People Are Strange
Issue #13: Midwest Metal
In this issue, I’m sharing a rough draft chapter from Library Confidential, as well as some other random thoughts. Have a terrific and relaxing weekend, friends. Thanks for being here.
The strangeness all started back in the early-aughts, when the library was open four evenings a week until 9pm.
For the first two years of my job, I worked every Wednesday evening on the reference desk with Curt.
Curt had been a librarian for 16 years when I started. He was a quiet guy, married, two kids, from the Midwest. He had a wry sense of humor and an encyclopedic knowledge of classical music, theater music, and composers.
Those Wednesday late shifts could be really slow for the last hour, so Curt and I would have long, in-depth conversations while we waited for closing time. He had the gift of gab when you got him going, classic Boomer world-view. I’d push back with my rebellious GenX take, and we made each other laugh constantly.
We talked about music alot, and knowing his penchant for classical, I started hyping Yngwie Malmsteen to him. Curt got curious about heavier music and Yngwie was the gateway drug.
Curt eventually took my advice and moved on to Iron Maiden and Metallica and Tool when he finally left the library 14 years later. He sheepishly admitted at his retirement party that he considered himself a metalhead because of me enthusiastically bugging him for so many years about Kirk Hammett, Danny Carey, and Steve Harris all being musical geniuses.
It was a proud moment for this midwestern GenX metalhead.
But I digress.
The reference desk itself was an enormous thing: 20 feet long, squared around us, with a matching long back shelf. It was all made with cherry wood and black granite, and it was a nice physical barrier between staff and public. The reference area behind us was in a criss-cross high traffic pattern between fiction, non-fiction, our offices, and the desk.
So one slow Wednesday evening, I got up from my stool to grab something from the back office - probably lip balm - and without having perceived anything strange going on behind us, I came across an enormous pile of feces just laying there on the carpeted floor in the reference stacks.
I said OH MY GOD and backed away slowly like it was a dead body. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. POOP IN REFERENCE! POOP IN REFERENCE! I wanted to yell out, but I didn’t.
Curt ambled over. He was never in a hurry. We stood there in disbelief, looking at each other, the poop, laughing, horrified.
We were baffled. We’d been sitting RIGHT THERE and some phantom pooper crapped on the carpet 20 feet away from us in the R 910’s and we didn’t even notice.
We decided that it couldn’t be doggie doolag because only assistance dogs were allowed in the library, they usually didn’t have accidents, and we hadn’t seen any dogs. We hadn’t seen any people either, for that matter.
We paged Dave the park ranger to come take a look and make a report. He was the only security staff we had, he was on foot, and he patrolled our campus that included three other buildings.
Despite all the years on the job, Curt had never seen poop in the stacks. We wondered: Who does this? Who craps in the stacks at a public library? With librarians sitting just yards away? With marginally clean bathrooms nearby? What kind of mental illness or medical condition is this? Fetish? Compulsion? There was no toilet paper or wipe left behind so they’re out there with a dirty butt, too?
I placed a trash bin over the pile, along with a yellow “wet floor” sign that Dave had smuggled from custodial and hidden away.
We discussed all the scenarios and kept laughing at the situation.
The whole thing is funny in a dark and horrible way. Some situations are just absurd, and some people are just strange. You develop a kind of ‘gallow’s humor’ after dealing with it for a while.
And here’s the thing - you also develop an EMPATHY for the absurd. You find COMPASSION for all those tormented human souls. You kind of look forward to collecting more strange stories.
Or maybe that’s just me.
You show up every day, and you just never know what you’re going to encounter at work. You know when it’s the full moon based on how much more strange than normal your workday was.
After a while, you realize your own human reactions to the absurdity you deal with become a kind of performance art.
Like the time I had to catch a rat that was spotted near the checkout machines in front of a dozen small children and their caregivers without cursing loudly or harming the rat while chasing it? I had to make it funny (“here kitty, kitty…”) so as not to freak everyone out about the fact that there was an EFFING RAT ON THE LOOSE IN THE YOUTH LIBRARY AND IT COULD’VE BITTEN A BABY.
So yeah, it’s total improv, sometimes.
Despite being the busiest building in the city, we never had a full time custodial staff. The standard procedure for biological cleanups was to call the police department non-emergency line where we’d talk to a dispatcher, they’d look up the on-call custodian for the shift, and then page them out to our site. Sometimes custodial didn’t show up until the next day. Sometimes they didn’t show up at all and we’d have to keep calling dispatch.
Lucky for us, the poop was gone and the carpet was freshly shampooed when we showed up to work the next morning. The carpet was 15 years old at that point and had seen A LOT of abuse - but nothing like this. We had to live with the pooped-on carpet for five more years until we remodeled the library. By then, it had warped and frayed and we were repairing it with duct tape.
After Curt and I described the horror and humor of the poop incident in a library-wide staff meeting and despite everyone’s hyper-vigilance, the phantom pooper struck us half a dozen times, always during our Wednesday evening shifts, and in random spots in the reference stacks.
We never could figure out who it was or how they did it without us noticing.
Of course, maybe it’s because Curt and I were always caught up in hilarious and absurd conversations.
Maybe we were targeted. Maybe it was a bad joke and some brownie mix. Maybe it was a library page with a sick sense of humor or passive-aggressive anger. Or psychology students from ASU doing an experiment. Maybe it was the decrepit and smelly old lady who wore a long striped house dress and raved about her insurance company spying on her.
Who the hell knows. Curt and I laughed about it for years. It was strange. Funny, but strange.
Strange, just like everything was the longer I was a librarian.
I think we all have our levels of strangeness. Our things. Our triggers. Our weird habits, deepest preferences, slight obsessions, mental systems, fears.
I mean, maybe not to the level of public pooping, but every last one of us has something strange about us.
I’ll admit a few of my oddities:
I brush my teeth with hot water and a regular toothbrush. Hot water feels so much cleaner to me, and sonic toothbrushes give me headaches. I suspect they scramble my gray matter. Colgate and elbow grease is the way I go.
I’m the Steve Jobs of underwear and socks. Matching up sock pairs or sorting underwear is maddening to me. So - except for a couple of pairs tucked away for special occasions - everything is all white socks, all black underwear. Everything is the same style, same brand. I can pull blindly from my dresser drawers and always know what I’m getting. I just don’t want to think about it.
I can’t wear bright colors or any kind of patterns. They make me nervous, unsettled. This includes any kind of logo or band t-shirt, even for bands that I love - I just can’t do it. Messes with my energy field somehow. I don’t like being “branded” or carrying around a message on my chest or back. It makes me feel like a NASCAR instead of a human.
I’m a bit superstitious about needles. I’ve never had a tattoo or plastic surgery or botox or fillers. As of this writing, sitting here at the age of 50, I intend to ride out the rest of this grand life adventure in the virgin wrinkled skin that God gave me, although I do reserve the right to change my mind in the future because I may not be able to bear what is happening to my neck.
When I eat a piece of really good chocolate, I like to dip it in salt. I love salt. I have salt on my desk, near my comfy chair, in the car, in my purse, and beside my bed in the drawer because yes I sometimes eat chocolate in bed although I think eating in bed in general is gross but chocolate is different - and there are like 13 different kinds of various salts in the kitchen.
It’s been ten years since I’ve been to a hair salon. I trim it myself every few months on a new moon, but otherwise I do nothing. Wash it every couple of days, goop in it for moisture, air dry. I spent 35 years fussing with my hair, 25 of them trying to cover the gray. Cutting, coloring, perming, blow drying, straightening, sitting in salons, driving, waiting, chit-chatting, chemicals. But no more. I’m emancipated from all of that, and I’m finally at peace with my hair. It literally could not be any easier to deal with and it’s a type of freedom that’s hard to describe.
Ironically, though, I’ve not gone a day in my adult life without wearing mascara. And, I sleep in my eye makeup. I’m really not sure the last time my husband or children saw my naked eyelashes. I just don’t walk around that way. I read recently that Dolly Parton does the same thing - except she sleeps in her full makeup in case the hotel or tour bus catches on fire and she has to run out in the middle of the night - so I don’t feel quite so bad. Even going through surgeries, when they’d call the day before to go over pre-op instructions and they’d say “please don’t wear any cosmetics”, I knew there was no way I was showing up to the hospital bare-faced and bald-eyed. No way in hell. Sorry Doc. Completely unreasonable.
It’s like being naked in public, and I am not that kind of girl. There are certain things I just won’t do.
Maybe I am the strange one for not going anywhere without mascara, but that’s just the way it is. The only other person in the world who might agree with me is Dolly Parton, and I’ll just go ahead and die on that hill with her, armed defiantly with our last tubes of Maybelline Great Lash.
I think my own personal funk lately is because I beta-read a really good book and I can’t stop thinking about it. It hasn’t been published yet, but it’s a hell of a memoir by a midwestern GenX metalhead, like me.
I kept having strange dreams while reading it. Strange surreal dreams about Los Angeles. I keep getting signs that I need to go back and visit - but maybe it’s because this book was set in LA as well.
Anyways, I talked on the phone to the writer last week about the story. It has so much potential, and it excited me to recognize it in someone else's work. Like I can feel it in my bones and belly - it was so good.
As it turns out, they are working on a TV script for it, and I’m stoked for them. They actually just sold their first screenplay for something else - and I think they are on the right track with this material, too.
I offered myself as editor, consultant, whatever they might need for the future. It’s a story I could totally get behind if I were in any position to do so. Working in a creative capacity with other writers is a real privilege and I’m so lucky I get to do it. I have so much to learn, but opportunities to learn are everywhere.
It’s like the Universe is starting to reflect my intentions by bringing me people and stories that have a similar mind, a resonance, some confirmation.
I’m glad I said yes to helping this writer.
But now, it’s time to focus on MY book.
And all the other stuff I’m working on.
As a book person and librarian, I’ve always thought that when the time came, I’d be a “book writer”.
I worked around books, loved books, championed writers of books, followed series and characters, adored good narrative nonfiction and memoir. When I left my job last year, it was with the intention that I’d be writing books and helping other writers with theirs.
And yeah, I’ll admit: there might have been a bit of internalized book snobbery on my part, thinking book writing was sacred above all other types of writing.
So with book-writing in mind, I’ve followed the Twitter writing community for years and although I have some favorites and it’s sometimes helpful, mostly I’ve always felt really, really disconnected from other book-writers. Maybe I’m just a grumpy GenX’er. Maybe I’ve just been locked into a bad algorithm. Writing is lonely work and it would be nice to find a community to plug into and learn from and connect with. I just haven’t quite found it there.
But, with my interest in trying to turn my Metalhead Librarian book into a screenplay, about two months ago, I started following screenwriting Twitter. AND WOW. How absolutely refreshing. Way different energy than regular writer Twitter. Totally different vibe. Salty. Bitchy. Funny as hell. Honest. Helpful.
I have never laughed more, felt so inspired, and been pointed to so many good resources than I have been by screenwriters on Twitter. Man am I getting SCHOOLED, but in all the best kinds of ways.
I am learning so much. I feel like I’ve discovered a whole new ecosystem for writing. And it was right there in front of me the whole time.
While it can be a lonely existence as a writer trying to find my people, there are some advantages to being a metalhead librarian. I mean, books and music intersect all the time.
Last night, we watched the new movie Metal Lords. Loved it. Represented the genre awesomely. I do have a few nitpicky things about the movie - I want to find the script and study it - but overall, great story and casting. The kids enjoyed it as well.
Now, no spoilers, but there is an early, small scene in Metal Lords that includes a marching band director interacting with one of the main characters.
I watched it, perceived it, got really excited, made hub pause and back it up to watch again.
I say out loud to the family: “Oh WOW - that’s Chuck Klosterman playing the marching band director!!!”
Me: “Klosterman! Fargo Rock City! Sex, Drugs, and Cocoapuffs!”
Me, sighing: “Nevermind. He’s just another Midwestern GenX metalhead who writes books, like me.”