As we look back on the year just past, it’s not too late to honor the heroes of 2010.

Photo: New York Daily News

Last summer, flight attendant Steven Slater cursed, grabbed a beer, and slid down the evacuation chute of the JetBlue aircraft that was his workplace, straight into the hearts of fed-up American workers everywhere. His inspiring (if illegal) escape has given the interior monologue of disgruntled employees a new refrain: “What would Steven Slater do?”

Not all of us who are challenged in our workplaces have an emergency exit slide. And for the klutzes among us who would probably have broken both legs on the way down and then been run over by a taxiing plane—not to mention those people who would rather not get fired or jailed—the exit slide option is not ideal. But we can dream, can’t we?

And who has these workplace escape fantasies more often than anyone else? Librarians!

Like telemarketers and customer service reps, we must be unfailingly polite. “No, ma’am, I cannot spend the next two hours working on your crossword puzzle.” “Unfortunately, sir, I am unable to research your family’s genealogy back to the Stone Age.” “Sorry sweetie, but I’m not going to correct the countless grammatical errors in your Yale application.”

Like parking meter agents and cops, we hand out fines and enforce rules that everybody believes in until they get caught. “I’m sorry about the tragic death of Lady La La, your beloved canary,  but I can’t waive the fine for that long overdue book.” Like teachers, we are poorly paid and asked to do things that aren’t really in our job descriptions. “Sure, I love kids. That doesn’t mean I want to watch yours run amok pulling books from our shelves while you pop off to the dry cleaners.” Like IRS agents, judges, attorneys, and the clergy, we hear way more than our fair share of lame excuses.

We're tough and ready for action.

That’s why we librarians are so grateful this year to Steven Slater for adding a new thrill to our already rich fantasy life. For example:

A young woman sits at a table calmly tearing pages from our copy of the latest issue of Bride and tucking them into her purse.

Watching her from the Circulation Desk, I wonder—what would Steven Slater do?

If I were Slater, I’d grab the magazine from her hands, demanding “What’s wrong with you? You couldn’t use the photocopy machine? You had to rip up library property? You selfish turd! And what kind of messed-up marriage begins with an act of public vandalism? You’ll be divorced and miserable within a year, and it will serve you right!“

Instead, I take away the magazine, explaining, “This is library property. I’m afraid I can’t let you destroy it.”

A woman stands in the middle of our otherwise quiet library blathering away on her cell phone at top volume about her sinus problems.

What would Steven Slater do?

If I were Slater, I’d interrupt her conversation with: “What makes you think everyone here wants to suffer through a detailed description of everything that’s wrong with your nose? This is a library. It’s supposed to be quiet space. Shut up or get out.” If she made even a peep of protest, I’d grab her phone, march into Ladies Room and lob it into the toilet.

Instead, I tap her on the shoulder and gently ask her to take the call in the vestibule where it won’t disturb others.

A patron has a dozen DVDs that are months overdue. Rather than returning them to the circulation desk and paying the fines, he sneaks them into the library and puts them back on the shelf. Then he pretends to “find” them there and claims he’d returned them on time, insisting that we waive the fines.

What would Steven Slater do?

If I were Slater, I’d say, “That’s a lie and we both know it. Shame on you for trying to cheat the library. Pay up and get the hell out of here before I smack you upside the head with this copy of Morality for Dummies.”

Instead, I curse quietly to myself and waive his fines.

One of these days, a flight attendant will return a stack of overdue books. Handing me the $25 fine, he’ll explain: “I’m sorry I couldn’t get them back on time. I was in jail because I slid down the exit slide to freedom after the customers finally drove me nuts.”

I’ll push a secret button. A hidden trap door will spring open. We’ll jump in, hurtle down a slide and land gently at the neighborhood pub, where we’ll use the $25 to buy a pitcher of beer. As we toast to our escape from 2010’s most annoying customer, I’ll look up and notice all of the library miscreants I just told you about, on their hands and knees, scrubbing the floor.

A librarian can dream, can’t she?

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  • Luis Carlos Montalván January 8, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Hurrah, Janet & Roz!

    It’s nice to know that there are still people in this world that set inconsiderate people straight!

  • Mark Lowe January 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm


  • Anonymous January 7, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Brava, Janet and Roz, For letting your inner scold have her say.