I have worked with several people in the last few years who have a tendency to say disturbing things. Sometimes a story about their own lives that I just plain wish I wasn’t hearing but that I know they probably need to get out of their heads via their mouths, but occasionally something I think they’re just putting out there because they like to watch others get really uncomfortable under the guise of being “educated.” Sort of like when the juniors and seniors who taught health ed (who thought that one up anyway?) would screen horrendous hour-long slideshows, ostensibly to put the fear of infection in us but probably also to laugh.
I wonder if this lack of self-editing (or, as it sometimes feels, “glee of afflicting-discomfort”) is more common in libraries; maybe there’s a connection between throwing off the shackles of censorship by circulating the unedited Huck Finn and finding joy in telling other people disturbing things. Then again, there’s an important argument – one that I stand behind – built on the idea that although material you find offensive may be available to you, no one is MAKING you consume it. I, however, am being MADE to consume these disturbing factoids and terrifying storylines. How to respond?
1. Understand that while it may feel to me that the speaker is gleefully watching me try not to throw up, that is probably just another instance in which I perceive some small inconvenience to me as the work of a malicious, brilliant mastermind whose only goal is to make my life harder
2. Tell this story:
A friend of mine (not really – I think I originally heard this story, like most stories, from one Jordan Pierce, so who knows where it really came from) was visiting New York and dogsitting for a family friend’s elderly black lab, but on the second day of their vacation, the dog passes away in its sleep. She tries to call the family but can’t get in touch, so she calls the vet’s number on the fridge; the vet tells her to bring the dog in and they’ll cremate him, which the family’s already arranged. The only issue is, she doesn’t have a car, and this is a big dog – what are labs, usually like 60-70 pounds? And this was a big lab. But she doesn’t want to leave the dog in the apartment for them to come back to, so she goes into their closet and drags out a huge suitcase on wheels, puts the dog inside, and takes it on the subway. When she gets off the subway, the escalator doesn’t work, and she’s trying to drag the bag up the stairs when a guy comes over to help her. She thanks him, and he asks her what she’s got in there that’s so heavy; she doesn’t want to tell him it’s a dead dog, so she tells him she just bought some speakers she’s taking home. Then, when they get to the top of the stairs, he takes the bag and runs off.
This story doesn’t stop the flow of information permanently, but it is really fun to watch the expression on the person’s face as they process it.