I’ve worked in public libraries for almost 20 years now, and earlier this week a patron said something to me that was not only the strangest thing said to me that day, but one of the top five strangest comments from a patron … EVER.

So a nice-looking middle-aged woman came up to the desk to return an item.  She looked healthy, normal, and not at all like someone who was about to go off the deep end.  Since I’m a native New Yorker (and naturally quite shy) I usually don’t make a lot of eye contact.  But when she suddenly announced, “I can smell my hair,” I had to look up because … well, I had to know if she was talking to me, or to herself, or to some random friend who had suddenly materialized next to her.  Well, there was nobody else nearby, so it seemed like she was talking to me.  Except she was kind of staring off into space, so it was more like she was speaking to herself and I just happened to be there.

I looked away again, because it was kind of embarassing and I wasn’t sure what was going on.  Was she having some sort of an episode?  Or was this meant to be an icebreaker to start a conversation with me?  Well, my confusion only escalated with her next statement, “It STINKS.  It’s time to wash my hair.”

And, I mean, really … what’s the correct response to a statement like that?

  • Thanks for sharing!
  • Ugh!  TMI!
  • Okay, well … enjoy your shower!

As I sat there blinking, thinking about how this qualified for one of the criteria I always mention when I’m asked to speak at a Career Day (“if you work as a librarian, you’ll usually have something interesting to talk about when you go home at night”), the woman turned and left the building.  At which point I reached for a pen and paper so I could write down her words before they evaporated from my mind, just to make sure that I could share them with you.