While working on the Reference Desk, I have come to accept and even look forward to offbeat and outlandish requests. In college, I worked for a time as a bank teller, and the repetitive nature of basic transactions became monotonous-- deposits, withdrawals, and account balances were about the extent of my day, with the exception of one or two "Cruella de Vil" customers who raised a ruckus about identification or money swindling on every possible occasion. In contrast, working at the Reference Desk has provided me with ample opportunities to learn about the most random trivia through varied research for individuals. One of my favorite patrons is a middle age gentlemen who sports pink miniskirts and long, frazzled hair and always dishes out fashion compliments with his research requests.
"Don't you look nice today! Can you tell me what the biggest tree in the world is, and where I can find it? That's such a lovely scarf you're wearing. Hey, what's the longest scarf that's ever been made? What was it made out of? Was it knitted or woven?"
And off I go on research quests pertaining to the longest bridge or limousine, the heaviest pumpkin or tallest tree (I even learned, to my surprise, that a tiny town in New Zealand boasts the "World's Largest Sweater." Apparently it took a man 25 years to invent a machine specifically designed to knit a sweater the size of a wall in a large warehouse. Who knew?).
But the strangest request of all came from a rather unassuming woman in her late 30's wearing a beige sweater with enough pills and cat hair on it to almost be chic in a hipster sort of way. She had a vacant look about her that reminded me of those grainy photographs from the 1960's portraying groups of swaying hippies at folk festivals, with dark moons under her eyes and a few extra pounds around her middle. She shuffled through the bookstacks for a good thirty minutes, then sat staring at a blank computer screen for another thirty minutes before creeping up to the Reference Desk with a sudden and maniacal glint in her otherwise expressionless eyes. She stared at me with ferocity.
My "Good afternoon, how may I help you?" was met with a blank stare. Ok, I thought as she stared, unblinking, into my eyes. This is a bit strange. Still, nothing I haven't dealt with before. "Did you want to use a computer?" I asked with a smile. Again, nothing but an unblinking stare, and then a hushed, "No," quiet as a whisper. "Can I help you find a book?" Without breaking her eerie eye contact she again replied, "No." I decided to try one last approach and asked, "Is there anything else I can help you with, ma'am? Anything at all?" But for a third time I received a simple, "No," before she turned on her heel and began walking away, finally breaking her relentless stare and retreating like a zombie from a low-budget horror film. I turned to my coworker on the desk who raised her eyebrows in sympathy before both of us set back to work.
To my surprise, I suddenly heard an enthusiastic, "YES!" from across the room and glanced up to see the expressionless woman with the beige sweater marching back to the desk, eyes wide. "Yes, you must help me. I need your help!" I silently put my index finger to my lips to imply she was being too loud before calmly asking, "How may I help you?" I was expecting either a request to use a public computer, or maybe an odd personal research request for tattoos or witchcraft books. Heck, I wouldn't have been surprised if she had asked for an application to Hogwarts to meet Harry Potter. Instead, the request she blurted out (none too quietly, I might add) caused our roles to reverse in terms of vacant stares. I could not help put gape in awkward confusion when she launched into her story. Our conversation went something like this:
"You need to help me! I need your help! It's essential that we get it back-- the police stole it from us!"
"Sorry, I don't understand."
"They stole it from us, the police! It was in the church, and we need it back or else we're all going to suffer! Satan will know it's gone and he'll come for us if we don't get it back. I need you to help me. I need you to call the police and tell them to give it back!"
"I'm not sure I understand. Get what back?"
"THE HOLY MARIJUANA! The police STOLE IT FROM THE CHURCH! We need to GET THE HOLY MARIJUANA BACK! You need to help me! If the holy marijuana is gone from the church then Satan will know where to find us. He MIGHT BE COMING ALREADY!"
I must have been in shock because I forgot to do my librarian "shush" thing despite the fact that she was yelling about "holy marijuana" in a public library and causing lots of perturbed stares from other patrons. Fortunately, my boss heard the hubbub, noticed my vacantly shocked expression, and came to the rescue. Between the two of us, it took at least another five minutes to convince the screaming woman with the beige sweater that we knew nothing about her holy marijuana, nor could we call the police and demand that they return it. She did not relinquish any more details, and eventually retreated back into her (presumably) drug-induced glaze without any further requests. I could not help but imagine a low-budget zombie character limping off through the bookstacks into an illusion of graveyard fog on a personal crusade for the holy marijuana, never to be seen or heard from again.
By far the strangest request I have experienced yet.