Thursday, November 29, 2007

SOME OF US LIBRARIANS
RESPECT THE STREET:
Of Crust Punk Readers, Suicidal Tendencies, And Batshit Blanket Assumptions about The Patron

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- In some libraries, they make fun of them.

Those homeless teenagers and young adults, kids without any place to go, kids who dress funny and who don't bathe regularly, those who are pierced and tattooed.

Even those who stutter from behind green hair when they ask for the latest copy of Rolling Stone to see if they've written anything new about bands like Rancid and Citizen Fish and Against Me!, they too tend to get discriminated against, sometimes, in libraries.

And yes, those kids sometimes smell funny, too - ain't many free showers or safe homeless shelters to use as a changing room. And, sure, they tie up hours on PCs meant for some mythological perfect beast called "The Patron," check their email and write poetry and check their MySpace pages, things that tend to be frowned upon by some library administrators as nothing more than "excessive use."

And some librarians and branch managers let their staff make fun of them, make comments about these how kids smell and dress and talk. Those managers secretly get off on the air of superiority that goes with being a guardian of knowledge, of public consciousness - those from the margins of society who are unclean should be marginally tolerated.

They invent ways, overnight, to make their lives hell to satisfy boards and advisory panels and community leaders. A cataloger catches one of them washing up in a public restroom, and suddenly, the next day, signs appear on the restroom mirrors banning brushing one's teeth or changing clothes. Or a group of underage kids spends one hour too long in a meeting room and, suddenly, a whole system's policy changes without so much as a word to the affected group.

Sometimes, those kids walk right behind circulation desks and grab "adults only" bestsellers and give the desk staff the finger as they make their getaway. Unable to even view controversial material because they'd need to get consent from that "legal guardian" who beat them for years, they get to their literature by any means necessary.

And sometimes, those same punker homeless kids do nothing more than sit in a chair too long, looking suspicious, reading or looking something up online. A kid with a Mohawk might just be plotting something destructive, you know. According to some, it's best to pester those crusty-looking kids every five minutes to keep them in line.

Right now, there are are probably librarians and staff reading this, in various library systems, possibly all over the world, saying to themselves silently:

"Jason, you don't work with these people! You babysit rich patrons in Bumfuck Egypt Ohio, dude. They're pests! They get high and wander in and just fuck things up for everyone else."

No, I don't work with those people on a regular basis. But I've called many of them friends. I've even dated a few.

In fact, some of those people are probably reading this right now. Maybe even in your local library, in direct violation of some bullshit policy cooked up to keep "The Patron" patronized and as docile as a corpse.

And, odds are, if they've ever lurked around long enough to IM or email me, I've probably encouraged them to be better behaved and more polite. But I've also encouraged them to stand up for themselves whenever they feel bullied by library staff, to do whatever keeps them alive and off the streets. And if that means encouraging them to, well, break a few rules every now and then, to violate your library's policies...

Hell, who am I kidding?

If that bothers you, well, you can kiss my fucking librarian ass.

* * * *

CALIFORNIA [2001] -- His stepfather started making him do it when he was nine, maybe ten years old.

Doing it.

IT.

You know.

Jerking the old fucker off. His stepfather got off on handjobs, eyes closed.

The kid sat there on the toilet, face red and quivering behind the snot and spit, staring at the floor. I could barely understand him as he recounted what amounted to years of abuse at the hands of his mom's old man.

He'd told her right after the first time. His own mother called him a liar and, being a mental health professional herself, diagnosed her own son as a pathological fibber, sent him to one of her friends for treatment, a friend willing to overlook certain mandatory legal reporting obligations for a dear sweet friend.

The bitch even went so far as to tell his teachers about it, about his lying about being molested by that pillar of the community, a story he supposedly cooked up to get back at her for divorcing his father. So even his teachers didn't believe him. And his mother was, well, married to a prominent community member and he was a troublemaker, after all...

His sister knew. She knew because she'd seen it. But mom, good ol' mother from whose cunt no children should've ever sprung, said that she was a liar, too. So he spent four years giving an old sick fuck handjobs in the guest house and pretending that everybody was right about his lying.

And then he found cocaine.

At a party, after jay-vee soccer. Did two grams in under a minute. Overdosed. His soccer buddies left him at the emergency room. Mom and good ol' Stepdad showed up, dealt with the police, and then shipped him off to a wonderful rehabilitation center. And in rehab, he learned about other, nastier drugs. When he got home, he hit the streets shopping for all sorts of things - heroin, crack, GHB, LSD, and something called Crystal Meth.

It was the Crystal Meth that did him in, led to his confession in a men's bathroom stall on a cloudy day in a ratfuck California town's library.

Figuring that, well, he'd pretended to like old men until he'd run away from home, he'd turned to selling teenage ass to support his Tweak habit. He'd turned tricks for half the closet-case senior citizens in Orange County. He blew them in alleys, bottomed up when they paid for a nice motel to sleep in, and even played oiled Olympian for some hotshot broker, who'd flown him up to San Francisco for a week.

He'd ended up on the Central Coast because the broker had kicked him to the curb, no room for a homeless Olympian addict who wasn't, well, really queer. The kid decided to hitchhike it back to the Southland, down Highway 101. He blew everything he'd earned by the time he'd reached King City, a mere two hours away by car.

And then he was stuck. Stuck without a brown rock to smoke or a pot to piss in, stuck in his own pit of self-loathing and addiction. And after two years, at the first opportunity, he'd managed to hit rock bottom a second time, to find a dealer who had no problem selling to a kid in the middle of an emotional breakdown.

I sat down on the floor and offered him a cigarette. I lit one and blew smoke rings. He reminded me, half-snickering, that smoking wasn't allowed in public buildings in California.

I told him that, well, I'd be glad to take that knife he was holding and plow it through the first Uppity Granolahead piece of yuppie trash who walked through the door to complain.

He started snickering a bit more. He was coming down from it, returning to sobriety. Had to keep talking...

I lit a cigarette, handing it over to him. I told him that, well, we should just walk on out the bathroom door with those flaming taboo sticks, should just walk out to my car, cool as the Rat Motherfucking Pack, Sinatra and Deano reincarnate, drive down to the Embarcadero, grab us some fish and chips, go whistle at rich women.

I reminded him that, yeah, that Queen up in Frisco was right. Hell, I knew he was straight. The really gay kids on the street knew, too - hell, they thought he was a gay-bashing Suicidal Tendencies fan. And who knows what I would've done to survive if I'd been in his goddamn shoes?

Besides... that girl at the Taco Bell, that cute Miz Thang who'd been letting him crash secretly in her parents' basement, the one he'd been boning and rollin' and titty-twitchin' and goin' at it doggie....uh uh... you like that...uh... She'd hate to find out that he'd gone all pussy Sylvia Plath and shit, gone and offed hisself because he fell off the wagon one goddamn motherfuckin' time....

And besides, I said, full of cornball machismo, if he died then I'd just have to move in and tap that shit, bang the hell out of that Lil chihuahua-peddling boot-TAY myself... girls like that... oh hell yeah...

He started laughing, laughing hard at my false bravado. He handed me the knife. I remember staring at the tiny pink stripes he'd made at the top of his wrist - he knew the right way to do it, to slash up the arm and not across it. He told me he felt stupid. I responded, as usual, with a Hey, no problem, dude, as if we'd been discussing nothing important at all.

I helped him off the toilet, stuck the knife in my belt like a pirate. He packed up his crusty backpack, washed up in the sink. And we walked out of that concrete cavern of a men's room, right out past the reference desk, through the lobby, right past circulation and the security gates, smoking cigarettes like fucking Sinatra and Deano.

You know, I heard later that the staff at that library branch called the cops on a 20-22 year-old white male, one who looked sorta like that guy from the radio, and some homeless kid who they were always chasing out of their pristine facility, their precious mausoleum filled with outdated children's literature and no children...

... And for smoking in a public building in the State of California.

Good thing they didn't go into that bathroom. Kid might've really gone all pussy Sylvia Path, and, tsk tsk, may have actually gotten blood on the copy of The Bell Jar he'd been reading. Not their problem, after all. He'd only been in that bathroom, sweating and withdrawing and contemplating suicide, for ten hours straight.

One of the reference staff even came in and took a piss while we were talking too loud.

_____ loved libraries because they helped him think, to hide, and to sleep peacefully. He used to hide out in libraries when he was a kid, too, from his handjob-loving stepdad and his pill-pushing mom.

Made perfect sense, then, for him to try to commit suicide in one.

* * * *

A few years ago, while visiting family in California, I drove out to this ratfuck town library because I'd seen a librarian job advertised in a trade publication. Before I applied for the position, I wanted to see if anything had changed in the time since I'd last visited.

Of course not. There are dead snails that change direction faster than most libraries. And, like dead slimy things, the worst libraries tend to just fester beneath the Golden State sun.

Signs outside begging for those pesky punker bums to quit skateboarding up to the door, to quit scaring the poor old romance-novel junkies half to death. Policies against any sort of group gatherings at tables. Policies and signs and restrictions everywhere. And READ posters from the 1980s, depicting actors that had, yes, once been poor kids like the skaters outside.

A half-dead old biddy guarded the print reference collection like a stereotypical Book Nazi, gossiped about some city worker named Carl into a telephone receiver. A hatchet-faced brunette, a woman in her mid-twenties, stared off into space from behind the circulation desk. A lonely community volunteer old enough to have known Jesus shelved books old and rotten enough to have been on the Last Supper's summer reading list.

I made a beeline for the bathrooms.

The pay phone in between the men's and women's toilets had been removed, a gaping wound in the wall where one of the most basic of human communication devices had once been used to keep a homeless kid alive.

"Tonya" had called me from that very phone, had begged me to drive all the way out to this tomb of a library to keep a mutual friend from offing himself in a shithole of a bathroom. I'd forced ol' Jailbait to go out and wait for me in my car that day, to leave in case I couldn't talk ____ down and he ended up bleeding, I ended up bleeding, or one of us ended up dead.

When we hooked up in that motel room last year, in fact, she reminded me that the last time my fingers had left bruises on her shoulders was on that overcast day in middle of fucking nowhere California, back in 2001. I apparently squeezed her shoulders so hard that I her arms went numb.

As I stared in awe at the hole where the public phone used to be, I reached for the men's room door. I tried pushing it open, but the damned thing was locked. I looked over from the phoneless phone booth and read a yet another policy sign:

Restrooms for Patrons and Staff Only.

Patrons and staff? Doesn't that cover, well, everybody who enters a public library? Such a strange sign... had they heard about what had happened in that men's room years before? Had that shitbird of a reference staffer called the police to report an attempted suicide in that bathroom years ago? Had the doors been locked to provide a level of patron safety and protection, to prevent liability or destruction?

I walked back up to the front of the library and asked the bored chick at Circ. about the locked bathrooms.

She told me that, well, only patrons with library cards were allowed to use the restrooms because they had loitering problems, pointed to a group of punker-looking kids loitering outside the front doors of an empty public facility on a weekday afternoon.

So I told her that I was a librarian visiting from Ohio, asked if she could make an exception to the rule, because, well, I really had to piss like a racehorse. She smiled and gave me a key on a stick, without even asking for proof of my identity.

I thanked her and smiled back, walked back to the john and unlocked the door. Once inside, I took my piss - right on the goddamn floor. And on the walls. And in the trash can. Hosed the place down like a urinary firefighter.

Somehow, the inside latch on the deadbolt had found its way into my pocket, too. If ____ had been able to talk his way into that same key years ago, had been able to deadbolt himself in for ten hours...

I gave the key back, still smiling, and said:

You gave me that key because I don't look like those kids, didn't you?

I demonstrated to her that, well, I too could use one finger to indicate who had more of a right to be in that ratfuck library than the three friggin' staffers loitering within the sacred halls of Bibliographica.

I never applied for that fucking job. But, when I returned to my library in Oxford Fucking Ohio, I made a point of introducing myself and handing out cards to just about every crusty-looking local teenager who visited my library.

We do get a few kids who wander in from the bad parts of town, who seek out my facility not just to use resources but to escape bad situations at home, domestic violence, and to keep away from Uptown's booze-and-drugs scene when they've finally decided to clean up their world.

Hey, that's part of being a librarian. If you can't even introduce yourself to those funny-looking kids from a trailer park, then, well, you really should just find another profession.

- # # # -

17 comments:

Cat. said...

Yup. That's all. Just, yeah...

stephan!e lee said...

wow, that was some powerful writing, J.

tho, this was a little disturbing: "I told him that, well, I'd be glad to take that knife he was holding and plow it through the first Uppity Granolahead piece of yuppie trash who walked through the door to complain."

um, ... a little unnecessary?

anyway, just my opinion. love it otherwise.
-stef

curiositykiller said...

The hero outfit suits you beautifully. ;)

This is some powerful writing, J. I felt like I was sitting right there with you two listening to the most intimate conversation. I had a physical reaction when I heard what happened to him. Poor kid. Are you still in touch with him?

The ZenFo Pro said...

Cat:
Yeah, this may be a hard one to comment of for some folks. S'okay. :)

Steph:
Lol, nah. Meant to be somewhat harsh for those unaccustomed to the actual "downtrodden" voice, beyond some pamphlet designed by a nonprofit org.

If you've ever spent any time with kids who've spent time on the street, particularly guys who've been abused by other men, pretty much cartoon violence is the only thing that sorta masks the pain, diffuses things. You'd be surprised, too, how many young women will tell other women that they'll stab them in the ovaries to keep them from reproducing.

Watched this chick once threaten shake down one of those "I wanna live like like I think Kurt Cobain wants me to" trustafarians, tell her sob story to get the kid to open her backpack, and then rob the woman with a blade to the vag. Girl had been sexually abused by a mom who'd been some bigshot hippie in the 60s, so, well, mugging a 1990s version probably gave her comfort - but if her beau hadn't of stopped her, she would have given her a poke.

Like I told somebody earlier this week, if you don't know the streets, you stay off of them - ain't nobody gonna ask you your politics when you've got a purse to snatch and somebody's hungry.

Hard to explain, but this is the mild version, from what I recall. A lot disappeared with the adrenaline.


Killer:
No, sadly, ______ dropped off the face of the planet years ago. Heh, on the West Coast, there's a whole migratory climate that, I'd guess, probably sprung up because of a need to stay someplace warm in the winter and cool in the summer - and a need to stay a few steps ahead of increasingly networked social services and law enforcement.

Actually, I heard a rumor that he finally relapsed for good and died of an overdose. Since I never knew_____'s last name (nobody did), it's probably best not to know and hope one day to be pleasantly surprised.

Lol, no heroics. Just really good with addicts in bathrooms. Was one myself once - managed to laugh myself out of every suicidal thought with the most obscene, un-PC thoughts and jokes :P

Xmichra said...

yep. the library used to be my solitude as well. Nothing says quiet like a library, and that is so important when you have a drugged out parent yelling and throwing shit around on a daily basis.

I remember this one librarian who was really slender, very bean pole-ish actually... brown hair up in a bun, glasses, no make-up, lae twenties. I thought she was really uptight at first. But she was really nice, and always let me go into the 'restricted occult' section.. which i really appreciated since i had such a curiousity about that topic.

I felt safe at the library and went there a lot when i was a teen. So from a former freak to a present day librarian, thanks.

Anonymous said...

"Those homeless teenagers and young adults, kids without any place to go, kids who dress funny and who don't bathe regularly, those who are pierced and tattooed"

Where I went to school they called them students.

Our library was large, so large someone supposed lived it in once and became rather famous, started a livejournal called homeless at nyu and had to shut it down because the bandwidth used was was too large for livejouranl to allow.

They also jumped off our library.

No one questioned anyone there because of the way they looked as long as they had an id.

I've yet to go to a public library here.

If I don't comment here much it's due to blogger not being very friendly to those without blogger blogs or those who choose not to use their google id.


cooper

Mo said...

Jason this is why gramps loved spending time with you. You know he always talked about you and him going to help fight for those skater kids rights. He called you his gunslinger. Way cool.

And haha I love the comment about unessesary violence. You were like baldheaded hippie killer back in the day.

Man if i'd known that you turned down the bench job because of what happened that night at the library I would've strangled you. iI was 18! You were what 21? You work with college kids - they get drunk and fuck right? duh.

Why is that we only talk once every two years too? You're back here every Xmas and never call. But when i call you you're in a bar and can't talk. Did I interrupt you grinding on some college girl, eh.

Oh yeah. Shout out to Thetas at Miami! Don't mess with this guy he's trouble :-P

The ZenFo Pro said...

Xmich:
Hey chica, thanks for the reminder that, yeah, Library as Shelter is a bit more universal than a lot of folks in librarianship - not in the majority, but still too many - like to admit.

Yeah, that restricted occult section is why, in many ways, it's good not to judge a book by its cover (heh). You and I grew up in a time, in the 1980s, when the whole Protestant Fundamentalist movement was decrying just about everything they were scared of enemies of both faith and the state. That whole movement created so many little hypocritical paradoxes in North America - restrict "evil" books, but ignore the evil things people do behind closed doors to each other.

In terms of minority beliefs - Wicca, NeoPaganism, earth-based beliefs and esoterica - society has shifted to be a bit more tolerant. Many of those books once deemed restricted tools of Satan have been moved back into the stacks. Part of that victory through reason came through the efforts of librarians like you describe - ones who go, "you know, I'm paid to help people learn, not to suck up to some panicky library board and hide books....fuck that, go read what ya want, kid."


Coop:
I think there's some sort of Wordpress/Blogger Cold War going on, because every time I start to leave a comment on Pia's blog, the page gets reset...

Yeah, in some libraries you do need restrictions to physical access at times, because there are, well, issues that spring up. The problem is, usually, many of those problems could be resolved simply and efficiently - i.e. if ya know there's kids sleeping in a library, do ya really need more policies, or do ya just need to just ask staff to walk around a bit, to be more observant of their surroundings, to learn about patron behaviors.

Oh, you'd be surprised at how how even you may have been judged. And an ID-Only policy does create a barrier that may or may not be done more out of "we don't want to deal with this" than "we're having serious security issues and concerns arise."

Here, the Local U. uses a mixture of ID-controlled access and good old fashioned common sense - the main library is open 24-7 during the school year but access is restricted at the doors to Local U. access after midnight. However, nobody goes around and checks IDs, which just creates unnecessary tension and wastes staff resources. If somebody's not supposed technically part of a user base, but creates less problems than the target patron group, well, why bother them?

Hell, since I've been in my current position, I've known of at least a dozen people I suspected of using my facility as housing. One of them cleaned up a women's restroom before Thanksgiving - because some student puked Beam and Coke all over it. Completely voluntary. Kid did our staff a favor in return for not getting chased out for not being a student.

Mo:
Heh! I remember that. I thought he was going to kill that coucilman. Seriously. We didn't win the votes but, heh, if she hadn't been a "broad," he would've KOed an elected official for calling homeless kids "scum." And ppl wonder why I dislike Left politicos just as much as I loathe Right politicos. Whoo Boy. RIP to him, btw.

Hey! I never killed any hippies. Just banged em up a little, usually for being stoned and stupid.

I'm never going to live down that White Boy Rasta motherfucker, am I?

[TMI Dept. - A self-described animal rights "liberator" threw cow blood on me, a guy who doesn't eat red meat, as "instant art." Gave him a break, figuring he was crazy. Week later, I found out that the kid had a Jim Jones Complex, almost raped a 14-year-old street kid after getting her high and drunk, was pulling the guru shit. So I waited for him in an alley, had a few friends watch for cops, and proceeded to work the kid over for a good half hour, slow and as painful as possible. Going through his wallet (kid had $3000 and a check for another 3k from Mom and Dad - you know, Trustafarian), found out the "liberator's" old man was a senior V.P. for a processed foods company. Go figure. Money went to pay for the girl's healthcare and trip back home - not a mugging, just a Hardcore HMO...and he said take the money...]

Lol, just in case you didn't remember, chica. Learned the "Alleys are for the Breadbasket" technique from gramps there. And, lol, kick any rastas in the balls lately??? ;)

Oh great. Forgot you were a Theta in college. What the fuck is a Theta Baby? And me? Grind on students? In the bars I drink in? Lol, get drunk and fuck, as you point out, is for the young and stupid :)

xboxgirl said...

So you pissed up the place because they locked the doors and ripped out the phone? Heh, a tad drastic...

The ZenFo Pro said...

Xbox:
Lol, pardon the pun, but I was so friggin' pissed. Sure, it's okay to lock the doors and make it keyed access. But there's no good reason why I got an exception and those kids couldn't. Hell, I don't even live in in the community.

Plus, heh, I figured that, well, maybe they'd ban librarians, too. Some yahoo on their board or facilities manager would go "okay, no restrooms period."

pia said...

Powerful ain't quite the right word. It's way more than powerful

When I worked for SSI I was scared I was going to judge badly the first person I interviewed who got AIDS from IV drug use--less worthy than my Gay friends who had mostly died by then

Sure enough, he had hate tatooed on four fingers on one hand, love on the other--typical prison tatoo

But I liked him. I ended up speaking their lingo, I ended up interviewing the women from the homeless shelter across the street who really weren't supposed to sully our truly gross office--talking it both looked it and the staff who were basically middle class Bronx residents who had made it through college and usually grad school, but were zilches in my book

A funny thing--because I felt empathy for the claimants, I could tell who truly was bad, in the bad sense

I was able to separate families without any guilt as some parents don't deserve to be

My supervisor who didn't want to like me, would make me look at people in the waiting room and judge them--told him it didn't work that way. I had to get to know them. watch the interactions,I had to see whether the kids would play with the toys on my desk, color, do anything or just blindly stare--much much more

Thanks Jason both for your incredible writing which gets better all the time and makes me think, and the wonderful comment you left

Coyote Mike said...

You ever want to get truly schooled at literary debate, talk to one of those kids. They've got a grip on the harshness those authors TRY to create that can just make them laugh at the morose angst of an 19th century housemaid. I weep when I think what a classroom of those kids could do in my lit class. I'd never have to open my mouth, and I'd learn more than they would.

But there are some that can't be helped. The ferel ones. The ones who wouldn't have given you a chance to talk to him before using that knife to find out what you had for breakfast. And it is so hard to tell the difference. Unless you watch what they read. Avoid the ones who are reading Chriton and Grisham, but spend a day talking to any of them who carries around a collection of Frost poems or a stolen copy of Walden.

Avoid the ones carrying around Keroac . . . they're posers.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Pia:
You know, it's amazing how cynical we become about how our social services bureaucracy functions, once we spend enough time working with, in, or around them. In many ways, the development of basic services here, onces that were created not to fix problems but to just pretend to care societally, has done more to hurt people on the streets. Sure, we need to provide things like government assistance and, yep, universal healthcare. But we have to look at who's doing the providing, too.

Mike:
Oh, it's a blast. Gotta watch your back, but they're really a load of fun to debate with. Getting them to write, too, about their experiences is just as important.

I figured out a long time ago that the ancient wisdom of "Give a man a fish v. teach a man to fish" is the best way to help. Sometimes, example works too. Heh, I once used a college girlfriend as an example, a virtual Sermon of the friggin' Mount, of how street kids have more of a stake in fighting for their lives than wealthy kids from supposedly perfect backgrounds...

Curiosity Killer said...

Wow, I didn't realize it hits you so close to home. Sigh.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Killer:
Sigh is right. Yeah...

Liberality said...

well, just so you know, I am not one of those people who throw out the teens as being annoying because they are hogging the computers by being on myspace, or whatever it is that they are doing. they come every day I am open because I talk to them, point out good books to read and leave them alone on the computers. some of them have told me tales of abuse and I respect them enough to listen and not judge.
I just don't get you though which must be why I come back to read some more. you are a puzzle but a dear one. peace.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Lib:
Cool beans. I'm always shocked at how many horror stories these kids have. That Melvil Fucking Dewey, stiff-upper-lip shit is as dead as he is - sure, patron rights to equal access need to be ensured, but, heh, most folks that use libraries learn, after a while, that their real purpose is as more of a communal gathering place.