I was standing in line at the library this week, waiting to renew my library card, which had expired about two months ago.
Two people in front of me stood a young pretty blond mother and her son, and directly in front of me was a woman with severe kyphosis (hunchback) who was staring at her toes and doing that “I’m not wearing my dentures” cud chew.
Before long, a line of three or four folks had gathered behind me, and finally somebody came to the counter to help us.
The blond woman with her son handed the librarian a card and said, “We’d like to renew my son’s library card. We haven’t used it in about three years.”
“Alright, just give me a moment here at the computer…” the librarian replied, looking at some information. Then she explained, “There are fines on his card and we cannot renew the card until the fines are paid.”
“Oh,” the boy’s mother replied. “How much are the fines? Can we pay them now?”
“Eighty-seven dollars,” the librarian stated flatly.
“WHAT?!?” The mother shouted. “EIGHTY-SEVEN DOLLARS???? He was like, 6 years old when he had that card! How can there be $87 dollars’ worth of fines on it????”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. Would you like to pay now?”
“Can we pay in parts? This is ridiculous.” She turned to her son, “You are going to pay half of this young man, with the money you just got,” she said sternly (and loudly), causing many heads to turn to watch the unfolding drama.
One elderly woman approached me and said, “My! What is going on up here?” The mother turned and glared at the woman. I pretended not to hear the poor old lady.
The kyphosis woman in front of me suddenly jerked herself upright and whispered in “hushed” tones, “And I thought I had it bad with a six dollar fine!” I grinned.
That poor kid was six years old when he got those fines. He probably borrowed Fox in Socks and it got buried under his blocks, forgotten, never to be returned. When a six year old borrows a library book, they can only be held so responsible for returning it. The parents have to be responsible for reminding them and driving them to the library. Now three years later, he is paying penance in grave public humiliation before his mother and a crowd.
“But mom!!!!” He cried out. “I just got that money! I didn’t want to spend it on this! I don’t need a library card. Do I have to pay it?”
“You should have thought about that before you didn’t return that book!” she replied curtly.
I was holding in the biggest laugh ever. Was she hearing this conversation, and realizing that about thirty people were now gathered for a show? Take the poor kid to the car, and come up with a plan about how to pay it. But goodness gracious, don’t humiliate him like this. Twenty years from now, he’ll be a nerdy blogger, blogging about the traumatizing day his mom made him become an indentured servant for a delinquent Dr. Seuss fee that happened when his brain was barely developed and he probably didn’t fully understand the library book borrowing process.
“You’re going to do chores to work this fee off!” she exclaimed, frowning down at him as his tears started to well up.
“I didn’t know, mom! I’m sorry!” he replied. “Please, don’t make me work more for this fee! I didn’t mean it!”
“You, young man, need to learn responsibility!” she boomed.
“Can I just work one day, and you pay me five hundred dollars so I can pay it off???” He pleaded, desperately.
Was it just my math, or did getting $500 for one day of work to pay off half of an $87 fine leave some pocket money for the boy?
This time I laughed. I dropped my face, looked to the floor at my shoes, and I coughed, to cover my snicker. I felt terrible for the both of them, but amused at the same time.
The librarian shushed them, but it didn’t stop them.
“No way! You are going to work as long as it takes to get this fee paid off. I can’t believe this. Wait until your father hears about this.”
She paused, then she asked, “Well, can we at least renew his sister’s library card for her?” She was frustrated and embarrassed, becoming slowly aware of the scene they were making. Her voice had returned to a more socially acceptable volume. Maybe she was just pms-ing. Or maybe her son had been a punk this week and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Or maybe they could barely put food on the table, and this fine was just too much for her to handle emotionally. I was trying to come up with ways to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Then the librarian replied, a little tentatively, clearly fearing the mother’s reaction, “Well, I can’t exactly do that unless his sister is here. Is she here?”
“She has to be here? She’s 6 years old! I can’t get the library card for her?”
“No ma’am, I’m sorry. It’s policy.”
The mother gave an exasperated sigh. “Alright, fine. Thank you,” then she left, dragging her tear-stained son of hers behind, like a puppy with his tail tucked between his legs after being chastised.
I approached the counter with great fear and trepidation when it came time for me to renew my card. What if I forgot to give back Fox in Socks?
“I’d like to renew my library card,” I began, handing the woman my card. “Will there be any fee for that?”
She looked at the computer screen after scanning my old card and replied, “Nope, it looks like you’re all set. Enjoy.”