Today went by quick at the library, as Saturdays are wont to do. Patrons kept me busy busy busy requesting GRE test prep information, holding/requesting specific romance novels by Brenda Novak, Geronimo Stilton books, inquiring how to obtain some very specific sounding government healthcare documents, and of course downloading tax forms, tax forms, tax forms, and, and, and…. Not to mention the myriad computer and printer assistance requests.
At the end of it all, at a quarter to five, things slowed down a bit. I started wandering around the floor, letting folks know that computers were shutting down, that the library was about to close, that they should bring their books to the front for checkout, and oh, by the way, could I help them find something if they weren’t finding what they wanted?
Amidst all this end-of-day wrapping up, a slender lady draped with faux fur and topped with a stylish hat, emerged from our basement. She was returning from our public bathroom, holding the bathroom keys with the help of a paper towel. With an elegant wave of her hand, she dropped the keys on top of a low bookshelf in front of me without so much as a please or thank you. The keys, I should explain, reside in a plastic basket at the front desk of the library when not in use.
I was at that moment perusing the mystery books area for anything by J.D. Robb- on behalf of another customer. I was busy, but to tell the truth, I had no desire to pick up the keys flung at me in such a way. I requested the key-dropper if she could please return the keys to the front desk, as that’s where she got them. I was ignored, or perhaps she didn’t hear me. Once more, I asked her if she would please return the keys to the front desk. Once more, deafness, either feigned or real. I turned aside, my eyes too new to library work to hide my amazement at the lack of manners, but tried to shrug it off as I returned to my search for J.D. Robb books for my other customer. The keys remained where they were, in a state of disgrace on top of the bookshelf…. But then our security guard came in and volunteered to return the keys to the front for Ms. Key Dropper, for which he received a shower of profuse thanks (from Ms. Key Dropper.)
Before she turned to sashay to the front door to exit, having elegantly dropped her paper towel into a nearby wastebasket, Ms. Key Dropper turned her gaze upon me and left me with this morsel: “You work here, and you’re scornful…” I don’t know how to punctuate that, because her very tone of delivery left the proper punctuation in doubt. There did seem to be an emphasis on the word “here.” Was this a statement, a question, a pronouncement? At any rate, she definitely wasn’t hard of hearing.
I glanced back at her, and while the poison barb had hit its mark and my blood had started to boil, boil, boil, I decided that finding J.D. Robb was of the essence and so wordlessly turned from her.
What possesses some people? I wondered this on my way home on the train, as my blood hadn’t yet come down to room temperature. Perhaps if she’d used a less descriptive word, less of a bookish-worthy word, the prick would have been of no import. But the misuse of that lovely word, scorn, which is so beautiful in its right context. Scorn is something I do feel for many things, yes, I’ll own up to that. But scornful, me, at that time when I mildly asked her to please return the keys to the front desk? I don’t know if that’s how I would describe my feelings just then. Incredulous? Proud? Desire for fairness? Stubborn? Desire to be treated as a professional, as a human being? Annoyed? Fearful of germs? To all of these things, yes. Scornful, no.
Actually, even as I type, my arguments ring untrue. Maybe Ms. Key Dropper did hit her mark after all. Maybe scornful, yes. But not scornful in not picking up the key in a subservient manner, which is apparently what she desired me to do. But scornful of people with bad manners, yes. Yes to that. That I will admit to.
What did she mean by scornful ? Did that mean that I was somehow disrespecting her by asking her to please return the keys where she got them? And what did she mean by the “and you work here” bit? Did she mean that library workers should be so lucky if they got to lick her shoes, that we should be ever so grateful to society for allowing us our little bit of daily bread and for that we should go down on our hands and knees with sycophantic joy and willingness?
I realize, as I type these overblown words, that I would have been better served by either biting my tongue and ignoring her actions completely, or by biting my tongue and just picking up the darn keys, and then washing my hands. What did it serve me to challenge Ms. Pushy Key Dropper? What did I prove, other than that mean people will stay mean, even if you ask them to please be nice and do the right thing? So what if, at the pizzeria I went to for lunch earlier today, I bussed my own table and wiped off the crumbs for the benefit of the next customer and on behalf of the beleaguered counter staff? So what of that? The universe ain’t fair, Bookish, I tell myself. And the library, an institution that endeavors to be fair to all (30 minutes on the public use computers for one and all, thank you) is the place where, at times, one gets to witness the soaring of the human spirit… and at other times gets called scornful by key droppers. See the silver lining. At least she had an excellent vocabulary.
Get used to it, I tell myself, as I sit here, having come down to a regular blood temp after some soothing yogic asanas and some lovely chocolate. Breathe.