Friday, September 27, 2013

The Old, The Lonely, and The Crazy

So I'm back working at a public library for the first time in 16 years.  It's only been a few months, but one thing I've learned in that time is that public libraries have been become a refuge for The Old, The Lonely, or The Crazy.  (Often all three of those are found in one person.)  A large portion of my time is spent answering questions from people who don't have the google, have too much time on their hands, or want answers to things we can't possibly know. 

There's the old lady who will call 3 times in one evening shift for various random questions, and while I'm trying to answer the question will make a disgusting sucking sound with her teeth.  ("Will the robins or sparrows in my back yard migrate?" Um, there are 32 different kinds of sparrows, and I don't know which ones are in your back yard.)  When I answer her question, then she just wants to chat.  By now she knows my name, so she'll say, "Tim, you sound so young.  How old are you? You must be in your 20's!  No?  30's then?"   

There's the grumpy, crotchety old man who gets impatient if I take too long or ask any clarifying questions.  "Don't make a mountain out of a molehill, just answer the question!"  Yes, sir, that's exactly what I'm trying to do, but I can't tell you who was "buried in African water" until I can define what "African water" means.  "Water!  You know what water means!  W-A-T-E-R!"  He'll point to the monitor and demand, "Just type it into the computer!"

There's the man who calls five times a day to ask what's on TV, and when we say, for example, that the show he wants is on NBC, he wants to know which number that is.  There are 14,000 different cable/satellite providers in Chicagoland, but he doesn't know which one he has.   

One guy called to tell me he saw a guy on the bus rubbing something into his neck and hands that had a menthol smell to it.  He wants to know what it was.  It wasn't medicinal (like Ben Gay), but he also wouldn't let me call it a "cologne."  It was a "scent."  He did not see the tube or bottle it came out of.  The closest thing I could find for him was something called Tiger Balm.  I suggested that maybe the next time he ask the guy what it is.   


For the second year in a row, on my birthday I've yelled at my sister Debbie on Facebook. I remember last year on my birthday being a crappy mood because I went off on her that her crazy rants about our president on FB were starting to sound like a confused old man yelling at an empty chair.    

 I've done a good job lately of avoiding political posts on FB and on this blog, but every once in a while they bubble up.  The recent one was when I heard about Republicans trying to defund Obamacare a week before the major part of it will be implemented.  This is ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag, since they have no chance of succeeding.  Obamacare is happening, and even Republicans admit that once it's fully implemented, it will be too hard to repeal because it will be too popular.  So they're clawing and scratching to sink it before it starts.  So I posted this on FB:
Imagine if we lived in a country where whole swaths of the population were NOT working as hard as they can to make our nation's first black president a failure. Imagine if they did what was best for our country and worked with him to make the most significant social program of our generation a success. Imagine if they simply stood out of the way and let his novel idea of providing health care to all Americans a chance to work. Because trying to defund a program before it's been fully implemented, and voting 40 times (!) to repeal a law that's not going away, and states refusing to participate in a program whose sole purpose is to keep your citizens healthy, well, you just look like an obstinate dick who cares more about your side winning than your country succeeding.      
I won't re-hash the whole thing here, but let's just say my sister Debbie (and her husband Denny, which I suspect was Debbie also, accidentally logged into his account, because she's as confused about using FB as she is about politics) and I got into another raging political debate, which left me in a bad mood about my ignorant fundamentalist sister.  


Yesterday one of our reference assistants referred a question to me.  I was supposed to call this guy back who had a grammar question about "pass tense (sic.)"  So, armed with books and websites about English past tense rules, I called the patron.

He tells me that he's trying to write a radio ad, but he's not sure if his use of past and present tense is correct.  He tries to explain it, but then he says, "Let me just read what I have written, and you'll see what I'm talking about."

He has a lovely deep radio voice, so I'm a little taken aback when he starts reading,  "Barack starts his study of socialism and marxist propaganda under ...."

His question is about past and present tense, but the subject matter immediately makes me tense.   

My hackles are raised.  The 60-second radio spot is a total hack job on Obama and his "socialist agenda."  At one point it mentions Obama's previous job as a community organizer as a front for socialist propaganda.

As he's reading this, I look at the website that I had open about using past tense: Here are the examples they use on this page:
  • You called Debbie.
  • Did you call Debbie?
  • You did not call Debbie.
Is the Universe mocking me?  First I have this fight with my sister Debbie on FB, then this nutjob on the phone is reading me his Obama attack ad, while I'm looking at sample sentences with my sister's name?

In the end, the guy didn't need any authoritative grammar sources.  He just needed me to confirm for him that if he uses present tense throughout the whole ad, it does indeed sound weird to switch to past tense for the last part.  I made no comments whatsoever about the content of his ad.  I'm a professional, after all.     


Sarah B said...

When I worked at the public library, there was this really, really (really) old man who would come in once a week with a list of weird, random things he wanted pictures of.

He'd pay the extra money to have the pictures printed on the color printer, and then he'd sit in one particular chair and just look at the pictures.

At the time, I believe there was one picture of yellow checkers on the entire Internet (I found them!) and then another time, he wanted a picture of Blondie (from the eponymous comic) in the bathtub.

I found that one, too.

Tim said...

Yes, even with the crazies, it feels pretty good when you can find what they're looking for. :)

chocolatechip said...

Um, so all day on the 25th I was thinking, "Today is the anniversary of something. Or maybe a birthday. Is it one of my grandparents' birthdays? Or maybe Ani Di Franco's birthday? Maybe it's nothing." Your blog has answered my question. I can't believe I forgot!! Sorry, and happy belated birthday.

Tim said...

Funny, CC. :) You know I don't do FB b-days, and no one remembers without that (except family.) It was a low-key bday and it wasn't a significant year, so I didn't do much.