Sunday, June 14, 2009


When I first started working at my library, I was naïve and trusting.

And stupid. Not just stupid, but stoo-pit.

While I did realize that I had to be nice to patrons because that was my job, when they were nice back to me, I felt a connection to them, not unlike some of them feel when they deal with me, only not to the extent that many of them feel we’ve connected. If I’m cheery and smiley and laugh at their inane jokes, they think I like them. And not just a polite, how-can-I-help-you liking, but a full on, let’s-hang-out, get-drunk, screw-until-the-morning-light kind of liking, which is so off-base I can’t even quantify the distance off the base that is. But in the beginning, I felt like those who were nice to me were being nice to me because they actually liked me, in a you’re-sweet, if-I-see-you-on-the-street-I’ll-stop-to-say-hello kind of way. Often I was right, and we did stop and chat when we ran into one another around town. Occasionally I exchanged email addresses with patrons, and a few times I gave out my phone number. One patron has been to my house (which some of my friends haven’t even done), and we do spend time together. A few have hugging rights with me, but not many. A few times it’s backfired and I ended up having to screen my calls because a particularly ornery old man kept calling me and asking me out for coffee, which was not why I gave him my number, but lesson learned. I am a wiser library employee now.

I’m nice, but not as nice as I used to be. And when they’re nice back, that’s often a bad sign and I need to tone my niceness down even more. But it’s the behavior around town that has me too spooked to shop in any nearby stores, and it’s why I joined a gym 20 minutes from my house. I reserve my right to have a patron-free existence once I am off the clock.

Last week a young man came in and asked me a question that immediately set off my radar and my niceness level went from about an 8 down to an immediate 1.

He’s a decent enough guy, handicapped by some sort of anabolic problem (he’s often in a wheelchair, though not always) as well as being retarded (to what extent, I can’t say, but he is quite slow and socially awkward, and has supervision most of the time), but we’ve had patrons like this before, who have no qualms about fixating on one employee who doesn’t treat them like a freak, and going overboard proclaiming their affection for that staff member. I don’t want to be this guy’s object of desire, so when he walks up to me and greets me with a huge smile, saying my name in that way that gives me the creeps, dragging out the last syllable for far too long, I just want to run. But I don’t. I just try to restrict our conversations to library-related, professional exchanges. I cannot encourage the guy or I just know there will be trouble.

So, when he approached me last week and opened our conversation with, “Do you want to go to the B-96 SummerBash?” I didn’t even hesitate for a second, but spit an instant no-thank-you out. (B-96 is a Chicago radio station that plays popular rap and hip-hop type music – soooo not my genre.)

He stuttered for a minute and tried to clarify that his boss had given him a whole bunch of tickets to the event and he was just looking for people he liked to give them to, so he thought of me.

Me: Thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t listen to that kind of music and I don’t do concerts.

Half lie. I do small venue, mostly local band concerts, usually if I’m the photographer only.

Him: You don’t listen to B-96? How can you not like that music?

Me: I just don’t. It’s not for me.

Him: Well, what do you listen to then?

There it was. A personal question from a patron who is friendlier than I care for him to be, one teetering on the edge of making me greatly uncomfortable in a harmless kind of way. Years ago, I would have told him the truth and probably set myself up for a lengthy conversation about music, and possibly many subsequent conversations about music, and, worst case scenario, he’d have a bunch of tickets to see Shinedown at some point and ask me if I wanted to go to their concert. Then what?

But now I’m wiser. And I’m colder. And I’m a much better liar.

Me: I…I don’t listen to music.

Him: Nothing? No music at all?

Me: Nope. Music does nothing for me. I don’t even turn the radio on in my car anymore except to listen to the news on AM stations.

Him: Wow! Okay. Hmmm…

And he walked away shaking his head. I breathed a sigh of relief. His whole life is music and he “works” at this radio station, which gave him the box full of tickets last week to Saturday’s event. If he thinks I don’t like music at all, he’s disconnected a huge line he thought he had with me. It’s a gigantic lie I told him, but it is probably one that will save me untold amounts of hand wringing in the future.

And what a gigantic lie, too.

Throughout my life, every summer I have found myself taken by a new song. Maybe there’s a seasonal connection or maybe it’s just because so many bands release albums in the late spring. When I say I’m taken by it, truly, the world stops and there is just a rush from being overwhelmed by a song that speaks to me, that gets into me, that makes me more aware of my state of being alive than anything else. It’s emotional, yet my body responds, my back stiffens, my eyes well up and my pupils dilate, and it’s an awesome sensation that whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, when this song comes on, none of it really matters at all because I can soar above it. Once in a blue moon, two songs (almost always by different bands/artists) will be released and I’ll have twice as much of an opportunity for release during the same timeframe, but every summer of my life is punctuated and lifted by a song.

Last year it was 3 Doors Down’s “Train”, and before that there have been songs by Seether, Shinedown, The Offspring, Breaking Benjamin, Finger Eleven, Tool, The Foo Fighters, Stone Sour and even a Santana song, but this year the early winner is “100 In a 55” by Pop Evil. One strum of one chord and I’m in some kind of alternate universe so distant I can only barely keep a toehold on this one. I’m almost always in my car because that’s where I feel the freest, and if while flipping through the stations I hear it, I become that laughable person in her car on the road with you, with all the windows down, moonroof open, radio cranked to 10, playing air drums on her steering wheel and wailing along with the song, oblivious to anyone else around. That’s me. And you know what? I LOVE IT!

Some people talk about the soundtracks of their lives, and I have those. There are songs I once loved that I cannot hear, not one note, because they have come to represent a time in my life that I can’t bear to reflect on. Certain songs have adhesive qualities, whereas someone who introduced me to that song will forever be in my head when I hear it. There aren’t many events from my life like Kennedy’s assassination where I remember exactly where I was when I heard about it, but there are songs with such associative properties that I can recall smells, sights, sounds and emotions I experienced when I heard them at a poignant moment. There were movies, like Wayne’s World and Singles, that had entire soundtracks of songs that pulled at me from within, and I will always watch those movies just to relive the music, even if the movie doesn’t do a thing for me anymore. Bands I can’t stand anymore, like Nickleback, will always have permanent residence in my good memories because “Too Bad”, my favorite song from that album, was also the favorite song of a boss I had when I worked at Osco, and we were such good friends for a while. Also, “How You Remind Me” was a song played ad nauseum by Canadian radio stations when I made my solo trip to Niagara Falls in the summer of 2001, which is a highpoint of my life, and therefore the song goes down as representative of one of my bravest and awesomest times. Sometimes the memories make the music important, but often the music, above the memories, proved to be more worthy of caching.

And yet I told this guy that there is no music in my life.

And I don’t feel guilty for the lie.

My musical tastes haven’t changed much in the 17 years I’ve worked at this library, but I sure have changed.

And I sing:

“Full speed got me looking out my rear view
I can’t go back
Goin’ 100 in a 55
And I don’t know why I’m still alive
But I do what I can
But I know I can’t take anymore
I still believe in this rock and roll
And I pray the music gonna save my soul
But till then I still believe
Some things are just meant to be.”


Shy said...

I enjoyed your thoughtful post.

Been there, done that. We all learn this lesson the hard way, I think. And sometimes you're still blindsided. I once had a situation go very wrong with a patron I'd dealt with for years without incident.

Kate P said...

It does seem like a really fine line to have to walk, often, doesn't it?

BTW The soundtrack to "Singles" is great. (Movie: depressing.) When we were in college, my brother had that CD stolen from him. Twice.

Cielle said...

I totally focus on music the same way - like I'm trying to soak it all up to replay for myself when I'm old and deaf. But, there are few people at work who would even suspect it, patrons or staff. It's just personal, and if we're not on the same wavelength, I'm not volunteering anything. I'm not even sure my husband really gets it, or he wouldn't turn down the radio every time he gets in my car. :)

Happy Villain said...

That's so true. People are mostly predictable, but not always. Which is why we should all carry brass knuckles.

I think the only reason I watched that movie was because of the Pearl Jam and Soundgarden cameos, which were less than impressive, but the soundtrack was definitely awesome.

I totally get that. Boyfriend Extraordinaire is a musician, and even with that I think I'm more passionate about the music I love than he is. The first thing he does in my car is turn the radio off or start making fun of whatever music I was listening to. Which is fine. Because it's not the same when someone else is there and I can't let the music take me over. Further proof to me that no one can ever know us completely, and maybe that's okay.