Dispatches From the Public/Public Library
October 25, 2010 in Tales From The Bookery
Before embarking on my current(-ly stalled) career, I worked in a large, public university library for four years. Like, eight floors’ worth of books, and hundreds of thousands more in storage. Although we were there primarily for use by students and faculty, we also had a lot of community borrowers, since anyone who was a resident of the state could get a borrower’s card. The community borrowers were, by far, some of the weirdest fucking people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
There was the guy who, at any given time, had at least 120 books checked out. He came in every month or so to renew the ones that he could no longer renew online, and those of us working in circulation would always try to foist him off on each other. He was a very nice man, but he must’ve been a three-pack-a-day smoker, because his books smelled like an ashtray. I think he knew it, too, because he was always rather sheepish and apologetic about having so many books.
Then there was the elderly lady who was madly in love with one of my co-workers. She was also extremely religious, we found out. She always carried around a little stuffed lamb with her, and we learned its purpose one day when she came up to the desk, set it down and said, “I’m going to go find my books; I’ll leave the Lamb of God here to watch over you.”
Of course, there was the just-plain-disgusting: lots of masturbating homeless men, since the computers were for public use, too. We had a professor come down to us one time to tell us that a woman in the stacks had accosted him because he had a sealed 20-oz Coke bottle in his hand (which is allowed). He tried to just avoid her as they approached each other in the aisle, but finally she cornered him… and farted on him. The same woman, it turns out, had previously yelled at someone at the Circulation Desk for not letting her use the phone to call a ride. When informed that there was a payphone right next to her, she declared, “Well, it’s too late now,” and as she stormed off, my co-worker observed a large brown stain growing across the seat of her pants. And, of course, there were the folks who enjoyed smearing shit all over the bathrooms. That was an almost daily occurrence.
By far the most nauseating, hilarious, and almost unbelievable story is something that happened to my boss, an extremely affable, though ultimately no-bullshit, kind of guy.
We had some complaints that someone was locking himself in the public study rooms, the doors of which have narrow windows in them, and putting something slimy (which turned out to be Vaseline™) on the doorknobs. In addition, we found out later, he was pasting newspaper to the narrow window so that no one could see into the room. My boss had a pretty good idea what the guy was doing, but he had to actually catch him in the act if the guy was to be trespassed from the library.
One day, he got a report from a patron about a very familiar-sounding situation, and immediately grabbed his master key and ran upstairs to the room in question. He opened the door to find a man full-tilt whacking off and watching some pretty grotesque porn on what turned out to be a checked-out library laptop. The best part? The guy didn’t even stop when my boss opened the door; he looked my boss right in the eye and kept at it. At that point, my boss closed the door, locked the guy in and called the cops.
I said that the guy looking my boss in the eye was the best part, but I actually think I’m wrong about that. The BEST best part was that Master Bates was actually an Ghanaian exchange student by the name of Ona Onan.
No, really. What’s in a name? A great deal, apparently.
The guy was arrested and charged with indecent exposure and lewd behavior, or something like that, and was eventually expelled from the university and, I think, sent back to Ghana. We had lots of chronic masturbators, but Ona Onan was, by far, our personal favorite.