Saturday, May 25, 2024

Fox and skunk through history


When one writes an Internet column with such wide ranging interests, but also with so much content for so many years, one never knows what readers will become attached to. But no matter how directed I become in whatever current interest I am chasing down, I am always receptive to the wishes of my readership. 

And so when several people wrote in wondering where all the fox and skunk pictures are these days, I immediately looked to see if I could find something they would enjoy.

There was nothing on my computer, so...

Down into the archives I went!

And down.

And down.

In file cabinet number 223, I found these:

Friday, May 24, 2024

The curiosities of the lost and found


At a large library like the one I work at the lost and found is filled with a vast array of appalling junk. There is so much of it because the rate of repatriation is astonishingly low. If something is not claimed within a few hours the odds of it getting claimed drop to the low single digits in success percentage. After a day or two it goes even lower than that!

That does not mean that we don't get tons of calls from people frantically looking for their lost and found items. One would think, with our treasure trove of lost items, we would dig up the caller's missing treasure with hardly a problem. Alas that it is not so. Even the most extreme cases- someone recently losing a not super valuable but meaningful item, and can tell me exactly where it was left, comes out at a sad 50-50 success rate at best. It may be even lower.

There are many strange peculiarities to the lost and found, and I think the following is my favorite:

People who call or visit looking for an utterly distinctive and strange item, that one would think we would either clearly have or not, end up examining multiple like objects and walking away not finding their own.

Let me provide a representative example.

Joe lost his visor. Now, a visor is not a hugely common thing, and often we wouldn't have a single one in our lost and found. But, in case we have a couple, and to help know what I'm looking for, I ask Joe for a general description of it and a general time for when he lost it.

"Well," Joe says, "It's mostly a greenish color, with some black on the edges? Oh! And it has like a parrot or something on it, and then kind of stripes on the band. I left it here, I don't know, a few days ago, maybe longer?"

That should be plenty, right? I head to the towering shelves of our lost and found collection.

I open the "Hats, scarves, and gloves" drawer (though I check all the others in case). There are two mangy old stocking caps, a stray glove or two, a forgotten wallet, a sock, and, bizarrely, four, count 'em, FOUR visors.

One is red and black and has no birds and no stripey, so forget it.

Two are green or partly green. One is yellow, I would say, but ochre, verging towards green. So, who knows? And this yellow one has animals all around the band, including a parrot! It also has black trim and was found recently.

The first true green one does not have a bird, but rather an abstract design that sort of looks like a bird? I don't know. The band is not striped, rather it is black. Not bad. There is no indication of when it was found.

The last one is army green and has a kind of camo band- so, striped I guess, and there is black in it! And it has a big embroidered cartoon bird on it, colorful but not a parrot, but this could be it! Bringing it down in likelihood though is a slip that maybe belongs to it indicating that it was found a couple months ago, or possibly even a couple months ago AND a year before that. It's hard to tell.

I bring all three visors to Joe.

Joe examines them very carefully, like it's minute work to determine if one of these is his missing visor. He says things like "It was more like a real bird" and "The band was Velcro." Then he leans away sadly. "None of these are mine. It's more of a dark green. But thanks for looking for me."

Surely his visor is somewhere.

Maybe in that very moment three other guys were in three other libraries sadly saying "No, mine was really more yellow." and "It wasn't a parrot, more a cartoon bird" and "Why'd you bring this. I said mine was red and black?"

Thursday, May 23, 2024



It is a perhaps not so ancient truism that you can't always get what you want.

There is even a song about it.

But sometimes you do get exactly what you want.

This happened to me!

There are also a few ancient truisms about the dangers of getting what you want.

But sometimes, by some strange miracle, the world is perfect, and what you wanted, is everything you need.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024



At a farewell happy hour for one of my favorite co-workers, of almost 20 years, who is leaving the library for a different job in the county, five of us went to have drinks at the local VFW.

The VFW is not my normal scene, seeing as I have never actually fought in a foreign war. 

Having been invited to the festivities after the venue was already chosen I had two bracing responses.

1. A snobbish recoiling in horror.

2. A concern that I might have to dash up to Canada and get in a tussle in order to qualify for membership. 

There was nothing to worry about though! After thirty years of gritty, low paid, barely respected county library work, I am just the sort of down to earth, salt of the land, gritty person of no pretensions who can wander into an unglamorous VFW and have a rye and ginger and...

not gawk for too long.

So, whoever keeps quoting Charles Bukowski to me in my comments section, take note!

We all sat at a round table, surveying the room, er, maybe slightly gawking, but not for too long. There were five of us, all in our fifties to early sixties, and the best part was when I looked around the crowded room and observed "We are easily the youngest people in the room." 

You'd be surprised how often that happened to me in the nineties, but it's getting weirdly less common for every year that races by our windows.

The furnishings were bingo hall basic. There was a single set place, dusty and empty, set aside for the POW/MIA, I guess like the cup of wine for Elijah. The food and drinks were artless and passable, but, and this is important, didn't gross me out because I am salt of the earth, even if I have been to France. I had a rye and ginger, an appropriate drink I had researched beforehand by typing "What do you drink at a VFW". I also had a beer. And I had a burger and fries. In contrast to our current inflationary world, the prices were intriguingly low! Seven dollar drink! Six dollar burger! But consistent with the current inflationary world it all came out kind of expensive anyway, after a dollar for a meager slice of swiss on the burger, and the fry upcharge, and not very cheap beer, and all the usual taxes, fees, and tips.

As a group we talked about all the things we talk about at work, only at greater length and in more detail. One gets an even clearer picture of the co-workers that are universally suffered, and finds out which co-workers are disliked more than deserved, and one tries to gently illuminate their redeeming qualities.

In the end I paid for the guest of honor's bill on my own. This may have been worth it for the feeling of magnificent superiority it gave me, and for the warmth it directed to me from the guest of honor.

In the end, what do I rate the VFW?

I don't know.

I rate it:



Sixty Dollars!

or how about this:

I'd like to thank all those people in there for their sacrifice for us all in WWII.


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Applying oneself


When I was a lad, I regularly encountered the refrain: "If only he would apply himself!"

Look at me applying myself now! 

I bet they never suspected... this!

If I apply myself I can put a cart of fiction in order in two minutes!

If I apply myself I can shelve that whole cart of fiction in twelve minutes!

Doing this frees me up to...

Put more fiction in order.

And also to...

Shelve more fiction.

So I have learned to apply myself. And you might want to apply yourself too.


Choose carefully.

Oh my god. Choose carefully.

Monday, May 20, 2024

No exit


I've always loved the print payment system at my library. For many years now all of our printing and copying operates on the honor system. Near any station where a person can do any of these activities sits a humble metal lock box. People throw in any money they owe for any printing. By all accounts I have ever heard, our costs are fully covered by a system running on faith in the decency of the public.

I have always attributed this wonder to two things:

1. People are more decent than we think.

2. Institutions charging 20 cents a copy are casually ripping everyone off.

In short, not everyone pays for their printouts, but enough do and there is a ton of slush in the system to resolve that. Usually the slush in systems like this goes to corporate executives and shareholders. Here it goes to the indigent and street hustlers.

Today I had two library patrons to whom I had to explain how our system works. Neither of them had any cash, so I looked each of them deep in their souls. "Go ahead and make your copies." I said. "It is simply on your honor to come back at pay for them some time in the future." They both seemed pretty confident they would be back. For me? Who knows?

They may be back one day with their fistfuls of quarters. I hope so. But, perhaps they will spend all eternity locked in a plain white room with Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk, all with nothing interesting to say, and nothing to do but reflect.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

We revisit time travel


I'm not sure if time travel stories are a genre, a motif, or simply all of fiction. I do lean towards the latter view, which I think Kurt Vonnegut was suggesting somewhat in Slaughterhouse Five. What is narrative other than something that proceeds in a directed linear fashion like a timeline, and yet can be visited at any point at any time, defying sequence?

Well, tons of things, I suppose, but that too.

I just finished a pretty good time travel novel call The Ministry of Time, by Kaliane Bradley. It starts out being about a program where doomed people are plucked out of England's history and integrated into the present day. It begins as a bit of almost realistic romantic comedy and gets more spy thrillery as one goes along. Time travel stories have a way of ramping up like that. Time travel is hard to keep from running wild.

My favorite time travel stories are often only partly time travel stories, and they pull off dazzling narrative tricks with narrative, where everything makes perfect sense even if it shouldn't. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, arguably the only really terrific book in the series, pulls off a dazzling version of this where events that looked one way when we first encounter them turn entirely different in a new context, and yet remain consistent from every angle. Jasper Fforde, one of my favorite plotters ever, never goes all in on time travel narratives, but casually employs its devices at will to dazzling effect.

Of course, there are no rules with a feature I love so much. The movie About Time is a time travel coming of age romantic comedy about a family where the men can move back into points in their life and change the future. Not only is it full of charm, but it oddly manages the rare grace of keeping time travel low stakes despite its inherent Nuclear Bomb like power. On the other hand it is an absolute disaster class in time travel mechanics. I can't not notice that, and yet am regularly mystified at how little it ultimately matters to me.

There are also pure time travel stories out there that I love, with tightly assembled mechanics. I've talked about Stanislaw Lem's brilliant short story in The Star Diaries here before (The Seventh Voyage), and I've even done homages. Favorite authors of mine like Mark Twain, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Terry Pratchett significantly employ time travel. And maybe that starts to explain some of it to me. If we say that Time Travel is not a genre, it has a distinct predilection for all my favorite genres: Romantic Comedy, Farce, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Adventure. It is no accident that The Ministry of Time is all of these, as are most, no, ALL, of my examples.

But what's my favorite time travel story?

I'll get back to you.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Carl Sandburg's Library


This is Carl Sandburg's The Library, a poem from 1916.

I guess it's my library too, underneath it all.


After all, I'm a believer in libraries, and so are you.

Working with my nefarious tools I have made several songs recently about libraries, mostly from old poems. The sweet spot for nice, neat, short, rhyming poems about libraries seems to be 100 to 150 years ago. It's amazing how similar some of them are from that era. Like, check out this line from Katharine Tynan's 1911 poem, "The Library":

"The library's hush, where wisdom's treasures lie."

And then, from somewhere around that time, but I have given up on finding the exact date, there is Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch's poem "The Silent Readers" with this line:

"Through realms of old, where wisdom's treasures lie,"

And if you'll notice, Carl Sandburg's library poem today, of no sprawling length, mentions both wisdom and treasures twice each! 

 I have a few good whimsical songs I've put together about libraries and about bookworms now too, and they'll probably show up here sometime, but this library song/poem today is serious, straight up, and very Carl Sandburg, in as much as I know the poetry of Carl Sandburg. It's all very bold and grand. Maybe I have slightly mellowed that quality with a song that feels a little Sufjan Stevens at times.

A curious thing about this music video is that only after finishing it did I learn that ol' Carl Sandburg was quite the folksinger himself- a sort of Leonard Cohen prototype I reckon. He used to bring his guitar to poetry readings for goodness sake! 

I don't think he set these sorts of poems to music, but maybe he did!

And maybe this is how it goes:

Friday, May 17, 2024

The fruits of my labors


Finally, finally I had a whole day off to simply poke around on my computer and, applying my surfeit of imagination, conjure up wild things to show you here on clerkmanifesto.

I had an idea that had been fermenting for a week or two having to do with the architecture of Borromini, the great and by all accounts annoying Baroque Architect of Rome. I opened up one of my most powerful tools, Photoshop, and started by trying to conjure up an image of a Borromini tower in Rome.

It didn't really turn out exactly how I wanted.

"Hmm." I calmly said.

Then I watched YouTube videos and ate cashews for the rest of the day.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The visitation

Newbery Award winning author of The Animorphs and The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate, just visited my library. Though yesterday in this space I may have claimed that three billion people were coming to see her, it is possible I overestimated and the number was more like 327. 

It is still a lot!

People might one day ask me: What was Katherine Applegate like?

Hold onto your socks:

She was very nice!

Up until now my go-to famous author encounter story at my library was with a bestsellingish writer named Elizabeth Berg. She wasn't doing an event. Her mother was ailing and lived locally so Elizabeth Berg was in town for awhile. I mentioned something about her name and the author "Elizabeth Berg". She said "I am the author Elizabeth Berg." 

I responded, "I've shelved a lot of your books."

To which she replied, "I bet you have."

Yes, that's the whole story.

It's all in how you tell it.

But I can retire that story now, or maybe make it into my Library Author Encounter Story Emeritus. Because my new Katherine Applegate story is way better!

If you will recall from yesterday's post I cobbled together a fictional picture of Katherine Applegate sitting with her most famous main character, a gorilla. I applied a few arty filters to the picture. They were okay, considering I didn't have my best tools for that kind of work, what with my being at work and not on my own computer. 

I showed the pictures around to a few colleagues and bystanders.

"Are you going to get her to autograph them?" People asked.

"No, I'm too shy," I answered.

I left the pictures on a table in the breakroom though, knowing she would probably be using that as a sort of green room.

Eventually, the author arrived in our backroom and was clustered upon by the usual, mysterious publicist people who acted like ladies in waiting, and whose sole purpose seems to be to accompany the author wherever she went. They all made their way into the break room, leaving me taking care of the check-in machine. A minute or two went by and one of our people, a branch manager in charge of the event, came out of the breakroom.

"She loved your pictures!" She said. "She was so excited by them that she wants to meet you."

I was immediately ushered into the breakroom, through the small crowd of her retinue and the other event organizers. The scene evoked ones I have only encountered in movies, of regular people meeting the President, or a Monarch. The author thanked me effusively. I was then hugged by this famous lady. And finally, she asked me to sign all three pictures for her (who is getting whose autograph!), and I posed for some pictures with her.

It was all kind of dazzling.

And very sweet.

And humbling in its way.

Except in the sense that this was far more in line with what I expect the reaction to be to my art!

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Big event


Acclaimed children's author Katherine Applegate is coming to my library!


And not just for a casual visit. Not just to get a library card and then mysteriously leave the library without checking anything out. Not just to ask me if I can help her fax something.

No, it is for an author event.

Katherine Applegate wrote a very popular book called The One and Only Ivan which was a major motion picture (never saw it), won the Newbery Award, and will possibly come to be considered a classic, though after only 11 years it's hard to tell for sure with that sort of thing. 

I liked it, and isn't that all that's important?

Katherine Applegate also wrote a popular series of books called "Animorphs", which were ubiquitous around here a quarter century ago. They all had strangely compelling pictures of young people turning into animals on the cover. I don't believe I ever managed to read through a whole one of those, but I have been known to work in a similar photographic oeuvre to the cover art for them.

So we are expecting three billion people to come to this event.

That sounds like a lot, but we've brought in several extra chairs.

Many people wonder how we managed to score such a magnificently famous big time author.

It wasn't pretty.

It looked like the Saint Paul Library system was going to get Ms Applegate to speak at one of their libraries, so we sent some burglars in to their administrative offices in the middle of the night to plant bugs to give us an advantage.

Then our burglars got arrested!

There was a bit of a scandal, a shameful cover-up, and there were resignations. 

The whole thing came to be known as...


Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

And that is how we came to have Gerald Ford as our library director.

Here is the commemorative picture of Katherine Applegate and her main charcter I made for this event. I'm too shy to show her, but if she wanders into our break room, or reads clerkmanifesto every day before breakfast, then she can see it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024



Nothing happens for years, then it happens all at once.

Just so long as it all averages out in the end. The stupid universe has to make sure every stupid thing averages out in the end!

Which, admittedly, can work out for the best. 

But it isn't all that great when things seem to be humming along well enough for so long that you're foolishly getting tired of it.

Maybe I should get to the point?

Everybody is quitting the library where I work.

Everybody is quitting the library where I work!

Yes, I am exaggerating, but in this narrow time period it is at least a fifth of my library co-workers that are leaving. Great ones, indifferent ones, terrible ones, all going on to new opportunities, all riding into the sunset like a brave cowboy.

Bye Shane!

No, none of them are named Shane. 

And they didn't bring justice to our little library. But some of them were nice to have around, which is good enough to make this a tragedy.

Six and a half people gone! I'm already starting to forget some of their names. And there is no reason to assume it is all over yet. We went half a dozen years without half this number leaving! Now, if a co-worker I'm half fond of disappears to shelve in fiction for 45 minutes, I start to slightly panic. Have they taken a County position in Numistical Data Strategy Support?


Thank goodness!

Some barely adequate desk partner shows up to work with me at the desk. "Oh thank god you're here!" I cry out emotionally.

"Could you stop saying that to me every ten minutes." They complain.

That's totally something someone leaving would say!

Well, good riddance.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Northern Lights


The Northern Lights put on a spectacular show across vast swaths of the northern hemisphere. This included Minnesota. 

But you can't see the Aurora Borealis worth beans from the light polluted cities, or even from the small cities.

So everyone hopped into their cars, late at night, and drove off as far away from everything that they could get!

And when they got there they found that everyone else came with them, and they were crowded horribly together on the sides of the road and in the tiny parking lots of the small muddy lakes of forgotten regional parks. 

And cars came and went, their blaring headlights flashing over the masses tramping through the mud. And the trampling masses could hardly get all mad about it, because ten minutes ago they were the ones blaring the lights!

And so the poor wonder seekers had to go farther and farther. But they only found other cities and other people, all gathered together in great bunches to get away from everyone else!

But yeah, they saw some Northern Lights. And it was neat, vaguely, like, kind of neat. It depended on how far you drove.

Yes, I was there, with my dear and intrepid wife.

We drove and drove like we were going to a ballgame or a giant concert or something. And even though we did not know where we were going, everywhere was the destination that everyone else was headed to as well.

It was less awful than I have made it sound.

And not as good now as you might imagine.

Yes, it was right there in the middle with most things.

If you saw some pictures you may have been enviously amazed!

But pack up your jealousy for you won't be needing it. You have missed less than you thought. It turns out that the cell phone cameras see totally differently than the naked eye, and they produced far more colorful and amazing pictures than anyone could see with their simple, puny meat eyes.

In short, the pictures you might have seen of the Northern Lights were hideous lies that people downplayed the inaccuracy of to feel less bad for driving in traffic to nowhere at midnight!

Here is a rendition of kind of what the scene we were at looked like, but only according to what a phone camera might show of it:

Sorry, no, there wasn't a flying saucer. That is just something only cameras see also.

But what, you might wonder, did the Northern Lights look like with the naked eye?

Not as good as this, above, but,


And this might be important:

You had to see it.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

The viola player


I was out at the front desk with a very part-time co-worker. I like him. We were talking about the viola, which he plays. When we finished talking, for some odd reason, I started to compose a joke in my mind about a viola. 

Unfortunately, it didn't work out. 

And this is how it goes:

A dyslexic viola player was having problems with their viola. So they took their viola to their local instrument repair person. The dyslexic viola player watched the repair person nervously for quite a while as the repair person asked questions and poured over their viola. Finally, just as the viola player was starting to think the repair person would never figure out the problem, a thrilled moment of understanding passed over the repair person's face, and they handed the instrument back to the dyslexic musician triumphantly,  "VoilĂ !" They said.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

How I roll


You can take this as an example of how good I am at my job.

You can take this as an example of how bad I am at my job.

But you might just want to take this as an example of my job.

I answered the phone at my library. A patron said they got an automated call informing them that items they had were soon due. They wondered if they could renew them. Having them read me the barcode of their library card I went into their record. They had two items due in a day or two, and two more due in just under a week.

I explained this and asked, "Would you just like to renew the books due tomorrow, or should I renew all of them."

"Yes." The patron responded.

So I did.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Shakespeare's Fairy Queen


I don't exactly know what Shakespeare is all on about here, but it's all very lovely, especially sung, as I have rousingly made it do in collaboration with my robot friends.

I don't by any means perfectly get along with robots, but on the whole have formed a fair few friendships with them. And I like some of our work here. I have been singing "Over hill, over dale" for a week now and little do people know that when I do this I AM LEARNEDLY QUOTING SHAKESPEARE!!!

I spent the day working on a few pictures with some new tools, but they really took too much time and didn't work as well or as easily as I hoped. But I wanted to show you what I had of these photos, and I thought maybe I could set them as a bit of slide show behind one of my poem songs, killing two birds and all that. 

So you will find this is way simpler than my other music videos- less a music video, and more an opportunity to show you a few pictures I was working on, and, honestly, haven't really worked out all the way, and play you one of my songs as I do it.

How's that?

Your enthusiasm delights me!

Thursday, May 9, 2024

My kind of wisdom


Late of a work evening I was telling one of my co-workers some bit of nonsense, or cleverness, or god knows what, because the person suddenly looked up at me in a curious way.

"I am a font of wisdom." I explained.

But then, upon reflection, I was concerned I would be misunderstood, so I added, "Not a font of wisdom in the sense of a fountain, rather more in the sense of a set of characters in a consistant size and style."

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Our dwindling staff


This Spring's half day In Service Day came and went without my attendance. But the one thing that everyone was super excited to tell me about is the moment when the county's human resources department explained to everyone about the the county's 36 step hiring process.

Over the past years my library has been shedding workers like fur from an old sheepdog. Replacements are ever promised, yet never arrive. Finally, an explanation!

A 36 step hiring process. This, the County thought, would surely explain it to us all!

That was the highlight of the day.

I think it was the combination of the ridiculous, the hilarious, and the quietly insane that people found so appealing. Many people told me about how a hilarious comedy show sketch could be made out of it. I disagree. It would make a terrible comedy show sketch. I don't think any of these people have ever tried to write a comedy sketch! This story barely even makes a decent blog post, though I will continue to apply every one of my formidable skills in that department to do the best job possible of it.

Even that may not be enough.

What it really requires is a freakishly talented Jewish Czechoslovakian writer to bring it properly to life, and even they'd probably need a full novel to do it. 

It would be a funny novel occasionally, but that probably wouldn't be its most salient feature.

By the end of the novel I don't think anyone would actually be hired.

Just like in real life.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

My persuasive powers


Our self checkout stations are basically just big screens that offer clear, simple, even cartoonish instructions and work very well. But one of them was freezing at a particular part of the checkout process, frustrating people, so I decided I would try to reboot it to see if that could resolve the problem. This was one of three machines in a row. None of them were being used. I stood next to the one I was trying to fix to be able to access the power switch on the back of the machine.

I turned the self checkout station off.

The machine went completely dark, as it does when it has no power. I set to waiting a prudent minute before rebooting it. Twenty seconds into that period, a library patron, eschewing the other two available machines with their bright, welcoming screens, came to the one I was standing at. There, next to its large, black screen she set her items on the desk and began to attempt to check out her books.

"You might want to use one of the other machines." I suggested.

She did want to!

But probably only because I am so good at suggesting.

Monday, May 6, 2024


In these times where politics are breathing down our necks, it is important to remember that at their core they are not complex. Even the reviled and reductionist Left-Right scale, simply expressed, can have potency. Here I convey the three main stops on the scale as self-expressing entities:


I cut myself to try to feel, but sometimes I'm just here to drink the blood.


It would be insane to swallow this jar of thumbtacks, so let's just swallow half of them.


I have an impulse to do good, but most especially when it is easily thwarted.