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.

15 Responses to “But I just wanted to borrow a book…”

  1. Alicia March 23, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Fire trap? What’s going to burn in a library?

  2. Simone Benedict March 23, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Hahaha, this post is hilarious! I don’t know if you read “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler” when you were young, but I was getting a really twisted version of that in my mind reading this. Trapped in the library with Rita the Regulator wearing a parrot blouse, yikes, what a nightmare…

    • pithypants March 26, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

      Read it? LOVED it. I even re-read it as an adult. It is my favorite book from elementary school. I think it’s why I love The Royal Tennenbaums movie too.

  3. societyred March 23, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Very funny! Great post!
    Recently at the public library here in Seattle there was a guy watching porn on one of the public computers in full view of the our “Rita” and other patrons. A woman (with her kids) complained about it and asked “Rita” to move him to a discreet location. “Rita” refused and said “the library doesn’t censor content…and can’t be in the business of monitoring what their patrons are doing at any given computer”. Oh Rita!
    Loved that O’brien book by the way…and especially liked his book “The Things They Carried”.

    • pithypants March 26, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

      Classic! Let me get this straight: so you CAN raise holy hell if he tries to reshelve his own book, but you can’t interfere if he’s watching porn in front of kids? That makes sense.

  4. Darlene Steelman March 23, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Wow – funny and kind of scary if the place did catch on fire.. but it didn’t.. so this story is hilarious.

  5. k8edid March 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I think I would have had a hard time NOT saying “I know there is a line, but the door is locked and no one can get out, bitch.” But that’s just me.

    I worked in a library when I was in nursing school and those ladies (whom I had always considered prim and proper) were a bunch of rowdy, baudy dames who really knew how to laugh and have fun…probably not typical (or stereotypical, if you will) librarians.

    • pithypants March 26, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

      You definitely have a way with words.

  6. e1aine March 23, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Ahh! I hope I’m not a Rita. Some days maybe, but not often!

    • pithypants March 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

      I don’t think Rita reads humor blogs, so you’re safe. Definitely not a Rita.

  7. Kelly Thompson March 23, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    I’m getting a vision of Rita in which she looks suspiciously like my high school gym teacher, a hard-nosed brick-shithouse-physiqued woman who was also partial to Hawaiian shirts. And frankly, the image is scaring me. By the way, if you haven’t read it, you should check out Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” I became an O’Brien fan some years back; he was born and raised not far from my hometown in Minnesota.

    • pithypants March 26, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

      Yes – I’ve read TTTC before – and LOVED it. He’s definitely a talented writer. And as a fan of Sue Sylvester AND the daughter of a gym teacher, I am pretty sure Hawaiian shirts are NOT part of the dress code. An Adidas running suit? Sure. Parrots? No.

  8. thesinglecell March 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Well that does not sound like a library I would want to frequent. I am now imagining a scenario in which the detention in the library due to malfunctioning doors morphs into the detention in the library from “The Breakfast Club,” and you’re… um, who are you? Are you Ally Sheedy or Molly Ringwald? And Rita is the principal and I really hope there’s someone compelling in there to be Judd Nelson and finally finish the joke about the woman with the poodle and the salami.

    • pithypants March 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

      Interesting thought. If they filmed a sequel to Breakfast Club using the actual people in my library, it would be “Breakfast Club: The Homeless Sequel.”

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