Twiddling your thumbs at a college library, waiting to see if a handsome actor is actually going to materialize and try to “sweep you off your feet” is a dangerous enterprise.
You can’t really do anything productive except work. But work seems rather pointless right now and I can’t focus anyway. I decide to calm my nerves by performing obscure Boolean searches in our catalogue.
This keeps me occupied for about twenty minutes. Then I need a new distraction.
I wander into the Interlibrary Loan student worker area. Madeline, a rather petite and quiet sophomore with stick straight bright red hair, is packaging books.
She looks up at me, startled.
“Anything wrong, Ms. Watson?”
“No, of course not, Madeline, you’re doing great. I have a–research project that’s causing me some anxiety and I needed a change of scenery. Do you mind if I help you pack these books up?”
“Of course not, Ms. Watson.”
She is hesitant, but ultimately glad for the company. We encase books in bubble wrap and tape guns. After a while, I try to further break the ice.
“So, has dating gotten any easier since I went to school here?” Ms. Birch would definitely not approve of this conversation, but as she is not present at the moment, who really cares?
“Oh, I don’t know.” Madeline replies.
There is an awkward silence.
Seconds later, she starts to expound.
“I mean, I like this guy, Jeremy, but all of my friends think he’s gay. The majority of the male population of this campus seem to be gay or conservative Christians. It’s really frustrating. And I can’t really talk to my roommates about all of this, because one of them already has a promise ring and will probably marry Kyle, this Religion major she’s been seeing for the past two years. And my other roommate is kind of a slut, I mean, I know that’s not how I should talk about my roommate, but she hardly ever sleeps in our room and if she does, it’s usually because she’s brought a guy back from the bar and he can’t remember where he lives. And so that leaves me, and I work at the library and I study hard and try to wear makeup and be interesting but it’s hard, I’m not going to lie, Ms. Watson, it’s hard and I think it might even be tougher than since you were here, I mean it’s pretty dismal.”
Madeline looks up at me though her glasses and my bespeckled offers no solace.
“I tell you what, Madeline. It is pretty dismal here. In northeastern Iowa. But after you graduate, you’re going to move to a big city like Minneapolis, or Milwaukee or maybe even Chicago. And then guys, straight guys, who aren’t conservative christians are going to be knocking down your door. And your roommate who already has her promise ring–if she ends up marrying her college sweetheart, it’s not going to last. And your other roommate, the slutty one, she’s probably going to end up having a baby way earlier than she had originally planned. But you–you are special. You are smart and beautiful and completely yourself, and who you date or don’t date in college doesn’t determine your success in the world. If there’s one thing that I would want to go back in time and tell college me, it would be don’t obsess over guys. Because there are very few that are actually worth it. Just focus on your friendships and figuring out what you’re really passionate about. Because that passion is going to serve you well for the rest of your life and help inform your career and your happiness and your bliss.”
Madeline stares at me, both bewildered and transfixed.
“Um, thank you, Ms. Watson?”
“Yes, of course, Madeline. Thank you for letting me blather on for a while and distract myself.”
I turn to leave.
“But I mean what I said. You are an incredible young woman, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
I see Ms. Birch approaching out of the corner of my eye.
“So, yes, Madeline, thank you for letting me know we’re almost out of packing tape.” My voice raises a full octave.
Ms. Birch is inches away from my face.
“Ms. Watson, my office. NOW.”
I sit uncomfortably in the faux leather chair in Ms. Birch’s office as she paces. I have no idea what I’ve done to be called into the principal’s office, so to speak.
“Ms. Watson, it has come to my attention that you are accompanying Professor Elstad to a lecture tomorrow afternoon?”
How did she know?
“Yes, that’s right. He doesn’t have a car and asked me to drive him. I thought it would foster goodwill between us and the Norwegian Studies department.”
“Well, Ms. Watson, you are naive, quite naive. The reason that Mr. Hansen, your predecessor was let go was because he started carrying on with a female professor in the Norwegian Studies department. They were caught having–”
“…inappropriate–well, let’s say they were doing something in the Norwegian Artifacts room that they should not have been doing in the Norwegian Artifacts room. Do you follow.”
I am struck suddenly by a case of the church giggles and it is taking my utmost self-control to keep myself from breaking out into a cascade of unbridled guffaws.
“Yes, well. That was very embarrassing for both departments. And I feel I would be amiss if I didn’t explain the historical context to you and ask you if this is indeed merely an academic expedition you are undertaking tomorrow?”
“Oh, yes, of course, Ms. Birch. I am merely Professor Elstad’s colleague and chauffeur. Nothing more.”
She seems relieved.
I see Jamie coming into the office area.
“Actually, Ms. Birch, here comes my boyfriend, now. His name is Jamie. He’s an actor, and he’s come to take me to coffee. I hope you don’t mind if I leave work a little early today?”
“Oh, of course not, by all means, Ms. Wat–ah, Dorothy. Have fun!”
She is so visible relieved, she might as well be vibrating.
“See you Monday,” I say, and I’ve exited her office.
Jamie flashes an extremely disarming smile.
“Hey there, madam librarian.”
“Please, call me Marian. I need a drink. You’re buying.”
He is a bit dumbfounded as I take his hand, dragging him out of the library, but he smiles and goes along with it.
I don’t really frequent bars, in order to avoid students seeing me drink. But it’s 4:00 on a Friday and I figure they’re either in class or sleeping, and besides, it’s probably not fashionable to hit the bars until at least 10 pm.
“So, did I just rescue you from an unpleasant meeting?” Jamie flashes his grin again.
I must not make this conquest to easy for him.
“Well, yes and no. My colleague was merely asking my intentions towards a fellow faculty member.”
I sip my dirty gin martini slightly seductively.
“Well, what were your intentions?”
“I have no particular intentions towards this faculty member, it’s just, you know, we’re both single, around the same age. He has no car, so I’m driving him to this lecture at University of Minnesota tomorrow. It’s really no big deal. It was ultimately a misunderstanding. There had been some uncouth relations between the previous person who held my position and another faculty member, and so my colleague was taking the proper precautions to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.”
Jamie takes a drink of beer. Eew, beer.
“So she was just making sure you were behaving?”
“Something like that.”
“Are you behaving?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you behaving right now, Dorothy? You’re out having drinks with another young strapping faculty member.”
“You’re not that young, and you’re an adjunct visiting whatever.”
I flick my wrist, uselessly.
He looks almost wounded.
“What I meant to say–”
“No, it’s okay. You’re right, I’m not a full-fledged professor, and don’t really have the desire to be. And I’m probably older than you. How old are you?”
He leans in.
“You’re young to be hired. You might be one of the youngest people on staff–did you get your masters right out of college?”
“I waited a year–did AmeriCorps. But I was young for my class. I skipped a grade.”
“Because you’re smart?”
“Well, because my reading comprehension far surpassed that of my peers–” I stop myself. I am sounding far to academic for this bar and this conversation. I throw in an “or whatever” in hopes to dumb myself down to normalcy.
“Why do you do that?” Jamie asks.
“If I were as smart as you, I would embrace my intelligence. Don’t hide it. And yes, I’m older than you, by about ten years, but I don’t really care. I like you. You’re a breath of fresh air in this midwestern wasteland. And I think you should start taking yourself a bit more seriously. Because I’d like to know the woman behind the sexy librarian act.”
I sit, dumbfounded.
This is going to take much more gin that I had previously anticipated…