Saturday, November 24, 2012

Black Friday, Every Day

“If we skipped Thanksgiving dinner to wait in line,” Matt’s dad said, leafing through circulars before the big meal, “we can get a free door prize worth up to $100, like a grill or some camping equipment.”

This was not a thing I wanted to do, but I tried to keep an open mind. “Do you want any of those door prizes so badly that you’d pay full price for them?” I said.

“No,” he said quickly, his tone implying otherwise would be the height of stupidity.

“Then why take it for free? If you don’t want it enough to buy it, you obviously don’t really want it.”

“Because I could get it for free then sell it for half price on ebay,” he said, sipping his Starbucks.

I nodded. “I could just pay you $50 to stand in line all day and miss Thanksgiving dinner…”

“You’re right,” he laughed. “It’s not worth it.”


I have nightmares about it.
The crowds overwhelm me.
So many people, so many of them angry.
I stand no chance against them and have no right to be there.

And that’s just going to the grocery store on an idle Wednesday in July.

Obviously, I don’t shop the Black Friday sales.

In fact, I avoid the mall and the big box stores throughout the Christmas shopping season.
I continue to avoid them in January, when the stores are filled with people returning the things other people painstakingly bought for them in December.

I may not set foot in a store again until February. Or maybe March. Or maybe never.


I don't understand Black Friday because I have a bit of a spending problem.

Not the kind of spending problem where I buy things on credit and swim in a mire of debt.

I literally have a problem putting myself in situations where money will be spent.

When I was a child we didn’t have a lot of money. The rest of my family enjoyed window shopping: they could spend hours at the mall without buying anything. For me, it was torture. I developed this philosophy that if I never go to the store, I’ll never see anything new. If I never see it, I’ll never want it. It was the perfect defense against feelings of poverty and lack.

I built up defenses against spending so thick that even now, years later, I have trouble convincing myself to go to the grocery store for life-sustaining food. Unnecessary expenses like clothes and electronics require a heavenly chorus and a sign from God before they even rate consideration.

Besides, stores are busy, scary places, full of overwhelming choices that make me feel tiny and alone in a vast and infinite universe.

So I don’t go shopping.

Laziness? Perhaps.
Paranoia? Maybe.
Or is it a budgeting system brilliant in its simplicity?


It’s not that I don’t have wants. It’s just that I can never justify them if I’m being totally honest with myself.

Say I decide I want new yoga pants.
I won’t go to the store just for yoga pants; I’ll wait until I have a list of multiple wants.

But by the time I think of something else I want, perhaps a movie I like that I want to get on DVD, well, by then, the yoga pants thing is soooo two months ago! Why, I’ve been making do with one pair all this time and we’re quite happy together. I’ve only just washed it to the desired level of softness, you know! Why get another pair?

So forget the yoga pants. But I won’t go to the store just for that DVD, so then I have to wait until I want something else.

Except I could just get the DVD from the library, so maybe I don’t need anything from the store after all.

By the time I actually make it to the store, for anything, it’s not about the money anymore. Whatever it is that I want will have been wanted for so long, price is no longer an issue. There will be research beforehand. Circulars will be consulted. Reviews will be read. The yoga pants I eventually pick up may be expensive and they may not be on sale, but I will be so focused on finding the perfect pair of yoga pants that I won’t see anything else in the store.

I will wait at the door for the store to open in the morning and I will run directly toward my prize, trampling any hapless shoppers who get in my way.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

So I was working the circulation desk...

For a librarian, the phrase, “So I was working the circulation desk…” is the equivalent of “This one time, at band camp…”

Seriously, every work-related story starts that way. We never run out of tales that begin with this scheme.

Sometimes patrons come in one right after the other. Bam! Bam! Bam! We don’t have time to think between crazy patrons and their bizarre demands, and we can tell you such stories about them later. “You’ll never believe the patron I had today,” we’ll say.

Other times, there are no patrons to entertain us. There’s no story time, it’s a school day, and it’s raining. The library is absolutely dead.

Still very much alive, the circulation librarians wait at the desk for something interesting to happen. We process DVDs or put spine labels on new books, working half-heartedly so we won’t finish too soon and run out of things to do.

At times like these, we chat about whatever.


I was working the circulation desk…

Library Shark vs. Crocobeast
“What’s wrong with this chair?” Cathy said, swiveling toward me so I could see the chunk of plastic missing from the armrest. “It looks like someone took a bite out of it,” she said.

“It’s the height,” said Benjamin, getting technical. “If you sit at a certain angle and get up, it catches under the edge of the desk and-”

“Sharks,” I said, cutting him off. “Library sharks.”

Cathy laughed, but Benjamin raised an eyebrow at me. “How do they survive out of water?” Benjamin said.

“They don’t need water,” I said. “They’re library sharks. They survive in the library.”

“So they’re amphibious?” he asked.

“Amphibious library sharks,” I confirmed.

Cathy, running with it, said, “So if someone says a chewed up book was like that when they checked it out, you can blame the amphibious library sharks.”

“They eat books,” I said.

“What eats them?” said Cathy.

Perhaps, someday, we’ll find out.

(To Be Continued?)

The Wrath of Zombie Santa
“No, it’s totally legit! I saw it on a science show,” said Benjamin, telling me about the recipe for napalm he’d heard about. “It's just gasoline and petroleum jelly, but I don't know the ratios.”

“It may call for experimentation,” I said, glancing over at Stephanie and catching her subtle head shake. “Or, maybe not.”

“I should get a flame thrower!” said Benjamin.

“No,” Stephanie and I said together.

Seemingly deflated, Benjamin emptied the return bin, scanned a few books, then said, “Don't you think that would be an awesome weapon to have in the zombie apocalypse?”

“Hrm,” I said, considering, because that’s exactly the sort of direction my imagination goes.

Stephanie, whose imagination runs rather a different direction, said, “What if they were flame retardant?”

Benjamin and I looked at each other, then back at Stephanie. “How many flame retardant zombies do you know?” said Benjamin.

“I don't know any zombies,” she said, looking at us like we were children.

“Zombies are made of people,” I said, patting her shoulder. “Do you know any flame retardant people?”

“Santa,” said Stephanie, imagination running in an altogether different dimension.

“What?” said Benjamin.

“It was in one of those movies! He has a flame retardant suit!” said Stephanie.

“No, it makes sense,” I said. “Because he has to go down chimneys and some of them might be lit.”

“Zombie Santa!” said Stephanie.

“It would be awful!” said Benjamin, but his eyes lit up as he said it. “He'd be able to fly all around the world in the blink of an eye with his zombie reindeer!”

Stephanie and I both looked at him. “What?” I said. “Nobody said anything about zombie reindeer.”

“Yeah,” said Stephanie, “What are you smoking?”

My Blind Doppelganger
The three of us were clustered around a single computer, viewing the headlines with disgust. It was tragic and horrible and a serious matter not to be made fun of.

“What makes somebody do that?” I said, genuinely disturbed.

“He's crazy,” said Carla.

“Well, sure but lots of people are crazy,” such as myself, I thought, “and they're not all like that.”

“Statistically, there must be lots of people like that,” said Carla. “Isn’t that awful?”

“Like I always say,” said Benjamin (who doesn’t always say this, by the way), “If you're one in a million, that means there are seven thousand other people in this world JUST LIKE YOU.”

We let that sink in a moment.

“Wow,” I said.

“Well, that's something to think about,” said Carla.

“They do say everyone has a doppelganger out there. I've never met mine, though,” I said.

“Can you imagine?” said Carla. “That moment when you recognize each other and realize what you're looking at?”

And, of course, because I’m a pessimist, I immediately imagined that when I met my doppelganger she would be blind, so I wouldn't get any reaction from her at all, ruining the whole experience. Maybe if I over-reacted, she could share my excitement? I thought. But what’s to stop me from acting that way in front of any blind person?

“Hey, guys!” I said. “Wouldn't that be the best joke to play on a blind person? To pretend they're your doppelganger? Just walk up to them and be all 'OMG! I look JUST LIKE you! We're doppelgangers! This is amazing! Can we just take a picture together so I can post it on my facebook? No one's ever going to believe this?'”

“It’s brilliant!” said Benjamin.

“It’s terrible!” said Carla. “How do you think of these things? What possesses you to think of these things?”

“Something bad,” I said. “Possession isn't like that Exorcist movie. This, me: that's what it’s like.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Canned Goods

It was gorgeous outside – or at least it looked that way from my decidedly indoor job. Imprisoned at the circulation desk, quivering with longing like a dog ordered to stay, I gazed forlornly at the city park just outside the library’s glass double doors. Every patron greeted me with some variation of “Have you been out in this perfect weather?”

I would be. Oh, yes, I would be.

The clock rolled over to my lunch break like a starting pistol. I was off, just me and my purple lunch box against the world. On the far side of a small pond replete with ducks, empty picnic tables waited for me under a little-used pavilion in a quiet clearing, a full fifteen minute walk from the library. I set off down the tree-lined path.

It was sunny, but not too hot, with a light breeze rippling the water. Squirrels chased each other through the greenery. I identified what I thought was a red-winged blackbird’s call, then visually confirmed my guess, congratulating myself on my ornithological skills. I belonged in this verdant world. I was mother freaking nature.

At the pavilion, I swiped the dust off a picnic table, slung down my lunch box, and artfully arrayed my little feast on a floral-patterned paper towel: turkey sandwich, pickles, and one foil-wrapped dark chocolate square. “I shall eat you last,” I said to the chocolate, popping the tab on a can of Dr. Pepper and tossing the empty sandwich baggie in a nearby trash can...

Which growled at me.

Hang on, I thought. I know lots of stuff about birds and nature and things; therefore, I know that is not the trash can’s natural call.

I stood listening for a moment. It happened again.

“What the-” I said, peeking inside. (As much as I would like to believe I have more sense than horror movie victims, it’s just not so.) A flurry of claws and teeth flew toward me.

I screamed, clambering on top of the picnic table and spilling my soda. The trash can vibrated, chattering wildly, then rattled to a stop.

What was that? I wondered.

Standing on the table, I peeked over the rim of the can. The trapped creature made another growling leap, sending me nearly over the far edge of the table in my haste to back away. Cause of death: subject fell off a picnic table. Let’s not do that, I thought. On hands and knees, heart pounding, I leaned over the table’s edge, holding my phone up and out to snap a picture of the imprisoned beast.

On my phone’s tiny screen, a small and rather sad raccoon gazed soulfully out at me. I couldn’t believe my own cowardice. Who trembles in fear at a little raccoon? “Hang on, Ranger Rick!” I said, stepping to the ground. “I’ll get you out of there.”

The raccoon growled with renewed fervor, incensed at the sound of my voice. I scrambled onto the table once more as the trash can rocked back and forth in wide arcs, as though the raccoon was throwing himself at the walls.

There’s a 99% chance this is a perfectly ordinary woodland creature, I thought. If I knock that trash can over, he will flee from my human presence with nary a backward glance. The sweet strains of “Born Free” will accompany his furry exodus.

However, there is a 1% chance this is a rabid raccoon-demon with a burning hatred of all humankind. He’s seen my face and he knows my scent and if I release him, there is no sanctuary in this world or the next that can protect me from his fury.

Those were not good odds.

Cross-legged on the table-top, I dialed the library. “Aren’t you at lunch?” Karen said when I identified myself.

“I’m in the park,” I said, as the raccoon cussed me out.  “I need the number for animal control.”

“We don’t have animal control in Andover! We’re too small!” she said sweetly.

Trying to keep the desperate edge out of my voice, I said, “Who do you call when you’ve got a raccoon in a trash can?”

A long silence followed, broken only by the local wildlife’s displeasure with my company. Finally, Karen said, “Couldn’t you just tip it over?”

“He looks angry!”

I heard poorly muffled laughter. “Maybe you should try the fire department.”

After several failed attempts due to trembling fingers, I managed to dial the number. The fire department’s dispatcher apparently lost interest when I wasn’t on fire. Sounding bored, she said, “We don’t really rescue wild animals.”

“Forget the animal!” I said. “Come rescue me!”

“Maybe you could tip it over?”

“That’s not going to work!”

“Try the police station,” she suggested.

The raccoon was screaming by now, which didn’t make dialing any easier. Before the oblivious officer could finish saying “Andover Police Department,” I poured out the whole sorry tale in a single breath.

“-and-she-said-to-tip-it-over-but-the-raccoon-is-angry-so-I-can’t-tip-it-over!” I said, then “Hello?” when I received no response.

“So, you don’t want to tip the trash can over?” the bemused officer said.

“Are you hearing any of this?!” I shrieked. As if on cue, the raccoon chose this moment to voice his discontent.

“Okay!” said the officer. “No worries. We’ll send someone around to have a look.”

“Thank you!” I said, feeling better as I hung up. Then I realized I was still crouched on the picnic table in fear of the malevolent raccoon. Sighing, I reached to the far side of the table for my sandwich. “That went well, I think,” I told the raccoon. I tossed a chunk of sandwich in the trash can, then, as an afterthought, added a couple of pickles.

When I finished eating, I slid off the table as quietly as possible, stuffing my trash in my lunch box to throw away later, and started the walk back to the library. On my way, I passed a police car, circling the park to reach the picnic tables on the other side. I smiled, waved, and kept walking. I was ready to get back to my nice indoor job.

I am so tired of being outside, I thought.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

100 Word Increments: Parenting Advice from the Library

Imagine, if you will, that I don’t have friends with kids. Or coworkers with kids. Or relatives who talk to me constantly about kids (namely, the part where I don't have any kids). Imagine I have no access to books or blogs or magazines about parenting and I’ve never seen a family sitcom. Imagine that everything I know about parenting comes from close observation of the parents and children who pass through the library each day. Now, imagine that you have just asked me (the childless wonder) for parenting advice. Based on my extensive observations, this is what I'll say:

1. Other people can still hear your child screaming.
The twins would have been cute in their matching outfits if not for their identical gaping mouths, wailing like a pair of banshees at an Irish hospice. Their mother wandered the library with her double stroller, ignoring the noise, or possibly deafened by it, for half an hour.
Here’s a concept I’ve been toying with - just a thought, really:
How about - I know this is crazy, but when your kid is having a bad day and just wants to stand in the middle of the room and scream, how about we have that day NOT be library day?

2. Kids are sneaky.
Fetching a book from the bottom shelf in the children’s section, I found myself at eye level with a smiling boy.
“Hi!” he said, surprised, as if I had magically appeared before him.
“Hello,” I said.
“How did you get here at the library?” he asked.
“I drove here in my car,” I said. “How did you get here?”
“I drove here in my car too!”
“Really?” I said. “You look a bit young to be driving.”
“No, I’m not!” he said, holding out his mother’s keys.
“How did you get hold of those?” his mother said, taking them back.

3. When all else fails, resort to bribery.
“Rawr!” a pigtailed girl played in the floor with our plastic dinosaurs.
“Whatcha doin’?” her brother asked.
“I’m a dinosaur!” she said, flexing pretend claws. “Rawr!”
The boy shrugged and ignored her in favor of the blocks.
“Kids, it’s time to go,” said their mother.
“We can’t!” said the dinosaur. “I’m not done destroying yet!” She demonstrated by leveling the block city recently abandoned by her brother.
“Time’s up. We’re leaving.”
“That’s too bad. I was going to take us for ice cream, but dinosaurs don’t eat ice cream.”
“Ra…” The roar ended on a cough. “Let’s go, mommy.”

4. You have to watch your children.
The adorable little boy in overalls looked like he was on his way to the fishing hole: barefoot, blond duck-fluff hair sticking up, smiling as he walked the stumbling walk of children barely past crawling…
Gaily plucking book after book off the shelves and dropping them on the floor.
It looked like the shelves had exploded.
“Where is your mother?!” I cried aloud.
“Here!” she said from across the room, making no move to interfere.
I glared at her for as long as it took her to gather her child and leave, then spent an hour cleaning up the mess.

5. Teenage nannies are more interested in other teenage nannies than in their charges.
While shelving, I eavesdropped on three teenagers whose toddler siblings played nearby. Toddler Brother wouldn’t leave Teenage Boy alone to get his game on.
“Will you be my girlfriend?” Toddler Brother asked the girls.
“Go play. You can’t have a girlfriend,” said Teenage Boy.
“You have a girlfriend!” said Toddler Brother. “Why can’t I?”
“Because you’re five.”
“Oh,” said Toddler Brother, turning away sadly.
 “So,” snapped Teenage Girl 1, “you have a girlfriend?”
“What?” Teenage Boy backpedaled. “No! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”
The girls traded knowing glances. “Uh-huh,” said Teenage Girl 2, collecting their sisters. “Let’s go.”

6. It’s never too early to think about their future careers.
As a haggard mom flipped through the books on the cart, her daughter pointed. “What’s that?”
Mom sighed as though she were tired of answering questions. “It’s a book about squirrels.”
The girl’s face scrunched in confusion. “Why?”
Mom, still flipping through books, shrugged. “Because that’s what the author wanted to write about.”
The girl waited for more.
Mom ignored her. Flip, flip…
Finally, the girl said, “That’s silly.”
Mom didn’t even look up. “What would you write about?”
The girl stared in thought, then said, “Dogs.”
“Well,” said mom, “someday you can be an author and write about dogs.”