Laughing in the public library is usually inappropriate. Perhaps that's another reason why I no longer work there. Informational, silent, dusty, yes. A club for the joyful, hyper-social, wild child, not so much. There are two sides of me, at least. One is the studious, silent thinker. The other longs to be the life of the party.
I had been working night shift in an inner city library for several months, and despite the constant, draining task of keeping the local teens from disturbing the peace and engaging in nefarious group activites, I loved my work and the people I worked with. We did laugh together, many times. Perhaps my happiness at being a part of such a wonderful, dedicated group of people facilitated my tendency to let my guard down with the entire public I served. Not only did my library job fulfill my need for friendship, I felt deeply connected to the idea of being an approachable, open, safe person to whom children and adults in the community could turn to for information. I took a special interest in creating lists of contacts for those experiencing homelessness. My job was more than the shuffling and sorting of books. It was about being in the middle of a river of people, from all backgrounds, from all corners of the world.
But back to laughing at an inappropriate moment.
It was 5:55 pm, on a Friday afternoon. I was alone in the main area of the library, making my way toward the computer lab to lock up, when a man I recognized as a local homeless visitor walked in through the front doors, taking long strides toward me, with an urgent purpose. He said
"What are you doing?"
To which I responded,
"Sir, we close at six on Fridays".
To which he responded,
"What do you mean you're closing?" While placing his hands firmly around my throat.
What does one do when they are alone and being choked? Usually a smart person would have fought back with everything they had in them. I, on the other hand, laughed. With the remaining air left in my lungs.
My laughter caught him off guard.
He released a little.
With his hand still on my neck, I continued to chuckle. I said,
"We're closing because librarians have a life too. It's Friday. Time to grab a few beers."
The dumfounded look on his face proved that I had sucessfully broken his stereotypical image of the mousy, meek, vulnerable librarian.
He walked out the way he came in.
I locked up and went home. Later, I regretted not calling 911. After all, I had been physically assaulted by strangulation on the job. But somehow, in my nervousness and relief, I forgot to call for help.
Sometimes laughter, even at an inappropriate time, can be the best medicine. It may have saved my life.