24 July 2003 by Published in: in my life 1 comment

Ok, so the time has come for me to tell you about Eliza. I’ve been threatening and promising to do this for about two weeks, and people have become understandably impatient with me to get on with it. Everybody works with crazy people. All of you who have jobs also have stories about one or more of the real nutjobs who work in your building. I, however, work at an archives and this provides me with a greater proportion of insanity vs. sanity to deal with on a daily basis than other types of employment. This may sound harsh and judgmental, but I’m a librarian, and I actually went to library school and so I know what I’m talking about here. There is, for example, the cataloger who thinks West Nile Virus is a biological agent delivered to us by the evil and cunning Fidel Castro. There’s also the woman whose job function (among others) is to decide how our webpage should look who thinks that the whole world sees on the web exactly what she sees on it. If she changes her monitor resolution, you see, she’s just changed the monitor resolution of everyone on the entire Internet. No amount of logic, demonstration or persuasion will sway her from this point of view. Or how about the head of our IT department, who confessed that God was maybe trying to tell her she shouldn’t have gotten leather seats on her SUV when she had car trouble? Yes, as you can see, unorthodox worldviews, to put it nicely, abound in my place of employment.

However, the story I am about to tell you is about none of the above mentioned people. The story I am about to recount is about Eliza. Eliza is a shelver. Our library has closed stacks, which means that you cannot fetch books for yourself and you cannot take them out of the building. Like the Library of Congress, if you’ve ever been there. You look up what you want, you fill out a piece of paper, and the book or manuscript or photograph or map or geegaw is brought from the shelves to you. And then put back, when you are finished looking at it. This is what Eliza does. I think she also does some stuff with the vertical files, but we’re not exactly friends, so I can’t say I really have a good grasp of all her assigned tasks. At any rate, Eliza is most famous among the staff here for her inopportune door and elevator closings. I thought perhaps people were exaggerating when they described this phenomenon to me, but I found out rather recently that they were not. The way this works is as follows:

  • Eliza walks into an elevator.
  • You are just behind her.
  • You shout, “Hold the elevator please,” or “Hang on!” or some other commonly understood phrase that indicates a request to wait.
  • She promptly pushes the button for the floor she wishes to go to and the elevator slides closed before your very eyes.

Alternatively, she passes through a door that is supposed to remain closed at all times. There are lots of these doors in an archives, just so you know. You are walking maybe three to five feet behind her. She turns and slams the door literally in your face. In my case, she actually made eye contact with me before slamming the door, which I found incredible and appaling.

There are other peculiarites about Eliza that I should perhaps make known to you. She’s rumored to be very funny and talkative among a select few people, but the vast majority of the archives staff have rarely, if ever, heard her voice. I’ve only heard it once before (and I shall get to that, in a moment). She appears quite young, but dresses like she’s your grandmother or possibly a pentecostal. She usually wears dowdy long skirts in navy or black and long sleeved blouses with orthopedic looking shoes. Often she has a non-descript dark cardigan. She wears thick glasses (of course! could the stereotype be any more exact?). As my good friend, roomtemp, described her she’s “almost conspicuous in her drabness”. Anyways, I think you get the idea of her appearance.

She’s also been observed performing an odd ritual over her car upon departing from the archives at the conclusion of the work day. Her car is a sad, red, several year old tempo (or equivalent) and she’s apparently regularly seen taking a bottle of water and splashing it onto her headlights and windshield in some kind of strange anointment before getting into her car and driving home. I have no idea what this is about, and your guess is as good as mine, though a clue may lie in the extra little bit she was observed doing last week. In addition to splashing the water onto the regular spots, she also splashed it onto the muddy place on the body of the car just above the tires. Of course splashing a little water doesn’t clean encrusted, dried mud and the attempt was feeble at best, but there you have it. My experience with Eliza and her car, and indeed one of two direct encounters I’ve ever had with her (discounting various door slamming incidents, of course), has further shown she drives like a loon. At the time, I was not able to recognize her car, so I didn’t actually know who I was dealing with until later. I was driving up a street towards work, fixing to make a left onto the street with the archives parking lot when I pause because there’s a vehicle approaching from the other direction. Very slowly. Slowly enough that I begin to think I should have cut in front of the car and made my left instead of waiting. Still, I’ve waited this long, I can wait for the car to cross the intersection. The car, which is in the left lane, does not cross the intersection but instead swings onto the cross street making a right turn out of the left lane. What a kook! I think to myself. I make my own turn, and then realize that the car is turning into the archives parking lot. I realize I must know who this crazy driver is, and that they must work at the archives (the building doesn’t open to the public for another hour and a half) and therefore this person couldn’t have been surprised by the arrival of their designated place to turn. I had assumed they were perhaps lost or something. So I follow this car, painfully slowly, into the parking lot, park, get out, and see that the crazy driver is, in fact, Eliza. This event happened about a month ago, and it, coupled with another incident that followed, is what first sort of brought her to my notice and made me follow the subsequent tale more closely than I otherwise might have.

So, before I recount the grand tale (one that is still unfolding, by the way, so the potential for updates is great) I will submit this last piece of background information by retelling the only time I ever heard Eliza speak. For a long, involved, trivial reason that I’m not going to detail here, I was looking for an employee of the archives. I had looked in all the normal places where she usually worked, had not found her, and some of her officemates suggested that I look in the library. I climb the stairs to the library and look around but don’t see her. I go back downstairs, say she’s not up there, and am advised to look for her in the stacks. Ahhh, the stacks. Of course, why didn’t I think of that? I go back up to the library, open the door to the stacks, and standing before a cart full of microfilm is Eliza. She looks to have been standing there for a while, so I figure I’ll ask her if she’s seen the person I’m looking for.

“Have you seen D—- C—-?” I ask

She looks up at me, a look of complete startlement and horror, half shakes her head and makes a sound that, possibly, might be interpreted as “no” but really is more of a squeak than anything else.

At that moment, a robust and cheery reference librarian comes around the corner and asks what’s up and I tell him I’m looking for D—- C—- and he proceeds to bellow her name over and over and ask if she’s back there. Complete silence follows. He shrugs and says she must not be back there. After all that racket, I tend to agree. I turn away and start toward the door from the stacks to the library, and just as my hand closes on the knob I hear Eliza shouting:

“You can come out now! She’s gone!”

Now, I can only assume that this was meant to be a joke. However, I find it so odd that this woman who to my face can only squeak, can scream at the top of her lungs once I have my back turned. Furthermore, this joke would be funny if it were to come, say, from someone I actually knew or whom I conversed with on a regular basis, but coming from a complete stranger it’s just creepy and bizarre. Probably this joke was targeted to the robust and cheery librarian and not to me, but it was still very strange, regardless.

You are now armed with all the information I know about Eliza. The stage is now set for me to recall the ongoing saga of the weird notes, which will begin in Part 2. Stay tuned.


Mon 25th Aug 2003 at 3:50 pm

while you were in switzerland, i happened to turn the corner and nearly run into dear’liza. she had the front of her hair twisted into some side sectioned atrocity and affixed with multiple pencils.

i had the urge to poke at her.

i have her my best <i>i suffered through far too many high school musicals</i> smile, and in her startled state, she <b><i>very nearly smiled back</i></b>.

it was one of the creepiest things i’ve ever seen.

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