This Is Why We Need Black History Month, Part 2

, , , , , , | Right | June 18, 2021

It’s 1988 and I have been with the library for not quite a year.

Black History Month is upon us and children of all shapes, sizes, colors, and cute smiles are looking for information on various famous people.

But they clearly do not know what or who they are looking for.

Child #1: “I am doing a report on a famous black singer. Her name is Martha.”

Me: “Oh, good choice. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were a great singing group!” 

Child #1: “There’s another Martha? My report is on Martha Luther and her Kings.”

Next child:

Child #2: “I need a book on a famous black man who got his leg shot off during the war.”

Me: “Um, I am going to need more information than that. Which war are we talking about?”

Child #2:The war.”

Me: “Honey, there have been lots of wars over the years. Was it the Civil War? The American Revolution? World War II?”

Child #2: “The Revolution! Yes, the revolution! When the people came here from England to fight the Americans to free the slaves.”

We finally figured out we were looking for Crispus Attucks, though I don’t remember him getting his leg “shot off,” only that he was among the first killed at the start of the Revolution.

And then there were the inventors. Not Lattimer or McCoy or Madame C.J. Walker. No, we are talking about the well-known John Doe. Mary Smith. Lotta Peeples. Who “invented” THE comb. The hairbrush. THE washing machine. And of course, the kids needed at least five books on each of these people.

No surprise, there were none. Cue child sobbing because they have to write an eight page paper on this person.  

We had to start writing a form letter to teachers (which soon became known as the Dear Dummy letter) explaining that back in the day, many, many, many people created and patented a new version of the hairbrush or the comb, or created and patented a different version of a wringer for a hand-cranked washing machine. Or new buttons. Or corsets. Shaving creams…

We had to explain that these people were black, white, Hispanic, or Asian background, and that the only reason we know they existed and what their race was is because the forms for the patent office included a little box for this. ALL we know about the inventor is his or her invention, their name, the number assigned their patent… and their race.

Regardless of their race, there are not five paragraphs, let alone five books on each person.

Imagine having to send that out daily with an extra line scrawled at the bottom saying, “Please allow [Student] to choose a new topic so he won’t flunk your class.”

Every year for closing in on ten years, the head of the tech department where patents were kept would contact teachers and explain that we could not supply five books on the life of a citizen who happened to try making something new for an already existing device, so please don’t ask kids to write a ten-page paper on them. Every year, the teachers would say they understood… and then send the kids in to research the same obscure people anyway.

And of course, my favorite kid was the one who came in with his dad. The child darted across the floor to the desk, leaned against it, and crowed, “Hey! Where your dead black people at?” His father — both were African American — did a facepalm and shook his head. He said, “Son, they aren’t keeping the bodies on ice out back. Tell the lady who you want to read about.”

That exchange had the dad and I laughing for most of the exchange. I miss those days, as the demand for writing reports has fallen off. I just hope I never have to explain to another child that the singer she wants to report on is actually a Civil Rights Leader.

Related:
This Is Why We Need Black History Month

1 Thumbs
458

Your Reason For Being Here Does Not Compute

, , , , | Right | May 24, 2021

It’s 1989. Computers in public libraries are just becoming a thing. Thanks to the generosity of the local rotary club, we have several refurbished office desktop-style computers that patrons can use.

Most patrons need just a little help to get going and then are able to figure out what to do on their own until they need to print, at which point we help them again. Most everyone is very excited by the prospect of being able to use computers to write and think it is wonderful that the Rotarians were good enough to donate the money for the refurbished computers.

And then there’s this guy.

He complains about the lack of quality. He complains because the computers aren’t new. That the keys look grubby. That we only have dot-matrix printers. That the computers aren’t in a private spot. That no one will sit and hold his hand while he writes. 

Patron: *Sniffing as he demands more help* “You must realize, I am used to better. I have a complete computer system at home that cost me over $8,000. The printer prints in crisp black lettering, not this dot-matrix crap. This is appalling service!”

I am still fairly new to the job and young enough to think I can get away with just about anything that comes out of my mouth.

Me: “Well, sir, if I owned an $8,000 computer setup, I can guarantee I would not be journeying downtown to use crap refurbished library computers.”

Patron:Well, if I didn’t come to use the computers, I would never visit this ugly library.”

Me: “Well, sir…”

I let the sentence trail off. I was young and rash but not stupid enough to finish that sentence which would have been, “…this would not be a problem for the rest of us.”

But I did give him a significant amount of stink-eye. He stormed out. I still wonder who that jerk was trying to impress.

1 Thumbs
372

Don’t Trust. Just Verify.

, , , , , | Legal | May 13, 2021

It’s a Saturday, nothing especially noteworthy going on. I’m on my computer in my room and my mom’s down the hall watching TV. Suddenly, my phone rings; it’s my grandpa.

Me: “Hey, Grandpa! How are you?”

Grandpa: “[My Name], I’m at the bank. I have the money! Are you all right?”

Me: “What? I’m fine, Grandpa. What money?”

Grandpa: “The money you told me to send you! Are you all right? Are you in prison?”

I leap up, freaked out.

Me: “Prison?! What are you talking about?! Grandpa, I’m at home!”

Grandpa: “You’re… not in prison? Does your mother know?”

Me: “No! I’m in my room, at home! Mom’s right down the hall. Do you need to talk to her?”

Grandpa: “I think I might, yes.”

I go to my mom’s room.

Me: “Hey, uh, Grandpa’s on the phone, and I think something weird is going on.”

I handed her the phone and they talked for a while.

Apparently, some scammer had called my grandpa with the ol’ “Grandpa, it’s me, your grandson!” And my grandpa, being, you know, old, didn’t realize it wasn’t me, dropping my name and giving the scammer a chance to latch onto it. The scammer then gave him a sob story about how “I” had taken a trip to the city and gotten “myself” arrested somehow and that my grandpa needed to wire “me” a large sum of money to pay bail. The scammer also insisted that my grandpa not tell my mother about this, which he agreed to for some reason. He was already at the bank, checkbook in hand, but luckily, he had the presence of mind at that point to call my actual cell phone to confirm I was okay. 

The good news is that he didn’t lose any money. The bad news is that my mom was pretty pissed at him for a while for nearly getting scammed and for the notion that if I were in prison, he would attempt to keep that secret from her.

1 Thumbs
526

Dam, That’s A Good One

, , , , , | Learning | April 30, 2021

One April morning, the student body got an email.

“In an emergency announcement, it has been reported that the beavers that own [School] are tearing it down. It will be closed Friday, and on Monday, we will resume study in dams. I have included their locations and which students will be attending them in the attachment.

[Attachment]: Beaver Dam Classroom Arrangement

Mabel Syrup

CEO, Beaver Loan Corp”

When I opened the attachment, it had only two words:

“April Fools!”

1 Thumbs
241

Inattentive About Attendance

, , , , , , | Learning | April 23, 2021

Back when I was in middle school, when students completed eighth grade, the school would have a “graduation” to celebrate the student’s move up to high school. This graduation was similar to high school graduation; however, it focused more on the achievements of students, with many awards given. From academic achievements to sports achievements, almost every student received an award.

I was always a high achieving student, but I was never the top one — I missed being in the top 5% of my graduating class from high school by one person, for example — so I knew it was unlikely I would receive any academic awards.

My claim to fame at the time was the fact that I hadn’t missed a day of school since kindergarten. I know, nowadays everyone realizes how bad it is to give an award for coming to school when sick, but back then it really mattered to me. To get the perfect attendance award at the graduation, you had to not have missed a single day of seventh and eighth grade: two full years of classes you had to go to. And I had.

This was additionally impressive because I had a birth deformity that caused me to have over a dozen surgeries by the time I graduated high school. Over my time in middle school, I had two surgeries. Despite being in tremendous pain and taking strong painkillers, I was always in school long enough for it to count.

The day before the graduation, I went to the front office to ask a question about something unrelated and got on the topic of graduation with the secretary who was assisting me. I asked about the perfect attendance award, and while she told me she wasn’t allowed to release the names of who was getting what award before graduation, she did know there was one name for that award. I thought that confirmed it; I was guaranteed at least one award.

The next evening was graduation. I was super excited, as is any student; we all thought we were so cool, about to start high school. The night was wearing on, and we got to the final few awards. I hadn’t received a single award, which I expected, but I wasn’t upset because I knew my award was coming. Finally, they announced the award, went on a spiel about how some years no one wins this award, but this year there was one!

I was getting ready to stand, as I was also on crutches for an unrelated injury to my ankle; the student sitting next to me knew I was expecting this award and had agreed to help me stand up when it came.

They announced the name… and it wasn’t me. I was so upset, and the other kid looked a bit confused. I almost started crying at graduation. The awards finished and I didn’t receive anything.

I found a friend and expressed how upset I was, and he mentioned that we should talk to the guidance counselor. We eventually found her, and I expressed how upset I was that my name wasn’t called for the award. She initially gave me some pushback — apparently, a computer program spits out the correct students for each award so it’s “never wrong” — but I pushed too. She said she would check as a favour to me, and we left her.

Before the end of the night, the counselor found me again with my parents. She told me she’d read the program incorrectly; I was the only person to get perfect attendance. The student whose name was called had only missed one day and was second on the list. She told me she would print out another certificate and get it dropped off at my homeroom for the next morning.

At this point, it meant nothing to me. As a middle schooler who was smart but not the smartest, athletic but not the most athletic, and going through what I would later realize was a depressive episode, this was supposed to be my one moment to shine. My homeroom teacher the next morning tried to make a point to present my award, but no one really cared. I got home and threw the award away.

I learned my lesson, though: my next surgery, I took an entire week off school and really milked my recovery period.

Eight years later in college, I now have problems seeing the importance of attending classes, because that one teacher let me down when it meant the most to me.

1 Thumbs
465