Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Janitor Is Needed To Shelf-Read New Fiction

When I was a page, life seemed so much simpler. Your supervisors expect next to nothing from you, and as long as you keep out of some of the behind-the-scenes politicking, you’d have to be a complete idiot to be fired. Either that, or have the extreme misfortune of being someone who your boss just doesn’t like. My duties as a page were easy, but I sometimes hated the fact that we were little more than “Janitor Plus,” since we had to check the restrooms, pick up trash, and other stupid little duties that weren’t in the job description. We were the little ants marching our carts up and down the aisles, shelving the books, picking up books that were laying on the floor, and basically keeping the library propped up and organized. The most tortuously boring task was shelf-reading. This was when a page would spend an hour staring at their assigned section of the library, and make sure that every single book was in it’s correct spot. It wasn’t so bad for the first fifteen minutes, but after an hour you begin to space out and start pondering deep philosophical questions. I came up with ways to achieve nirvana, ideas for what would be a masterpiece of modern literature, and various schemes for making millions of dollars all while shelf-reading, but never once wrote a single one of them down. I frequently thought about my life, and would leave the shelves with a furious expression on my face, and it became known that you didn’t bother me after I had been shelf-reading. There was probably something very Zen about it, but at the time, I didn’t see it and just wanted to shoot myself.

The most degrading aspect of the county library that I worked at was the bell system. We were trained to come to either the reference or check out desk when someone rang a bell. Actually, everyone was on the bell system, from the pages to the manager. To make matters easier, every hour a specific person was assigned to be “on bell,” and if someone needed a page and rang, you would only have to answer when you were on bell. This was annoying because when I was a clerk and would ring for a page, sometimes there would be one right next to me who could have easily helped me out, but flat-out refused, saying, “I’m not on bell. Let whoever's on bell do it.” This was a blessing to me on one occasion though. I had mentioned that as a page we were expected to be “Janitor Plus” on occasions. If something spilled or a mess was made and you were on bell, it was your duty to clean it. This would range from a Sugar Daddy stuck on one of the shelves, covered with ants, to a soda spilled on a desk, sliding dangerously close to the business books. These were nothing compared to what I saw when I was closing one night. During the closing hour a boy had an accident while waiting in line at the check out desk. Normally this is an issue that the parents take care of, but there was one little problem: The boy was wearing shorts. Once that “accident” slid down the leg of his shorts and splattered on the library floor, it immediately became our problem, or rather, the page’s problem. I remember walking by with my cart after hearing the bell ring, and seeing the grotesque Rorschach blots on the floor. The clerk at the desk looked at me and said “Oh good, you’re here. Can you take care of this please?”
“Sorry,” I said, “I’m not on bell.”

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