Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Those Were the Days

I may have already mentioned the advanced age of the library building in which I labor. Built at the height of the Korean War to withstand a near-direct nuclear blast, there's no doubt this structure will survive any petty abuses that could be inflicted by neighborhood kids, wandering homeless dudes, or the occasional biker gang. (Yeah, we've got a few intricately tattooed, ZZ Top-bearded fellows who roar up to check out some romance paperbacks from time to time).

Another interesting indication of the age of this building is the employee restroom situation. I'm operating strictly on rumor here, but I understand that the upstairs women's employee restroom is a veritable luxury den featuring a plush couch, roomy lockers, and multiple strategically placed mirrors in which to check one's lovely reflection while strolling through a relaxed, salon-type environment. By contrast, the gentleman employee's restroom appears to have been included strictly to satisfy a building code. It seems to have been carved out of a third of a small auxiliary janitor's closet, and its architectural layout more closely resembles that of a primitive phone booth in an all-midget maximum security prison. Good luck changing into a superhero costume in this veritable matchbox, however, because I barely have room to bend over the sink without concussing myself on the towel dispenser. When I write a PhD. dissertation on changing gender roles in the library work force over the past century, exhibit A will be our contrasting 1950s-era restrooms.

Even more frightening than the lavatorial situation is the so-called "boiler room," a term I imagined had been retired along with the era of steam transportation. Our library's basement is a living museum of those days of coal-burning engines and mule-drawn canal barges. Just approaching the door takes a certain amount of steeled-up courage in the face of what sounds like an angry prehistoric beast trapped within the bowels of our Jurassic air conditioning unit. Once inside, a visitor requires little imagination to pretend he is actually viewing the engine room of a World War I German submarine trolling the Atlantic for Allied shipping. The wheezing and spitting sounds of whatever mechanism is pumping away down there would have sent Upton Sinclair reaching for his notebook to record the inevitably gruesome industrial accident that threatens at any moment. For all that sound and fury, the amount of cool air I feel it producing on a daily basis wouldn't blow out the candles on a two-year-old's birthday cake.

Luckily for everyone, our computer technician has installed a combination clock/indoor-outdoor thermometer for monitoring the daily temperature fluctuations within this ancient structure. As I watch the inside temperature climb to the low 80s on a bright spring morn, marvelling at this first-hand demonstration of a greenhouse effect science project in my own workplace and sweating through my clothes at the slightest physical exertion, I also make a mental note to research the long-term effects of asbestos inhalation on worker productivity.


Blogger Adjective Queen said...

Luxury den? Our women's restroom? If you count a naugahyde couch from the 1960s, lockers salvaged from a condemned high school, and a cardboard-backed full-length mirror from the Dollar General store as luxury items.

If you're brave enough, poke your head into the tiny women's bathroom near the breakroom and see it for what it really is: an isolation chamber that doubles as solitary confinement when the prison is overcrowded with inmates.

12:22 PM  

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