Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thirty-Third 02 (Nanowrimo 2008) Library Story

Edward “Pusher” Paush  collected bits and pieces from the wastebaskets near the library computers and used them to create a tapestry of life.  At least that’s what he called it.  James had decided to think of it as something between a journal and a scrapbook. 

Pusher was a roamer.  The Sunshine Security Agency had a contract with the City to patrol a number of City Buildings, both during the day and at night.  Most of the ground employees were assigned to a single building and a single shift.  Roamers walked between the buildings on a split shift, to collect and pass on information between the shifts. 

When Pusher had been promoted to roamer, there had been some grumbling among a few of the black guards.  There hadn’t been any heat to it, though, and James hadn’t commented at first.  When it had lasted more than a week, he’d quietly said.

“Pusher make a good roamer.  He a talker.  You been on buildings with him.  He drive folks nuts with his talk if he there all night, but he spread the word just fine.”

“He ain’t gonna be roamer for long.  They promote him on to the screen room.  They take care of they own.”

“Ptschee.  Not if anyone in that screen room ever hear him talk.  You think they want his questions in there?  You ever get asked one of the questions he write in that book?  ‘Cause I guarantee he asked them, if they been in his vicinity.”

There had been a shifting.  A considering.  Pusher was irritating in a confined space. 

“Bob would have been a better roamer.  He more personable.”

“Bob not as bad a guard.”

“You say they boosted Pusher because he’s a bad guard.”

“Well, I wasn’t there, but it makes sense.  It would be a twofer.  They promote Bob, they get a good roamer and lose a good guard.  They promote Pusher, they get a good roamer and lose a bad guard.”

“He wasn’t that bad.”

“He irritate almos’ everyone.”

“He don’t dress for success.”

A chuckle.  “He don’t shower for success, either, some nights.”

“He don’t seem to irritate you.”

“I’m better at not listening than most folks.”

“He all full of hisself.”

“Yup.  Wants to be full of everybody else, too.  That why he ask those fool questions.  To get out of his own head.”

“Bob still should have gotten the job.”

“Not arguin’ that.  Bob is a good guard and a good worker.  He’d have seen to it that he did that job right.  You think of anything we can do to help Bob get the next promotion?”

There was some general grumbling, the gist of which was that no one had thought about doing anything because no one believed that anything could be done.  It was out of their hands.  A boss thing.

After some general wrapping up, the shift moved out of the parking lot and walked or drove to their assigned buildings.  James considered.  Complaining was what people did instead of trying to change things.  Complaining at best relieved the pressure of a bad situation.  At worst, it caused more pressure.  James rarely complained.  He’d listened to too many of his relatives complain and complain and do nothing to make their lives better.

James considered how to better his situation, considered it at all times.  One mistake people made was in waiting until things were uncomfortable to try to think how to change things.  That was lazy.  You had to think how you wanted things to be and consider how to get them that way, and you had to do it when you were calm and feeling pretty good.

James considered.  He knew that he was slow at considering, so he didn’t expect an idea to come right at first.  He’d let it cook in the back of his mind, like saved up chicken bones simmering down to stock. 

James worked evening security at the main branch of the City Library.  The Library was still open when he came on shift at 5:30, so he could just walk in the front door without any entry code.  Most of the city buildings besides libraries closed at 5:00, so most of the other guards would be punching themselves into mostly empty buildings.

James liked the library.  He had started by working graveyard at City Hall and Memorial Auditorium, which was right across the street.  It was a walking outside, roust the drunks and homeless job.  It was a go in twos for safety job.  He had planned from the beginning to shift to a better time and location.  He had considered how to go about that and found the way after awhile.  It had taken a bit of work.  First he had had to figure where he wanted to be.  That had meant asking questions and offering to cover shifts.

He had decided he liked the library best.  He respected books.  And he liked having people around for a few hours and then having the building mostly to himself for the rest of the night.  There were two guards on duty, plus access to the rover, while the library was open.  Near closing time, or after dark, one of them watched the parking lot, making sure that the staff got to their cars safely.  Staff tended to park in the back of the lot to leave the near slots for patrons.

Four nights a week, the janitorial crew came through.  The crew weren’t City employees.  The City had a contract with a service.  So the crew changed.  The current crew were mostly oriental women who spoke little English.  Some nights there were one or two young Hispanic men.  They spoke English well enough to be getting on with.  They ran the buffing machines, if they were on the crew.

James could count on Pusher coming by on the three days that the crew didn’t come.  He’d come and rifle through the wastebaskets by the computers and copiers.  He’d fiddle with bits and pieces, as if trying to use the trash to read tea leaves for all humanity. 

Now there were families moving through the aisles and between the tables.  James could tell the kids who were there to get books for school reports, with parents following along, surveiling their progress, from the kids there to get books just to read and the parents following to share or sanction or wander off to get their own books.  Everyone could tell the kids who had no parents there, who came to the library because it was somewhere safe to go until the parents got off work and picked them up, or safe to go until nearly closing, when they had to catch the bus for home whether there was someone there or not.  Especially if there was someone best avoided.  James knew about that.  He was firm at shushing them if groups of them got too loud, but he knew their names and faces.  He watched out for them. 

The homeless shelters accepted folks from seven at night to seven in the morning.  The library’s hours were from nine in the morning to eight at night.  There were always a few, and sometimes more than a few, trying to hang out at the library, especially on winter evenings when it was cold and dark.  Some of them had no noticeable self control.  At least at the downtown branch the PD was close.  James could recognize a few of the more erratic ones and he called the cops before they had a chance to make trouble. 

This night things were pretty quiet.  James worked the edges and corners while Winslow showed uniform in the open areas, moving slowly and not making a show of watching anyone in particular.  Winslow made everyone feel safe while James caught a homeless woman begging and rubbing up against teenage boys in the stacks.  Two homeless men hurried out of the men’s room when he entered.  They were probably either drinking or toking, but he hadn’t seen anything, so the woman was the only one he called the cops for.

She leaked excuses and negotiations from the time he found her and said, “Ma’am, please step back and stop touching the other patrons.”  She kept leaning in even after he said, “Ma’am if you touch me, I will have you arrested.”  It was as if the idea of rubbing up against people for gain had been hard wired in, even trying to think ‘don’t do it’ couldn’t keep the body from leaning in, again and again, as she talked and talked and talked.

Eventually she started into a comfortable spiel about how her life had been bad, but she was getting herself together, now; listing things that she had done, but didn’t do any more and how she was going to do this, and going to do that, and then things would straighten out.

She wasn’t really surprised when the bike cops came in to cuff her.  Disappointed, maybe, and a little sulky.  The cops knew her by name and gave her the now, now, jollying her into going along with them quietly.  “You know how this works Em.  It’ll go better if you just come along.  Remember how easy it went last time.  You cooperated last time, didn’t you?”

James didn’t say much.  She wasn’t looking at him any more, now that the real cops with the cuffs were there.  The cops and he exchanged a few words to confirm that he would write out a report and testify if she went to trial.  They knew him. 

The kids craned their necks, watching her taken out.  There was a whispering here and there.  The staff watched, too, but only a little.  It didn’t do to get distracted or to show much reaction.  Things stayed calmer if you just kept on with things – perhaps gave an apologetic smile and half shrug.  Sorry for the inconvenience.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s under control.

Before long the messages were descending calmly from the ceiling, instructing patrons that the library would be closing in 20, 15, 10, 5 minutes.  Please bring any materials you wish to check out to the circulation desk.  Computers will be turned off in 10, 5, -, - minutes.  Please make any printouts and log off as soon as possible.

There was a slow flurry of final activity.  There were those who left at the first warning and others who tarried.  One or two youngsters were shooed out and made a show of disappointment that the desk had closed.  Placing the books on the desk reluctantly, with downturned heads and stereo murmurs of “oh, man.”  No backpacks set off the alarm. 

Winslow locked up the doors, standing erect and solicitous as a doorman, if not quite as friendly.  Winslow was medium brown of skin and crinkly grey of hair.  His eyes were clear and his body was tallish and trim.  He worked half shifts and would leave as soon as Pusher made his first go-around.


Pusher started his round at the north end of his route.  He came early enough to chat with the guys who worked the parking structure attached to the Emergency Services Building.  There were usually three or four working at any time.  One for each of the two exit kiosks and one to patrol and empty trash cans.  When it was slow, the kiosk guys swept and did other chores.

Most were retired and part time.  They were working mostly to give themselves something to do and people to talk to.  They liked having Pusher around.  He was always interesting.  Sometimes he said something cool and sometimes he said something crazy that they’d scoff about for the rest of the night.

Tonight he was asking them about the ethics of the vending machine and the elevator.  “Seriously, man, listen.  It’s not a big ethical dilemma.  That’s why it’s interesting.  No one is going to spend much thought on it.  They’ll just do whatever seems right to them and that tells you something about them.”

“Now, do most of the people who use the soda vending machine use the elevators, too?  Or do folks come in off the street, buy a soda, and then walk back out?”

“Mostly it’s people going up.”

“Or getting off the elevator and getting one to go.”

“Or us.  We get sodas.”

“So maybe you can see.  Do people get their sodas and then go push the elevator button – or do they push the elevator button and get their sodas while it comes down.  ‘Cause if they push the elevator button first, as slow as that vending machine is, they could miss the elevator, and then they’d have maybe pulled the elevator away from other people who were waiting for it.”

“Are you serious?”

“Oh, yeah.  I’ll bet there are some people who would never push the elevator button first.  Never even think of it.  And others who would always get the elevator coming toward them, so that they don’t have to wait for it.  Even when a lot of folks are going up and down.  Let other people wait for it.”


Three of them had wandered over to talk to Pusher.  Pusher was lanky and hunched.  He always looked a little disheveled, except for the few times that he looked uncomfortably scrubbed and pressed.  His feet, hands, and nose were just a little long and his hair was a wiry reddish brown.  When he got excited discussing something, the hands would come forward, with all of the fingers pointed toward you.  If he wasn’t holding anything, he’d use both hands. 

If he was speaking against something, he’d point with his index finger in stabbing motions.  You could tell whether he was speaking for or against from across a park.  This was known because there were three parks in his route. 

Pusher carried a purse.  Well, actually it was a leather pouch, but everyone enjoyed calling it a purse.  The guy asked for it.  He smiled like it was a great joke when it was said to his face, so how could you not keep it going.  In the purse was the route log book, and the journal, and a few manila envelopes and file folders.

Pusher enjoyed being a roamer.  It let him walk quickly on the job, whereas being a guard meant you walked slowly – proceeded.  He didn’t like that as much.  It didn’t give you a sense of progress.  Pusher enjoyed things that gave him a sense of progress.  He recognized that it was often a false sense of progress.  He was willing to be amused at that sort of foible in himself. 

As a roamer, he got to walk quickly between the stations and the stand or sit until the guard from that area came up to him.  Other roamers walked down the area guards, but Pusher waited for them to come to him.  He checked his notes and people watched until they got to him.  Of course other roamers didn’t walk as fast as Pusher, so they didn’t have the extra time to use waiting.

“How much free time do you think we have?”  (Description of Benny)

“Yeah, when folks are coming and going, they’re coming and going for their cars.  So the cars are going in and out, too.”  (Description of Pete.)

“OK.  I get that.” Pusher looked down at his feet and thought.  He shifted his satchel.  He tapped his lip.

“Would it make it easier if you watched to see whether men or women got the soda first?”

The fellows considered that.  Pusher could see them forming their own opinions on what the results would be.  He knew that what he was proposing was not, in fact, simpler than his first proposal.  That it was actually adding one more thing to watch for.

But it had given them a point of interest.  They weren’t interested in how many people did soda – elevator vs elevator – soda, but add in the question of whether men were different from women and it was something they could work up a small wager on. 

Therefore, by making the sampling more difficult, he had made it easier.  Of course the results would probably be nine-tenths confirmation bias, but that was all right.

Pusher wasn’t nearly as interested in the result as he was in watching how the guys went about the study.  He had talked to them before about confirmation bias, and about the unreliability of memory, but it had been as a general thing and he was pretty sure they hadn’t taken it on board.

This would give him a chance to reaffirm the concepts and make them concrete and personal for them.  It would be good.

“You guys think about it.  Let  me know which way you think it would go.”

No pressure to get them started.  If it caught their interest, they might run with it.  If they ever thought he was pushing them, well, they were busy men.

“Gotta run.  Anything interesting that I should pass on to the other guys?”

“Had another couple purse snatchings.  Folks ran both of them down.  One was a kid, but the other shoulda known better.”

“Yeah, they’re catching almost everyone since they put in the cameras with the renovation.  Even if you don’t get run down, the police will get to know you.”

Pusher shook his head along with them.  “Maybe they think they’re just that fast.  You think they practice running?”

“They just think that the rich folks don’t run.”

“Or won’t bother running for a purse.”

“Then the woman starts yelling and running after them and suddenly everyone they’re passing is trying to grab them.”

“Yeah.  They’re in the middle and no way out.”

“The cameras aren’t really aimed to catch purse snatchers, you know.  They’re aimed to catch car thieves.  I wonder how good they’d be at getting a shot of one that got away.”

“You oughta ask for a tour.  I hear the room where the police watch the cameras is really high-tech.”

“That might be a good idea.  Maybe I could arrange a tour for all the guards.  Any excuse to get security to talk to PD is a good thing.:

Everyone took a moment to nod.  Pusher made a note in a little pocket notebook, then pushed it back into the pocket with an air of finality.  He waved.

“Got to go.  Take care, now.”  And he left.


Pusher came by the library at six.  He talked with James and Winslow about the purse snatchings, passing on a description of the perps, but neither remembered someone by those descriptions.

They told him about the current crop of homeless and Pusher took descriptions of the two that had run.  They discussed the kids.  Nothing unusual there.

Pusher waved and nodded and went to the hold shelf to pick up two books.  He browsed through the refile shelf on his way to check them out.

Not that the refile shelves were on his way.  He had to make a big loop to walk past them.  But it was worth it.  It was interesting to see what everyone else was reading.

He didn’t notice the people around him as he was scanning the titles.  James noticed that.  Pusher was not a good guard.  The roamer didn’t require that though.  The roamer needed to listen to the guards and feed information between them.  Pusher was good at that.

Like the purse snatcher thing.  If the snatchers were setting up near any of the City buildings before they moved in to strike, Pusher would know it by the end of the night.  At least he would if the guards were on the ball.

James didn’t mind Pusher being the roamer.  Didn’t mind at all.  Pusher never assumed how good you were by how you looked.  He tested in little ways.  James had thought that was smart.  Now he wasn’t so sure.

Was it smart if a man couldn’t help testing?  Or was it just lucky? 

James had been considering that question for awhile and expected that he’d be considering it awhile more.  It didn’t matter if it took awhile.  A quick conclusion was not necessary. 

There had been something that Pusher had said once about some people needing conclusions and how they’d make bad ones just because they needed them now and couldn’t wait.  James approved of that idea.  It matched one of his own, or near enough.

He hadn’t shared his own thoughts at the time.  Maybe he would some day. 

He mostly approved of Pusher.


In the ER, Jayjay wasn’t quite awake.  Her eyes were half open and she was twitching.  Her clothes had been cut off, mostly because no one could stand the smell.

She had been checked for injuries, which excused the removal.  She had had her stomach pumped and then filled with a slurry of activated charcoal granules.  There had been blood tests, but they’d been mostly negative for alcohol and the typical street drugs.  With no clue what she had taken, there was no use running test after test just in hopes that they’d hit it.

She had definitely taken something, from the look and smell of the vomit.  No telling what though.  The MT had said there were no bottles at the scene.  The police had emptied her basket, can by can, into a couple of nearby recycling bins.  Nothing.  Nothing in her clothes, either.

Her gurney was in the hall so that anyone passing could see a change in her status.  The police had discussed her case in the lobby for awhile, but had decided not to charge her with anything.

Technically, taking street bin recycling was illegal, but it wasn’t worth assigning a man to watch her for that.  And drunk/intoxicated in public was illegal, but the tests didn’t prove that.  So she might just be sick and disoriented.  It wasn’t likely and they didn’t believe it for a minute, but charging her would be a waste of time.

They let one of the nurses know.  The nurse had informed the doctor who was working the case.  He had accepted the news without any comment beyond: “Well, be sure she’s strapped down.  We’ve got no idea what behavior problems she has.”

So Jayjay is lying strapped to a gurney in a busy hospital hallway.  She’s twitching.  She’s wearing a hospital gown, thin and blue, and covered by a hospital blanket, thin and white.  She is not aware of this.  She is not aware that she has no pillow, or that her head is laying against her mass of greasy, tangled hair.  She’s only aware of the voices.

Jayjay is hearing voices and they’re not her usual ones.


Winslow watched the clock as it ticked out the last of his shift.  He nodded as the shift ended and walked to the front door.  James walked behind him.  He stood to the side and let James unlock and open the door.  This was fitting as James was the one still on the clock.

Winslow turned before exiting and shook James’ hand.  They did this every night.  The little ceremony added dignity to the job and, by extension, to both of them.  He nodded and exited, without looking back.  James locked the door behind him.  No words were spoken.  They never were.

James would do a deliberate walk-through of the entire library, now that he was alone.  Winslow knew he could depend on James.  Winslow walked through the patio, with its maze of stairs and handicap ramps.

There were stairs and ramps down to the patio from the sidewalk and stars and ramps up to the café on the second floor.  A second ramp to the patio had been added when ADA regs had changed, declaring the old ramp to be too steep for wheelchairs.

Winslow noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye.  At least one homeless person was hunkered down in the underside of one of the ramps, behind some landscaping.  Winslow made no move to betray his awareness.  He climbed out of the patio and circled the building once before walking to his car. 

Once in the dark of the car, Winslow radioed James.  “Homeless in the patio.  Calling PD.”


Then he called.  The cops might not get the man.  With all the ramps and stairs, there were multiple directions to bolt.  And the man was positioned to see anyone entering the patio. 
[And that's as far as I got that one.]

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