Friday, November 06, 2009


"I exist to annoy you!"

I am a freak magnet.

Trouble follows me whererver I go.

Today was my day off and I was really looking forward to grabbing a coffee and reading the new movie reviews in the Baltimore Sun at my local Starbucks. Things looked promising as I entered and anticipated only two customers ahead of me in line.

Then I saw him. In a yellow rain slicker. Big goofy glasses. Unruly hair. Unruly manner. Yes, it was one of my library patrons. One of the most loathed patrons in my experience - both by me and all my co-workers. Actually, that's an understatement, for this man isn't just loathed: he's hated. Yes, I hate him, with all my heart and soul.

I don't know his name, but his M.O. is: booming loud voice; non-stop banter; go-nowhere line of questioning; annoying manner; and complete obliviousness to all around him except his own difficult-to-please personal needs. And always - ALWAYS - high-maintenance. A real time vampire, sucking away the seconds, minutes, and hours of a librarian's life of public service away, leaving me drained and empty headed and angry - yes, angry! (Few customers push me to the edge of contemplating violence upon their person, but this guy, I'm ashamed to say, pushes my buttons to the point where I wouldn't mind pushing him around.) You see, nothing is simple for idiosyncratic oddballs like this; there are no simple transactions. Everything is a struggle. Like their personalities. I truly believe that we live in the Great Age of Asperger's, where no one seems to care about anyone but their own narcisistic selves, and this guy was the Poster Boy of his Times, for he was oblivious to the fact that he was holding up the line. With his de facto need to be annoying...and the center of attention.

"Oh, God!" I muttered when we made eye contact, quickly fumbling with some change in my pockets to avert his gaze. My best laid plans had suddenly been turned askew.

Something was going on with the Man in the Yellow Slicker.

"Why don't you just write it down?" he asked the kid at the cash register.

Minutes passed as it became apparent that he was asking for a receipt. For his $1.97 cash transaction, the cost of a large coffee. The kid at the cash register couldn't get it to print out, so he consulted his co-worker, a new guy. Meanwhile, people started coming in. The line was getting longer.

"Oh, God!" I muttered again. "It's starting." Naturally, wherever this freak went, trouble and delays surely followed.

Since the guy's a clear nutjob and I doubt seriously that he's emplyed, I wondered why he had the pressing need for a $1.97 receipt. I mean, it wasn't like a big receipt for a car rental, a hotel room, or even gas for a business trip. It was for a fricking coffee - not even a fancy latter! I've given 2 bucks in change to bums on the street for crying out loud. We're talking a measly two bucks. And now suddenly the line is 10 deep.

More minutes pass, and now it's taken two Starbucks employees several minutes to ascertain that there's a problem with the cash register. Now, any normal person would wave off the receipt request and say, "I don't want to hold the line up; it's not that important, catch you next time."

In my dreams.

Nope, the Starbucks kids call out their manager for assistance. Now there are three employees involved in making sure this freak has it his way.

The Man in the Yellow is speaking for, well, he never stops speaking.

"You know, I never ask for receipts when I get my coffee and then today it just dawned on me, hey, I should ask for a receipt," he blathers on in his ghetto-blaster-loud voice.

"You know," he continues, "Most people don't know about this option. Most people don't think to ask for a receipt."

"And most people are normal," I mutter under my breath, much to the amusement of the girl in front of me, who starts cracking up.

The tension in the line is now palpable, as eyebrows start to roll and feet start tapping. There are now about 20 people in the line, which now stretches to outside the door.

Alerted by the girl's laughter, the Man in the Yellow Slicker now stares at me, and I do mean stare. It's a psycho-intense stare, the kind that, between two men, can only mean: A) a pick up in a gay bar or, B) a "What's your problem, whaddya looking at, pal?" pre-barroom brawl stare.

It's a staring contest the Man in the Yellow Slicker wins, for I look away, fumbling with my money and hoping against hope that he doesn't recognise me and instead is just having a Meds-Kicking-In Moment.

After 10 minutes, the Man in the Yellow Slicker gets his receipt and looks satisfied at having held the entire Starbucks staff and customers waiting in line hostage to his demands.

Passing me in line he stops.

"God, just kill me now!" I think to myself, but it's too late.

"Hey, don't I know you," the Man in the Yellow Slicker says. "Where do I know you...oh yeah, the library!"

I should have denied it, but having just attended a workshop the day before called "De-escalating Confrontations with Brain-Damaged People" (real title - I kid you not!) in which the guest speaker - a police officer who handles crisis situations and hostage negotiations - warned against lying to mentally disabled people (because in his words, "You may run into them again and lose credibility if you're not truthful"), I came clean.

"Yes, I work at the library," I said, and looked away, moving up in line. "And I drink coffee. Small world, huh?" I turned away and thought to myself: What part of my "I'm Ignoring You" body language are you missing? But he had already tagged his next victim and I was "It."

"You getting coffee on your way into work?" he asked, prolonging the "conversation" (and my agony).

"No," I answered curtly. "I'm off today."

"So what's your name, I never knew your name?" the Man in the Yellow Slicker badgered me.

At this point I should have lied and said something like, "Ricardo" or "Malik Al-Shabazz." But again I thought back to the cop's advice at the mentally ill crisis workshop and replied, "Tom."

"Have a nice day," I said through clenched teeth as I brushed past him to the counter and my long-awaiting morning cup of coffee. I had thought about saying to him point-blakn, "Hey, at the library I have to put up with you because it's my job, unfortunately. But now I'm not at work and don't want to talk to you because I really don't like you!" (Notice that in my fantasy dialogue I avoid using the word hate in order to spare his feelings; I can be a nice guy at times, after all).

Peering over shoulder, I noticed that instead of leaving the Man in the Yellow Slicker had taken a seat at the table next to where I had parked my messenger bag.

"Well," I thought to myself, "That kills the idea of sitting here and reading the paper." The Man in the Yellow Slicker was clearly enjoying all the commotion he had caused and was milking every second of it. He was sticking around, alone, drinking his coffee, looking around for people to "talk to" (i.e., annoy).

After getting my coffee, I headed to counter to add cream and sugar, careful to position myself so that I wouldn't be facing the Man in the Yellow Slicker who, as luck would have it, was RIGHT NEXT TO IT.

Then, as I poured the half and half into my coffee, I heard the voice.

"Do you anything about DeBourg?" the Man in the Yellow Slicker bellowed in his booming voice. I had made no eye contact with him, so it could have been Query At Large to Any and All Starbucks Customers. But I knew better...I knew worse. It was addressed to me.

And there he was looking up at me as I poured a packet of Splenda artificial sugar into my coffee.

"Nope," I replied as tartly as possible.

I don't think he even bothered to wait for my reply, as he was already off on a (now-caffeinated) new verbal roll. Receipts were a thing of the past, now he wanted to talk about someone or something called "DeBourg."

"Really because you're the library guy I mean you work in the audio-visual department and movies and such and you're the film guy and DeBourg blah blah blah film blah blah blah and DeBourg was French and blah blah blah and blah blah blah."

"Don't know anything about it" I said, adding a second packet of Splenda (Starbucks coffee is very bitter).

"DeBourg was a filmmaker and one of the first Situationists, I thnk," the Man in the Yellow Slicker continued.

"Fascinating," I replied, minimally.

"Blah blah blag DeBourg this, blah blah blah DeBourg that, blah blah blah blah blah," the Man in the Yellow Slicker blurted away, foam forming at the corners of his mouth. This guy's problem wasn't just that he lacked all social skills and empathy with the feelings of others; no, it was much worse, for he fancied himself an "intellectual" to boot - hence his name-dropping and I Know Stuff demeanor. As Alexander Pope said, drink deeply from the well of knowldge...otherwise you end up like this guy...albeit crossed with a personality disorder and Asperbergers.

"Hmmmm, don't know anything about it," I said, capping my coffee and heading out the door. "Have a nice day."

On my way out I fantasized about the similarities between freak patrons and zombies. In zombie movies, when you spot one, you shoot them in the head to get rid of them. In real life, when you spot a zombie patron, you can only give them the brush off. Regrettable.

You can take the librarian out of the library, but you can't take away the things that annoy librarians (i.e., "patrons") when they leave the library.

They walk among us!


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