Public libraries always have their share of "regulars" - those patrons who come in often enough that you know their names and smile at them when they visit your desk. They greet you by name, linger a while to talk, give you small details of their lives and then move on. It's all very pleasant and there is comfort in the routine of friendly faces.
It'd be so easy to forget that they're all strangers - the young mother asking for the latest bestseller, the teenager wanting to use the computer to check their Myspace, the older gentleman who comes in every morning to read the newspaper, and...Joe.
Joe has been coming to the library for years. He's a nice enough guy - seemingly a bit bipolar, in and out of work as a mechanic, he comes to use the computer to search for automotive parts and ideas for his next tattoo. Joe's always happy to be able to chat and occasionally approaches that awkward TMI territory, but has never given us any real problems...until the other day.
"Did you hear what happened with Joe?" my coworker asked.
"No..." I had just reached the reference desk for my evening shift and was putting my things away. Something nutty is always happening at the library, so I listened a bit distractedly to the story of how Joe came to the reference department and threw a card down on the desk.
"What was it?" I wondered.
"Some sort of military I.D. - he said he was on a secret mission."
I stopped what I was doing. "Seriously? Joe?"
"Yeah, and he told us that we were not to tell anyone he was here, because it was top secret. Then he went on the computer and this woman showed up a little while later...and that's when he really flipped out. He came up to the desk and started demanding that someone call the police because "that woman" - who turned out to be his sister - was bothering him."
"And so? Did you call the police?" I asked, totally baffled that no one had bothered to call the police long before that anyway.
".........," I believe, was my stunned reaction. A visibly agitated, probably hallucinating, definitely way off his meds man comes into the library acting a little more than abnormal, talking crazy talk and no one calls the police.
"Well, it was Joe." Right, Joe. Only-crazy-sometimes Joe, top-secret-mission Joe, yelling-in-the-library Joe. Completely harmless, I'm sure.
I sighed. "I would have called the cops, just in case. If I can't carry my gun in the library, I'm sure as hell going to call for someone who can."
My coworker looked a bit shocked, but there it was, the absolute truth. Since I'd already decided I'd shoot anyone in self-defense, dialing 9-1-1 no longer seemed like a big deal.