porcelainandporcupines

Archive for April 2012

I love to walk; it’s my primary mode of transportation, and while I know that there are definite benefits to driving – primarily being that I could leave things in the car, rather than toting everything I own around with me all the time so that I can get to work, eat lunch, and go to yoga all in the same day – I am, at my core, a pedestrian. I like the fact that it takes time to get places, that I can let my attention wander as I go; as a pedestrian I can stop without warning if the candy factory smells particularly good, or turn around to head back the other way as soon as I realize that I’ve forgotten something or that I did, in fact, just walk past a yard filled with poultry. You can’t do that with a car. Nor can you find the amazing things that people drop in the gutter; it’s not just doll heads, you know – sometimes it’s money.

Of course, there are drawbacks to being a pedestrian, and, as with driving, the biggest problem is other pedestrians.  (Well, with driving, it’s other drivers; you know what I mean). You don’t hear about it much, probably because it’s not sexy like Road Rage and Air Rage, but Pedestrian Rage is a very real problem, even on the historical brick sidewalks of Cambridge, as I was reminded tonight.

I was making my way to yoga after work, as I am wont to do. To be honest, I was not moving as fast as I could have been – my feet hurt a little bit, and I was preoccupied with my plan to stop at CVS beforehand, which suddenly seemed ill-considered – but neither was I moving unreasonably slowly; in my opinion, I was moving at an entirely reasonable rate for a person carrying 3 bags and a yoga mat, who has more than enough time to arrive at her destination.

The gentleman walking behind me felt otherwise. I know this because, as he walked past me he turned his face toward me and said “I guess I’ll just walk the other way.” And even though, in that context, the words he used don’t make any sense, I knew exactly what he meant. As a pedestrian, I have felt it – the rage that builds as you’re stuck behind someone who is so inconsiderate as to be walking slower than you want to be going; or a group of people so up their own asses that they dare walk 3 abreast on the sidewalk, leaving no room at all for those of us who actually have places to be to get around them; or some mother who UNBELIEVABLY actually purchased a sturdy stroller in which to push around her stupid baby she’ll probably spoil, a stroller so unwieldy that her efforts to navigate around the tree roots buckling up through that historic brick back pedestrian traffic up so far that you actually have to WALK IN THE FUCKING STREET just to be on your way.

As I huff past these inconsiderate people who are willfully ignoring my presence – they know I’m there; they’re just being dicks – I often have the urge to snarl something at them, along the lines of a sarcastic “no, that’s fine; I’ll just go around,” or, on days when I’m not feeling quite so expansive, a simple, barked “MOVE!” But I don’t, because I know, no matter how irritated I am, that I am being ridiculous; that the people most likely don’t know that I’m there, or that I am filled with hate for them, and a simple “excuse me” would probably get them out of my way; in short, I know that, the novel of my life, wherein I am the heroine and also the center of the entire universe, is only being read by me. The people in front of me don’t realize they’re inconveniencing the most important person who ever lived because a.) they don’t know I’m there; and b.) from their perspective, they’re the most important person who ever lived. Which is as it should be, I think; no one should be a supporting player in their own life.

So when this gentleman said to me “I guess I’ll just walk the other way,” despite the nonsense of his words, I knew that he meant “I AM VERY IMPORTANT AND YOU ARE HOLDING ME UP!” Which is fine – I get that; he jangled as he walked passed like he had a lot of keys on him, and I saw what looked like a pair of needle-nosed pliers in his back pocket, which, to me, signify a man who means business, a man of action, a man who will be prepared to change the channel on a broken television set if he somehow gets transported back to 1978.

So I wasn’t offended by this comment of his, and despite recognizing his importance, that he was inconvenienced by me didn’t strike me as a terribly pressing issue; despite the multitude of bags, I was one person, on a wide sidewalk that was completely clear of the snow that can reduce the world to walking in single file, and no one was walking toward us – conditions could not have been more favorable for easily passing me. So my response to him was a relaxed “That’s why there’s the whole sidewalk; so you can go around.” Not, it should be noted, said sarcastically, but in my soothing voice, the voice I use to help people find things in the library : “Oh, you can’t see a way to get around me? That’s ok, I can help; there’s a whole sidewalk right here that you can use. Look at how life works, making things easy for everyone; isn’t it grand?”

Unfortunately, angry people sometimes don’t like a calm response; sometimes, in fact, it only makes them angrier. As it did in this case, when the gentleman responded with a very sarcastic “Oh, like I could really go around,” while stretching his arms out wide as though he were going to wrap them around a hippopotamus, as though embracing a hippopotamus weren’t the worst idea ever due to their notoriously bad tempers AND their habit, when they defecate under water, of using their tail to churn the water, in essence flinging their poop everywhere.

Which, in a nutshell, is kind of what this guy did to me. Which, in a weird way, makes me feel a little bit better about the whole interaction. Because at first, I was extremely upset; not because of any aspersions cast about my weight – I realize that any suggestion that my circumference presents a challenge to navigation is patently ridiculous. Yet, however invalid his word choice, as with his first sentence, his intent was clear and that intent was aggressive hostility. And no matter how may times I replayed the encounter, I could not for the life of me see what I’d done to deserve that. I wasn’t mean to him; I was utterly neutral.

And that, it turns out, was the problem. Because when I took a moment to attempt to read that chapter of our lives from his novel through the lens of my novel, it went like this:

Him: Pay attention to me!
Me: There’s no need to pay attention to you.
Him: UNACCEPTABLE!

Since we, as a species, frown on violence but also eschew the waste-based communications, this gentleman had very few options – I didn’t escalate the argument giving him reason to attack, but he had to express his frustration in some fashion, so he chose to fling some metaphorical feces at me and deliver a personal, albeit groundless, insult.

And that’s what makes me feel better, weirdly. Because always, always the most upsetting thing about this kind of interaction (which, you’ll come to see, happens kind of a lot) is that it upsets me. No matter how many times I think “Don’t let it get to you,” it does, and that makes it worse. Should I not have a reaction when someone deliberately throws poop into my day? I think I should. What I would like, however, is to be able to respond to it a little bit better. Not that I want to walk around expecting angry jabs and spurious insults from every person I meet; that wouldn’t be better. Nor would I necessarily want the presence of mind to think of a cutting insult in response; like with the hippo, once you start spraying that shit around, it just gets everywhere.

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One peculiar thing about the Illustrious Institute In Which I Work is that, despite the titular illustrioiusness and an undergraduate acceptance rate of less than 10%, the libraries of the institute, as well as most of its buildings, are open to the general public. Whether or not this spirit of openness is common among the Illustrious Institutes of the world, I can not say; having worked for only two of them, I can report only that, in my experience, about half of them share this spirit, while the other half do not. And while I am certain that this open-door policy originated for the betterment of all mankind, to help technology flourish and to serve progress in as democratic a fashion as possible and all of that, I am equally certain that the only tangible consequence of this policy that I’ve witnessed so far is an influx to the university library of people who would otherwise be confined to a public library.

We have a name for these outside users; as a group, they’re called Super Users (one of my very charming coworkers, a young person who just knows everything, lovingly refers to them as “bums;” delightful, that one) although, of course, each one has his or her own unique identity, which I recognize with a nickname hastily conjured up from the most obvious thing about them; thus, Larry David looks an awful lot like Larry David, while Crazy Cat Lady looks eerily like the Crazy Cat Lady from The Simpsons.

My favorite Super User, who has since moved on from both the library and the entire state of Massachusetts, was The Little Dumpling, so called because she’s small and round and soft-looking, and because I could easily picture her floating in soup. I did not take an immediate shine to The Little Dumpling; when she first appeared in the library last winter (coincident with my first appearance in the library), she had a terrible, hacking cough, which I am still mostly convinced will one day prove to have been the source of my eventual diagnosis of tuberculosis. Also she would take her shoes right off and just sit for hours, barefoot and cross-legged and staring at the computer. Although I did pity her poor haircut, which looked as though she were unsure where to stop trimming her bangs and so ended up with an accidental mullet.

After a few months, I began to notice that, while her cough was clearing up, the tragedy of her hair remained unchanged; though I want to be generous and believe that it at least began as an accident, the undeniable truth is that it has evolved and is now a purposeful mullet, a mullet of great deliberation. Yet, however bad her hair, or habitually bare her feet – which, it should be noted, were always immediately shod the moment she stood up – what really stood out about my Little Dumpling, what made me come to love her, was that she kept to herself. Because this is the thing about Super Users : they are, on the whole, a terrible pain in the ass.

The problem with the Super Users is a basic, and utterly misplaced, sense of entitlement : because they are allowed in the library, they believe, and behave, as though they  are the rightful users of the library. However, for all its openness, The Illustrious Institute In Which I Work (hereinafter referred to as the IIIWIW) is a private university, and the libraries exist to serve the research needs of the students and staff of the university. They do not exist so that otherwise unoccupied people have a comfortable place to access free porn on the internet.

Most of the Super Users do not, of course, spend their time watching porn. Most of them have projects on which they are working, projects which, to them, are of the utmost importance, and projects about which I, professionally speaking, could not give less of a shit. That may sound harsh, but remember : private university. If I worked in a public library, I would be delighted to hear any library user ramble on about the intricacies of an organizational system wherein everything is stored in clear plastic bags, but I don’t work in a public library; I work in a private library, and if you are not a student or staff, or your organizational system does not benefit student or staff, then, as I stood listening to you, tens of dollars would be wasted that could be put to use discovering organizational systems that do actually benefit student and staff, or explaining to them how to use the scanner.

Because the scanner, I have come to discover, is a perpetual source of difficulty for our Super Users, especially Larry David. What he scans is a mystery to me; other Super Users will scan sections of books or journals, since they’re not allowed to check them out. Larry, on the other hand, is scanning material he’s brought in to the library. Which, then, means that he could, in fact, take this material to a public library, and use a scanner that he is 100% entitled to use. However, as mentioned above, another quality inherent to the Super User is the belief that what they’re working on is of the utmost importance : they after all, can not be limited by what’s available in the public library (which, if you’ve ever investigated, is actually a very good selection of stuff); no, they require the Illustrious surroundings to do their work, possibly to effect their own Good Will Hunting or Lana Turner type discovery into superstardom, or possibly for other reasons that I can not fathom but will still chalk up to arrogance.

An even greater mystery than what Larry David might be scanning is why he has so much trouble scanning it. Considering the amount of time he’s spent in front of scanners, which stretches far, far back into the mists of time, you’d think he’d have it down by now, but no : always he encounters some kind of issue, and this issue he feels compelled to bring to the attention of the desk staff.

Only one time did Larry David ever come to the library while I was on the desk. No, technically, I guess it was twice; he was there late on a Friday evening, scanning away as I began the routine for closing the library. I’d never seen him before, and as far as I knew was a staff member (he does have a slightly professorial air about him; plus, he looks like a famous person, which automatically gives him authority), but still our first conversation went like this:

“What time are you closing tonight?”
“The Library closes tonight at 6.”
“[inaudible mumbling to himself]And what time are you working until?”

This last was asked in the hopeful way that indicated he thought, if I were going to be staying late anyway, I would probably just let him stay and continue scanning after hours. Oh, Larry David : you foolish optimist.

“Well, the library closes at 6; if you’re not done scanning by then, you can come back tomorrow to finish. We open at 1.”

In the spirit of customer service, and the mistaken impression that he was faculty, I did agree to let Larry David leave his flash drive in the scanner overnight so that the enormous document he’d scanned would be fully saved; after all, I was the staff member opening the following day, so I could ensure that it was only retrieved by its rightful owner.

The next day, before he came by to claim his flash drive, I learned that Larry David was not actually a faculty member; instead, he was a Super User previously known as Microfiche Guy, based on his tendency to use – and have trouble with – the microfiche; presumably he still resembled Larry David then, so why he was dubbed otherwise initially is beyond me, but it only took a little while to figure out that Larry David and Microfiche Guy were one and the same. Knowing his true identity changed very little for me; I may not have let him leave the flash drive, but that was a minor issue; if he didn’t come to pick it up, I’d drop it in the lost & found and consider the matter closed.

Of course, he did not forget to pick up his flash drive; he was there, right when the library opened, not just to retrieve the drive, but to scan more stuff. And this is when the trouble began. Because Larry David was on that scanner for the entire afternoon. He took a small break at one point to greet Colonel Mustache (about whom, fear not, much will be said in the future), but apart from that break, he did not move from his position in front of the scanner for 3 hours. Three hours in which he likely violated fair use guidelines, but more importantly, 3 hours in which a few students formed a line, waiting to use the scanner.

Even had it been only 1 student waiting, this would have been a problem. Because, as referenced above : private university. Students pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $55,000 per year to attend the Illustrious Institute, and while a portion of that is earmarked for food and board and, you know, classes and stuff, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly used to guarantee them immediate access to the scanner in the library. Or, if not immediate, then only waiting for other people who have also paid $55,000 to finish up with it. Waiting for Larry David, on the other hand, is not a line-item in the tuition, so I approached him and explained the situation to him thusly : “Students are waiting to use the scanner; you need to finish up.”

Despite my very clear statement, Larry was under the impression that an explanation of his extended use of the scanner was in order. His first scan, it turns out, hadn’t saved, despite the hour and a half he’d spent working on it, which he found extremely frustrating. Not frustrating enough to report to the desk immediately; just frustrating enough to try doing it again in exactly the same way but hoping for better results. Like Wile E. Coyote.

I, however, would not be swayed : “That is unfortunate that it didn’t work, but you have been on the scanner for 3 hours. Students are waiting; you need to get off.”

He expressed concern that I wasn’t taking his problem with the scanner seriously. Which, to be fair, I wasn’t. For one thing, he hadn’t reported the issue to me until I told him to finish up; had he really been concerned that the problem was with the scanner, rather than himself, he should have come to the desk an hour and a half ago when it first occurred; were it a legitimate issue with the scanner, I would have been very glad to hear about it.

For another, the pressing issue, to me, was that he was still on the scanner : “I will report the problem you experienced to the IT department, and if anyone else [gesturing toward assembled students] experiences the same issue, I will report that as well, but right now, what needs to happen, is that you need to get off the scanner.”

Do you think it’s self-absorbed that I only remember my side of the conversation? I worry about that sometimes. Although maybe in this case it’s because I had to say essentially the same exact thing 6 times before it finally registered with Larry David that my unsympathetic stance was not going to change, and that the only acceptable resolution to this stand-off he and I were having was for him to get the hell off the scanner already.

Which he did. He left the library quickly thereafter, and I am pleased to report that he has not reappeared in that particular library since then. He has, however, shown up in other of the IIIWIW’s libraries and, when difficulties with their scanners have lead some staff members to direct him back toward my library, his response has been “No, I prefer not to go there.” I take full credit for that.


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