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Working at the Central Library must be as challenging, in unguessable ways, as it is entertaining on a daily basis. Possibly, the entertainment factor wears thin, but as evidenced by the workers I’m familiar with, the labor-of-love bulwark remains.

I’m waiting for my 15 minutes on the Internet, sitting in a bank of chairs in a direct line from the checkout desk and across from Information and History. The magazine rack is behind me, and I kill a little time with Men’s Fitness. Mark Wahlberg mocks me with his abs and that look that says: “Hey, Pacemaker Dude. Drop and give me 50.” Unfazed, I mentally compose my e-response to a professor of exobiology at Tacoma College who sent a couple of inquiries. “Do you like dogs? Which Captain, Kirk or Picard?”

My thoughts are interrupted by a quarrel, growing noisier by the minute, between two women also waiting for a computer. They look like members of a Lakeside PTA group auditioning for Jerry Springer.

“I didn’t see no name on this chair. You were gone. Too bad.”

“You don’t need no two chairs. Whyn’t you lose some weight?”

“My weight’s none of your damn business.”

“You gonna give it up, or am I gonna call security?”

“Call whoever you want, bitch.”

At this point, my friend, Shawn (not his real name) and the security officer on duty come over. Shawn is big, with a low center of gravity, but very mellow. He surprises me with an air of authority I haven’t seen before. “Ladies,” he says, “You settle down now. I want one of you to move over there and don’t talk to each other or you’ll be asked to leave.”

Amazingly, they obey without fuss and thus flunk the Springer audition.

“Fine work, Officer,” I tell him.

“Hey, how you doin’?”

“Good. People still accessing a lot of porno here?”

“Well, we’ve always had the rule that it’s not allowed, but it’s an ongoing thing. The library of course has filters, but they can be removed if someone’s doing some kind of educational research or whatever.”

I don’t tell Shawn that I accidentally called up a porno site a few years ago. I was looking for a date and stipulated “over 40” and was hit with options titled “Granny Does Detroit” and “Luvin’ Up Yer Mom.” When I accidentally clicked on them and saw the photos, it was like a car wreck. I couldn’t look away for the whole 15 minutes. I had no desire for sex through much of 2003.

Giving up my chair and place in line for the Internet, opting for a conversation with Shawn, I ask about the bathroom on the second floor. “Whenever I go in there, seems like someone is taking a bird bath in the sink.”

“Yeah, we can’t monitor that all the time. We can’t have cameras in the bathroom.”

“No, of course not.”

“Writing about the library again?” he asks.

“Yeah, but not just this one. And it’s not about the usual sort of thing. It’s kind of a survey of which libraries have the most comfortable chairs to sleep in, the acoustics in the bathrooms, difficult or interesting questions librarians might get, and could you prepare an entire meal in this library or that.”

“What?”

“It’s not a criticism in any way. For example, I sympathize more than I can say with the people who work downtown, like you. People have been great to me for years. Someone is bound to misread this and think I’m suggesting it’s your fault, or the librarian’s fault, that people are cleaning their entire bodies in the bathroom or that there might be more people at this branch with mental disorders acting out in strange ways than at other branches. I’m not. I’m not really saying anything. I’m just observing.”

“Uh huh. I know you can make Cup o’ Noodles and Top Ramen soup, if you get hot water from the coffee guy out there. Buy a cup of tea but you don’t actually…”

“I like to consider myself a Friend of the Library, though I’m not an official member.”

“I don’t see making a whole meal. Who would want to do that?”

“I don’t know, it was an editorial guideline.”

“But acting out. Yeah, were you here when that guy was weaving, zigzagging around the middle of the street trying to get hit by a car?”

“No.”

“We have to call the cops more often than other libraries, maybe. Maybe every two weeks. People make out in the restrooms, shoot up in the restrooms. Anything and everything.”

“Actual copulation?”

“I’ve never actually caught anybody, you know.”

“In flagrante?”

“Right. I’ll tell you about this…person the other day. A woman complained about a man in the women’s bathroom who wouldn’t leave because he claimed he was a woman. Another guy and me had to check it out. Check him out. He said he was legally a woman. He proved it right there.” Shawn grins here, this terrible grin.

“You mean he showed you his…”

“His proof, yeah. Ha ha.”

“What did he…you know, did he drop…”

“He just proved it.”

“Come on.”

“He showed us his driver’s license. SEX: F.”

“Oh.”

“You know what I get a lot?”

“What?”

“People coming in with pets, claiming that their animals are service animals and they are not. We can’t allow just every animal in here.”

“Service animals are like seeing-eye dogs?”

“Yeah. It’s a crazy world. People should know this is not a place to come and bring your animal or a place to sleep.”

“The chairs here are pretty uncomfortable.”

“Or a place to eat or bathe or have sex. Seems like we shouldn’t even have to say this. Then there are people who sit out in front drinking and insulting patrons and we have to call the police. Why come to the library to do that?”

“I don’t know. It’s a crazy world, like you say.”

“Yes, it is.”

* * *

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