There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.–“Red Wind” (short story, 1938), published in Trouble Is My Business (1939)
Several years back, my colleague, Karen, and I considered putting up a sign at the entrance to the library that would have read: “Must have brain in order to use our facilities”. We decided against it not because Higher Up might object, but because we figured the patrons wouldn’t actually read the sign.
I’ve been in the process of hiring a new assistant so, being short-handed around the office, I naturally have a backlog of work built up. Some of that backlog is heaped on my desk in piles about the size of the Tower of Babel. Yesterday, a young gentleman came in about 45 minutes before closing. He wanted to purchase some copies of our oral history interviews. I explained that it would take a couple of weeks to fill his order as I had other requests ahead of him. He kept changing his mind, asking for different tapes, and then being disappointed when I quoted him the same timeline. In spite of the evidence in front of his eyes, he clearly believed that if he asked for something different, I could magically make the copies for him that very minute.
Another patron, a middle-aged woman, came in to the reference desk several weeks ago. She wanted to find a book about Eskimos that she had seen in a bookstore. She couldn’t remember the title, the author, when it was published, had only the sketchiest notion of what the cover art might be—in short, she couldn’t supply us with any information that might have enabled us to find this book. As a last ditch effort, I volunteered to take her down to browse the Native American section of the Alaskana collection in the off-chance she might run across this book. We have, I may add, an entire floor devoted to the Alaskana collection and have several hundred books on Eskimos, broken down by ethnic group (Inupiat, Yupik, Siberian Yupik, Canadian Inuit, Greenland Inuit, etc.).
Patron: (still not grasping why we can’t find the book she’s looking for as I lead her downstairs) You must have books about Eskimos.
Me: We have a lot of them, yes.
Patron: So you don’t know the book I’m looking for?
Me: (with an emphasis clearly lost on her) We have A LOT of them, yes.
Some days I think patrons should wear little name tags on their shirts that say: “I don’t get it”. It would be a help to us all.