the public library.

Or, I suppose the difficulty lies in accurately judging a person about whom you have already made assumptions. Whatever the case, my very first interaction with this particular woman resulted with her thinking that my answer to her very bizarre question about my bracelet (which I no longer remember, except that it was off-putting) was an invitation to grab said bracelet which, having an elastic band, she then snapped against my wrist. And, while we may go into detail on physical contact in the library another time, the short explanation is : No. Even the great Colonel Mustache, who stole my heart by being the answer to the question “What would Yosemite Sam look like if his great-grandparents on his mother’s side had been Norwegian alcoholics, and his paternal great-great-great-grandfather had been a Lorax, who spoke not for trees but for mustaches?” was invited to remove his hand from my arm as I demonstrated how to use the scanner; there are no exceptions to this rule.

Subsequent interactions with this woman – who so far has not exhibited enough personality to earn a nickname, although perhaps we should start working on something tissue-based – have, now that I think of it, been fairly limited. At least on my watch, her pattern seems to be to establish herself in front of one of the computers, do whatever it is that she needs to do, and then leave, without requesting assistance from the staff. However, before heading over to the computers, she likes to stop by the desk to stock up on tissues. And, to her credit, unlike many library users, she does seem to realize that the tissues are kept on the desk not because we want to be a part of your nose-blowing experience, but so that they’ll be easy to find.

However, unlike most – if not all – of our other library users, when she stopped by the desk yesterday she glared steadily at me as she pulled tissues singly out of the box, as though daring me to stop her. One after another, it seemed like her whole purpose in coming to the library was to prove that she could remove as many tissues from the box on the desk as she wanted. It seems weird to describe anything involving tissues as defiant, but there doesn’t seem to be any other word for it.

And I almost took up her challenge. When she got to 4 and showed no signs of stopping, I inhaled, preparing to say Ok, lady – that’s enough with the tissues. And then I exhaled, wondering if that was really the life I want for myself? Do I want to be a person who restricts access to tissues? Kind of, but under the guise of wanting to ensure adequate tissue availability for all of our library users at all times.

However, that’s not a realistic goal – no matter how many or how few tissues an individual person takes, it is inevitable that the library will one day run out of tissues. On the other hand, there is no shortage of tissues in the world. And as long as there *are* tissues, the library will get more.

It may be, though, that her aggression yesterday was a result to regain some face after the tissue-related ordeal of last weekend. The difficulty then was not because of the tissues themselves, but because she was attempting to take all of the tissues. At once. Using only one hand. I don’t know why she had set this unusual challenge for herself, but I worried for a bit that she was not quite up to the task. As she struggled, unable to get her hand fully inside the box, and then unable to get it out, I wondered whether I should intervene – should I try to help her? She was having difficulty, but then she was trying to take all of our tissues – I didn’t want to encourage that. On the other hand, what she was going through was so very fascinating that it didn’t seem right to try to stop her either.

Fortunately, my conundrum was easily solved by realizing that this very moment illustrated the guiding principle behind the Prime Directive, and since anything good enough for Jean-Luc Picard is good enough for me, I decided to let events unfold as they may. Eventually, as I watched with a rapt expression upon my face, she did manage successfully to extract all of the tissues from the box. It was quite a moment, and I quietly enjoyed her victory even though her face betrayed no recognition of her achievement.

This week, I had momentarily forgotten that Directive, but fortunately, I remembered it in time. Since I did, it is my hope that in the course of proving yesterday that she can take as many tissues as she wants, she noticed that I made no effort to stop her. Because it’s interesting for two weeks, but I am kind of hoping for an end to the tissue-related drama in my life. Unless it’s new life forms coming in to the library – I’m always ready for that.

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