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