Evolution of Genius, Part Two


I jumped, dropping my notebook.

“You crossed at Ashland, didn’t you? That light takes forever to change.”

“What…?” I stammered. “How did you…?”

“You’re a creature of habit. No matter what goes on, you always come here.”

“Well…yes, “I admitted. “But…how did you know about this place?”

“It’s not exactly Area 51, is it?”

“Were you following me?”

The boy genius grinned.

“I suppose you could say that, but there’s nothing nefarious in my intentions, I assure you.” He gestured to the bench. “May I sit down?”

“Why?” I asked, reaching down for my notebook. “Did you think of more ways to insult me?”

The boy threw up his hands.

“Truce. No more insults.”

I wasn’t fully convinced of his sincerity but I made a curt nod toward the empty spot on the bench.

“Look,” he continued, taking a seat next to me. “I know I have the reputation of being a bit…unpleasant, particularly to reporters.”

“‘A bit unpleasant?’” I retorted. “You’re too modest. You thoroughly underestimate your ability to be an obnoxious jerk.”

The boy was silent for a moment, mulling over my words.

“I suppose I deserved that,” he finally said, “but there is a reason for the way I behave.”

“You’re socially maladjusted?” I suggested.

Boy genius let out an exasperated sigh.

“Are you finished?”

“No, but don’t let me stop you. Please continue.”

“You’re too kind. Anyway, you may not have realized it, but I was rather impressed with you earlier.”

“Were you now?” I replied dryly.

“You stood up for yourself back at the coffee shop. Usually, when I give reporters a hard time, they just take it because they’re desperate to get their story.”

“Maybe they’re more ambitious than I am.”

“Ambition is all well and good,” the boy replied as he idly swung his short legs back and forth, “but not at the expense of your dignity.”

We sat in silence for a few moments, watching people pass by our bench and gazing upon the occasional squirrel that leaped across the grass.

“So,” I asked, finally breaking our collective meditation, “did you track me down just to compliment me, or was there something else?”

The young genius flashed a mysterious grin and shrugged.

“Are you going to give me an actual interview?”

The boy paused in thought before speaking again.

“Yes…and no. Well…it’s a little complicated.”

“I don’t see how it is,” I retorted, growing annoyed that the boy was starting to play games with me again. “Either give me an interview or not. If not, then…”

“Look,” he cut in, “I can give you your interview. I can tell you things that I haven’t told anyone else. I can give you a story that would set your notebook on fire. Now, whether you’ll actually want to write what I’m about to tell you, well…I’ll let you be the judge. What do you say?”

“I say you’re being very cryptic.”

“I suppose I am.”

“Why would I not want to write up this interview? Will it get me into any trouble?”

“No. At least, not in the way that you mean by trouble.”

“What do you mean by trouble?”

The boy heaved a sigh.

“Let me just tell you my story. Then you can determine for yourself.”

Duties of a Children’s Librarian from A-Z

Librarianship is not all about reading books and shushing people. At least not anymore. As I have discovered over the course of several decades of library work, the patrons we serve expect a lot from us, some expectations more reasonable than others.

For those of you of the non-library persuasion, I present to you for your amusement (and bemusement) some of the official and unofficial duties that I and my co-workers have performed in the name of good customer service.

Naturally, I’m listing these duties in alphabetical order because 1) I work in the youth services department where the alphabet is sort of important, and 2) if I put the list in Dewey Decimal order, your heads might explode.


Advocates: We are the defenders of the library world. With the rise of technology, many non-library users assume that the brick-and-mortar libraries of the past are now obsolete. Some feel that libraries are a waste of tax money. I can only speak for my own place of employment, of course, but I can guarantee that we’re anything but obsolete. The uses of the library have changed over the years, but our usefulness has not.

Baby-sitters: A number of patrons with young children tend to view the library as a free day care center, ignoring the fact that we are a public building where anyone, and I mean anyone, can come in. The children are dropped off in the children’s department while the parents find other things to do (although technically this is against the rules, but hey, rules are for other people, right?). Meanwhile, the librarians on the floor divide their time between doing their actual work and herding kids. Surprisingly, tax-payers seem disinclined to pay librarians extra for this service.

Collection concierge: In library lingo, this duty is known as “readers advisory.” When a patron comes in looking for a good book, librarians who are well-read in a number of genres have a near-magical ability to find that right book, rendering the patron well-pleased. This ability has led people to think that librarians know everything. Well…keep believing that ; )

Disciplinarians: Sometimes, we just gotta lay down the law, often resulting in a patron being asked to leave the library. Sometimes rule-breakers invoke the First Amendment to justify their behavior, but I’m sorry, where in the Constitution does it grant someone the right to be obnoxious to other patrons and staff members?

Entertainers: We bring in many performers to amuse our patrons, but on non-performance days, the librarians become the entertainers through hosting story times, setting up video game consoles in our meeting room, distributing stickers, bookmarks and coloring sheets with reckless abandon, swearing at malfunctioning computers, juggling flaming chainsaws, you know, the usual.

First aid responders: Thanks to some library in-service training, most, if not all of the staff are qualified to perform CPR or to use the defibrillator on patrons (or on each other). For the most part, though, the most we do on a given day is to hand out band-aids and ice packs.

Game piece distributors: We have board games in our children’s department. As a way to keep the game pieces from getting lost (or eaten), we keep said pieces behind our desk and distribute them in an orderly manner. Other than directions to the bathrooms, this is our most frequent request (I’m kidding…mostly).

Homework helpers: We do what we can to help children with their homework assignments, although we do draw the line at actually doing the assignments ourselves. Personally, I draw the line at anything pertaining to math work (unless the student doesn’t care that I’ve given them the wrong answer). One time, I had a boy ask me to type up his book report for him because he figured that I was the faster typer than he was.

IT: We do have an IT guy at the library, but as he needs to go home and sleep at some point, we library employees are still expected to know how to fix some of the more common problems that plague our computers (like when a three-year-old hacks a top secret government website and launches missiles at Canada. If I had a nickel for every time THAT happened…). Fortunately, most of the repairs merely involve turning the computer off…then on again.

Janitors: We also have a maintenance department. Still, we’ve all had the pleasure at one time or another of having to clean up various items like dust, mud, spilled liquids, food wrappers, poop, pee stains, blood, dead bodies, etc. All in a day’s work, I guess.

Kowtowers: We serve at the pleasure of the patrons and do so willingly and cheerfully. Even if we are not thanked for our help. Even if we are treated disrespectfully. Even if we are used as personal servants. We bend over backwards for our patrons. But once our shift is over, all bets are off…

Lego guardians: twice a month, we host a Lego Builders Club in which kids work very hard on some pretty amazing creations. Their work is then put on display on the main floor of the library. Unfortunately, the projects are easily accessible to anyone, adult or child, who neglects to read the display signs saying that they’re not to play with them.

Mind-readers: “I’m looking for a book that I read years ago. The cover was green and it was about a guy…or maybe girl who did something. There was a dog in the story too…or a cat, I can’t remember. Do you have it?” I exaggerate this request…a little. I suppose this goes back to the fact that librarians seem to know everything. We do, of course, but we’re not mind-readers for goodness sake!

Notary publics: Yes, we have librarians who are notary publics. No, none of them are working today.

Office supply dispensers: If a patron doesn’t have it, we at the youth services desk probably do. Paper, pencils and pens, glue, scissors, tape, staplers, rulers, paper clips, markers, crayons, colored pencils, Post-it notes, highlighters. Kids, we have everything except the answers to next week’s quiz (for those you need to go to adult reference).

Psychologists: I find it amazing how sometimes complete strangers are willing to divulge personal issues to their librarian. I suppose it’s because we’re trained to be good listeners. I am reminded of a time when a mother came in looking for a book that dealt with the death of a pet that she could read to her young children. I found a picture book that was titled “A Dog Like Jack.” The mother burst into tears when I gave her the book. She told me that, in fact, it was their dog that had died…and his name was Jack. This job can break your heart at times…

Quixotic questers for quiet: Yes, I still do shush people (and no, I’m not wearing my hair in a bun), but the concept of a quiet library (at least for my place of employment) has gone the way of the dodo…and card catalogs. In general, we tend to be pretty busy (and we are a one-floor library where sound bounces all over the place), but it also seems like patrons are less comfortable with silence. Perhaps it’s just me but…wait, hold that thought. I have to get up and shush someone now…

Resume editors: Once and awhile, we have a person who comes in to work on their resume and asks us to proofread it. I’m okay with correcting grammatical errors, but if they want expert advice on building the perfect resume…er, not my department, What’s more, if they ever got a look at my resume, they’d run screaming (quietly) from the library.

Security: During the school year, we have security guards who come in to patrol the library on weekday afternoons (If you’re surprised that a library requires a security guard, then you haven’t been cooped up in a one-floor building with 40-50 hyperactive and hormonal middle schoolers for several hours). Unfortunately, not all of the guards we get are proactive in enforcing discipline as we would like. When this happens, the librarians drop whatever they’re doing and take up guard duty. We call this event “Teen Patrol” (and we’re trying to come up with a theme song to sing while we stalk the aisles).

Telephone operators: When a child needs to call home for a ride, an adult wants to do an over-the-phone job interview, or a patron with a dead cell phone desires to shoot the breeze with a buddy (or prank call 911 for kicks), we provide our desk phones. We also provide comprehensive instructions for those who no longer know how to use a push-button phone (a surprising number of people as it turns out). We also have a payphone at the library (insert cynical laughter here).

U.N. ambassadors: Speaking for my library, we serve a very diverse community. There are some days where I sit at the reference desk and not hear a word of English spoken for long stretches of time. I find it to be a wonderful cultural learning experience; Spanish, Hindi, Polish, Vietnamese, Klingon, you name it, it’s spoken here. However, this does make for difficult (and sometime embarrassing) reference interviews at times. There are probably a fair-sized number of recent immigrants who think I’m a complete idiot because I have to keep asking them to repeat themselves multiple times.

Video game gurus: Several afternoons a week, our library sets up a couple of video game consoles in our meeting room for our rambunctious middle school crowd. Two lucky staff members are then assigned to stay in the room to resolve disputes and to generally keep the kids from hitting each other with the Wii remotes and insulting each other’s mother. Surprisingly, knowledge of video games are not actually required for the staff members (otherwise, they’d never let me step foot into the room).

Wordsmiths: At the youth services desk, we have two boxes of sight words, each color-coded by grade levels. A child picks out a word and tells us what it says. A correct answer earns the child a sticker. For pre-readers, we have cards with letters and colors. This has been a hit with parents and children. Wanting to capitalize on the success of this enterprise, I made up my own box of sight words for those who wanted an extra challenge. Unfortunately, the words I picked were a little too challenging (or so people have told me). But hey, if I can get at least one child to learn to use words like “obstreperous,” “winsome,” or “bifurcation,” I would be a happy person.

Xylophagous: Eating, boring into, or destroying wood, as certain mollusks or the larvae of certain insects. I bet you didn’t know that. Did I mention that librarians know everything?

YouTube police: It’s amazing what those crazy kids will find on YouTube these day, despite content blocking. Staff members frequently remind our internet users that what they’re watching can be seen by everybody, including that little toddler who is staring mesmerized at your screen.

Zombie monitors: By “zombie,” I am referring to the glassy-eyed patrons who stagger into the library and spend every spare moment they can on the internet. They don’t need too much looking after, but one has to be proficient in interpreting the grunts and moans that occasionally come from the internet stations.

Evolution of Genius, Part One

I sat and stared at the rather smug face of the nine-year-old boy sitting across the table from me. My boss had assured me that this was a plum assignment; to interview the young genius who seemed to know just about everything, or so the boy claimed. As we chatted over caffeinated beverages at a downtown coffee shop, it was clear to me that he did possess an uncanny amount of knowledge on a wide variety of topics, and he wasn’t hesitant to express his opinion on any subject. It was also clear to me that if I did not wrap up this interview soon, I would strangle the little snot. Perhaps I was a bit resentful and intimidated by the boy’s intelligence, but it was his supercilious nature that really pushed me to the limit. He was well aware of his superior intellect and he wanted to make sure everyone else knew it too.

“So,” I said, restlessly tapping my pen upon my open notebook. “What are your plans for the future? What do you want to be when you, uh, grow up?” I mentally kicked myself. Could I have sounded any more condescending? Not that I was concerned about insulting him. Throughout the entire interview, I had been treated to a verbal barrage of insults and remarks about everything, from the way I dressed, to my choice of coffee, and to my sub-par journalism skills (at least in his mind). My last query was a soft toss for him to hit, and he knew it.

The boy had rapidly risen through the educational system as might be expected. By the age of seven, he had earned a PhD in Philosophy. At nine, he was near to getting his second doctorate, this time in Chemistry. He was currently employed full-time as a Philosophy professor at the state university and was the author of a rather dense tome about metaphysics (I tried to read it and fell asleep halfway through the table of contents). He also proved to be a bit of a financial wizard. Through a number of shrewd investments in the stock market, and an uncanny knack (some would say a little too uncanny) for making big money, he had amassed a small fortune for himself. Already financially set, world-renowned, and having the opportunity to enrich minds much older than his own, he still had his whole life ahead of him. Of course, if he continued to give me smart aleck answers…

He sipped thoughtfully on his coffee before deigning to speak.

“What do I want to do when I grow up? Well, I don’t know, old timer,” the boy genius said with a slight smirk, “what would you recommend?”

“All right, all right, it was a poorly worded question,” I replied with gritted teeth.  “And for your information…sonny, I’m 41.”

“That’s ‘Doctor Sonny’ to you, and—good heavens—41. Are you really that old?”

“Just answer the question…”

“Let me ask you a question, Mr. 41. What do you want to do when you grow up? I mean, after you’re done bothering people with your stupid interviews? When you eventually get a real job.”

I slammed down my pen and shut my notebook. Getting an interview with this brat simply wasn’t worth this kind of abuse. I had heard horror stories from other journalists about talking to him. They clearly weren’t exaggerating.

“And who uses a pen and paper anymore?” The boy continued, gesturing to my preferred tools of the trade. “I think somebody needs to enter the 21st century.”

I stood up, shoving my notebook into my satchel.

“All right. We’re done here.”

I started to go, but my indignation held me in place, at least long enough for a parting shot. “You know,” I said, “it’s a shame that with all your knowledge, you still haven’t learned to be a decent human being.”

The boy gave a mock gasp and clutched at his heart.

“Oh! You would say that to a poor, impressionable boy of nine? My self-esteem is in tatters now.”

“Your self-esteem is fine. I’m sure your massive ego keeps it nice and safe.”

“What a charmer you are,” he said with a sneer. “Is this how you conduct all of your interviews?”

I stalked out of the coffee shop.

As I marched down the sidewalk, I reflected gloomily on just how much trouble I was in. Not only did I blow the assignment, but I had lost my temper, insulted my interviewee and generally stooped to the petulant behavior of, well, a nine-year-old. My boss would not be happy.

At the end of the block, I joined a group of people at the street corner, no one talking or giving eye-contact; everyone just waiting for the light to change. Staring at the blinking “Don’t Walk” sign, I continued to fume. I couldn’t decide whether I was more upset with boy wonder in the coffee shop or at myself for being so easily baited. I’ve had tough interview assignments before, but this was the first time I had really lost my composure. It seemed as though the kid knew just the right buttons to push.

I pushed the button for the “Walk” sign, impatient to get moving. When the light finally did change, I moved briskly with the herd of humanity across the street. As the group dispersed to their various destinations, I passed through the entrance to the city park directly ahead of me. At this time of the morning, the park was sparsely populated. Off to the left of the crushed gravel path, two suited businessmen were chatting amiably on a bench. At another bench by the large fountain, a woman sat absorbed in a book while a child ran around, splashing his hand into the fountain pool and repeatedly calling for his mother’s attention. Further on, I found my favorite out-of-the-way spot, a bench that was tucked into the recess of a tall, neatly-trimmed hedge. I plopped down, ran my hands through my hair and tried to figure out what my next move was. I had to give my boss something, but I really hadn’t learned anything new or original. I pulled out my notebook and idly flipped through the pages, hoping that I had something to salvage from my meeting. Suddenly, a person sat down beside me.

“It took you long enough to get here.”

Lyle the Bus Driver and the Duck Call

My companions and I were having a grand old time. That is, until our coach bus unexpectedly pulled over and Lyle started yelling. And you’ll never guess who it was that set him off…

It was early in the summer of 1996. I had completed my junior year of high school and had eagerly signed on for my very first mission trip with my church’s youth group. We were headed for Mexico, and if you have ever done short-term missions work before, you know that things rarely go according to plan.

Our first little adventure occurred six hours into our journey when our bus broke down, leaving us stranded on the side of the road in the middle-of-nowhere Missouri. While we waited for replacement transportation, we piled out of the bus, wandered around, took pictures of each other and the Missouri cornfields, and tut-tutted over the state of the bus’s now-exposed engine as if we knew what we were talking about (“Yep, you can see clearly that the discombobulator has broken off the defenestration flange, causing a back-up of ephemeral fluid…”).

8-10-2009 11;38;31 PMHours passed and darkness fell.

With the night obscuring our view of the scenic farmland, we climbed back into the bus, but not before several of our team members began to itch in earnest. As it turned out, among the other natural wonders of the Missouri roadside, some of our group had discovered a patch of poison ivy. This trip was going great!

More hours passed.

It was very late into the evening when our replacement bus arrived. Tired, but eager to move on, we unloaded our luggage, repacked it into our new bus, and settled in for an uneventful evening. This lasted until we got to West Memphis, Arkansas when we discovered that our current bus was not taking us to Mexico after all and that we needed to get off and load ourselves onto another bus. So we moved our belonging onto another bus and we waited…and waited. We finally learned that Bus #3 wasn’t taking us to Mexico either. Sometime in the middle of the night, Bus #4 pulled up and again we unloaded and reloaded.

We were all feeling a bit grumpy by this time, but our disgruntlement was nothing compared to Lyle. Now I’m sure that under normal circumstances, Lyle was a nice guy and the life of every party. But for some reason, driving a bus full of punchy high schoolers throughout the night to Mexico was just not his cup of tea. I can’t imagine why.

Before we set out, he made an announcement to the effect that if we sang, made noises or were just loud in general, he would pull the bus over and drop us off on the side of the road. We giggled nervously; he never cracked a smile. With that, we were off.

As a semi-mature adult who works with children of all ages, I often despair at kids who seem to possess three-second memories. You tell them not to do something and almost immediately they end up doing it. How quickly we adults forget our own youthful transgressions!

Not long after we started out, the person sitting next to me and I began to absent-mindedly whistle the theme song to the Andy Griffith Show. Why we decided to do this, I don’t know. Why does a sleep-deprived high schooler do anything? The person who joined my whistling duet will remain nameless here because 1) I’m no snitch, and 2) I, uh…can’t remember who it was.

But I digress.

We were coming up to the big finale of our song when Lyle shouted: “I’m not joking! I’ll pull this bus over!” The whistling abruptly stopped. After that, I vowed to be on my best behavior. This vow lasted for a good several hours. Again, for reasons that I do not remember, I started making duck calling noises with my hand, and like the big idiot I was, I kept making duck calling noises.

Suddenly, the bus veered to the side of the road and screeched to a halt. Lyle leapt from his seat and scowled at us.

“Who has the duck whistle?” He demanded as he began to stalk down the aisle. “Hand it over!” No one said a word, and what could I say? I didn’t have a duck whistle to hand over, and with the murderous look in the bus driver’s eyes, I didn’t really want to explain just what I was doing.

“Who…has…the duck whistle?” He growled again.

After a long moment of uncomfortable silence, a girl sitting behind me spoke up.

“My brother has a duck whistle,” she said trying to be helpful, “but he’s not here.”

This got a nervous laugh from the group; Lyle wasn’t so amused. After muttering curses, he finally turned around and headed back to his seat. Needless to say, the “duck whistle” didn’t make another appearance.

We had further adventures with Lyle as we continued our journey south, but having already poked the hornet’s nest twice, I was inclined to be an observer rather than a participant.

Grumpy old Lyle became a sort of folk legend with us after that night. Ever afterward, whenever our youth group took a trip that required a bus, we would always call the bemused bus driver “Lyle,” regardless of their real name and gender. I’m sure that if he ever discovered my role in that night’s shenanigans, Lyle would undoubtedly thank me for catapulting him to the fame that he now enjoys.

And to that I would respond: Quuuuuaaaaacccck.