A common refrain lately is “How can some hate someone they don’t even know?” When I started at my new library, I sked myself that regularly.
I try my best to be empathetic. I try. I’m not perfect. I am ridiculously human and it’s not always pretty.
Right off the bat, I met a customer who hates me. He’s the stereotypical Angry Older White Guy. He “insults” me by calling me “the dreaded helpful one” in a really nasty tone. I have no idea why; I’m just glad that it’s directed at me rather than anyone else on staff because I can usually take it.
We’ve had momentary détente, like the time he came in and held my hand and told me how much we’ve helped him over the years. I almost ran over to his always kind of sad, tired, and harried looking wife to suggest that she check for a giant pod under their bed. Almost.
Then there was the time he pulled up a chair next to the desk and told me that me there was still a piece of shrapnel in his back that caused him severe pain every day and makes him a little mean. When I think of how long ago it must have gotten there, I cannot fathom how much pain that adds up to over the years. Who knows? Maybe something about the way I look reminds him of the person he blames for that piece of metal lodged in his back. Whatever. Better me than someone else because I can take it. Usually.
Détente is always incredibly short-lived and soon he remembers that he hates me. Once I ran after him in the parking lot, during the worst part of an incredibly hot sticky day, to give him the personal mail he’d accidentally left at one of our computers. He said, “I’ve had enough help from YOU, thankyouverymuch” and turned his head and refused to touch it. His embarrassed wife took it from me and even risked a thank you.
One day, a very loud computerized voice announced their arrival as it read off every menu and choice on his phone. All the way in the door and to the computer he chose to use while pretending it wasn’t happening. Very loud. His wife grabbed the phone from him, came over to the desk, held it out to us, and desperately asked, “Can you PLEASE make it stop? My husband did something to it and can’t turn it off and it’s driving me crazy!”
Everyone looked at her with a blank look on their faces (seriously, we don’t know everything – we just act like we do). In perfect synchronicity, they all turned to look at me. I’m generally the one who can fix phone issues, but they also know how the gentleman feels about me.
I did the only thing I could. I said, “I can fix that.”
Then I thought about how he felt about me and told her, “Maybe I can just walk you through it, and you can say YOU did it.” She shook her head emphatically and said, “No way! I’m not good with these things!” and she handed it over to me with a look of gratitude mixed with apology.
“Fine. Just promise you won’t let him know that I touched it.” She agreed.
I went through the very loud menu and turned off the accessibility setting that he’d accidentally turned on, and the phone went silent. She immediately started thanking me and I said, “No problem” and handed it back with an understanding smile; his attitude is not her fault. It’s probably more like her penance.
Then, I smiled again. A slightly less understanding smile.
“I changed my mind,” I told her. “Can you do me a favor?”
“Go ahead and let him know who fixed it. Let him know I’m so happy I could I could be helpful.”
She grinned – the first time I’ve ever seen her grin like that.
“Oh, I will. My pleasure.”
Like I said, I can take it.
The bonus? When I told my friends about this, it was universally decided that the Dreaded Helpful One is clearly meant to be my pirate name. I now have the medallion to prove it.