He stood like a statue in front of the check-out counter. His eyes were completely glazed over and he was obviously enraptured with something, or someone, muttering incoherent thoughts. The other library patrons, while used to the strange and the mentally ill, were shifting in their creaky wood chairs and were evidently becoming uncomfortable. I moved in quickly before someone else took it upon themselves to set him straight.
I like to go into mysterious situations with a sense of curiosity, so if there’s a patron who appears scary or unusual at first glance, I always ask them if I can help them find something to read. 9 times out of 10 the response is positive. They become alert and say they are just browsing, or they are truly looking for something good to read, and I get to be an actual Librarian! The odd time they continue to be non-communicative or scary, and I simply alert Security who encourages them to “get some air.”
With this individual I had to wave my hand in front of his face several times, and finally he stirred. He continued to rant, talking of torture chambers and prophecies but at least his eyes weren’t blanked out. He also explained that his favourite angel was either Satan or the grim reaper, whatever the creature was featured on his death metal t-shirt.
I wasn’t phased. I have dealt with scarier-seeming individuals, who turned out to be real gems, and it’s only words and confusion and brokenness. It’s easy to get lost in one’s thoughts, but when those thoughts revolve around tragedy the mind can lose it’s way. The individual can also get more and more isolated and alienated when they can’t control those dark thoughts from surfacing into daily life – eventually it seems to consume them, unless you can break through in some gentle way.
It’s also nice to have prayer to motivate oneself, since it’s my job to step in to these situations and connect with people no matter where they are at. I like to keep the peace, and it has served me well. I’m also grateful for my husband, and his stash of awesome desert father and desert mother books he keeps at the night stand. Scott was reading St. Antony of the Desert (251 – 356) by St. Athanasius, who has little tolerance for demons and their tantrums. I follow his advice.
I gathered this particular patron liked prophecies, so I sat him down with a book about psychics by Sylvia Browne, hoping to distract him. It was evident that he had some form of mental illness, but he also had a kind-looking face, and I didn’t feel threatened. There were snippets of sentences about heaven in there too.
I did alert the Security team all the same because the other patrons were looking annoyed and impatient, since his rants did not cease. Eventually the guard had to ask him to take a break from the library since it is intended to be a quiet refuge.
That afternoon I smile at him on the street during the Book Giveaway, and as my co-worker and I wheel the empty boxes back up the ramp, he chases me down, wanting to share messages from the Creator with me, but I’m on the run, and don’t get a chance to engage.
The next day, I arrive early to work and instantly notice the poster on all the bulletin boards for the next art gallery exhibit (up on the 3rd floor of the Carnegie Centre) called “Journeys to the Edge.” There is the face of the wild one, his greasy hair and beard, the same t-shirt, and a hilarious Zorro mask concealing part of his face. The photograph is beautiful! The artist’s name is Tallulah, and for some reason I assume that this is simply another name for the man in the poster. I cannot wait to see what strange artwork that this Tallulah has produced!
It’s explained later that “Jean-Luc” (we eventually introduce ourselves to each other and become buddies), is not the photographer but one of the subjects from an event at Oppenheimer Park the previous summer. Tallulah is a very talented photographer behind a collection of portraits called the “World People Project.” She travels the world taking photos of intriguing people, and she captured a great lot of regulars from the Park and the Carnegie during her session.
I definitely want to learn more about Jean-Luc. He arrives that morning and is simply beaming! He is going to get copies of the poster, and give them to his local Police to display in their headquarters. It is evident he has a sense of mischievous humour. I ask him about the exhibit, if he will attend the opening, but he’s not sure. Instead, he attends the farewell party for the Carnegie Centre Director (Ethel Whitty), and he’s having a wonderful time! He’s like a man transformed! The guy is dancing in the aisles to the jazz music, and keeping relatively focused in his “dialogue”.
He tells me the next day that he felt so welcomed in the Centre, and had such a great afternoon during the party. He explained that, when he is in the homeless shelter, everyone acts like a robot and ignores him. He then reverts to his prophetic speech about how we will all be Kings in heaven (no such thing as Queens), and how we will all wear crowns. He loses me when he starts talking about his friendship with Queen Elizabeth, who is his Eve, followed by theories about torture chambers underneath the Police station. But, there was a moment of clarity, and that is something.
In previous experiences, I find that when the conversation goes awry, I disconnect or try to redirect the conversation to something hopefully more benign. We talk again about the photography show, and then I get back to work. I’m starting to get a bit nervous since one of the VPL Directors is expected to arrive soon with two new Trustees to give them a tour. Jean-Luc is in the house, pacing about but gets excited when the Chinese Seniors choir start singing in the lobby for Lunar New Year. Sure enough, he joins them in interpretive dance!
My trustees arrive, I turn to Jean-Luc and explain that I must give these women a tour, and he simply sits himself down with a newspaper. Phew! It’s not as though I don’t want to expose the odd ones to the big wigs, it’s just that I need to create balance in the space for my own sanity. Since then, Jean-Luc has come by the library quite regularly. It’s hit and miss each day, but I think there was progress since he actually changed his t-shirt. He is now wearing a tye-dyed shirt with an Aboriginal woman riding a wild horse. The kind you might buy at a tourist shop. And, it’s lovely.