I think the first clue that the man was going to be a problem was when he said to me, “I want to know who took my generator—was it you?” This was actually the first thing he said to me. It wasn’t just what he said or even the hostile way that he said it that made me know that this was going to be one of the conversations they didn’t teach you how to handle in library school—it was everything about him. The way he moved, or rather fidgeted, told me right away that he had had the sort of breakfast that destroys brain cells.
I had never seen the man, but I knew right away who he was. The previous night we’d discovered that some people had been stashing their belongings behind the air-conditioning unit in back of the library. A polite note was left saying that if they didn’t remove the items, the library would have to remove them for them. It was nothing personal—for liability reasons, people just can’t do this.
I checked the back of the library to make sure everything was gone—it was—so I figured the problem had been solved.
“It isn’t right—that generator cost me 300 bucks, and someone is going to pay.”
I apologized to the man and explained, “The library can’t be responsible for belongings left behind.”
The man became more agitated. “Then you know—you know where it was hidden. It was you. You took my generator.”
I shook my head no and explained, “I saw it last night, and know a note was left for its owner to remove it from the property.”
The man’s eyes got bigger. He crossed his arms and nodded a bit psychotically, “I know your kind—don’t think I don’t. You think just because you have a job you can take from me.” He paused and continued in a threatening way, “You’re either going to give me back my generator or pay me. Otherwise, I’ll call the police.”
Even if the man had not appeared to be on drugs, I think I still would have been a little nervous—he wasn’t bigger than me, but his appearance suggested the sort of man who liked to keep a knife in his pocket. Still, I did my best to hide any fear, and calmly explained, “Sir, I assure you that I did not take your generator. Maybe you should call the police and report it as stolen.” I knew that he wouldn’t call them, but I could always hope.
“Oh, don’t think that I won’t.” He paused, then asked, insanely curious, “Where is your car parked?”
Plenty of patrons had asked me strange things, but this was the first who asked me where my car was parked. It was almost comical to look at the man, because he actually thought I was going to tell him. I struggled to come up with a reply, but the best I could muster was, “That’s personal.” What I meant to say was, “Sir, the fact that I work in a public library doesn’t make me stupid, it just makes me poor. There’s no way I’m going to tell you—a psychotic person who could very well have a knife in his pocket—where I have parked my car.”
The man stood straighter, and actually, in his straightness, began to look even crazier. “It’s in the parking lot, isn’t it?”
So now the man thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes, I thought, amused. A car parked in a parking lot—who would have ever guessed!
I didn’t answer his question, which apparently was the answer the man was looking for. “I knew it—I’ll find it. Don’t think that I won’t. And I bet that generator’s in the trunk.”
He left the library, but didn’t leave the premises. I sent a co-worker out a few minutes later, who told me he was riding a bike in circles around the parking lot.
I don’t think he found his generator, but, lucky for me, he got tired of looking for my car after two hours and left in time for me to go home.