Monday, April 5, 2010

Redemptive Weekend

It always starts off badly, with smelly, self-centered people who want you to coddle them and be their best buddy, doing things for them that their own friends and family don’t have the patience for, and they don’t ask for any of it; they expect it.

Patron: So, I have a file that’s waiting to be burned on a CD, but what if the computer crashes? Will I lose it?

Me: That, um, depends on the crash. It’s always good to have a backup of anything important that you’re working on. Save it on the computer in a different place, save it on a flash drive, email it to yourself, even if you have to do it a few times over the course of your paper. But, yeah, I’d say save it somewhere else as well.

Patron: But will I lose it?

Me: I can’t say for certain. What I’m saying is to keep a backup.

Patron: You’re not answering my question! If the computer crashes and I don’t have a backup, will I lose that file waiting to be burned?

Me: I’ve explained that I don’t know, that it depends on why the computer crashed, but to avoid that being a catastrophe, save it somewhere else.

Patron: How hard is it to answer a question around here?! WILL? I? LOSE? THE? FILE?

Me: Sir, I’ve answered your question three times. I. Don’t. Know. So! YOUR job is to cover yourself. Save it. Don’t risk it. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Patron (defeated): *sigh* Yes.

I immediately sent Marina an IM, though she was sitting 4 feet away, stating emphatically that I hate that guy and don’t like having to be even professionally polite to him. She agreed.

Soon after, one of our least favorite female patrons approached the desk.

Lady: I have a phone number and I was wondering if you could get me an email address for it.

Me: Uh, you want me to try to find someone’s email address? Based on the phone number?

Lady: Yeah.

Me: Is it a business? Or a person?

Lady: It’s a person. They’re not in this country, either. That’s why I want an email address. I don’t want to call.

Me: That I’m aware of, there isn’t a database that links people from their phone number to an email address, unless that phone number is on a website and offers up an alternate way of getting a hold of them. Do you know if this person has a website?

Lady: No, it’s just somebody who wants me to call them.

Me: And it’s an international number?

Lady: Yes.

Me: Do you have a name? I wonder if there are international yellow pages…

Lady: No, I don’t have a name. Just a phone number.

Me: I…I …I only know how to do a reverse phone number lookup for phone numbers in the US and Canada, and that MIGHT give me a name and number if that phone number is listed, but it’ll be for the person who pays the bill.

Lady: No email address?

Me: No. So far there isn’t a database of listed email addresses. Thankfully.

Lady: So, I have no way of finding out this person’s email address from their phone number.

Me: You’re welcome to search online, but I can’t imagine that there would be. And if there were, I’d be very bothered by that. Plus, when people get email accounts, they don’t necessarily use their real information. There pretty much isn’t a way of finding that out.

Lady: You sure?

I wasn’t, but for this purpose I said I was. If she had the idea to go on a wild goose chase, she could do it herself. This is the lady who got very upset with me recently when she forgot her password and I couldn’t track her history on the computer to see what she used. Some people shouldn’t be allowed to use computers.

Another man came in and ranted about losing his job of 10 years, the injustice of it, the anger this spawned, how he now had to go look for a new job and start over at a company when he didn’t deserve to be treated this way. He was livid and told anyone nearby how furious he was to be unemployed, like he was above this. It was embarrassing to me to be standing amongst a group of adults using computers, many of whom were unemployed, none of them raving about how they didn’t deserve it, and I just wanted to slap this guy. What an ass! I did what he needed, but I didn’t even acknowledge his tirade about the job loss with my usual, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “Good luck with your job search,” or anything remotely sympathetic. I nodded when he looked at me and redirected him toward the technological question he asked me. I’m not your goddamn shrink, you putz! Cut the crap and quit bitching about how bad you have it because not many people around you are better off.

As the day went on, it became clear that the dregs of humanity were out and about, wandering in and out of the library throughout the day, asking me questions that even as I was hearing them, I was thinking to myself that this was going to go in the blog.

Then, as we were cleaning up at the end of the day, a middle-aged man who had been using a computer for most of the afternoon, approached me and told me something that changed everything.

He had that look in his eye like he was a broken man, beyond wanting to retain some dignity. It was a sad, end-of-the-line look, almost child-like in absolute trust, pleading and fragile, and he told me he recently lost his house and was homeless. He needed help because he didn’t want to live in his van anymore.

I bit my lip. It was all I could do to keep from crying.

Given that we were closing, I gave him a list of places to go for help, organizations (governmental and non-profits), shelters, etc., but I couldn’t devote much time to finding more information about programs and such. I did explain that my knowledge might be a mile wide, but is only an inch deep, and calling these places would put him in touch with people whose knowledge runs much deeper and includes personal experience. He thanked me, said he still had a cell phone that hadn’t been turned off yet, and he’d call them first thing Monday when business hours commenced. He walked out of the building and I was struggling trying to remain on my feet. It simply broke my heart.

This man was smart enough and desperate enough to ask for help, which was good, and hopefully I gave him some tools to help him. But he was so meek, so unassuming, so kind, so grateful, so human. He placed no blame, he wasn’t angry, he didn’t demand anything – he simply wanted someone to give him some avenues he could travel down to get out of this. It was beautifully heartbreaking, and for the first time in a long time, I felt some hope. Hope for him. Hope for me. Hope for all of us. Still it saddens me. It’s a heavy weight I feel when people lay upon me these stories of woe and I let myself care. Part of me wishes he’d been an asshole like my previous patrons and barked at me orders to do various tasks for him, and that way I wouldn’t feel much of anything about his loss. But most of me is appreciative for the trust, the humanity, and the mutual respect, because if I can help him carry his burden, if just for a moment, and he walks away feeling like there’s someone on earth who cares, then maybe the job I do isn’t so frivolous, and maybe the person I’ve grown to be isn’t so selfish, so untouchable, so jaded.

I wore this new-found humble sensation all weekend. Well, until Easter Sunday, when I skipped around and wished everyone a Happy Zombie Jesus Day, and cooked a holiday dinner against my mother’s and mine won. Then I returned to work today to find myself just as quick to be irritated with the patrons who bully me without respect.

Yet, there is this memory of the homeless man who, if just for a moment, carried me, too. It makes me wonder who needs to be saved from what.


Cat. said... might be of help for the crazy cheap dingbat who doesn't want to call overseas, though I'm not sure it covers anything outside the U.S., and it definitely depends on how 'deep' the person's interet presence is.

As for the end-of-the-day guy, and your last sentence, my pastor growing up used to close each service with "Be kind to everyone. Remember everyone you meet is carrying a heavy load." [of course, some people's loads are bullshit, as in the dude whining about his job--bet he hated the job when it had it!]

Kate P said...

Man, that encounter with the second patron looking for a job. . . that was profoundly touching. I'm so glad he talked to you and I hope what you gave him will help out.