My (Most Recent) Liz Lemon Moment

On October 24, 2011 by Eden M. Kennedy

People often bring donations into the library. I’m used to just saying yes to whatever it is someone wants to give me. If the library can use it or sell it, great. We thank them in our prayers each night before we go to sleep. If not, we hand the person a donation receipt and respectfully lob their spider-infested magazines into a recycling bin.

Today a guy came up to the counter and said, “I’d like to donate these pens to the library.” Then he pulled the contents of my mother’s kitchen junk drawer circa 1979 out of his pocket. He had everything from dull little golf pencils to promotional medical ballpoints, and there might have even been an old Flair in there, though I could have been expecting one so much (my mom loved Flairs) that I imagined seeing one.

“Well, thank you!” I said, starting to bunch them all together and wrap a rubber band around them.

“Okay, you’re welcome. I’ll just take some of your pens now,” he said, and he started to pick through the flower pot on the counter that we keep our pens in. “I want some black ones.”

Now, what would you do? Because there was not a shred of doubt in my mind that the answer here was No, you cannot help yourself to whatever you like just because you think it’s an even trade that you just invented and then sprung on me before my tea was ready.

“No,” I said.

“What?” he said. “Oh, uh, you . . . use the black ones?”

First of all, what place of business can you ever go into and swap your old, shitty pens with? Especially a place that’s barely staying open due to budget cuts. Second of all, just no. If he had said, “Hey, I need a black pen, could I swap you?” I probably still would have said no, but there’s a small chance I would have considered it. Looking back, I’m sort of sorry he got me at the counter instead of one of my warmer and more generous coworkers. With me, he’d have had more luck just asking to borrow a pen and then leaving with it. I imagine he wanted to avoid that black mark on his karma, but at least he wouldn’t have had to withstand me treating him like a kindergartener.

However, while he was still standing there wondering what to do next, I looked over the pens he’d “donated” and saw a black one he’d missed. It did cross my mind for just a moment that he had no need for black pens at all and I’d caught him in the midst of a deadly ruse in which he’d infected the pens with anthrax as a way to protest recent fee hikes.

“Here, take this one back, it’s black,” I said, not unkindly.

He took it. I didn’t want to shame him, and I understand times are hard, but I am neither mentally nor emotionally flexible enough for spontaneous bartering.

Although last month I let another guy take two used red Sharpies, but he gave me a dollar for them.



11 Responses to “My (Most Recent) Liz Lemon Moment”

  • I’m not entirely surprised to hear that he actually thought he could take new pens in trade for old, but that’s a really odd story. Did he actually say “donate” and then expect a trade? I don’t think I’d have been so kind, so good on you!

  • OK. I love this. Mostly because had I been in your shoes I’m pretty certain that, internally, I would have been all “Hell no, Stop! Stop! This is NOT fine.” But, externally? Well, shit, I might have just let it happen and said something like, “Uh? Um, alright. Uh?” And then I would have spent the rest of the day beating myself up for not saying no…

    Your way was much better. I particularly love that you got him to take one of his pens back. Genius.

  • I did not know you worked at a library. It’s like I hardly know you at all. Oh, wait…

  • What Nichole said. BUT I AM EXCITED TO DISCOVER THIS! Mostly because I spent several years working in a library and all my best/weirdest job stories are from that era.

  • Libraries always attract the more unusual types of people…I only worked in the Children’s area of a small library and we got our fair share. Completely fine that you told him that he could not take your pens!

  • Ha ha! Love the story! The quirkiness of people is the best and worst thing about working with the public. I had all kinds of funny stories when I worked in retail. Now that I sit at my desk in my home office 5 days a week, there are not too many exciting anectodes to report.

  • I did not know you worked in a library, either. But I love knowing it now. I work in a small independent bookstore, and while the pay sucks, the stock pile of stories I’ve gotten from the experience are worth their weight in gold. Well, intellectual gold. Maybe.

    Great story.

  • As a scam, how could you not be *super* impressed with this one? It’s so inventive. You take the person by surprise with a donation and then hit them with a demand.

    I love your firmness over negotiation over office supplies bought with public funds, though.

    What *should* you do is exactly what you did. What *I* would do would be to say ‘here, have some pens.’ Or something flustered and mistaken.

  • All these interesting things about you..

  • I think you did the right thing by squishing the bug. I totally know his type. He would have taken your library’s good pens straight over to the grocery store where he would have upgraded them for a meat carving apron which would surely lead to a hotel robe and so on until the guy was driving around in a “I traded a bunch of shitty pens for this” Lexus SUV.

    • Oh my God, you’re right. It’s like that episode of The Office where Dwight traded his way up from a couple of candle stubs to a packet of magic beans.