porcelainandporcupines

lights! cam – broken glass! action!

Posted on: February 20, 2012

One sunny Friday in 1998, I chose not to got work. Not because of any illness, despair, or other demotivational factor, but because my former friend Naopi was in town visiting for the weekend. And, though the trip had been planned well enough in advance that I could easily have scheduled the day off, I chose, for reasons that I don’t quite recall but probably have something to do with my tendency to hoard vacation time, to call out sick that Friday morning.

Had my fake “I’m sick, cough-cough” voice been strong enough actually to be recorded by the company’s voicemail system, that day would have been relatively unchanged. As it was – or wasn’t, in this case – my co-workers grew concerned that I, normally so responsible and reliable, was not present and could not be accounted for, a concern they expressed by repeatedly calling me throughout the day.

In 1998, you must recall, cell phones were uncommon; my house phone – which was shared with my 4 roommates – did not have Caller ID. As Naopi and I sat in the house, deciding what to do with the day (we ended up going to the  Carberry’s on Prospect Street,) I was perfectly at ease with the phone constantly ringing in the background. After all, from my perspective, there was no reason anyone would be calling me : work knew I was “sick,” and Naopi had arrived safely, so my bases, such as they were, were covered. Naopi, on the other hand, was not comfortable at that point just letting a phone ring and ring, and so it was that we had the following conversation:

Naopi: Don’t you think you should answer that?

Me: No. Why would I?

Naopi: What if it’s an emergency?

Me: Why would anyone call me in an emergency?

The question stumped Naopi; one of my roommates, sitting in the adjacent living room and conspicuously not eavesdropping on our conversation, covered his mouth in an attempt not laugh. Which is, of course, why I remember this incident at all; I always try to remember what works with an audience, in the hopes of recapturing that magic in other settings. But the question had been asked in earnest : at that moment, I honestly could not think of any emergency situation that would benefit in the slightest from my presence.

Many things have changed since that Friday afternoon 14 years ago : cell phones have succeeded house phones in the battle of telephonic supremacy; Caller ID is no longer optional; Carberrys has been replaced by Lyndell’s bakery; and, most importantly, you can now call out sick to work via email, sparing you the effort of trying to sound sick early in the morning.

I, of course, have also changed in that time. I have grown older, and, in recent years, have become very vocal about how comfortable I am with my advancing years. While I would like to be able to claim this is due to some kind of yogic tranquility or a sense of accomplishment, the truth is, to me, age is the ultimate Get Out of Jail Free card. I don’t have my whole life ahead of me anymore; barring unexpected accident or illness, my life is probably about half over. Which means, with only half of my life left, I don’t have a lot of time to waste : if you’re boring, a bad kisser, an adult wearing a hat that looks like an animal, growing ironic facial hair, doing anything that lacks sincerity, or wearing any garment that could be referred to as a cloak, I no longer have the time to put up with your nonsense. For me, age has come with a grand sense of entitlement, rather than wisdom; as a result, unless the resolution involves sarcasm or fabulous shoes, I am no more equipped to handle an emergency than I was 14 years ago. Which makes it all the more incomprehensible not just that, at work, people look to me to handle emergency situations, but I am actually supposed to know how to handle them.

It may seem like a library emergency would be somewhat low stakes, particularly since the day-to-day irritations are so; a consistently late coworker, a super-user who doesn’t know how to use the scanner, an astoundingly rude professor  who never says even says “Hello,” much less “Thank you,” : these are unpleasant realities of working, but they would hardly qualify as emergencies. Broken glass falling from the ceiling onto the heads of my student workers, on the other hand? That feels like an urgent situation.

To understand how the glass fell inside the library, you must be familiar with certain architectural features of the library that I can not provide much detail about here for reasons I’ll explain later, but I can say this: there are windows that open into the library from inside another building. So the falling glass, as we discovered, was not from the wreckage of anything library-related, but because workers on the 3rd floor of that other building knocked a piece of art against one of the library-facing windows, thus causing that window to shatter.

As I said, this knowledge came later. At the time, I knew this : an extremely loud noise came from the upper levels of the library just as Nia, a student worker who was just finishing her very first training shift in the library, returned to the desk area. I looked over to her in time to see tiny shards of glass falling all around her, while she hunched up her shoulders as one does in defense against inclement weather when one does not have an umbrella. Although this offers no actual defense whatsoever, against either shards of glass or snowflakes or little drops of rain, Nia remained fortunately unharmed, while the glass continued to fall as I stood staring.

More quickly than it seemed, the tinkling sound of glass hitting the floor came to an end, and as there was no follow-up loud noise, I, along with my colleague Devin rushed over to where Nia still stood. Instinctively, the three of us turned our eyes ceiling-ward in an effort to discover the source of whatever had just happened. A long moment passed as we stood staring, until suddenly I realized the following things:

  1. Glass had just fallen from the sky;
  2. Instead of gawping like turkeys amazed by the rain,  perhaps we should move our delicate faces and eyes to a protected area within the library;
  3. Nia might possibly be injured;
  4. Someone needed to do something about this;
  5. Despite Devin’s presence, this was my shift, in my library, with my student workers; ergo :
  6. I was the someone who needed to do something.
  7. Uh-oh.

Really, though : me? This situation was never covered in library school; I was not prepared.

However, wondering how did I get here? did not help in any way to resolve points #1, 3 and 4. 3 seemed like the most pressing point, and could, in its resolution, address point #2, so I suggested we all move back over to the relative safety of the circulation desk; I may not have physically dragged Nia over that way, but I do know that, noticing that she was trembling even though she said she was unharmed, I did force her into a chair with a commanding “SIT”. Partially this was so that she would not have to waste any energy standing, but it was mostly so that I could know that she was safe from the threat of further injury, which allowed me to turn my attention elsewhere.

What was most interesting about the rest of the evening (to me, anyway) was not the resolution of the situation, which actually turned out to be surprisingly simple : the fellow who broke the window appeared in the library and explained what happened, which I then reported to facilities (although it did take 2 calls to impress upon them the immediacy with which the repairs & cleanup needed to be undertaken); Devin excused Nia, about whom I had almost entirely forgotten, for the remainder of her shift; I warned the other student workers about the glass in the area behind the desk, and then swept up the little bit of glass that was in a public part of the library.

What was interesting was that, despite the simple solution, I was completely terrified the entire time. As I went about the minor tasks of notifying facilities and sweeping up glass, I had the same quasi-nauseated feeling in the bottom of my stomach that I got in the Market Basket when Jordan Baker rammed me with her Rascal. The startlingly uncomfortable awareness of my lower abdomen was in this case accompanied by a strange sensation in my ears, not quite a ringing, but an effect that made it sound as though everything were very far away. I believe I attempted to bridge that distance by speaking more loudly than necessary; I know for certain that I spoke far more slowly than normal, as I was expending a great deal of effort to come up with each word, then pronounce it without my voice cracking.

And all of this terror was due not to any physical threat to my well-being, but to being in charge, and of what had apparently been a relatively minor happening; although I sent out an email to the rest of the full-time library staff to alert them to the situation, not one person gave any indication that anyone beside me considered it a big deal. It’s possible that I attempted to downplay the gravity of what happened in the email, but I know for sure that I mentioned the part about broken glass falling all around the circulation desk and still : zip.

You might think that the moral of this story should be that, since I single-handedly capably, uh, handled what turned out to be a relatively minor occurrence in the life cycle of the library, I’d be more confident about whatever challenges might come my way. Such thoughts would be incorrect. Because the next emergency that arises in the library, be it an actual emergency or one that is perceived as such only by me, is not going to be glass falling from the ceiling. That very specific situation is something that I do know how to defuse, which means that, should it ever arise again, it won’t be an emergency. The next emergency will be something else, something new, and what will make it an emergency is that decisive action will be required on my part, and I will have no idea what that action should be.

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1 Response to "lights! cam – broken glass! action!"

[…] something else before even that, many years ago, when I went to New York for the weekend to visit Naopi. Which, I was a little unsure I should bring up, but then I remembered that I was hit by a car, so […]

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