Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My time traveler









 I've always been a fan of time travel stories, but I never thought it was possible outside of books or movies. There are just too many logical problems with the process. But one morning recently, to my surprise and delight, as I came downstairs in my house a box blinked into existence before my foggy eyes. As I approached the mysterious box a man popped into existence as well. He was old, with a faint air of oddness and exoticism and an alarming frizz of silvery hair coming out of his ears. He looked delighted to see me.


"Hi, I'm from the future." He exclaimed. "Love the blog" He stuck out a wrinkly, gnarled hand that looked like the root system of a tree growing in rocky ground.


"Really?" I replied, shaking the hand. "What blog posts in particular are you keen on?"


"You don't want to know about the future?"


"Oh, sure." I said. "What ends up happening with my blog in the future?"


"I can't tell you." He replied chuckling. Apparently I'd done something humorous.


"Is this one of those time travel conceits where you have to follow a bunch of convenient rules?" I asked.


He gave me a sideways look. "Not exactly. It's like, no one agrees to stay on the planet and not just spin off into space. It's spontaneously enforced, you know, by gravity."


I nodded at him to proceed.


"All right." He said. Then, surprised by something, he held up his hand for a time out. He hacked up some phlegm for awhile, then, unphased, continued. "So it turns out that time travel, while possible, is super finicky. We can travel to the past, but the course of history is unchangeable. If you try to change it it won't let you. You can go back into the past and do things, see stuff, talk to people, but if anything you do has any kind of ripple effect on the future it simply won't happen."


"I don't understand. How does it "not happen"?"


"On the big scale, the time machine simply doesn't work most of the time. If someone wants to go back for the wrong reasons, or to the wrong place or time, as far as changing history is concerned, then the time machine simply won't work. At least that's the theory. But it's a pretty sound one. And if someone does go back and starts to say or do the wrong thing, like if I told you an essential future event, I'd pop back to the future before I could do it. In fact, that's how my return trip works. The time machine only goes backwards. I go back to my present simply by trying to change the past on purpose. Neat, huh?"


"I guess." I said hesitantly. "So what brings you to me?"


"Your blog!"


"My blog?" I asked. "Does it get important and famous?"


"Who knows?" He said. "Well I do, but I'd probably disappear if I tried to tell you. And you have to take anything a time traveler says with a grain of salt anyway. A person can't stay in the past for more than two seconds without learning to get cagey about the truth."


"So, my blog..." I encouraged.


"Right. Well, sometimes there are loops." The time traveler said.


"Loops?"


"Yeah. So sometimes there are incidences where it is clear in the future that something in the past had to have been affected by time travel. If that's true then it is possible to go back in time and make it happen."


"Weird." I said. "So is that happening now?"


He put a finger against his knobby nose, tapped, and nodded. "You write a lot of blog posts where you do these interviews with people that you couldn't have done without using a time machine."


"But are you sure I didn't just make them up?" I asked. "It totally sounds like something I'd make up."


"Well, I'm here, so, oddly, that kind of seals it." He said.


"But what if you didn't come? Why did you come? What about free will?" I asked, confused by all these issues at once.


He shook his head in a bemused way that reminded me alarmingly of myself. "I think the sad thing about time travel is that it's no different from any other exciting new technology, like the Internet. It seems miraculous. It is miraculous. But it ends up solving nothing. It provides no real answers to anything important. And it's only just barely entertaining enough to be irresistible."


"Aren't you a ray of sunshine." I said smiling. I rather liked him.

"Chip off the old block." He replied grinning. Then he vanished, with a slightly surprised look, into thin air.

But the box was still there. It had a nice stocking cap in it. You could type instructions in the inside of it, on an odd sort of mini cloth keyboard, like where and/or when and/or to whom to go to. Then you put the hat on and it takes you there, sort of. It weirdly interprets your inputs a good deal of the time. And actually it only works at all like once out of every hundred times. I think I'm supposed to interview celebrities in it.

So far I've only managed to get to Shakespeare. 

I could barely understand him. He didn't seem to much appreciate the blog posts I gave him to read. But I may have misread his body language.








 












Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Setting the rules







I would describe my relationship to my library's rules, its policies and procedures, as mercurial. And also disciplined. It is freewheeling and calculating, respectful and rogue. You know, complicated.

Here, let's take a look at a recent incident. Perhaps it can shed some light.

A woman approaches me at the front desk of the library. She has a DVD that she has requested. It's a full season of a TV show. "I might be at my limit." She says. "Can I see if I can check this out?" I run her card and try to check the item out. No. She has exceeded her limits.

We don't have very strict limits at my library on the number of items one can have checked out. I would describe these limits as primarily designed to keep people from going off the rails. For instance one can only have 150 total items checked out at a time. This is a policy decision directly borne from our experience with people who get a little too obsessed with having as many items out as possible. It all has a way of accelerating to the limits, no matter how high those may be, and then exploding in a shower of lost books and massive fines. Our limit on DVDs is a very reasonable twenty out at one time. This woman has 20 DVDs currently out and wants a 21st.

A curious peculiarity of people who repeatedly have 20 DVDs out at a time is that they frequently favor a lot of TV shows. This brings up the interesting mathematical curiosity wherein they will be technically unable to watch all their discs during their check out period, even if they watch them unceasingly, without stopping to sleep.

She asked me if I could make an exception and check out this show she was waiting for.

I said no.

"No's" come in a lot of flavors. You have probably noticed this yourself in dealing with institutions and businesses. For instance there is my hundred percent "No". "No, I can't get you a library card without an I.D. with a verified address of some kind." This is a sound policy, and with an adult who wants a card I see no reason to get tricky with it. I also have a ten percent "No". "I can't renew your book for a third time." Which is almost invariably followed with "But seeing as no one is waiting for it and you really need it I'll do it this one time. You definitely won't be able to renew it again. This is an exception. And I will disclaim all knowledge of this incident should it come up." In this case the "no" is mostly in there to make the patron understand what's happening, understand our policy, and make sure they don't take it for granted. I don't hate our policy here, but I agree less and less with it the more we weed our overstuffed collection (relative to shelving space). But I do respect a certain consistency with the policy tools the front line staff work with.

So, back to that 21st DVD. When I say "no" it is an eighty percent "no". I think our policy is basically reasonable, and not a bad idea. This person knew the policy, and there is no real reason why she shouldn't work responsibly with it, which she already probably isn't by having a ridiculous 20 DVD sets checked out. On the other hand, who really cares? Who am I to judge her viewing habits and library collection fetish. Maybe she has some vaguely tolerable plea to make and I can let it go this time. I'm listening.

But there is no reasoned argument. She merely exclaims angrily "What?! Everyone else here lets me check out more!"

That seals it. My "no" shoots up to 100 percent like a bullet. It lodges so hard in the ceiling that I couldn't pry it out with a chisel.

She storms off in a huff. 

I'm not so pleased with her. I'm not too wild about these alleged co-workers who've indulged her either. But, at the moment, at least, I'm feeling pretty good about our policy.







Monday, March 27, 2017

Ten questions with Bob Dylan









Recently Bob Dylan posted a new interview on his website. This is rare enough that the St. Paul daily paper, The Pioneer Press, put news of it on its front page. Minnesota, after decades of stand-offishness, has finally accepted Dylan as its proud own, like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Charles Schultz, two other artistic legends who fled Minnesota for other places. "Bob Dylan Posts Rare Interview on his Website" was the title of the article, or something like that. Even I consider that questionable as front page news, but a new Bob Dylan interview is indeed rare. And don't think I didn't let Bob know it.


"You know, it's one thing when you aren't doing any interviews." I said to Bob over cocktails. "But it's kind of cold that you won't do an interview on my blog when you're happy to do one on your own, already sufficiently popular, website!"


"Oh man." Bob complained.


"The guilt and shame hurts?"


"No, what do they put in this drink? It's making me so weird." Bob said.


"Too much green chartreuse, I think." I replied. "Super pretty though with the absinthe and dry ice."


"Absinthe!" Dylan exclaimed startled. "Are you sure it's not driving me mad?"


"No, no, bunch of myths about absinthe."


"Go ahead. Do yourself an interview. Ten questions." Bob said, magnanimously.

 
"Wait, let me get out my post-it notes."




                                   Ten Questions with Bob Dylan

 

Me: What are your favorite blog posts on clerkmanifesto?


Bob: Uh, I like the ones mostly about library policy and procedures, I guess.


Me: Really, what about the ones with you in it?


Bob: The only ones I don't like are the ones with me in it.


Me: But they're really good. They're funny. Plus no one believes they're real anyway.


Bob: Why wouldn't someone believe they're real?


Me: For someone as crusty and knowing as yourself you can suddenly get so disarmingly innocent.


Bob: Bah!


Me: How many questions have we used up so far?


Bob: I think with that one you're at, like, 8 or 9.


Me: Let me check my notes. It's three! It's only three. And you're at one. So it's three to one.


Bob: Okay, my turn. What's your favorite liqueur?


Me: St. Germaine.


Bob: Bartenders ketchup.


Me: I like ketchup. Ketchup is amazing.


Bob: You go.


Me: What do you think of Messi, the greatest soccer player of all time?


Bob: I think you get these fixations. And then you think everyone should have them.


Me: No. He's really that good. Besides, what about you?


Bob: What about me what?


Me: Three more discs coming out of you singing songs from the Great American Songbook, or whatever.


Bob: These are classics. Some of the greatest songs ever written!


Me: They're fine, but around the time I was born, which is a long time ago already, you had single-handedly begun the process of ripping open the soft belly of the Great American Songbook, gutting it, and reinventing what a person can do with a song.


Bob: Really, I did that?


Me: They gave you a Nobel Prize for it.


Bob: Oh yeah, that. (In a smaller voice) I was too busy to go get it. (Bob starts giggling).



I gently teased the remains of his cocktail away from him as he giggled some more. Then I drank it myself. Then I started giggling a bit too. It took a while for us to resume.



Bob: I think that was ten questions. Five each?


Me: Close enough.






















Sunday, March 26, 2017

Birds of a feather








There I am at the front desk of the library. Once again. I am teamed up, so to speak, with the very worst of all my co-workers.

Is she the worst I have ever worked with? Let's see:

She is incompetent, yes.

She gets almost nothing done and passes that lack of productivity off in direct ways to her co-workers and to the patrons, often through egregious errors.

She avoids a vast array of barely irksome tasks and interactions by feigning what seems to be a genuine confusion, and yet it is a confusion that unfailingly leads her away from ever helping the next person or accomplishing any appropriate task. You must never forget to ask yourself this, as regards an unproductive coworker: If the truly ignorant will get half the questions on a true/false test correct, what kind of mad genius gets them all wrong?

But she is not exactly mean. Yes, she will react with an obstinate hostility or bovine uncorrectibility to any criticism or instruction, but her presentation is friendly. It is bumblingly amiable. If you are a patron she will look concerned with your problem, industrious, and keen to help, even as she works ever to complicate and expand that same problem.

So she is not the worst co-worker of all time. Bah, merely in the top ten, or five.

And that is all well reflected in the patron standing before me, just shy of the front desk. She is patiently waiting to speak to this most reviled co-worker. She's excited to show her the DVD she's found. She says to me, about my co-worker "I just have to show that so nice lady something." But she has to wait a long time because my co-worker is with another patron. My co-worker avoids every patron she can, but when she gets one she spends as long as possible with them. I assume this is related to some inarticulated the devil you know... philosophy.

In between my own helping patron after patron, while my co-worker toils away on her simple registration, adding bizarre flourishes and long, meaningless digressions, I get most of the DVD patron's story. It amounts to:

She wanted a DVD. My co-worker wildly misinformed her about what was available, took 15 minutes to do so, and sent her off to someone else. That person got her the DVD. Then the patron came back to my co-worker to wait twenty minutes to share her good news and thank her for her excellent work.

Well, I suppose they deserve each other. And I hope they'll be happy together. 









Saturday, March 25, 2017

Other writers, if they must be called that










There are plenty of other writers besides myself, lurking among the library staff. I recently passed by one at the reference desk. She was looking for a phrase for something she was working on, something to do with the Clintons. She flagged me down and asked for an idea. But before I could deliver my phrase she invited me urgently to her screen to show me what she'd come up with. It was good, a very nice turn of phrase. "That's good!" I exclaimed.

 "I know." She replied. "Didn't you know? I'm an excellent writer."

 That may well be true, but I take the lesson from this that no one enjoys such displays of exalted self-regard, no matter how true they may be. I would vastly have preferred a simple response such as "Coming from an absolute genius such as yourself, your praise means the world to me."








Friday, March 24, 2017

Land of the blind








I have been thinking of contemporary updates to Erasmus's old quote:

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.


How about:

In the land of the blind the blind person who shouts the loudest about how he can see is king.


Or:

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is generally considered to be irritating.


Or we might as well go all the way:

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man has a not very popular blog.


No, now we've gone too far. Way too far. Let's try to walk this back.

How about:

In the land of the blind small groups of one-eyed people gather together to cluck their tongues.


Sure, why not. That is so us. We could all become kings, but then we'd have to put out our eyes. 

As Erasmus said:

In the land of the blind he who wants to be king must put out his eye.


Well he should have said it. Why do they all leave it to me to take care of?








Thursday, March 23, 2017

The New York Times Book Review











The New York Times Book Review has asked me to review Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland. I anxiously awaited my advance preview copy in the mail. When it came I was disappointed. Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland is an astonishingly thin book. In an unusual square format, the book seems hardly more than a fancy pamphlet. Even then I hoped that what it might lack in heft, depth, and sheer verbiage, it might make up for in the density of its prose. Perhaps my mind would be challenged by a short work of fierce complexity, a puzzle of challenging forms and intellectual invention? No. Peachblossom and the Trip to Happy Fairy Wonderland is oddly full of pictures; insipid, cartoonish drawings of tiny young ladies with wings. The text itself covered but a few crude sentences on each page and all together could probably be quoted in whole here without straining the length of my review.

Could this possibly be the correct book?


I checked my letters from the editor of The New York Times Book Review. Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland was indeed the book they wanted me to review. Furthermore Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland was the book I had agreed, contractually, to review. So I sat down in my best reading chair, lowered my reading glasses, and applied my undivided attention to the text.


Ninety seconds later I was finished reading, cover to cover, Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland. My first impression was not good. The writing was so simple and banal that I cried out "Does this author think I am some small child!" 


I will share with you a small sample of the opening text of the novel:


"Peachblossom is a happy fairy. She lives in the Enchanted Forest with her many friends. One day there is a magic storm. There is a rainbow."


I did not spend nine years at Harvard University studying Literary Semiotics only to be confronted with a main character whose entire reality consists of being happy and having friends. Is the text being ironic? I assure you it is not. It is steadfast in its insipid assertions of untroubled people in a thin paradise. The magic rainbow opens a path to Happy Wonderland. Is a wonderland not enough of an inducement? Must it also be happy? These relentless assertions of positivity only start to make me question the desperation of the author's assertions. Is Orangeflower, the "smiling Sunshine Fairy", always smiling? What meaning can there be to a Happy Wonderland where "the people always have a happy fun time"? When the author made these relentless proclamations of joy I felt suffocated, unable to have any room to respond to the characters and events of the book on my own. And I wanted to respond on my own, because Peachblossom was clearly capable of being a resourceful and dynamic figure, as we were soon to see. And there were elements in her relationships with Orangeflower and Aprilshower, the Rain Fairy, that seemed interesting on their own, without the author's repeated assertions that they "loved each other very much" or were always "the best friends".


As much as I detested the book at first, which I found puerile and poorly written, I became more conflicted as I engaged with the plot. To my surprise I started to find the extremely brief novel gathering hitherto unforeseen depths. Conflict was the key in this transition. I felt nothing for Peachblossom and all her happy happy times in Wonderland as they first transpired, but when she could not find a way back home to the Enchanted Forest my heart went out to her. I soon felt a surprising admiration for her resolution, possibly because there seemed so little grit and personality to her at first. When she gathered her best friends Aprilshower the Rain Fairy and Orangeflower the Sunshine Fairy together to make a new magic rainbow to lead them home I admit to being caught off guard. What a clever fairy Peachblossom turns out to be! Despite the initial insistence on a thin characterization of "happy", these unrevealed depths of Peachblossom were a surprise and a delight.



For all the faults of the writer of this work, one cannot deny that this author, or authors (it remains unclear), showed a deft, masterful hand at plotting and character development. That it was merely a device of the author to set the initial quality of the book at an appallingly low standard in order to accentuate its later emotional power is a theory I am skeptical of, but I nevertheless find myself unable to resist the well won emotional triumph of Peachblossom's return home to the Enchanted Forest. Perhaps the face of literature has not been changed by this work, but the meaning of friendship between Orangeflower, Aprilshower, and Peachblossom is a testament to the power of art and to the triumph of love and happiness over everything. These visions will long sing in my heart, and my view of both friendship and rainbows will never be the same again.













Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Information must be free













 

A patron who has never been to this library came to me and said "I have never seen a library so big and so clean before!"

"That's just an illusion because of our tall white walls." I said. "I am intimately acquainted with this library and it is filthy." Then I gave her advice on her taxes.


My point here is that I am not in the business of lying to the public. I work for them. I'm comfortable working for them because they almost never think I work for them. A boss or two around here occasionally thinks I work for them. While they may be, in some wretched, twisted sense, right, it is my intention that they be painfully burned every time they try and touch that.


But we were talking about telling the truth. Reports reached me from a colleague recently that all the library fine money we collect goes straight to the coffers of the County. This is contrary to all that has been true in the past. In the past all fine money collected was specifically earmarked for our materials collection. At press time it remains unclear whether the information my colleague received, despite it being from a lofty source, was entirely accurate. But my colleague was at pains to make it clear they would never tell a patron that the fines simply go to the county. They would not disabuse the library patrons of the notion that their fines directly benefit the library.


I feel just the opposite. For all these years, patrons, chagrined, have paid me their fines, small and large, and said "At least it goes to a good cause." And I have said "It does. It goes to our collection. We use it exclusively to buy new materials." If this is not true they should know, and so should I. And if this is so, and I tell them, and they write angry letters to their County Commissioner I would only count myself lucky.


I work for a library. We provide information here. I am not in public relations. Rather, I am in a Democracy. And while that Democracy only hangs from the edge of a cliff by its fingernails, it manages to at least do that. And the way that it has done it, so far, is by reading about how to do it at the library. 


Which is why it's not that terrible to have to come to work here every day.











Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Unflappable









Though he is by no means a favorite among my co-workers, I have, with long study, become fond of him. Yes, he's grumpy. His brief periods of extreme productivity invariably bring a self-cancelling chaos in their wake, and his ideas are unsound, but he takes criticism well. How many people do you know who take criticism well? Right, none. So that's something.

We were both shelving in fiction today. I had already briefly been at it when he arrived with half a cart. Ha ha ha, half a cart, that's like 25 books on one shelf. A pretty mild dose of work in fiction. That's like something I might do. He immediately parked his cart and went into the bathroom. I grabbed six books off his cart and shelved them as fast as possible.

He came out and started shelving. He uses the technique where one leaves the cart at the end of the row and brings a handful of books along to shelve. I used to use that. It's good for agility and being able to avoid people in one's row, but it's a bit slow, and it left me too far away from a good writing surface or a place to set my cappuccino. I always travel with a cart these days. His was just sitting there, temporarily abandoned. and of all the rows and books he could have been working on he was in the row I was set to work on. That's so him. So I put all my books for that row on his cart and moved to the next row.

I finished shelving. He was down a row shelving a hefty armload of books. These were the last books off his cart, so along with my empty cart I took his empty cart. Down the elevator I went with two empty carts. I wheeled into the circulation work room. Much comment was made about how I wielded two carts. I got a new nickname. Two Carts, they called me.

Five minutes later he came down. Had he noticed anything? The books on his cart growing and shrinking? His cart disappearing? Well, now that I mentioned it. And his missing cart? Did he notice that? Yes, he figured I took it because it's the sort of thing I'd do.

Sometimes my reputation is a curse.








Monday, March 20, 2017

Like Keith Jarrett






Woooooooooo!


Oh yeah! This is going to be greeeeeeeeat! Wahoo!



I am a big fan of Keith Jarrett. His Koln Concert is especially good, and, if you're at all like me, and poke around top jazz albums of all time lists, you will find that The Koln Concert is a regular on them. The Koln Concert might not make it up there with the likes of Kind of Blue, or Time Out, but it occasionally cracks a top ten list and is a regular of the top twenties. This is no small feat when you consider that it's just a guy, alone, at a concert, walking out to a piano, and making stuff up by himself for an hour or two.

Give it to them straight, Feldo!

But perhaps even more amazing is that The Koln Concert has cracked this vaunted hierarchy of classic jazz albums while the performer sort of cheers himself on as he's playing. Keith Jarrett, when he really gets going, whoops. He exhorts, he chortles in his enthusiasm. He is really, really excited, as far as I can tell, by how good he is doing. He is like that guy in your favorite bootleg, or classic concert LP, who you wish wouldn't clap so loud, or sound so obnoxious and loud when he shouts out and hollers his appreciation for the artist on stage. Except in this case he is the artist onstage shouting out his appreciation for the artist on stage.

Ho ho yeah! Genius observation, man! Tell it like it is! This is the stuff folks!

But I thought, if Keith Jarrett can do it, and still be considered pretty much the best improvisational jazz pianist ever, well, why can't I?

You can. Look at you. You're doing it, and you are on a roll. You are smoking it! 

Thanks. And can I just add here, sometimes those annoying people who clap too loud, or shout out in one's favorite concert recording become so familiar as part of the fabric of the recording that one starts to become fond of them. In his own way Keith Jarrett's enthusiasm for himself becomes, if not quite endearing, part of the thing one loves

Oh yes, you can say it. And how beautiful it is!

Thanks, you're pretty beautiful yourself.

You are an angel of letters.

I couldn't agree more!











Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hours worked








It was just a short discussion among my co-workers. They were talking about hours worked. One of them was only working for four hours that day. They found that an easy load to bear. Another thought it would be better to work earlier in the day. Some people here hate working on weekends or nights. Some people would rather work longer days, but fewer of them. Preferences vary.

Me?

I am unflappable.

I don't care what or how many hours I work, so long as they are in the past.








Saturday, March 18, 2017

OCD Man











With the final banning and expulsion of Smellyman, a patron who plagued us for half a decade with hygiene shortcomings that approached an apocalyptic level, we were able to elevate our Library Enemy Number Two up to Library Enemy Number One. And so Obsessive-Compulsive-Man is now everyone's least favorite patron. Whether it's his dozen shopping bags of near garbage reserving large swaths of territory for him at all times, or his noisy eating or activities, or his endless use of hand sanitizer, or his late evening, after closing departures, or his plastic bagged feet, or his attempt to get other people to open all doors for him, or his intransigence in relation to requests that he abide by any of our meager standards that singles him out as our most problematic patron, he now no longer faces any real competition for the role.

Perhaps to celebrate his new position he adopted a new behavior. Not content with his two to four chairs in the fiction area, he has discovered our hugely popular study rooms. I can only imagine the moment of almost religious epiphany he must have experienced when he realized that by arriving at opening he could safely squat what amounts to a small hotel room for eleven hours a day. I think the only impediment for him must have been how to open the door without touching it. No one knows how he worked that one out, but somehow he did, because there he is every day now, in the corner room by the magazine area. Mostly he sleeps in there, causing us to speculate on his homelessness or what he might do during the nights. Patrons have complained already, perhaps sensing that a library shouldn't be a homeless shelter or a discount hotel, or perhaps merely irked that the room is now permanently unavailable to them.

To most of the staff's disappointment we will be pursuing the same Minnesota-so-we-hate-making-a-fuss approach to this person that we used on the previous Library Enemy Number One. It worked last time. Just let the person slowly unravel and in five years they'll be dead, or have killed someone, or be so hideous it will be a police matter. We do have a four hour limit on the room usage, but the current managerial climate suggests no one will ever enforce that. I can't see anyone getting much support for wading into that kind of mess.

At first I was bitterly disappointed at all these developments, but survival around here requires much adaptation and a healthy dose of attitude adjustment. So I have recently come to believe that these study rooms are the perfect places for problem patrons. Let's just put them in the glass boxes for the day and forget about them. The boxes are surprisingly air and soundproofed. I'll think of them more as sequestered storage devices. And until they're all filled up I'll try to enjoy our more peaceful library.






Friday, March 17, 2017

Observed







Consistent with the majority of the modern public world my library is full of cameras, quietly hanging out, filming everything all the time. I try not to think of this much. Like, for instance now, as I take a little break from shelving these Catherine Coulter novels and stand here writing in the fiction stacks, I try very hard not to think of being filmed. This is hard to do seeing as I'm writing about the very thing I am trying not to think about. I am not very good at not thinking about what I'm writing about. If you're into that scene I suggest you read the newspapers, or perhaps just about anything anyone writes about soccer.

So I'm being filmed. Ah, there's my local camera now, tucked up on a low ceiling, gazing down at me with its emotionless, black, insect eye. If I roll my book cart south and stand close to Don Quixote and the Michael Chabon books I may be out the field of view of it. Let's just sidle down there for a bit of privacy.

Fortunately, all hiding aside, my institution, the library, has gone the relatively restrictive route in regards to allowing anyone to access or view the footage taken here. I don't know the exact details of how the process goes, but I do know that it has to go all the way to the Library Director for anyone to receive any permission to look at our video feed. And our Library Director is currently a remote, ephemeral figure so far removed from where I stand now in the stacks, cowering away from the spotlight, that it could take months to reach her. By then the footage of me jotting furtively on yellow post-it notes while hunkered in the shadows of book shelves may all have been recorded over. There is some comfort in this thought.

Under this restrictive viewing system it is unlikely there will ever be an event so grave that I will be invited to view the footage of it. I can live with this. Given carte blanche I would perhaps find myself unable to resist the temptation of spending hours viewing our video feeds, tracking where the scissors go and finding just who can't manage to twist the glue cap closed to prevent it from drying out. I don't need to see more than I do. What I already see with my bare eyes is usually more than I can responsibly handle.






Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lost opportunity










To allow people to use our computers without a library card we freely hand out temporary Internet passes that have a barcode number and a pin number that allows people to log into our system. A woman came to me at the desk to return one of these passes. She said she was sorry, but she had written on it. "The number was too small for me to read" She said "So I wrote it on the pass." And yes, there it was, in a neat tight hand, she had written the long number at exactly the same size that it was pre-printed on the card.

I did not ask "Why, if you could read the number well enough to write it down, did you need to write it down?"


And I did not ask "Why, if it was too small, did you write it down in the same small size?"


I did not believe then that there was any reasonable answer she could give. But now I wonder, and I will forever more. 














Wednesday, March 15, 2017

More Christianity








It snowed. Starting in the mid afternoon on Sunday and concluding somewhere in the wee hours of Monday morning, snow unceremoniously fell from the sky. When it was done there were about three inches of snow. This is more than the Southerners among you might think, enough to completely alter the look and feel of the world. I know all about it because first I had to shovel it, and then I had to walk four miles in it. I felt very good about my neighbors who shoveled their sidewalks, but sometimes whole blocks were completely unshoveled and I had slog along through them, like through heavy sand, slowing me down and making my cold March walk a long and late one.

Jesus said "Judge thy neighbor as thyself." 


Well I did, which is why I felt such contempt for so many of them.








Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Me and politics








Perhaps consistent with people of my politics in this era (does anyone have my politics in this era?) I sometimes find myself falling into imaginary conversations with Republicans. In them I am convincing, cutting, brilliant, and ultimately so furious that I have to remember to breathe and come back to myself, to look at birds, enjoy life, and resume making fun of God in my wholesome, affectionate way.

It is extremely rare that I would find myself in an actual political discussion with a genuine Conservative, but despite my imaginings, I am, in reality, a civil person. Instead of invective and hyperbolic insinuations of Fascism all I'm really likely to say in one of these discussions would be:

"We'll just have to agree to disagree. I believe all the lovely, original things I believe, and you, you believe whatever insane, cruel things they tell you to believe."

Oops, I'm doing it again.











Monday, March 13, 2017

Due to







We're a library, so we have no love of mistakes here. They cause too many problems. A misshelved book can cost a quarter hour of fruitless searching. An improperly registered card or misinformed patron can tie us in useless knots of correction. But today we encountered a mistake that amused all of us library workers. And I think it only amused us because we are a library.

Last night ferocious winds tore apart the twin cities. They also tore apart our heavy metal glass doors which caught in the howling winds like sails. The mighty gusts, sluicing south across the face of our building, so tore into the driven open doors that they hewed at their own hinges until they were bent and broken. They were left capable only of being jammed awkwardly back in their frames and locked up. In the night we put "out of order" signs on the them and blocked them as best we could. But in the morning, before I got here, a more complete job was done. Warning cones and caution tape were strung across both broken doors, inside and out, and prominent signs were posted.


The signs, in bold, red block letters read:


"Door out of order do to wind"


We all thought that was hilarious. 


One wouldn't think we would be that starved for entertainment around here. 






Sunday, March 12, 2017

Wind









What would you like me to talk about today?

The weather? Are you sure?  I didn't even know you liked the ones I wrote about the weather. You don't want a library one, or drinks with Bob Dylan?

Really, the weather? How about one of those ones where I have a dialogue with the reader, but I do all the talking for you?

Just the weather. Okay. That's fine.

Today was windy.

Yes, I can wait while you get a snack and make yourself comfortable. To be frank I could use the time to collect my thoughts.

So, it was windy out today.

More dramatic? Sure, don't worry, but I've got it covered now. No more interruptions or it might throw me off.

You absolutely do not need to apologize.

So, where were we?

Right. It was windy.

Ah, but what a strange and wild wind.

There was chaos in the air. The sky went to the blue last seen before the Industrial Revolution, jewel blue, all pure and indescribable. Branches flung to the ground. Birds cowered.

We were under a wind warning. What's a wind warning? I don't know. I read it on the Internet. The weather service said so. It may be the last thing the weather service does before the Republicans defund them. Get your own weather!

I had the right clothes and the right hat. But who can understand the wind, especially the wild wind. This was no normal wind. All would be calm, like Christmas Eve. And then the sound of a jet engine would come tearing through the sky. "What is that roar?" I would ask. And then only after the sound rose long and slow the wind would hit. You could not predict from where. Blowing me forward? Or back? Left, right, I cannot say from time to time. I can only stagger and toddle on.

I walked out onto the Franklin Avenue Bridge. The lamps were full of water from yesterdays storm and puddles swirled in their globes. Over the river the wind can blow so hard it will freeze your face numb in ten steps. But here we were on the windiest day of the year and there was nothing. It was windless and still. The silence was pure. I made it two thirds across the Mississippi River like it was a day of utter calm, deep winter, and then, like a madness, the wind struck. I was almost thrown to the ground. I sailed. I leaned. And though I moved forward it was no longer anything like walking. 

Later that day at the library the wind, taking two of our heavy steel frames glass doors like sails, ripped them on their hinges and savaged them so badly we had to bind them up and force lock them. We were surrounded by howls. As power outages flickered through the cities we wondered at strange crashes and roars. And all we could do was revel in disaster.



Is this the kind of thing you meant?





It was my pleasure.















Saturday, March 11, 2017

War and Peace






A patron brought up a copy of War and Peace to me at the front desk of the library. He was returning it, but there was a problem with it. "It's missing page three." He said. He opened it up to show me. Not only was page three missing, but page four was gone as well. That's how it usually works. It's never enough to lose one page. You always lose two.

"Thanks for letting me know." I said. "I'll weed it out of our collection." 


"It's a pretty old copy." The man said. And it was. It was a well worn 1988 printing of a selection from Great Books of the Western World. It was volume 51. It's seen a lot of use.


"I'm surprised it was still around in our collection." I said. "Still, it's a shame. No one ever needs any extra reasons to stop reading War and Peace."


The man laughed, but he did not head upstairs for another copy.








Friday, March 10, 2017

Bob Dylan's shoes









Bob Dylan and I were having a late afternoon cocktail at Lawless Distilling Company, yet another small batch distillery that also serves superb cocktails within a mile of my house. It's amazing how many of them there are, and as much as I'm sure Bob enjoys my company, these little hyper sophisticated speakeasys do their share in getting him to fly out to visit me for any Thursday where he can manage it.

So we were sitting at the little bar there, enjoying our drinks so much we got seconds, this one created with a gin they made themselves, St. Germaine, fresh passion fruit, and god knows what else, when, as so often happens, someone came up to Bob. "I'm so sorry to disturb you." He said. "But I just have to tell you how much your incredible songs have meant to me. They are true masterpieces and have given real shape and meaning to my life. I just..." He had to take a little breath because he was getting so worked up and emotional. "I just had to come over with this one opportunity to say that not even the Nobel Prize is enough to say how much you have given to all of us. You are truly the greatest of all songwriters and poets, and I can never thank you enough."


Bob barely looked sideways at the man, and then did something I can only describe as a half grunt, half nod. Then he stared back down into his half finished pale golden cocktail. And that was it.


I smiled behind my hand. Then I took pity on the besotted fan.


"Hi." I said. "I'm acting as Bob's grunt interpreter for him today. By his grunt he means to say he's touched by what you had to say, and actually quite agrees with it, but is both understandably wary of enthusiastic strangers and of his own insatiable interest in praise. So he wants you to know, by his grunting, that from the bottom of his heart, bless you, you have made his wonder of a life possible, and by understanding his work you have helped to make it complete, but this is all terribly uncomfortable for him so he's hoping it can end as soon as possible."


The man laughed. Then he looked at Bob, said "Thank you", nodded at me, and then he walked away.


Bob looked sideways at me now. "I wish you wouldn't do that." He said.


I sang "Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes..."


"What?" Bob asked.


"Here, we'll roleplay. You be me." I said.


"Aw, man." Bob complained.


"I went and checked out your blog." I said. "I read a few of them. They're cute."


Bob just stared at me. I think he was getting a bit drunk, so I kicked him, in a reminding way. 


"Cute?" He said.


"Anyway I think it's great you write a blog. You're a good writer. Good for you!"


"And your point?" Bob asked.


"Is that I too am overcome with hyperbolic praise. These people just don't leave me alone!"


"What do they put in these drinks?" Bob asked.


"Maybe their gin is extra strong."


"You are a good writer." Bob said, disarmingly.


"Thanks Bob, so are you."