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True story

September 21, 2010

Scene: A large university library. Harriet walks up the front stairs, dragging a large black suitcase behind her. She passes the University’s Latin motto, carved in the wall, and enters the building. In the lobby, she pulls out her ID and attempts to swipe it into the reader on the entrance gate. The Desk clerk is watching her.

Desk Clerk: Turn it around, honey.

Harriet turns her ID around. The gate still won’t open.

Harriet: I’m here to bring back some books and get a registration block removed. Maybe that’s why it won’t let me in?

Desk Clerk: You can go to the privileges office or you can go to circulation.

Harriet: Circulation, please.

The desk clerk presses a button and the gates open.

Harriet: Thank you!

Harriet approaches the circulation desk.

Harriet: I need to return these books and then check them out again, but there’s a block on my account, so I’m not sure if there’s something else I need to do too.

Harriet heaves her loaded suitcase onto the desk and starts removing books.

Circ Clerk 1: I’ll take them, but if you have a block, you have to go to the Privileges office, outside the entrance gate first.

Harriet: Is it okay if I leave the books here?

Circ Clerk 1: Sure. But my shift is over, so there’s going to be someone else here when you get back.

Harriet: Okay. Thanks, I’ll be right back.

Harriet walks out of the gate with her now empty suitcase and follows the line to the Privileges office.

Harriet: Hi. I have a block on my account. I just returned my library books, but they said I had to come here first?

Priv Clerk: Can I see you ID, please?

Harriet puts her ID on the desk. The Clerk looks up her account.

Priv Clerk: I’m sorry, but they need to check the books back in before I can help you.

Harriet: Okay. I’ll be right back.

Harriet goes back to the entrance gate.

Harriet (to the desk clerk): I’m back. Can you buzz me in again?

Desk Clerk: Sure thing.

Harriet: Thanks!

Harriet (to circ clerk): Privileges sent me back. They need you to check in the books.

Circ Clerk: Oh, okay.

She methodically checks them in and then tries to check them back out to Harriet.

Circ Clerk: There’s still a block.

Harriet: Okay. Let me run back to privileges.

Harriet goes out the gate and back to the Privileges office.

Harriet: I’m back. They’re all checked in now.

Priv Clerk: Okay. Can I have your ID again?

Harriet hands it over.

Priv Clerk: It looks like there’s still one book out.

Harriet: Which one?

Priv Clerk: Music and American Education.

Harriet: I know I packed that one. Let me go back to circ and see if they missed it.

Harriet heads back to the gate.

Desk Clerk: You again! [she is smiling]

Harriet: Sorry. It looks like it’s going to be one of those days.

Desk Clerk: Don’t I know it!

She buzzes Harriet through.

Harriet: (to Circ Clerk 2): They said there’s still a book out. Can we check and see you might have missed one?

Circ Clerk 2: Sure.

Circ Clerk reads every spine. The book in question is the very last one. Of course it is.

Circ Clerk 2: Here it is. Let me check it in. Okay. You’re all set.

Harriet: Thanks. I’ll be right back.

Harriet goes out the gate and back to the Privileges office.

Harriet: Okay. We found it. Can we try again?

Priv Clerk: Yup, they’re all back. But it looks like you’ve been withdrawn. I can’t give you your privileges back until the Registrar puts you back in the system.

Harriet: So I have to go to the registrar?

Priv Clerk: Yes.

Harriet: Can you remind me where the Registrar’s office is?

Priv Clerk: It’s in the main admin building on the first floor. Turn left when you walk in.

Harriet: Thanks so much. I’ll be back as soon as I can.

Priv Clerk: You’re welcome.

Harriet goes back out the gate and drags her empty suitcase down the front steps to the library, crosses the street and enters the quad. A huge sign hangs over the main gate, the one where Keanu Reeves nearly ran her down on a motorcycle many years ago when he was filming on campus. It says, “Welcome to The College.” Everywhere there are undergraduates carrying things: bags of books, musical instruments, tennis rackets. Harriet sees three students in talent shirt t-shirts from three different colleges. In fact, she sees shirts from nearly every elite institution she can think of, save the one whose campus she is actually on. A few faculty and graduate students are spotted, but mostly, she thinks, they are hiding. Harriet turns right at the flagpole and pulls her suitcase up the stairs of the Admin building. She walks into the registrar’s office, which is full of shabby gray cubicles that look as if they’ve been there for at least 30 years. The paint is peeling. It looks like a gray and depressed office full of civil servants. No one is at the front desk. Eventally, someone waves me down to the end of the long line of desks.

Registrar clerk: How can I help you?

Harriet: I’ve just cleared my registration blocks and the library sent me her to get put back in the system? [The question mark is because Harriet has no idea what actually needs to happen.]

Registrar clerk: Oh. You need to see the registrar. Follow me.

The clerk leads Harriet through a maze of cubicle walls to the back by a big window overlooking the college bookstore. The registrar looks to be closer to my parents age. He’s wearing a white dress shirt and a grey suit, with the jacket off and over the back of his chair. His office space is full of file boxes. He invites Harriet to sit down.

Registrar: What can I do for you?

Harriet: Hi. I just removed some blocks to my registration. The library privileges office sent me here to get put back into the system.

Registrar: May I see your ID please?

Harriet: Sure. Here.

Registrar: [types a few things at his keyboard]. Oh, good. You are all set.

Harriet: That’s it?

Registrar: That’s it.

Harriet: Thank you!

Harriet exits the building and retraces her steps back to the library. She skips the main gate and heads straight for the Privileges office.

Harriet: I’m back.

Priv Clerk: Okay. I’m ready for you. [she switches computer screens.] Oh, I’m sorry. I must have closed the screen. Can I have your ID again?

Harriet: Here it is.

Priv Clerk: [Types briefly]. Oh, yay! You’re all set

Harriet: Yay! That’s what I like to hear. Thanks so much for your help.

Priv Clerk: Anytime.

Harriet: So I can use this to get in the gate now?

Priv Clerk: It should work. You don’t need to swipe it anymore. You can just tap it on the front.

Harriet: Thanks.

Harriet heads for the main gate. The desk clerk sees her coming and starts to lean for the button.

Harriet: Thanks, but I think I can do it myself this time.

She taps her ID onto the front of the kiosk and the gate magically opens.

Desk Clerk: Yay! Congratulations!

Harriet: Thank you.

Harriet heads to the circulation desk.

Harriet: (To circ clerk) I’m back. And I think I should be able to check out now.

Circ Clerk 2: Let’s try it. Yay! It worked!

Harriet: Fantastic. Is it okay if I put my suitcase up here so I can pack them in when you’re done?

Circ Clerk 2: No problem.

Several minutes later, the books are all checked out.

Harriet: Thank you so much.

Circ Clerk 2: You’re welcome.

Harriet heads for the exit gate. She almost makes it through, but as she tries to pull her suitcase through, the alarm goes off. Harriet looks at the Desk Clerk who smiles and shakes her head and points her thumb back to the circulation desk.

Harriet: [turning around and muttering under her breath] So close!

There is a line at the circulation desk. Circ clerk 2 is nowhere to be seen. Finally, it is Harriet’s turn.

Harriet: [To Circ Clerk 3] Hi. I just checked out all these books (gestures to the suitcase) and it set off the alarm when I tried to leave.

Circ Clerk 3: Who was helping you?

Harriet: I don’t know her name, but she was sitting over there.

Circ Clerk 3: Hold on.

Circ Clerk 3 disappears for a few minutes and comes back with Circ Clerk 2

Circ Clerk 3: Did you check out all her books?

Circ Clerk 2: Yes, I definitely did.

Circ Clerk 3: Lets look at them.

Harriet heaves the suitcase back up onto the desk and unzips it.

Circ Clerk 3: (pulling out one of the oldest books, housed in a protective box.) It’s probably this one. [She rubs it over the demagnetizer a few times.] That should do it. But just in case, I’m going to pass your suitcase around the gate. [She zips it up and starts to pull it off.

Harriet: Be careful. It’s really, really heavy. Can I do it for you?

Circ Clerk 3: It’s okay. I do this all the time.

Harriet: Thank you so much.

Harriet walks back to the gate, pauses for a minute and then walks through, picks up her suitcase, and exits the library.

Harriet: [to herself] I’m free!

Cue “Eye of the Tiger.” Fade to black.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2010 8:16 pm

    It’s amazing that you couldn’t renew them online, or something, and take care of your registration issue online.

    The Maroons shouldn’t be so technophobic (if I am assuming correctly…)

  2. September 21, 2010 9:50 pm

    I am seriously exhausted. Oy.

  3. September 22, 2010 5:01 am

    In other words, you got a serious workout and spent about an hour running around so you could end up with exactly the same books as you started with.

    Oy. And @smedindy, online renewal is usually not available once you’ve entered into the overdue/block zone. As Harriet so deftly illustrated, the problem begins to go beyond the library and other offices get involved.

  4. September 22, 2010 7:25 am

    At least everyone was friendly and helping you get through the system.. awkward that it was. Just picture the same story with stubborn, unhelpful people at each step.

  5. freshhell permalink
    September 22, 2010 7:43 am

    Oy! This is giving me flashbacks to the circular nightmare that was finanacial aid and registration. Back before computers even.

  6. September 22, 2010 7:56 am

    Jill in Atlanta, believe me, I did picture that. It’s usually what happens. But since school hasn’t started yet, all the workers were still in helpful-and-happy-to-have-a-job mode. The only place I encountered grumpiness was at the Registrar’s office, and even that was pretty mild and probably environmentally induced.

  7. September 22, 2010 2:15 pm


  8. Cranky permalink
    September 23, 2010 8:21 am

    Ahh–that explains the friendliness. I was picturing that scene here and it would have been weeks until you got the books back. Of course, it helps that YOU were very pleasant.

  9. September 23, 2010 8:39 am

    The sad thing, Cranky, is that while being pleasant I was getting the distinct impression that my behavior was a novelty. Every time I’d walk up to someone new, they seemed to be steeling themselves for something, but would visibly relax when I was not a raving maniac. Of course, it’s easier to be pleasant when you know the problem is of your own making. The craziness of dealing with the problem is all the university. But the only reason I was there was because I had screwed up in the first place.

  10. readersguide permalink
    September 23, 2010 9:01 am

    This brought flashbacks, although in my case it involved multiple trips to multiple buildings and encounters with multiple unhelpful people. Ugh.

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