Just like a dozen times before, I settled down into a cozy chair in a small town library in Wisconsin. When on the road I find that libraries provide a comfortable and productive place to work, writing, emailing, attending webinars or wasting time on the internet.
As I plugged the cord of my laptop into the electrical outlet, an elderly man, probably in his seventies, muttered accusingly to me, “you are stealing. ” He pointed at my power cord plugged into the wall socket.
I was unprepared for this minor assault. Fortunately, I have learned to manage my knee-jerk response by pausing in a week-long 5 second pause. I thought several things: “What!, Why are you bothering me?”, “Get a life”. (I do not use ‘old man’ as an insult, since someone said that to me not so long ago, but that guy was a punk (haha). Then I took on the fault, “could he be right?” Seemed unlikely, but who knows? I thought of inviting him to go ask the library authorities to determine who was right; but figured he might lie about it. I considered ignoring, him, and just getting to work. But what if he was right, and the library did not want me ‘plugging in’. I know another library where a guy can bring his laptop, but is prohibited from plugging it to a power source. After all, this place with the cozy chairs is the periodical reading room, populated entirely by folks age 70 and up, getting out and catching up on the news (i.e. these folks at the reading room may not be users of the internet).
So I went to check. I asked a librarian. She said, “of course, that is not a problem”. Later, I noticed a long table in the next room, complete with power outlets for folks just like me to plug in and use the library’s free wi-fi. And free electricity. I was relieved. I returned to the cozy chair by the power outlet and I held back my feelings, saying to him only, “you are mistaken, they tell me it is fine”. He said nothing, but looked away.
As my brain rested, I wondered about this event. What was his motivation for this? Why did he affront me about this seemingly ridiculous action?
I can only makeup a story to explain what happened. Here is man, likely of limited income but perhaps significant wealth, who is accustomed to watching his money carefully. Maybe he is a local official or gadfly watching the use of tax dollars. Perhaps he sees computers, and people like me (I have a gray beard, but am still a long way from 70 years) as incomprehensible, wasteful and maybe even threatening. Maybe he is grieving and angry because his wife of a lifetime has passed away, or left him for a nicer person, or because his adult child doesn’t speak with him, or he has learned that he is dying.
I really don’t know, and I didn’t believe that he was interested in discussing it. Neither was I. So I got to work, the stress hormones gradually retuning to a normal level. The man and I had a short adventure together. And he went about his day. I wonder what he did next?