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international librarian of mystery

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Loose the Looser

I was on duty at the reference desk when the phone rang. It startled me. I had forgotten the desk even had a phone.

"Reference Desk."
"Hello, is that the reference desk?"
"Yes it is," I confirmed.
"Does the library keep old weather maps?"
"Yes. The library keeps many national and international newspapers in which there are weather maps."
"Could you email them to me? I have hotmail."

Ahaha. 'I have hotmail'. Trouble written all over this one. Time to lose the loser (or, as the online kids like to say: loose the looser).

"Sorry, no, you'd have to come in and photocopy them, or I could put you onto the information for business team that will quote you a price for completing that request for you."
"How much would that be?"
"I really don't know. Would you like me to put you through?"
"Hmm, no. How much are the photocopiers?"
"20 cents a sheet or you can buy discount cards."
"Hmmm. How big are the weather maps?"

I dug out today's Dominion (a very useful reference tool, I've discovered). I flicked through to the weather pages. How big were they? Ummmm.

"They're about, uh ... three weetbix high?"
"Three weetbix? You mean lying flat on top of each other?"
"Oh, no, I mean as if you lay three weetbix down on a bit of paper, how much space that would take up."
"How many maps are there?"

At times like this, when I'm telling some confused person about the layout of their own daily paper, I really wonder about my choice of professsion.

"So each one is about weetbix size?"
"Well, actually, even a bit smaller than that. Maybe cigarette box sized?"
"Hmmm, that doesn't sound very big. What do they show?"

I looked. I must admit, the weather page isn't something I look at in at great detail, even when it's stormy and cold like it has been here over the last week. I tried my best with the meteorological lingo...

"Um, the top map has a satellite photo with the contour line things over the top."
"A mean sea level barometric pressure map."
"I suppose so. And the other two don't have the satellite photo. It's just a green New Zealand on a blue sea. And the top one's entitled 'noon yesterday', the middle one is 'noon today', and the last one is 'midnight tonight'."
"Does the last one have that big low still off the east coast."

I figured the L with the tightly spaced contours off the east coast of the South Island was what he was talking about."

"Ohoho!" he proclaimed, "I knew it! We'll be in for a wet one this weekend! I have a theory on this..."

And so it started. The theories. He lulled me into it with the innocuous sounding Weather-Shotgun-Scatter-Theory. He prattled merrily about this for about five incomprehensible minutes before he segued into the Hertz-Interference-Sunspot-Theory (earthquake prediction method - he's plotted them all, he assures me, on a big bit of paper), before launching into a more technical discussion on his 'Council of the Gods' Planet-Alignment-Earthquake-Theory.

It eventually occured to me that he was so off the rocker I should be making notes, and even now I'm kicking myself for missing the first ten minutes, because it was all pure blog gold. His ranting touched on the cause of algae bloom, the reason behind NZ's high suicide rates, a long-term lake level prediction method, and (a real highlight for me) the implications of the impending north-pole-south-pole magnetism switch ("my high-school teacher, an ex-sailor, taught me all about it!").

I eventually stopped giving any sort of coversational affirmation: no "yes", no "I know", no "mmm". No verbal feedback at all. I just let him talk, and talk, and talk. I suspect I could have put the phone down, gone to help a reference-impaired patron drifting around the periodicals section and come back to him, but, as it was, I was busily googling away some of his more outrageous phrases , and he didn't seem to pick up or take offence at the keyboard and mouse chatter I was churning through. He also told me he had a special toll-calling plan set up so he could make personal calls to all the 'experts' he saw and heard on Holmes and Radio New Zealand. Lucky them, I thought. Eventually - I think he was debating renewable energy sources with himself - he seemed to run out of steam and abruptly signed off...

"Ah well then, I won't talk your ear off, have a nice day, goodbye."
My first words, seriously, in nearly half an hour: "Yes, cheers, goodbye."

I talked to my boss - Mrs Liddesdale - about it later, showing her my page of notes.

"Oh no, that was [the Expert]. How long did he blab on for?"
"The Expert? Um, twenty minutes maybe. Maybe a bit more? He did go on."

Mrs Liddesdale literally clicked her heel into the floor. "I must do something about him," she declared.

Turns out he's a notorious recidivist hassler of Wellington public servants. He slowly-but-surely does the rounds of all the local council departments (works, libraries, refuse, parking, parks) ensnaring unsuspecting employees into long-winded one-way conversations about his 'theories'.

Library staff have now been informed that there is a specific policy of 'get-a-name-and-if-it's-The-Expert-pass-him-on-to-Ms-Liddesdale.' Oooh, there's one conversation I'd love to eavesdrop on...