Black man with a crossword puzzle

A man politely asks to sit across from me at a table in the library near the reference section. 

“Do you mind if I have a seat at your table? I’m waiting on a fax and this seems to be the only place I can keep an eye on the fax machine.”  The black man has a jean jacket and a gray hat with a construction company slogan on the front.  He’s around 60 years old and has a few dark freckles under his eyes.  He seems like a nice old man, the kind that sneaks his grandchildren cookies when grandma’s not looking.

“No, I don’t mind at all.” I said with politeness, but not inviting conversation.

“Hey, thanks a lot.”

After a few minutes of silence, the man steps up and walks over to the Reference desk, asking the librarian if she’s gotten a fax yet.

“No I haven’t, sir.”

“Well, I really need this fax, ya see. I’m waiting on something important. It was supposed to be faxed twenty minutes ago.”

“Well sir, we haven’t received the fax yet. You might want to call the person you are waiting to hear from.” The librarian says this with a haste that means she is running out of patience.  The man stumbles back to the table, clearly agitated. He mumbles things that I cannot understand under his breath.   He pushes a few digits into his phone.

“Yes, my name is Carl. I’m waiting on a fax.  I need my papers. I am a veteran. Have you sent my fax?”  “No, listen. I really need those papers.  When can you fax them?”  He says this with clear frustration in his voice.  He hangs up the phone without saying goodbye.  He begins piddling around with the newspaper in his hand, doing nothing of importance.  I notice that a crossword puzzle is facing up, that he’s either completing with great ease, or he is just scribbling words in the blank squares.  As he’s writing down the answers with is short pencil that’s missing an eraser, I notice his nails are missing. His fingernails appear to be long gone, leaving his nail beds dried out and crusty.

He picks up the phone and dials again, making another call.  I realize that he’s not talking to anyone, because he continues to whisper incoherently for ten minutes.  His whispers are nearly silent, only stressing a few words on occasion, which are still unintelligible.

Three rounded little librarians walk over to the table and lay down three different samples of a wood, oddly similar and even more resembling the wood already on the table.

“See, when we picked this wood out two years ago, we picked the same kind of wood as the chairs. Now look at it! The chairs are a few shades darker than the table!” The older lady points to the samples.

“Yes, that is rather bizarre. Was it from the same company?” Another plump librarian responds, as the back begins gliding down the isle, staring at all of the mismatched tables.

“Yes ma’am. May ask who I’m speaking with?” “Yes ma’am. I’m reverend Carl. Yes. My social security number is 500-35-2532.”  “Yes I’ve been in here 45 minutes, and it took me 10 minutes to get here. I requested what I want ma’am. I requested to a man, his name was Bill, and he even repeated the fax number.” “They said their fax machine is working.  I feel like my information has been stolen.” “Ok, I’ll repeat the number again. I am a veteran. I’ll repeat it again. Its 425-555-6532.” “Yes ma’am. Don’t you think something is wrong, I’m still sittin’ here?” I’ve been sittin’ here over an hour and I haven not received-“ “Yes, I’m on disability. The new raise Obama gave us? That’s what I need.  My address is 325 Jackson Ave.” “Ok ma’am. And when you come back I may need you to-“ “Ok, I’ll hold.”

The man begins having a whispered conversation again that no one hears.

“Yes ma’am. Ok, hopefully this goes through.  Well what about the first one? In the military, we have confidentiality. What if somebody gets my papers?” “I need a number to call somebody and tell somebody that my papers have been sent illegally. Yes ma’am I think it’s a problem with the library. Let me ask you, do you think that this information has gotten out illegally, and could it hurt me? “I don’t know you either, but do you think it could hurt me?  “Let-” “Ok. Ok, I-“  “It’s not your fax. It’s the fax that was due to me an hour and twenty minutes ago- No ma’am. I was on my way-” “When I talked to Bill last, he distinctly read the number to me.  I have been waiting here an hour and twenty minutes.” “I believe someone else took the paper.  I need the next step. Can you understand? I want to know-“ “I want to report-“ “I wanna know ma’am. What do you do when people fax your information out and it’s from the military?” “Well- I-“ “Ok, ma’am-“   “Well this is government stuff and-“

The man looks at me, then chuckles.

“Haha, the military don’t play around! I might call and complain about her with an attitude like that!” 

As he’s standing at the reference desk, picking up his faxed papers, I notice that he has a pair of black dress shoes to match his jean jacket.

“Yes, that’s my paper! I need you to shred that. That’s got my social security number on it!”

“Well we don’t have a shredder… You’ll have to just take it with you.”

The man’s phone rings.

“Hello?” “Yeah, and I’m gettin’ a little irritated. I think somebody stole my papers.  Yeah, that’s top secret military information.” “Yea, I’ll call you back.”

“Ok, I need to fax these three papers.”

“No problem. And this is free since it’s an 800 number.”

A man with a bicycle helmet still stand at the table next to me, and I notice that his feet smell terribly.

“How much is it going to cost me to just go ahead and make a copy this paper?”

“Well, there’s a copy machine over there and it’s 10 cents a page.”

“Ok, thank you again.”

“Have a good day.”


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