So I make my way to the famed New York Public Library at 42nd & Fifth in Manhattan, excited about the smell of dusty hardcovers and free wifi, and what do I encounter RIGHT at the door?
I’ll spoil the mystery immediately and admit that it wasn’t the classic, literary respite that I expected. There were no baroque-style statues or slumped, burgundy couches to lounge upon. No, no. Instead, I walked straight into a velvet rope that had Officer Rent-a-Cop standing on the other side of it…like it was Saturday night at Club 112 in Atlanta.
Really, New York Public Library? Is it that serious?
I’m accustomed to getting my bags X-rayed at the airport. I even accept the physical pat-down that sometimes comes along with it. But at the library, this totally caught me off guard.
“Ma’am, I have to check your bag.”
I didn’t move. I just looked around incredulously.
“But–but this is the library.”
“Ma’am, I have to check your bag,” he repeated.
I got angry. Visually angry. It was irrational when I think about it now, but at the time, my attitude was all “WTF, what about privacy and trust among the people?!”
ORaC couldn’t have cared less, of course. I could’ve walked in with my hair on fire and he probably still would’ve said, “Ma’am I need to check your bag” in his rent-a-cop monotone.
I debated walking out. But the cry for free wifi was calling, and my turning to leave would’ve made me look guilty. So I walked over to his table. I stood there.
“I need to look inside your bag, ma’am.”
I rolled my eyes and pushed my bookbag towards him.
I unzipped the biggest compartment but didn’t peel back the opening. Then I looked up at him. He was staring at me as if he’d seen a hundred me’s already. As if a hundred people had walked in that morning and had the exact same reaction as me. It was the briefest of duels (and I was holding up the line), but I wanted to reinforce the ridiculousness of the whole charade. It was the only ammunition I had.
Finally, I peeled back the opening to my bookbag.
ORaC pulled a small, compact flashlight out of his pocket. It looked like something he found at the bottom of a box of Fruit Loops. Then he began the least interested, least thorough, most cursory inspection I’ve ever seen. In. My. Life.
I swear he did this just to piss me off.
I mean really, if you’re going to make me stop to let you check my bag, then damnit, check my bag. Don’t half-ass it. I could be a female suicide bomber!
Yeah, maybe something about my appearance said “free wifi seeker.” But he doesn’t really know, right? That’s why he has to check everyone, right? Right.
But he didn’t check. He just scanned his light across my bookbag’s opening and waved his hand for me to move on. I huffed one last huff and kept it moving. I walked up two flights of stairs. Found a little spot. Enjoyed the free wifi. It was great.
Two hours later, I packed up my stuff and headed out the same way I came in. At the room’s exit where I’d been wifi’ing it, a security guard I was paying no attention to called for me to come back. I looked around with a “who me?” look and she crooked her index finger for me to return.
“Ma’am, I need to check your bag,” she said, with a little more sass than was necessary.
“But I’m leaving. They did that on the way in.”
This ORaC didn’t bother repeating herself. She just looked at me and clicked her Fruit Loop flashlight on. I opened my bag in an exasperated fashion.
“Well? Can I leave now?”
She gave me the same wave of the hand that the first ORaC did.
By now, I couldn’t wait to leave this place. I felt like a criminal. A criminal who’d experienced bad customer service. So I hurried down those two flights of steps and my bookbag jiggled loudly all the way.
When I got to the first floor, I saw something that I hadn’t noticed when I arrived. There were two ORaCs at the door — one at the entrance and one at the exit.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought.
I looked at the new ORaC and when I realized he hadn’t noticed me yet, I fixed a hard stare at the door and picked up my pace.
“Ma’am, I need to check your bag.”
He might as well of asked me to have sex with his dog.
“Why? Why do you need to see my bag? I’ve been checked twice already. TWICE! This is ridiculous. This is the library!”
“I know where we are. Everybody has to–”
“I don’t wanna hear it. I can’t believe this.”
I put my bookbag on the table and tore it open, then asked, “Do you see anything? Anything?”
He looked at me.
I went on. “You sure? You sure you don’t wanna check this other compartment? You done? You sure now?!”
“Ma’am, if you don’t want to have your bag checked, don’t come to the library.”
Duly noted. Duly freakin’ noted.