As you might recall, I work in a public library. I've worked there quite a while now, and in that time I have seen my fair share of the weird, scary, disgusting, and just plain disturbing things that patrons can -- and will-- do. It takes a lot to surprise me at this point. (Need a refresher on how things go in Library Land? You can click on the library tag to see the relevant posts, or just click here for an entry that sums it up quite nicely.)
I know people automatically assume, "But what could possibly happen in a library? They are such nice, quiet places." They also assume that everyone who works there is a little old lady in their 80s, hair in a bun, cardigan and pearls on point. That all we do is sit around reading books all day, drinking tea and discussing Downton Abbey, and simply live for harassing the patrons and telling them to "Shh!". Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, at least in the libraries where I work. Don't believe the stereotype!
Back to my point...
I was working today, and I was happy to see one of our regular patrons come in. She's a very nice lady. She likes to chat with the staff and exchange recommendations on movies, books, artists -- all things pop culture. She's been around long enough to have seen some of our more....how can I say this nicely?....interesting and unique patrons at their worst. She has been unfortunate enough to have had personal interaction with some of our more reality-challenged patrons. She is familiar with the library and her fellow patrons.
So when she came up to me at the circulation desk this afternoon I was expecting a nice chat to break up the day.
I was not expecting her to open with, "Did you know there is a man outside eating the pine tree on the front lawn?"
If it had been a patron I didn't know too well, I might have assumed they were exaggerating, or they were pulling a prank, or were among the more "reality-challenged" members of society. This lady would not be mentioning it unless things had really taken a turn towards Weirdsville.
Yeah. I made her repeat it because I was really thought I must have misheard her the first time.
"There's a man outside, and he's eating your pine tree. I watched him pick off the needles and the sap and then eat it."
What. The. Fuck.
So she gives me the whole story:
She was walking toward the entrance of the building, and she sees this man on the lawn looking at the pine tree. At first she thought he must be examining the berries or something, or was trying to figure out what type of tree it was. She was actually going to go over and talk to him, tell him he should go to Vanderbilt Mansion if he is interested in trees because they have them all labeled and the park officers would probably have helpful information. Then she realized that there were no berries on that tree. She kept looking, and she saw that he was actually picking off the needles and sap and eating it. She decided not to talk to him, and came straight inside to tell me.
Fantastic. And here I thought today might be boring.
I told her that it was good that she came inside -- sometimes the best course of action is simply not to engage.
And then I wondered, is that stuff poisonous?
Am I going to find a man down out in the parking lot?
They use pine pitch to glue stuff together, patch holes in boats, make torches and fire starters. I've never heard of someone ingesting it. I could see the tree in question from where I was standing, and the man had already wandered off at that point.
Why the hell would anyone think it was a good idea to snack on a pine tree? Even if you know nothing about trees, you damn well can tell the difference between a "Christmas"-type tree and a maple tree. I'm not expecting everyone to be a botanist, but at some point you have to have seen the Canadian flag and should know what a frigging maple leaf looks like.
You cannot magically suck maple syrup out of a pine tree, people. I really didn't think that would ever be something that needed to be explained.
We continued to discuss just what the heck this guy could have been trying to do for a few minutes, and then it got busy and I had to help other patrons. She did make sure to tell me exactly what time it was that she came in, and asked if we had security cameras on the front of the building. I wasn't sure if we did, but told her I would find out. I think she was really hoping that maybe the guy hadn't really been eating the tree, and that it just looked like it from her viewpoint.
As I was leaving for lunch our security officer was coming in for his shift. He confirmed that we do have cameras on the front of the building, and then I told him we were going to have to review the footage because a patron reported that there was a guy eating the pine tree on the front lawn. I'm pretty sure he thought I was kidding.
(I did do a quick drive through the parking lot before leaving for lunch, just to make sure there wasn't a guy face-down in the parking lot from eating the tree. Thankfully there was not, and the paramedics did not need to be called.)
I get back from lunch, and Security cues up the camera footage.
Right on the time the patron reported, you see a guy in a blue jacket wander out of the library and across the lawn toward the pine tree.
Here comes our patron, headed toward the building. You can see her pause -- that must have been when she was considering going over and talking to the guy.
Next you clearly see him plucking things off the tree, looking around to see if anyone is watching, and stuffing them in his mouth. The lady who reported the weirdness keeps heading toward the building. Guy does it again, and then wanders off across the lawn toward the parking lot.
I'm pretty sure both of us looking at the footage were amazed. I mean, I knew the lady who reported the story wouldn't make something like that up, but seeing it was just bizarre. The guy looked around to see if anyone was watching! He knew it was not normal to be eating the pine tree on the library's lawn.
What do you do with this information? I didn't even bother to do a report. How the hell do you explain that a guy just ate the pine tree on the front lawn?
I did make sure to tell one person, however. One of our Administrators officially retired yesterday. She happened to come in this afternoon to make sure her office was nice and clean for the person who will be moving into it. I told her the whole story. I prefaced it with, "So, I know you've been retired for less than 24 hours, but let me tell you what you've already missed."
I'm pretty sure I made her a lot happier about having retired. She can just laugh about it, and then go home.
Friends, the next time someone tells you the library is boring? Do me a favor and tell them how wrong they are. Thanks.