Viktor is Russian, retired, former computer programmer/hacker. Looks like a down and out department store Santa Claus, so much so that I asked him once if he’d ever had that job. It was the season. You can tell he needs the money. And he’s usually jolly.

“Yes,” he said, smiling ruefully. “I did. One time. In Russia. In Russia, they call him Father Christmas. I was Father Christmas one time.”

“You could do it now,” I enthused. “You’re perfect. You’re just the type they’re looking for.”

“Never again!” he insisted, shaking his head in disgust. “It was bad. The parents bad as the kids. And the kids smell like piss!”

Viktor always asks for a Research computer and will spend as many hours as he can get to read and hear news on Russian-language sites. Sometimes I see him working on computer code. Who knows–maybe Viktor is the Russian spy who hacked the Democratic Party files.

I was working the afternoon shift on the day after Christmas when Viktor arrived on the library shuttle bus. A curious smile played on his mouth as he approached my desk, removing something from a plastic grocery bag. “For you,” said Viktor, carefully placing an orange on the counter. When I stammered my thanks and could feel my cheeks flushing red, he said: “So rare you smile.”


Joe Blow was managing the desk yesterday when I arrived. The first time I’d seen him  out of his office in weeks. “You know the old guy that comes in on the shuttle every day?” said Joe Blow. “That Russian guy named Viktor?”

“Viktor. Sure, I know who you mean. He’s here every day.”

“Well,” said Joe, “you wouldn’t sign him up for a 5-hour turn, would you?”

“Ha,” I laughed. “That Viktor. He likes to joke.”

“He’s a joker,” Joe Blow agreed. “But you wouldn’t do that, would you?”

“Of course not. He gets one hour at a time. Just like everybody else.”

“That’s what I thought. He must have been kidding me about that.”

Joe left and Viktor arrived at his usual time, asking for his usual 5-hour turn on a Research Computer.

“Sorry, no more five hour turns.”

“Because why?”

“Because Joe Blow says so.”

“”Who is Joe Blow?”

“Joe Blow is the boss.”

“That guy that was just here? He is Boss?” Viktor snorted in derision. “Again! Why is that? Stupidest guy is always Boss!”

Sunday morning, 1997.

Worked seven days in a row–me and all who remain, filling-in work shifts for those who have quit during the course of this upward learning spiral.

There was an EMO from Theron a few days ago warning about the system being down on Saturday. He would be installing system upgrades and couldn’t really say how long it would take.

Joan and Jamie were in giddy hysteria when I saw them in the break room. The two of them had been running the Circulation department all morning, using pens and paper to manually check-in and check-out books. Then they got onto the proposed changes for the Staff Association and were falling over in their chairs laughing, at separate tables. I finally had to get out of there, preferring to re-shelve a cart of books in Storage rather than try to match their madcap humor.

Jamie, 22, all polyester, eating candy. Joanie, twice Jamie’s age, all natural tones, eating a baked potato, left over from Thursday’s Baked Potato Lunch Party.

Theron wandered into Storage, completely disheveled and smiling. His hair was standing up like waves. “I’ve been on the phone all day with CLSI,” he said. “They say ‘try this.’ I do it, and it doesn’t work, and they say, ‘Okay, here’s another one.'”

Theron looks like he’s been having great sex all day with a beautiful stranger. That same deshabille and crazy look. He wanders out again, ready to have another go.

Back upstairs, Linda T. and I plan our divorce; henceforth, I will be managing Periodicals without her. She will manage public PCs. Linda created a computer sign-up system that can be controlled from either of our desks. I talked to Kevin about furniture. Elevatored down to IT to get floor plans for the new layout. Theron was there–on the phone again–speaking calmly, rationally, and making faces at me.

Borrowed a measuring tape from Maintenance. Walked around upstairs measuring things, pacing off steps, imagining cubicles. Whited-out some lines on the floor plan and penciled-in new ones.

Linda T. was making up a list of names for her 10 pcs. I suggested mythical heroes. She went with philosophers: Plato; Socrates; Hypatia; Boethius, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes, Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, and Bertrand Russell.

Who the heck is Hypatia?” I said.

“Hypatia?” says Linda. “A woman philosopher who lived in Alexandria and was murdered by Christians.”

Faith is working on the schedule in the back office and humming: “…if I only had a brain.” A few minutes later, Amanda is whistling snatches of the same song.


Nanci comes out of the Staff Bathroom in bare feet and with wet hair. “Now my hair dryer’s not working,” she whines.

“The Barefoot Contessa,” says Mike Sulley, sitting at the kitchen table with his brother David, visiting from Silver Spring, Maryland. “He’s a deacon in a Catholic Church,” Mike wants us all to know. And you know how he feels about that.

Now Nanci is frying bacon and eggs for herself and the boys. I decline. Karen calls in and says she wants some.


“I can’t really pick up stuff,” says Mike about the physical therapy for his mangled hand. “It’s more of a platform and a gripper. There’s no real strength there.”

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Melissa R. is on PC#14, her thick and lustrous red hair done up in a brioche, wearing a thrift store Vargas Girl outfit of her own devise. PC #15 is occupied by a muscle-bound brute in a tank top signed in as JAZMANN. Tattooed onto the back of his shaved and shining head: Melissa’s King.

Melissa and Jazmann have brought 4 little girls with them, playing hide & go seek in the stacks. Now Melissa is sitting in Jazmann’s lap, his arms around her as he finishes his work on-line and gives her a squeeze. The children gather round, pleading to go outside.


The HOLD button is blinking–Penelope, working at the Mother Ship– waiting for Jane. Mindy, the new Community Service college girl, is also waiting for instructions from Jane. But Gordy has all Jane’s attention, dealing with Circulation SNAFUs. He stands there with his clipboard in his funeral director’s outfit, gravely nodding, nodding, nodding again. Dispatching with Gordy, Jane swiftly deals with Penelope and Mindy, then turns her full attention to me.

“Bob, I want you to tell me something,” says Jane, looking me in the eye.

Oh crap, I’m busted, is what I’m thinking. But for what?

“I need to know if you understand that e-mail I sent out to everybody. The one about transferring items when Main is closed? Where will library Holds be sent?”

“Pleasant Valley Branch?” I said, hazarding a guess.

“Yes!” Jane exclaims, high-fiving me, if you can imagine that little bowling-ball of a woman doing anything so athletic.

Then it’s time to check the Men’s Room, where I discover Vic and Nick talking about last night’s Trump vs Clinton Presidential debate. Based on Hilary’s debate performance, she seems certain of victory.

Vic:    It’s gonna be like Nixon when he said, ‘You’re not going to have me to kick around anymore.’ Can you imagine how he felt? How humiliated, to say something like that.

Bob:    That was the first televised presidential debate. And now it’s a circus.

Nick:    I wasn’t even born then.

Vic:    You’re not gonna have me to kick around anymore, Nixon said, and then he comes back a few years later and wins in a landslide. But with Trump, whether he wins or loses, we’re going to have him the rest of our lives!


R.R. from the Mother Ship is visiting lately, but is rarely seen. Somewhere out in the stacks, speed-weeding the law books and reference collection, filling up boxes with discards.

“Maybe two days worth of boxes in the back room,” R.R. says, in passing, on his way out the door. “And, uh, I found a guy sleeping back there. Stretched out on the floor behind some empty boxes. Sound asleep.”

R.R. smiled. In these stressful times of deconstruction, a rare event. Buttoned up R.R, he of the robotic posture and Aspy social skills, smiling.

rd1997

1st day of summer, 1997. Crossing the Ogden River every day when I bike to work, and again biking home. In the summer of his 45th year, still riding a bike. But this is new–crossing that river every day, back & forth & back again on the next day, and every week, every month, every year. Until the millennium, and beyond.

Twenty years from now, in 2017, I’ll be 65. That’s the plan. Keep biking back and forth across that river every day until 2017. And then?

(Fragment from a notebook discovered while cleaning out files in the basement.)

swb

“Ref. Desk. How can I help you?”

“Can you look up something for me on Wikipedia? The end of the world? When will that be?”

“You mean like The Final Days? I thought it was supposed to be 2012.”

“2012. Right. But that didn’t happen, so I’m sitting here wondering when the next best guess is. Could it be 2017?”

He sounded almost hopeful, like: Bring it on! Let’s get it over with.

“Jeez! I know things are bad,” I said, “but I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”

“Somebody told me 2030. Have you heard that anywhere? What’s it say on Wikipedia?”

“Well, I’m finding lots of Biblical References under End of Days, End Time. It says:

“A future time period of the eschatologies of several world religions. But it’s not giving a specific date.”

“Huh. Well, this trucker guy I know said it’s 2030. I’m an old trucker, and you know, a trucker never lies. ‘Cept to other truckers. Then we lie all the time. Haw! But I don’t drive anymore. I retired, but I still got my trucks. A 1974 Kenworth and a 1967 Peterbilt.”

“Wow. How many miles on that Kenworth?”

“Two-point-five-million miles.”

“That’s amazing.”

“That’s nothin’. I got three million miles on the Peterbilt.”

“Wow, they don’t make ’em like that anymore.”

“That’s for damn sure. I blame Reagan, that sonovabitch!”

“Well, I’m not finding anything about Final Days for 2030, but here’s one that says 2525.”

“2525? Really? What’s it say?”

“In the year 2525, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, they may find…in the year 3535, ain’t gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie.”

“Ain’t that the truth. You can’t believe anything you hear these days, especially what’s on the internet.”

“Look, um, we have to get back to this Reference thing we’re working on? Anything else I can look up for you?”

“Oh, sorry! That’s fine, you’ve been very helpful. Have a great day.”

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Rusty was wearing his Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt because it was Halloween. Madison was wearing a full length baggy black gown and striped necktie.

“What are you? A judge?” I said.

“That’s what I thought,” said Julio.

“I’m Harry Potter,” said Madison.”See?” Pulling a sparkly magic wand out of her sleeve and waving it at me. “Abra-cadabra! You’re a…what are you? A farmer? A lumber jack?” Giving me that puzzled look.

“I forgot about Halloween. That’s what happens when your kids grow up and move away.” I had been in the garden all weekend, absorbed in simple, mindful labor. Forgot about the real world, arriving just in time, wearing flannel shirt, jeans and boots.

Julio wasn’t wearing a costume unless you could call his daily attire of beige slacks and neatly pressed shirt a costume. Though he’s lived in Utah most of his life, Julio maintains his Mexican citizenship and dreams of retiring there. Fully adapted to life in el Norte, but steeped in traditions of proper behavior and dignity precluding foolish gringo customs. So much of American society seems a joke to Julio, he just shakes his head and laughs about his good fortune in being paid to participate…and translate for our latino patrons.

“Yo! Bob!” came a familiar husky voice. “I’ve got a cat convoy,” said Mama G., leading three cats on leashes toward the sign-in station for public ps. Cats wearing adorable hoodies. Mama G., a homeless dirty blonde, forty-something lady missing most of her back teeth so she speaks with flapping lips and a lisp, sporting a Green Bay Packers shirt and cap. “Gotta talk to you about something,” she said. “I’m still working on that lanyard I promised but howma gonna get it to you when this place closes? C’mon kitties,” she said. “Cut that out, Sphinxie! Quitit damnit!”

Following her procession to the lounge chairs, where  Mama G., comfortably seated and surrounded by cats, started pulling all kinds of crap out of her capacious shopping bags. “I got some new colors for you, see?” she said, holding up a fist full of plastic strings. “Blue, black, neon-green, and white. Seattle Seahawks, right?”

“Yeah, that’s my team. My sister lives in Seattle and my brother lives in Tacoma.”

“Go Seahawks. But yaknow if I could have one great wish in my life it would be to see the Packers play and be sittin’ on the fifty yard line.” She sighed. “There’s a six-hundred game waitin’ list, can ya believe it.”

She twirled the inch of finished lanyard, separating the jellyfish-like strings dangling down to the floor. “Sorry it’s not done yet,” said Mama G., setting to work, tugging on a string with her few remaining teeth to tighten the weave, squinting at it critically, appearing in profile to be a female version of Pop-Eye the Sailor Man. “I’ve been pretty busy lately, meeting with my case worker. Camping down by the river, you know, and it takes so long to get back to town across that damn bridge. Spend all day going back and forth, that’s why, but my case worker says the housing authority will get me a place. Maybe soon as next week. If I qualify. I haven’t had a drink in eighteen months! I’m not livin like that no more.”

“What about that motel you were staying at?”

“They kicked me out for fighting! Bastards. And the other place won’t let me come back, either. But my case worker’s great! He’s a retired police officer. That’s gotta help, doncha think? He’s got clout. So, howma gonna get this thing to you when it’s done?”

“I’ll be working at HQ. There’s going to be shuttle vans you can ride for free. But they won’t let you take your cats.”

“Ats no problem. I’ll take the city bus. Which one goes over there? Can you get me a schedule?”