I’ve worked in customer service most of my working life.  I genuinely enjoy it because in my real life I’m not terribly gregarious, and this way I get to interact with all sorts of characters in a controlled, limited way.  I’ve seen, if not everything, plenty of stuff, enough to make me a bit more unflappable than your average newbie librarian.  Why is it then that I have forgotten about the breed of patron/customer that has brought me the most grief over my checkered career?  How remiss am I to think that just because I have a master’s degree in library science that I will not have to deal with the gross old men of the world?

My interactions with gross old men go back to high school, yes, high school.  Working at the gas station, wearing an unflattering red, later tan, polo shirt made me the target for many inappropriate men.  They would flirt, flatter, follow.  Co-workers and I would enact elaborate “save me” routines to extract one another from the clutches of these wannabe philanderers.  Thankfully, I learned quite quickly how to deflect these advances, and I think I was aided by the fact that, as a sixteen-year-old, I had the law on my side should anything get out of hand, but the comments and winks became exhausting.

I chalked it all up to living in a very small town, and moved to the big city where surely, surely, men behave appropriately around significantly younger ladies.  I got a job at Barnes & Noble, which is second only to the library as a place where the weirdos come in droves.  There I met a man who spent about 12 hours per day in that store–sometimes longer.  In the cafe, we served him breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus the occasional snack, and he sat at the high counter reading the paper, magazines, and being visited by friends.  He also decided that I was the girl for him, or if not for him, for his son.  He brought in pictures, talked the young stud up every chance he got, and introduced me to people as “my future daughter-in-law.”

When he first got the idea that his son and I were meant to be, his son was out of the country.  “He’ll be back in a few weeks,” he told me, “What will you say to him when I bring him in?”

“I’ll ask him if he wants a coffee,” I replied.

He was very disappointed in me.

Now, at my present job, I have a new fan.  He comes in all the time, right before closing, and traps me in conversation as often as possible.  “Andria, can you recommend a DVD for me?  Andria, I need articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education and I don’t know how to find them.  Andria, is Land’s End a good store to get a gift card from?”  At least some of what he asks me are actual reference questions, but not nearly enough.

Yesterday, he gave me a christmas card (with his phone number and email address included), and when I complained to my boss of his overtures, she suggested a stunt ring.

“Go get something cheap and flashy and make sure he sees it, then he’ll leave you alone.” she told me.

This is something I’ve though about before, and when I was working at tv station, the foxy meteorologist and I discussed it at length as she had been getting a lot of crude emails from many, many men, but it seems like I shouldn’t have to take these steps.  Why would a man who is old enough to be my father, who is educated, and supposedly sensible think that my being polite and courteous is anything more than me just being good at my job?  I don’t want to wear a stunt ring, and I don’t want to be a girl who talks constantly of her boyfriend, but I think it may come to that.

I was working at a wine bar before I moved to Rhode Island, and there was an older gentleman who came in often, monopolized my time, and asked me to go out with him several times.  When I heard that he had come in on my night off, asked where I was, then promptly left, I decided to play the boyfriend card.  All conversation halted– he wouldn’t even look at me. He chugged his wine, threw some money on the table, and left without saying goodbye.

I certainly don’t miss him or his company, but I was a bit hurt that all our interactions seemed to just be a ploy to…what?… get me into bed?  Does that actually ever work?

I just don’t want to have to deal with this, but I do, which I find unfair.  After this guy, there will be more, I’m sure, and once the attention stops, I’ll probably feel bad about my looks fading.