Monday, February 23, 2009

Fear and loathing at the public library

I went to the library last week to pick up another gargantuan stack of books to read and two very odd things happened while I was there.

1) Last summer, the library installed two confoundedly annoying U-Scan stations so that now, instead of being greeted at the check-out desk by a smiling library employee who passes the time of day with you while scanning and "de-sensitizing" your reading material, you now approach a computerized area that refuses to acknowledge your library card, stubbornly denies de-sensitization of your books so that the alarms will go off when you try to leave and generally makes your life just a little more difficult.

I almost always use the U-Scans when I go, even though I HATE THEM, because the people who borrow DVDs from the library have completely co-opted all human beings behind the desk for the purposes of checking out their eight million movies -- what do those people do with their time, other than watch movies? DVDs and videos can only be checked out for a week, and if you come up to the circulation desk with, say, fifteen movies, I have to wonder if you even have enough free time to sleep or eat a sandwich.

So, harboring bitterness in my heart, I took my ten books to the U-Scan and started TRYING to run them through. First, the computer wouldn't read my card. Then, it wouldn't acknowledge the UPC codes on my books. Then, it wouldn't de-sensitize the magnetic area on the spine. I wanted to hurl every book I had at that monitor screen, swearing vigorously under my breath because? It's rude to talk loudly at the library.

Finally, a woman behind the counter said to me, "Do you need some help?" She was wearing a severe dark business suit, different from the other employees, who generally favor a business-casual sort of look.

I smiled at her. "Oh, yes. I just can't get the hang of these things. They're kind of a pain." [NOTE: I have said the same thing to other library employees since the U-Scans were installed and have been met with fervent agreement.)

"Only for you," Ms. Business Suit said.

I eyed her for a momen and then did something I usually don't do: I sassed her. I drew myself up to my full height, tossed my head and said with a chilly inflection, "Perhaps I shouldn't have pursued that Bachelor's degree in English literature. Maybe I would have been better off majoring in library book scanning." *

She had the grace to look discomfited, as if suddenly realizing that insulting library patrons was not in the best interest of its employees. "That came out wrong," she amended. She was trying to scan my card and the bar codes of my books and was having about as much luck as I'd had, which just GOES TO PROVE, doesn't it?

Between the two of us big dummies, me with the university degree in English literature and her with the university degree in library science, finally got all my books properly checked out. I bagged them and sailed out the door with the bulky grace of the Queen Mary headed out to sea, my nose in the air.

Unfortunately, my nose was at such a tilt, when I pressed the unlock button on my key fob, I heard the van's doors unlock, but I didn't actually see them. But I was right there in the front row, so it really didn't matter, or so I thought. I slid open the rear driver's side door, put in my heavy bag of books, slammed the door shut and then got in the driver's seat.

I was still feeling a little testy, so I was only irked further when my key wouldn't work in the ignition. "!" I fumed. I took my keys out of the ignition, suddenly realizing that I was probably using the Blazer's key, but when I jerked them out of the ignition, I dropped them on the floor, right on top of my Bon Jovi CD. "But I don't have a Bon Jovi CD," I said to myself, puzzled, picking up my keys.

Then I looked around the van, which was exactly the same as it always was, except for the fact that it had grown a very nice, highly-polished wood grain dashboard while I was gone. "Gosh, I've been driving this van for eight years and I never noticed that wood grain dash before," I marveled. It looked so nice. As I was sitting there admiring it, I also noticed that instead of a blue bead rosary hanging from the rear-view mirror, the rosary was white and silver. Hmmm...

You're probably wondering why I didn't figure this out sooner, aren't you? Somewhere back around the time of the Bon Jovi CD that magically appeared on my floor?

"OH! MY! GOSSSSSSHHHHHHH!!!!" I shrieked, grabbing my purse and launching myself outside That Other Person's van before he or she came back out and saw me loitering in the front seat, eyeballing their woody dash. You know how it is when you do something stupid in public, though: You feel that every eye in the tri-county area is firmly fixed on you and your flaming face, or at least that's how I feel, although certain people in my family have taken pains to assure me that no one really cares what I'm doing at any given time, seeing as how the axis on the earth doesn't run through the middle of my head. I hastily retrieved my books from the back seat and carried them two vehicle over to Anne, who was sitting there with a broad smile on her grill.

"I meant to do that," I assured her, sinking into my accustomed seat and noting the non-wooden dash and the Story of Mendelssohn CD on the floor. After that, I just couldn't get out of there, like, fast enough. That was PLENTY of humiliation for one day.

*A week later, I took this incident to confession and never mind all that happened, just let it be known that I often fight the sin of pridefulness and I did my penance accordingly. Arrrgh....

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