Archive | 9:53 am

But I just wanted to borrow a book…

23 Mar

Yesterday I walked to the library to pick up my book club’s next selection (In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien). When I got there, the sole librarian behind the counter was the woman I mentally refer to as Rita the Regulator.

Rita is not the librarian of your childhood who warmly comments on your selections or makes customized recommendations. She has no social skills and her job seems to bring her nothing but annoyance. If she had a visible thought bubble over her head, I’m pretty sure it would say, “Everyone is an idiot.”

Yesterday I had a chance to study her because she was on the phone with her back to me as I approached the desk. It sounded like she was having an argument with a patron. “I told you,” she said. “I looked. There’s not a book back there for you… No… I checked… spell your name again for me… yes… that’s the name I looked for, and I can tell you – there is NOT a book with that name on it… you will need to call back in a few hours… a few hours… because maybe then there will be a book back there with your name on it!”

Rita: Hates people, Loves Buffet?

I observed that she was wearing a brightly colored short sleeve button-up shirt featuring large parrots, and it made me imagine her at the store, picking it out. Had she liked the colors? The birds? Or was it a pragmatic decision made simply because of the shirt’s fit and weight, with no thought of the parrots on it? In any case, she looked like a Hawaiian tourist, which was an interesting look for the DC library in March.

The thing that makes Rita interesting (aside from everything else that fascinates me about her) is the fact that she can only perform one task at a time. Whatever she is doing has her full attention, and if you try to interrupt her you will receive a very terse reprimand. Knowing this, I patiently waited for her to complete the phone call while a line of slightly more restless patrons formed behind me.

When she hung up the phone, she turned and assessed the line, and her face seemed to read, “Great. Even MORE idiots to deal with.” In any case, she completed my transaction (which included updating my phone number in the system because there was a message on the computer prompting her to do so, which she was unwilling to override even with a line of people bearing down on her).

Book in hand, I exited. Or rather – I tried to exit. The library has two sets of automatic glass doors you pass through. I made it out the first set without issue, but then found the next set locked. I should’ve been clued in by the fact that a woman with a stroller was standing there, just hanging out between the doors, when I entered.

“It’s locked,” she said. I tried to muscle my way out, but it wasn’t happening. I turned around to re-enter the library, but the doors wouldn’t open because they’re triggered only by the pad inside the library. I was able to wrestle one open just enough to squeeze through so I could tap the pad and let the woman out.

I approached the desk to tell Rita that something was wrong with the doors, but she wouldn’t interrupt her transaction to look at me. “There’s a line,” she informed me without making eye contact.

I leaned toward the next person in the line, “You might want to let her know that the doors are locked and people can’t get out.”

Duty done, I returned to the entrance and reversed my way out, prying the doors open with some effort as I realized that the library was something of a fire trap. I held the door open for the baby stroller lady as I went, and we both laughed with relief when we finally made it to the sidewalk.

Like this, but not Spiderman, and not in a glass. So actually, not really like this.

The way the library is laid out, the entrance and exit face each other because it’s a bit like a horseshoe. While we were rejoicing in our newly found freedom, I looked up to see a guy – the guy who Rita had been helping when I tried to inform her about the doors – stuck in the exit foyer, grabbing the door handles and shaking them with a slight look of panic in his eye.

He was so absorbed in his task, he didn’t even notice me, sitting there staring at him, and it made me wonder if someone had watched me do the exact thing. It was not unlike watching an orangutan behind glass at the zoo.

And suddenly I understood why Rita shook her head and thought we were idiots.