porcelainandporcupines

Archive for the ‘Still a little rusty’ Category

One of the most interesting things to come out of my working at Harvard was discovering that I lived right next door to one of my co-workers. Which should tell you something about the interest level of most happenings there; people’s eyes tend to widen in awe when you tell them that you work at Harvard – it never seems to occur to them that there are entry level jobs at Harvard too, and that they can be every bit as tedious as entry level jobs in a school they’ve never heard of.

Mary and I didn’t realize we were neighbors until after my first stint at Harvard – when I was a full-time temp – had ended, when, after completing one of the variety of errands with which I filled those happily unemployed summer days (unemployment only becoming sad when it stretches into winter), I passed her coming out of her house just as I was heading to mine. And even though we hadn’t really even been work friends – which I guess is obvious, since we’d never discussed where we lived in enough detail to discover the answer was “right next to you” – we had a good laugh at how we’d worked together for 6 weeks and only were discovering this now. And when I resumed my employment with Harvard a few weeks later – as a part-time term worker – whenever someone new asked me where I lived (which, now that I’m thinking about it, seemed like maybe it happened more than it needed to), I would always make sure to mention that my house was right next door to Mary’s.

Of course, Mary and I could only play the “we’re neighbors!” card so many times before it got old, and our work relationship usually consisted of greetings in the morning, farewells in the evenings, and not a whole lot in between. One day, however, Mary asked me a question:

“You know the woman who roller skates down our street every morning?”

I’m sure you can imagine how happy it would have made me to respond to that question in the affirmative, but instead I could only express disbelief that Mary, in all of our japes and jests about being neighbors, had never mentioned this before. I gathered what information I could, most importantly verifying that the skater was indeed a skater, wearing old-school white roller skates with 4 solid red wheels and a big red stopper (what some might call a brake) right under the toe, and not simply roller blades, which wouldn’t have been exciting at all. I also learned, after she followed up her claim of having seen the skater “every single day” of her life, with “not every day, but most days”, that Mary is given to hyperbole.

While I obviously kept an eye out for a roller skating woman in the weeks that followed that conversation, my interest in her tapered off as she repeatedly failed to appear, until I forgot about her. This week, however, I finally saw her. She was all that Mary had promised – a woman on white roller skates – but somehow, also, a little bit less.

In my imagination, a woman who roller skates to work – or wherever – would be the picture of joy. Because, obviously, she’s not doing it for the sport or the speed of it – if she were, she’d probably have chosen the less nostagically impressive but more aerodynamic roller blades. Or possibly a bicycle. Maybe, just maybe, a Segway. But to choose old-fashioned roller skates, the kind you wore when learning how to skate, when the safest way to stop was not with the toe brake but by slowly skating into a wall – it would be reasonable to conclude that such a person loves to skate.

However, the expression on this woman’s face was not that of one who loves to skate. Frankly, it’s difficult to look like you love anything when you’re going around in public with your mouth hanging open, whatever your mode of conveyance. Even had her mouth been closed, her expression would have still been. . . blank. Which is confusing. Is someone forcing her into these roller skates? Is she a Hans Christian Anderson story playing out right before our eyes? If not, if she’s merely skated so much that all the fun has been taken out of it, I may have to tell her that it’s all right to stop. Because her lack of joy in skating has robbed me of my rightful joy in seeing a grown woman roller skate. And I was really looking forward to being happy about that.

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One comment that I’ve received in response to my writing a number of times over the years is that I write just like I talk. While I’ve always taken that to be a compliment (and by “always” I mean “all three times”), I’ve felt somewhat like a fraud accepting it. Because the truth of the matter is that I don’t at all write like I talk; rather, I talk like I write.

This wasn’t always the case, of course. There was a time, not too long ago, when I actually spoke like a normal person. That all changed, however, when I started blogging. Writing about what I was doing influenced the way I viewed every situation, and that, in turn, changed that way I spoke about them. From there, it was just a short jump to changing the way I spoke about everything.

Now, so many years on down the road, I couldn’t stop talking like this even if I wanted to. Which has been awkward in some situations. More awkward, however, are the times that I’ve tried to stop; my occasional efforts at normal vocal communications have met with some spectacular failures.

The most recent spectacle occurred a few short weeks ago. Due to some personal computronical issues, I was forced to use the public library computers to find a place where I could take my computer for repair. As I sat there, trying to find a place that would charge me less than my own employer would to fix my computer, I overheard a fellow – a library patron – say to one of the librarians – a fellow – something about not knowing the author of  Into the Wild.

I fought back the urge to immediately jump into the conversation and show off that I knew – I’ve shelved that book a number of times (that number being higher than the number of times I’ve been told that I write just like I talk), and every time made a mental note that I should read it; even if I never do, the author’s name will forever be etched in my memory. But, I hadn’t heard the beginning of the conversation. Perhaps there was some sort of wager in place and knowing the author’s name would exclude him from the prize. Or maybe the guy hated the movie version so much that he was looking for the author’s name so he could track him down and punch him in the face; I wouldn’t want to be a party to that.

Plus, this wasn’t my library; while I have yet to receive my official copy of The Big Book of Librarian Etiquette, I feel confident that Don’t Show Up Another Librarian On Her Home Turf has to be, like, rule #5, after Accept With Good Grace And Gentle Deflection All Comments About Sexy Librarians, Politely Inform Those Who Ask That Plenty Of People Even Read Anymore,  Don’t Shush Your Fellow Librarians Even If They’re The Noisiest People In The Building, and Never Comment On The Size Of A Gentleman’s Book. So I sat quietly at my computer, graciously allowing my fellow Librarian  to claim the glory that was rightly his by providing the patron with the requested information. Except that he didn’t. “I don’t know either,” was all he said in reply.

Over and above any other rule of Librarian Etiquette is Represent Librarians In The Best Possible Light At All Times, which is so obvious that it never even needs to be stated. Telling a patron that you don’t know something is fine; failing to follow-up with an offer to find out, when you are seated at the service desk, right in front of a computer, is unacceptable. I may have been loathe to break rule #5, but he seemed in danger of giving librarians everywhere a bad name; I really had no other choice but to pipe up from across the room with “Krakauer; John Krakauer”. It took a couple of repetitions before they understood what I was saying (I think my mispronunciation of the name – it’s actually Jon Krakauer – proved momentarily confusing), but finally, librarian and patron alike were fully aware of just who was the author of Into the Wild.

I was exceptionally pleased at the job well done, but not so much so that I wasn’t inclined to respond with modesty to the little girl seated at the computer next to me, who looked at me with wide eyes and said “Wow, you’re really smart.” Except that my stated response “Well, I knew that,” came out less of a humble “Well, I got lucky and  happened to know the particular piece of information they were looking for,” and more of a “Yes, I am well aware of how exceedingly intelligent I am, little girl – thank you.”

She looked abashed and returned her focus to her computer screen. Eventually I figured out where I had gone wrong, but it was too late. Over explaining the error didn’t make it any clearer to the child and didn’t make her feel any better, but it did make me feel like a jerk. Probably I should have written her a note; then she would’ve understood what I meant.


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