Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Here are my Shoes, Perhaps You'd Like to Walk a Mile in Them?

These aren't actually my shoes, but you probably guessed that
I had a very strange run-in with a patron at work the other day.  Mid-afternoon on a busy Friday, a middle-aged man approached the reference desk and asked me, "Are you one of those librarians with a master's degree?"

This was an odd way to start a conversation, but something other people have asked me in the past, so I just said, "Yes."

"In what?" he demanded.

It was at this point I started to notice that this guy was really, really intense and was wearing a lot more gear than most people who come to the library.  He had on a t-shirt and  Dickie's style work pants, but had about six assorted pens and markers hanging from the neck of the t-shirt, and what also appeared to be a miniature mag-lite--prepared for anything, I guess "I have a masters degree in Library and Information Sciences and a Masters of English," I told him.

He just glared at me, "So that's how you make the big bucks, huh?"

That statement was so preposterous that I actually laughed and said, "No, not that I've found."

This guys stayed in the library for close to four hours and seemed to have it out for me.  He asked for help submitting a resume online, and then started lecturing me about his career (unemployed electrician), politics (hates the GOP), all the licensing fees he has to pay annually to be an electrician, and how long he's been unemployed (three years).

I feel for the guy, and I thought that he just needed to vent, even though, like I already said, he was super intense, swore a lot, and made me a little uncomfortable.  I also agreed with a lot of what he said politically, but as a neutral public servant, I really can't have conversations like that at work, so I mostly just stood there.

Then it started to get personal.

I managed to get away from him briefly, and then he corralled me at the desk and started telling me things like I've never worked as hard as him in my life, I don't even know what hard work is.  He mentioned George W. Bush's appearance on Larry King Live, and was disgusted that I hadn't watched it.  He kept saying things like, "Let me give you a piece of advice, Andria," and "You don't know how hard I've worked."

Granted, I haven't had a lot of jobs that involved manual labor, I have had some, but that doesn't really mean that I've never worked hard.  Can you really say to someone with two masters degrees that they haven't worked hard?  It's not like the universities just gave those to me--I had to make an effort.  It's really apples and oranges as to who works harder--and you can't really quantify it.  It's just interesting to me that of all the people that work at my library, I'm the only one who works three jobs and has no health benefits.  I would also bet that I have the highest amount of student loan debt, and my annual payments on my student loans are significantly higher than this man's licensing fees to remain a master electrician.  In fact, as a master electrician, he will make more money over his lifetime than I ever will as a librarian, even with this three-year unemployment setback.

I don't know what it was about me that he immediately hated, or if he's just an incredibly angry man and I got caught in the crossfire, but it reminded me once again, that we don't know where other people are coming from, and really shouldn't make snap judgements. Regardless of what someone looks like, what they're wearing, what they're driving, you don't know what their life is like. He hurt my feelings, for no reason, and all I was trying to do was help him.

It's interesting too, even though I was raised in an upper middle class household by educated parents, my mother didn't want me to go to college.  She actually wanted me to be a plumber, because they make a lot of money, and in going to a four-year university I defied her.  I defied her again when I went to grad school--twice, which was really hard because she made a lot of comments about how I should just get a job and stop spending money.  So even if this guy was going on the assumption that I was raised in an upper middle class family and that's why I never learned a trade, he's wrong about that too.  My parents would have been ecstatic if I'd gone to a two-year trade school.

So to sum up: I do work hard, I don't make the big bucks (typically working for a non-profit assures meager wages for life, but a lot of job satisfaction--usually), I haven't had anything handed to me, I don't have to apologize because I have no aptitude for electrical or plumbing work and it's really not my job to get yelled at by an intense ignoramus.


  1. How very frustrating! Sounds like you were nothing but kind and this fella was looking for an opportunity to put someone else down in hopes of making himself feel better. A strange strategy that I have found never really works! I recently came across a quote that I put on my monitor to remind me of how I should treat folks that walk in my office:

    "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

    In time you may forget the details of your conversation with him, but I bet you never forget how he made you feel. So sorry you had to endure that grump and hope you have bunches of super nice folks come in to make up for it!

  2. Sorry you had a bad day at work! I can understand being frustrated about being unemployed but I wonder if one the reason he is unemployed has something to do with his attitude. It's hard to get along with your boss and co-workers acting that way!

    I hate when things like this happen at work. Kind of hard to shake off and keeps you thinking. I once had a lady tell me that I couldn't possibly assist her because I don't have my Master's. I just figue she didn't really want ANY help. =/

  3. @Debt Free Jen-- I like that quote a lot, and yes, thankfully, so many of the patrons I deal with are wonderful people, so this guy certainly stands out.

    @Ahnkadragon--I had the exact same thought RE: his continual unemployment. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for him, but seriously--don't yell at me!

  4. Bluuurrrrg. I was just going over the "how to deal with inappropriate patrons" part of our manual at a staff meeting last week. Because libraries are free spaces, some people see it as their forum to vent all of their feelings. Or lonely people see library staff as a captive audience to air their views. This guy clearly had a chip on his shoulder about something, and you (like so many people in customer service before you!) got caught in the crossfire.

  5. You never have to justify yourself or your life choices to anyone. You sound like you held yourself together well, what an unnerving incident.