Friday, August 20, 2010

A Day In the Life

A teenage girl walked up to the desk and we had the following conversation:

Girl: Do you have scary movies?

Me: Are you looking for the series of movies called Scary Movie, or are you looking just for scary movies in general?

Girl: Scary movies.

Me: Um… the series, Scary Movie 1, 2, 3 and 4?

Girl: Uh… scary movies.

Me: Soooooo, just movies that are scary.

Girl: You know? Scary movies?


Later, a handsome black guy walked up, and he was walking with a limp and a cane, but all I could see were those gorgeous braids in his hair – I get severe braid envy – and I tossed him a really big smile.

Guy: Hey there. I’m looking for books on magic.

Me: Oh, well, okay, so do you mean books on how to do magic tricks, or books on the card game Magic: the Gathering, or just novels with magic as a theme, like wizards and stuff like that?

Guy: Well, like, magic. Just books on magic.

Me *blink, blink*: Yes [deep breath], but what kind of magic?

Guy: Um, the regular kind of magic.

Not irregular magic. Thanks for that clarification.

Me: Okay, let’s narrow this down. You’re not looking for stuff on the card game Magic, right?

Guy: I don’t think so.

Me: Are these books for you or someone else?

Guy: For me.

Me: Okay, so you don’t play the game Magic, right? We can get rid of those from the equation, correct?

Guy: I guess so.

Me: Well, that leaves us with books that teach you how to do magic tricks. Is that what you want? Or do you want fantasy books about magic and dragons and things like that?

Guy: Just, whatever you have on magic.

Me: Okay. I can show you samples of both. But what are you hoping to get out of these books? Do you want to learn magic?

Guy: I don’t know.


I walked him over to the learning magic tricks section and said that if this was not what he was looking for, then to come back and see me and we’d hit the novels. He browsed for about 5 minutes and then left empty-handed, didn’t come back for more help or even make eye contact on his way straight out the door. Now really, I can only take the blame for so much. Clearly if you don’t know how to communicate what you’re looking for, my ability to mind-read a blank canvas is almost nonexistent.

As if it were a full moon, more irritations continued.

We have the usual creepy crowd of pathetic, older men who peruse singles ads online, as well as porn sites, looking to hook up. Some are guys who won’t ever get their foot in the door, and others might hide some of their creepiness in the first couple of exchanges before it becomes a full-on, heebie-jeebies fest for the receiver. One of these guys I’ve caught on those barely-legal porn sites, advertising teenage girls for your sick pleasure, so I keep my eye on him. The second I see something illegal, he’s going down.

My first encounter with him was when he ran up to my desk, completely frantic, on the verge of tears, voice cracking and wild panting, wanting me to help him find someone he’d had three email exchanges with on Craigslist, and now his emails weren’t going through to her inbox. He wanted me to figure out a way to find her, a phone number, an address, an alternate email address, something he could use to continue communicating with her because suddenly he can’t get any email through to her account. Things had been going so well, too. He needed to know if she was okay and he had to find a way to talk to her still. All the while, he was sniffling and fighting back complete loss of emotional control.

My absolute favorite commercial out right now is this one.

And I had, at that moment, a fantasy about calling him a jackwagon and chucking a box of Kleenex at him. Seriously. Get your ass back from mamby-pamby-land and get a clue, crybaby.

Ugh. Teen porn and online stalking: he’s a winner.

Anyway, I was working in the office while Marina was at the reference desk and she sent me an IM.

Marina: Creepy Guy just asked me for a camera.

I laughed really, really hard and turned to my boss and shared this gem.

Boss: Did he want a web camera? Ewwww.

Me (typing to Marina): Web cam or digital camera?

Marina: Digital camera I think, but I didn’t ask. I don’t want to know.

Me (to Marina): Did he say why? Did he want to use it here or take it home?

Marina: He started to tell me why he wanted it and then stopped himself in the middle and quit explaining.

I roared with laughter and shared this bit with my boss as well.

Me (to boss): So, when are those volunteers coming back? The ones who clean the keyboards and stuff?

Boss: Not soon enough!

Me (to Marina): Whose turn is it to clean the computer stations?

Marina: The good news is he’s been here ALL DAY but I just keep giving him extensions on the computer he’s at, so he’s only touched one computer the whole time he’s been here.

Me (to Marina): Uh… good? Hey, [Coworker] comes back from vacation tonight. We could suggest she wipe down the computers when she’s looking for busywork.

Marina: That’s exactly what I was thinking!

Me (to Marina): Great minds think alike.

I later did not suggest to our beloved coworker that she wipe-down computers. I like her too much.

And to prove her worth, she came up with the most brilliant idea I’ve yet heard.

There’s been a world of controversy swirling around our library and our cherished security guard, Arms, has received some bad PR by a group of idiots who dubbed him a thug. It’s hysterical to me, but then again I don’t have to deal with the fallout, so I can afford to laugh.

Anyway, I was telling our recently-returned-from-vacation coworker about the mess, and she too was experiencing gut-busting laughter about it all, but she got me thinking that we needed to show our appreciation to Arms for all that he does, to stand by him. All week I’ve been saying we love our thug, and our thug can take your thug any day of the week. My boss even added, “Bring it on. It’ll make his day.”

Coworker: Someone said we were going to get him a t-shirt?

Me: Yeah, it should say something like “Have you hugged your thug today?” and have handprints on the back. Can you imagine how much Arms would freak out if we hugged him? Particularly you and me?!

We both laughed hard about that one because we pick on him a lot.

Coworker: “Thugs need hugs too!”

Me: “Thug love!”

Coworker: OH GOD, we should do a DISPLAY!

My tiny little brain began turning and a smile slowly spread across my face until I erupted with a scream of enthusiasm.

Me: YEAH!!!! I have so many thug-titled books in the street lit collection! We could subtly throw them all on a display and call it Thug Lovin’ or something like that, our homage to Arms!

Coworker: Do you think the director would get mad?

Me: Oh c’mon! I put his big, life-sized head in the middle of a display and he looked at it for a while and didn’t even realize it was his picture! He’ll never notice!

Coworker: Do you think we’ll get some heat? Will we get in trouble?

Me: Why would we?! It’s a mini street lit display, right? It’s not like we’ll put his picture on it. OR SHOULD WE? Would that be going too far?

Coworker: Oh, we should! We should put his big head right in the middle of the Thug Lovin’ part!

Me: Most people would have no idea what it was about. It would be pretty much an inside joke. Do you think we could get away with that?

Coworker: I don’t know.

Me: Maybe I’ll just do a subtle Thug display and if that floats, I’ll stick Arms’ head in it later. That is the single best display idea you’ve ever come up with. You are my absolute favorite person right now! I may love you more than my thug!

We laughed for a long time, and other staff members started finding their way to our desk wanting to know why we were having such a good time. We did not share. They will find out soon enough.

And that’s a typical day at my library.


Done deal.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wish Book

In March I bought a bike. It was my first bike since I was a teenager and the billowing nostalgia washed over me as I instinctively got into my car and drove to the department store that represented all of my childhood wants: Sears.

If you’re old enough, you remember the Sears Wish Book, which was a catalog that Sears published annually, pre-Christmas, and it rivaled the size and heft of the most daunting tome my juvenile eyes had ever beheld.

Hours and hours of my life were spent pouring over each page in that behemoth, mentally drooling over every single thing any human could possibly want or need save for food, water and air. Every toy, every article of clothing, every electronic, every appliance, every tool, every THING anyone I knew could possibly crave was in that book. Until I was about nine, that Wish Book was completely mine, and every circled item description on each dog-eared page marked an item that I desperately wanted. When my brother was old enough to share in the mental drooling, we color coordinated the pens we used to circle items so that Santa would know who wanted what. Whether anything we ever dreamed of was purchased at Sears is a mystery to me. The gifts on the wish lists we compiled were likely purchased at any store where it was sold the cheapest, which was fine by us because as far as we were concerned, the Wish Book from Sears was merely a catalog of everything. It was the Amazon of my youth, hard copy.

Someone recently told me the largest seller of bicycles is Walmart, which makes sense, but I hate Walmart and only shop there when all else fails. There are pros and cons in dealing with large department stores. What you give up in skill, service and knowledge you bank on with apathetic employees who are more willing to accept returns and exchanges without questions or receipts because they’re not personally invested in the store’s success. Neither of these are selling points to me, but I hoped and anticipated that no matter how lacking the help at Sears could be, at least they’d be better than Walmart.

My $200 bike from Sears presented with problems immediately, and what frightened me was that my model wasn’t even a bike listed on Schwinn’s website as one they offered, so how proud were they of this product bearing their name? The seat was a veritable torture device, which was replaced after my very first ride, and then I immediately had to buy gloves with gel cushions because the grips on my handlebars were hard plastic. That was only the beginning. Quickly, my $200 bike was growing into a $300 bike, and no one could explain why my kickstand was way too short for the frame and would never hold it up or why I have to fill the tires with air each and every time I ride it. It must have taken four full months for me to finally find comfort on that bike, accessories and upgrades essential in making it a ridable vehicle. Bikes were not this complicated when I was a kid, and the difference between riding as an adult and riding as a child were so stark, it was a whole new experience to me.

Once I found my groove, felt as if the bike was finally where I needed it to be, and I could ride 10 – 20 miles at a time, I started experiencing problems with the gear shifting. Initially it was just violent shifting that would jolt me on the bike so hard, my feet would fly off the pedals and I’d momentarily lose balance. My brother kept promising to help me adjust my derailleurs, but it never happened. On a 20-mile ride last week, halfway into it, fifth gear would not hold at all and slipped harshly and continually into another gear, up and down, randomly. I ended up riding back to my car 10 miles in smaller gears, pedaling my glutes off, utterly exhausting myself trying to keep pace with the person I was riding with. The next day my brother attempted to adjust my derailleurs and discovered that sixth gear, not even the gear I had trouble with, had a quarter of the teeth missing. They did not look like fresh breaks, either, and though I hadn’t had any trouble riding in sixth gear, the fact that the teeth were broken did not give me confidence to test it.

Bike riders I know were incensed on my behalf over my very young bike being such a problem child already, and many times I was snapped at to return the lemon and get a real bike. However, my receipt only allowed for a refund within 90 days of purchase, which expired in mid-June, and as far as I could tell, I was stuck with it.

Boyfriend Extraordinaire, in an impressive showing of assertion and support, got on the phone and began making phone calls on my behalf, both to Sears and to Schwinn. By Monday, he had arrangements at Sears for me to drop the bike off, where a manager would take a look at the damage and decide whether they would replace the cassette or simply switch out the wheel with another bike, but they would do right by me and fix the problem for free. In the event that they failed, B.E. also secured a promise from Schwinn that they would send me a replacement part free of charge and all I had to do was get it installed. Plan A took place yesterday and I dropped the bike off at Sears, where The Bike Guy and The Manager would put their heads together today and fix my problem for me. I was told I’d receive a call in the morning with their decision.

My impatience was killing me. I couldn’t sleep last night at all, woke up far too early this morning, and managed to hold off until 11 am to call Sears about my bike when I, of course, had heard nothing from them.

This is when my lemon of a bike turned into a lemon of customer service.

The phone number listed for the Sears store where I took my bike was on an automated system. I spoke to the machine that I wanted the Repair Department, and I was forwarded to a new series of choices, none of which suited my needs, so I asked for Customer Assistance. A woman with an Indian-sounding accent answered the phone and I was immediately sifting through a cacophony of white noise of a call center surrounding her. When I spoke my problem to her, wanting to find out the status of my bike repair, she could not hear me. I repeated loudly and she still could not make out my words. Shouting at an uncomfortable volume was the only way she was able to discern the words I spoke, multiple continents away. When she finished taking my information, she transferred my call, and that line rang and rang and rang. Eventually someone picked it up and immediately hung the phone up on me.

Sigh… back to square one.

Called Sears again. Spoke that I wanted Repair. Spoke that I wanted Customer Assistance. Was immediately disconnected before anyone in India could answer.

Deep breath.

Called Sears again. Spoke that I wanted an Operator, hoping that this would give me a live person in the store itself. A man answered, I explained what I was looking for, he forwarded me to a department that forwarded me to another department, that never picked up the phone and I was disconnected for being on the line too long. Or so it seemed – the ringing stopped dead and the line disconnected.

Called Sears again! Spoke that I wanted Repair! Spoke that I wanted someone in Parts! Got another woman in India who also could not hear me unless I screamed myself hoarse, and she could not find a record of my purchase or me in Sears’ system, so I had to feed her all of my personal information at eardrum-puncturing volume, after which she said she’d transfer me to a store nearest my address. I managed to stop her before the transfer went through and explained that the local store was merely an outlet for tools, and I had taken my bike to the Sears Grand at the mall. This I had to repeat because I wasn’t screaming loud enough, though I felt as if she might have been able to hear me in India better if we hadn’t been holding up phones/headsets to our ears. She transferred me, someone answered after about five minutes of ringing and hold music, and they said I had to be transferred elsewhere, which resulted in another disconnection.

CALLEDSEARSAGAIN! It was now 11:30 and I’d been having conversations with machines and people in India for a half hour, with a mix of ringing, hold music, and disconnections to keep the conversations lively. I’d had it! I did not ask for Repair. I did not ask for Customer Assistance. I opted for the choice at the very end of the menu for someone in no particular department to handle my unclassifiable problem. It was a woman! And she sounded at least within 2,000 miles of me! And she spoke English without an accent! And she could hear me speak in my normal voice! Though now I felt a lot like screaming at someone! And I felt myself start to unload on her the horror of dealing with their automated system, India, screaming, being transferred all over the world, and disconnected more times than I even cared to count – would she please help me find someone at the store I went to just yesterday who had my bicycle?! In a very practiced, scripted voice she apologized for the inconvenience I’d experienced and promised to stay on the line with me until someone picked up the phone where she transferred me this time. Part of me wanted to hit her just because she was there, and another part of me wanted to French kiss her for finally being a person who pretended like she cared enough to get someone else on the line.

The man who took in my bike yesterday answered the phone and I explained who I was and why I was calling. Has there been a decision on what to do with my bicycle? That’s all I wanted to know. Nearly 40 minutes of fighting my way through a maze of dead-ended extensions and I could ask the question burning deep into my soul, and ask someone who was actually in a position to know.

Well, The Bike Guy isn’t in yet, and he only works on Fridays, but no one knows when he’ll show up. The Manager who was going to decide what to do hadn’t responded to the repeated attempts to get him to take a look at the bike and make the decision, and attempts had been made all day yesterday and were starting over today. If The Manager doesn’t make a decision before The Bike Guy leaves today, my bike will not be serviced and will have to wait until The Bike Guy returns sometime next Friday, at his leisure. But The Phone Guy promised to call me today with an answer, even though this Sears doesn’t do any bike repairs, which are usually sent 60 miles south of here to a bigger store that will take roughly 35 years to ship, fix, and ship back my bike. He was quite clear that they were doing me a favor by taking in my bike and considering fixing it themselves. And oh what a favor it was to indefinitely hold it hostage and create a myriad of puzzles one must solve in order to get through on the phone to find out if my bike has even been looked at by anyone who is kind enough to bless me with their attention. They sure do a helluva job avoiding being reachable. You’d think they didn’t want to deal with people. Who gives them business if not people?

The department store bike purchase has now become one of those epic mistakes I’ve made in my life, on par with dating a pro-wrestling fan, and one I will stand at every podium and climb upon every soapbox to warn people against following in my footsteps. Much as it causes parts of me to die a little bit, I can’t help but wonder if I should’ve gone to Walmart after all. No, no I shouldn’t have. That was a correct choice. I’d be in the same boat, except that I’d be able to get through to people at Walmart without having to call India twice, and find that they were equally apathetic about helping me get what I paid for.

On the verge of a nervous breakdown, feeling a lot like there was some kind of conspiracy taking place in the universe to keep me off of a bicycle, I called the local mom-and-pop bike shop, who have done right by me selling me the myriad of accessories and upgrades my lame bike has necessitated. Quickly I explained that I have a Schwinn that has broken teeth, Schwinn will send me a replacement cassette for free, which is so much easier than dealing with the numbskulls at Sears, and how much would they charge to install it. She did some mental math out loud, wheel off, change cassette, wheel on, and replied that the charge would run about $15.

Fifteen. Dollars.

How many gray hairs did I just get from dealing with Sears and how much will it cost to color those hairs for the rest of my life? More than $15.

How much is my time worth: driving to the mall, dropping off the bike, driving home, waiting around all morning for a call-back that would never occur, calling all around the globe for answers for nearly an hour, calling other places to fulfill Plan B, then returning to the mall to break my bike out of Sears prison and driving home again? More than $15.

How much is my sanity worth? Well, what little is left might be worth $15, but not much more.

So, it’s 3 pm and I’m on my way to retrieve my bike so that I can spend $15 and have it fixed by the people I should’ve bought a bike from to begin with!

Long gone are the Rockwellian days of the Wish Books and Sears love. Outsourced, no doubt.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back Talker

A man walked up to my desk and mumbled something to me, which I could not make out. All I heard was something about signing up for something. Given that our newsletter just landed in the mailboxes of all our residents, he could’ve been asking to sign up for any number of things.

Me: Excuse me? You’d like to sign up for what?

He rolled his eyes at me, turned his back to me and leaned against my desk facing away, and mumbled again, “[Mumble]...sign up...[mumble]...library card...[mumble]...for a few minutes.”

I know why old people are cranky. I’m getting there way before my time already. Patience with rude, inconsiderate and stupid people runs very thin somewhere around the age of 35, if you’ve been dealing with the public. The more you deal with the public, the quicker it runs out.

Surmising from the three phrases I managed to understand, and completely jumping to conclusions about the mumbles that interspersed the intelligible portion of his conversation with me, I not so patiently replied to him.

Me: I’m sorry but it’s hard to understand you when you’re not even talking TOWARD me. Are you asking for a reservation for an Express computer because you don’t have your library card?

Him (glancing over his shoulder, rolling his eyes again): YES, a COM-PEW-TUR!

This guy was not a punk 14-year-old. He was easily in his late 20s, judging by his receding hairline and slight acne still upon his skin. And by the way, he needed to wash his thinning hair. Even though there wasn’t much, it was greasy-gross. I should also mention I might not have noticed how clumpy and sticky his shiny hair was if that wasn’t the part of his head he insisted on presenting to me.

So I made the reservation, tore off the reservation slip, and held my hand out to his back. Still he would not turn around and face me, and eventually he noticed out of the corner of his eye that I had my arm extended to hand him the slip. With maximum effort -- I kid you not -- he twisted his arm around backward so that he wouldn’t have to actually move his body at all, and just opened his hand up so I could put the slip into it.

I did not gracefully and delicately place it into his hand, lets just say.

From there, things did not improve. Though I was helping other people, in the middle of explaining something with words flowing freely from my informative lips in the direction of patrons standing before me, FACING ME, he would yell to me from the computer, “MISS! MISS! THIS ISN’T WORKING!”

“This” being his brain? Sorry, I’m not trained in handling that kind of problem.

I grew tired of looking at him in the middle of my conversation and giving him the finger.

Not that finger. Thought I very much wanted to.

The hold-one-minute finger.

Eventually I quit bothering with the finger and just kept talking. He would sigh and get the point, though it didn’t stop him from continually doing this throughout his stay.

What it turns out he needed was something from his mortgage company that had his address on it. A simple bank statement wouldn’t work. Apparently, in order to register his child for school, he had to prove not only his address with formal ID, but ownership of property. I’m guessing he was mistaken but this was what he insisted upon, and logging into his online account did not include the physical address of the property anywhere in the account, so he was frantically demanding I figure out what he could do.

I asked if another item would suffice: utility bill, car insurance card, etc.

He looked at me with incredulity.

Guy: They’ll take a car insurance card?

Me: Well, I don’t know. You’d have to ask them. What I’m asking YOU is if you asked them if they’ll take anything else with your address on it.

Guy: I don’t know. Why would they take my car insurance card?

Me: Because some have an address printed on them, which may or may not be enough proof that your car is registered to that address. That’s something else with an address -- car registration. I mean, there are a number of options, but I can’t tell you what the school will accept.

Guy: But why doesn’t the mortgage put my address on my online account?

Me: I don’t know that either, but it’s probably a security measure. You log into your credit card account and, at least with mine, they don’t put the account number on it. Sometimes the last four digits, but mostly you just have to know it’s yours and recognize the rest of the information. It’s for your protection.

Guy: So how am I supposed to get this information?!

Me: Call your mortgage company and see if they can print something out for you. Or call the school and see if they’ll take something else.

Guy: But what else would they take?!

I was tempted -- oh so tempted -- to turn my back on him and mumble my repeat of suggestions, rolling my eyes. If he can dish it out he should certainly be able to take it, but that is almost never the case.

Instead I paused and repeated. He was realizing that his problem wasn’t going to be immediately solved and so he stormed out.

Good riddance, I say.


[Mumble] riddance...