poured out before bed
“200X? But I was in college in 200X – I was in Awesometown, not Radcity. I couldn’t have taken out any books here at that time!”
The chubby librarian pushes her glasses up her narrow nose with a sausage-like finger.
“Well, it shows here you opened an account here in 200Y,” she says matter of factly.
“I’m afraid that’s a mistake – I was in high school at that time… I wasn’t even in this state…”
“Well, I don’t know that. What I do know is you took out [insert long list of obscure books here] in 200X – and you renewed them late. Your total fine comes to $120.10. Now, don’t waste my time trying to get out of your responsibilities.”
She shakes her head in great annoyance, as if chiding a naughty child. For a moment, I’ve no idea what to say.
“May I speak to your supervisor?” I finally ask.
The obese librarian smiles.
“I’m my own boss. THE boss.”
“OK, then. What is your full name?”
She falters in surprise.
“Why…it’s Joan Jones, if you must know.”
“I must. I’d like a copy of my fines please.”
“You realize, if you delay, the registrar’s office will hold your transcripts from your residency application?!” she lifts a too-darkly pencilled-in eyebrow.
“You realize I am not liable for these fines as I was not a student at this institution when they were accrued?” I lift my nearly invisible blond one.
She sighs again, this time even less becomingly than before, and stomps to the printer. She thunders back and thrusts a sheaf of dates and charges in my direction.
“Good luck,” she seethes with sarcasm.
“Thanks for your help,” I say primly and sweep out towards the elevators.
At the registrar’s office, I sit in a pastel colored chair and wait. The secretary is on the phone with a friend, detailing her plans for the upcoming weekend. After thirteen full minutes of gushing about her friend’s house on the coast and how her darling grand babies just love the sand, she finally gets around to acknowledging me.
“What can I do for you?”
I explain the situation to her – a fine for books I never took out at a time I was neither student of the institution nor resident of the city. I explain that the individual I spoke to accused me of trying to shirk my responsibilities and would hear none of my arguments. The entire time I’m speaking she’s looking at the little clock on her counter. I ask if she can help me.
The woman shakes her head.
“Well, I don’t see how I can… But it does sound like some sort of clerical error. Who did you speak to?”
“Oh, well, she’s the accounts boss over there… And she’s a good friend of mine… I can’t imagine she’s being unreasonable about this…”
“Ma’am,” I point to the printed papers between us, “it is impossible that I could have taken out these books. I was not even a student at this institution until years after they were overdue. I will not pay over 100 dollars for books I never checked out. And why have none of these charges come to light until now?! I’ve never had any charges show up before, none of my grades have ever been withheld for fines – the email I received yesterday is the first I’ve heard of this. This is obviously some sort of computer error.”
The woman shrugs and steps away. “Well, I can’t help you.” She turns her back to me and begins dropping items into a canvas bag, preparing to leave for the day.
I feel my blood pressure surge. “May I see your supervisor, please?”
Five minutes later, I’m walking into the registrar’s office (THE Registrar’s office), print out in hand. I again explain the situation, remaining as calm as possible, but feeling my pulse beat behind my eyes. I am relieved that not only is he actually making eye contact with me, but he looks concerned. And he’s nodding. Another mere five minutes and he’s accessed my computer files, identified the error, and put everything to right.
He hands me a receipt.
“I’ve fixed the issue and lifted the hold on your grades, effective immediately. I’ve also frozen your library account until your transcript is released so that no additional charges can be filed until all documents are safely uploaded to the application program. I’m sorry about all of this… This should never have happened – and it should have been fixed long before you were referred to me. I’ll be having a conversation with all involved parties.”
I thank him profusely, shake his hand and walk down the hall to where the secretary’s cubicle is already dark and empty. I make my way out to the parking lot, feeling relieved, exonerated, even. As I approach my car, I note Ms. Jones (THE Ms. Jones) piling the 20 canvas bags the token U of Medicine secretary carries each day into her station wagon. She spots me and grins terribly.
“Did you finally decide to pay up?”
I smile sweetly.
“No, actually. But I imagine you’ll hear all about it from Mr. Registrar tomorrow. Have a nice evening.”
I jump in my car and drive toward home, the blank look on Ms. Jones’ doughy face inspiring the smirk on mine.