You might remember that in another time, I worked at a different Library. The one where I sat on the alarmingly petite disabled woman. And for many moons I thought that would be the strangest story I would ever have to tell about my library job. But no, its eventual successor arrived about a week later.
I was working as a substitute, which meant I would fill in when librarians would call in sick or go on conferences where they would get the most wonderful complimentary tote bags. It’s hard not to swagger when you’ve got a beige, canvas bag that says “Ebsco Reference Services” draped over your shoulder. Wearing one makes my hips swing and the Earth shakes as the air fills with manliness and might.
But this is not a story about my hips or my tote bag collection. It is a story about staring into the abyss of madness and returning. Alive, but changed forever.
A bit of background on me: I spent the last 20 years fighting a bad case of Tourette’s Syndrome, which you can read about on the other side of that link if you’re not familiar with it. Today just let me say that I learned early on that if I was talking, I wasn’t having tics. So I became a motormouth. Later, when I no longer needed to fill the air with words just to survive, the habit was so ingrained that I was still not very good at silence. Small talk had been a defense mechanism for so long that I forget that perhaps not everyone wants to talk, or that if they do, they might have something unnerving to say.
To protect this person’s identity, I shall refer to them as Headlock, which seems gender-neutral.
For 70 minutes we sat next to each other in total silence. This was the first time we had met. When I said “Hi, I’m Josh,” Headlock didn’t even answer, but looked at my outstretched hand as if it was clutching at him/her from the depths of an outhouse. I had to get Headlock off the nametag.
But after 70 minutes on a slow morning I couldn’t take it. “What do you drive?” I asked. I mentally began polishing my trophy for lamest question ever.
But I had strong gold. Lunatic gold. Headlock looked at me with its eyes before turning its head. The effect was quite creepy. Ben Kingsley does the same thing in Sexy Beast. The mouth creaked open like a drawbridge and words began to wander through the air.
To protect the identity of Headlock’s automobile, I will refer to it as The Hooptie.
“…And I need it. I need the room for my squirrels.”
To protect the identity of the animals, I have decided to refer to them as squirrels.
I couldn’t resist. I kept asking. Over the course of the next two minutes I learned that Headlock had a couple hundred squirrels and they they went on lots of trips together. And now I had this image of them on the road, Headlock in The Hooptie, clutching the wheel and squinting through the windshield in a car stuffed with squirrels. I could see it. The human eyes were barely visible in the crush of paws and ears.
“What do you do with them?”
This is where things…changed. Headlock made a noise that I associate with someone having a hard time in the restroom, looked at me sideways, and said ” Some people think I eat them, some people think I sell them, some people think I just want the fur, but…nobody wants to hear that I’m just…exploring them.”
Once I got flashed in the non-fiction at our Sugarhouse location by a man in a trench coat. A man in a Hello Kitty tank top squeezed my butt at another library. This was far more shocking and surprising than those two incidents combined. I had never been so freaked out by a conversation.
I had more questions, but did not feel safe answering them. I knew that if I dug too deeply I might very well find myself locked in one of those animal hutches, being prepped for exploratory adventures. I could see a figure with an open bathrobe walking towards me in the night, mumbling, while all I could do was wonder what hypothesis was about to get tested.
Headlock had nothing to add, either, but stared into the computer screen. A couple of hours later I was yelled at by an inebriated transient. It was a huge relief.
I never subbed at that location again. Occasionally I will see a squirrel in the parks where I walk and run. You’re going the wrong way! I think, if they are even faced in the direction of that library.
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