Saturday, November 18, 2017
As I write this, the back room at my library, which at this time of night should normally hold two or three people, has seven people. As of 20 minutes ago five of them should not be here.
This perhaps is a good time to remind you of one of our great workplace dichotomies:
There are two kinds of people who work at this library: those who try to be here as little as possible, and those who try to be here as much as possible.
Of the five:
One, who is here seven days a week, called in sick and then came in anyway.
One, on his way out of the library, drifted into an impromptu office meeting about things that I feel confident are neither useful nor important.
One is talking to a co-worker that I'm afraid he likes overmuch.
One is... just... here. Like a potted plant.
One is doing many speedy little things, and zipping around, all like she is trying to leave, but can't figure out how.
I could also say:
There are two kinds of people who work at this library: those who have somewhere else to go and those who... don't.
There but for the grace of God go I.
Soon enough they will all be gone for the day, and so will I.
Friday, November 17, 2017
If you have been following clerkmanifesto for some goodly portion of our 1,750 blog posts you will have read a lot about the library I work at. And in all that reading you will have met many of the fascinating characters I both work with at the library and help out at the front desk.
Oh? You haven't met any fascinating characters I've written about at the library?
Hmm, I guess you're right. I mostly just write about myself.
First of all, I'm a lot of characters around here.
And secondly, you see, some of it comes down to protecting the anonymity of our patrons and, even more importantly, that of my co-workers.
Then thirdly there are those very few people who I feel entirely comfortable writing about by name, like Marcus, for instance. Marcus was, until a few seconds ago, the teen librarian here. But he's not really a character, he's more like a person. And frankly I don't have time to write about people! Do I look like a literary novelist!?
Really? Why, thank you.
But lately I have been noticing a lot of amusing little stories laying around about a co-worker of mine named Dan. And I thought "Hey, here's just the thing!"
So I went to Dan and I asked "Hey, Dan, can I write amusing true stories about you, by name, in my blog?"
Dan never reads my blog, but he well knows it exists. And here's the redeeming thing about Dan: He has deeply irritated most of his co-workers. He does a huge amount of shake your head at it kind of stuff, but if you ask him if you can write about him in your blog he asks "Is this going to be about all the crazy, ridiculous things I do around here?"
(And I say "Yes, pretty much.")
Then he says, just a little resignedly "Yeah, sure, whatever. Go ahead."
And though there may be better ones in the future, that's my first story about Dan.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
I didn't notice it until the mid afternoon. They had done some work on our staff elevator at the library. There were new clocks. There was a clock above the elevator on the outside, and there was a big new clock inside the elevator. I wheeled in my cart of fiction to shelve and went to press the button for the second floor. But they had changed that too. Instead of floor numbers there was a digital display where all one could do is enter a time of day. When one entered a time of day a big green button next to the display lit up. On a hunch I entered a time an hour in the future, that is, three o'clock, and then I pressed the green button.
The elevator went up a floor. All the books on my cart disappeared and the door opened. Even though it had just been two o'clock, the clock outside the elevator now said 3:00. My watch said 3:00. I got back in the elevator and went back to 2:00. My cart filled. I memorized a few specific books on my cart and went up to 3:00 again. I went out of the elevator into the stacks and found my remembered books duly and properly shelved, presumably by me!
I went back to the elevator and set the clock for one in the morning. The elevator opened on a dark and empty library.
"Hmm." I said quietly to myself.
I got into the elevator and immediately set the clock for 9:00 in the evening, the time I leave.
I love going home. That's where my wife lives!
But then I remembered something I wrote many years ago. It was about being careful about wishing my life away, even the little bit more irritating parts, like being at work. Though I was keen to go home I made myself do a quick calculation: If I came to work every day and got in the elevator to advance time until the end of the day I would be effectively erasing as much as 20% of my life!
So I got back in the elevator and went to the start of my dinner break. I had good bread, a nice Camembert, some smoked salmon, arugula, and a marmalade shortbread cookie. I read a book. Then I did the exact same thing three more times, growing hungry again each time I traveled an hour back in the elevator, but not forgetting what I read. I shelved for a little while, writing as I went. I worked a steady hour at the front desk.
And then I went home.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Here are three random bits from my blognotes; such things that were not interested in becoming whole blog posts on their own:
1. Libertarianism is Anarchy, but just for rich people.
2. I am never quite so raring to have a go at ambitious tasks as I am when I'm precluded from doing them.
3. (From what I chose not to say to a gathered group of my favorite co-workers upon my arrival one day at work (for fear they might misunderstand)):
I am utterly delighted to see every last one of you, however, if I could somehow retire now and never see any of you again, that would be nice too.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
During my accustomed walk today a group of dogs were barking. There were four of them in the front corner of a chain-link fenced yard. They were upset and making a racket. But they weren't barking at me. I was across the street, coming from down the street and they were barking ferociously at a man who was on their side coming from up the street.
There was a little dog, a medium small dog, a medium large dog, and a big dog. They were all insensible with fury, wild with some kind of doggish alarm and their varying voices combined together in an entirely unmusical way.
I did not like it. I thought bad things about the dogs because I am inclined, unless given specific information to the contrary, to think poorly of dogs.
But these dogs were very much not barking at me, they were barking at some man. And I had a moment of reconsideration.
What if the dogs knew something bad about the man. What if, with their acute animal instincts, they indeed knew something truly horrible about that man? What if they were desperate to alert everyone to the terrible things they sensed about this person.
What could be so horrible about a man to warrant such an outcry?
What if they knew the man did not like cats?
Monday, November 13, 2017
In just yesterday's missive I was explaining to you how I like to stay on good social terms with my co-workers. While ideally I would like this to be entirely achievable through the use of witty quips, mostly as performed by myself, I'm aware that pleasantries are even more important to the lubrication of the social wheels. And it's not just pleasantries. One apparently must ask occasional bland, TV host type questions if one wishes to stay on good terms all around. "How was your weekend?" or "How is your son enjoying school?" or "Does that guy you call a boyfriend have some kind of job or does he just sit around in your house all day?" are the kinds of things that make people feel valued. And it's not that I'm not interested in the answers, it's just that all too often I find they can go on for what feels like hours when it's all about dentistry, or sheet purchasing, or the plot of some TV show they watched, but it gets all shockingly curt and brief when it's about their child's prison sentence or how they got their face tattoo.
No, alas, no one around here has a face tattoo. It was just a for instance.
But the thing I'm saying is that it's really not so difficult for me to get interested in what my co-workers have to say. It's just that it rarely seems to happen in response to any of my questions. And yet just let me sit somewhere unobtrusive where I can overhear them and I am invariably fascinated.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
It's a fairly social atmosphere where I work at the library. I don't suppose it has to be for me, but I feel better keeping in touch with as many people as possible in the building in case they have important secret library information that they might let slip out in casual conversation. Oh boy do I like important secret library information!
"Like what?" You inquire.
Well, I haven't heard any yet, but it's only been 23 years.
So it's important to keep up those relationships. And as far as I can tell one does that by asking polite questions one is not terribly interested in hearing the answers to. Like "So what did you do this weekend?"
"Uh huh. Really? Your car you say? In the wheel? But you were able to find the pebble? So that took the clicking away? No? Ah, a paper wrapper. Wow!"
It turns out one has to ask these sorts of questions so that people will ask you what you did on your weekend.
"Not much." I say. I mean, that's my business. I don't go around asking them what... Oh!
Saturday, November 11, 2017
So many wonderful things happen to the world in Autumn that I forget about them. This allows for the pleasure of surprise and rediscovery. I can only hope I forget it all again.
Around here strange, late flowers bloom. Leaves twist in their hearts and distort into wild colors. The moon grows moody and soon night is everywhere. Snow falls and cold mornings curdle exhausted foliage. Slowly all the color begins to leach out of everything. Winter is coming.
And so here we are. For us this is late fall, and each tattered remnant of fall is a pleasure to me. Soon all will be white and desolation, howling winds and picturesque Christmas lights. We, meaning me and the Natural World, prepare for this by killing everything, wiping the slate clean. I walk through my neighborhood over leaves broken to dust and slime. Old pumpkins, torn apart by squirrels and rot, are scattered bleached on the doorsteps of houses. All the ever greens, livid oranges, and freaky burgandies have somehow, still recognizable, faded to some kind of gray. I think "Well, it is all over."
And then I see the green tree.
I don't know if it happens every year. I don't know what kind of tree it is. I don't even understand it. I suppose it would be easy enough to miss because it all happens in one singular day tucked inconspicuously into November. A great classic tree somehow dodges all of Autumn. Its leaves are wide and opulent on a mighty tree with a grand spread. And while all around them the leaves of other trees go lurid, burning up in death and pouring to the ground, this tree's leaves sit quietly unnoticed, olive colored and invisible, thick and heavy as if nothing has changed and nothing ever will.
And then, in a matter of hours, they all fall. Brilliant green they thickly carpet the ground. And in a world fast growing colorless, these are an illumination, a wonder. It's like summer bursting out in one wildly late and glorious gasp. Green, green, everywhere green, burying death itself.
And I suppose that's exactly what it is. Summer, in one last, mad, showy triumph, says goodbye. The leaves dry up in the night, and then it's Winter instead.
Friday, November 10, 2017
It's a quiet night back on the automated check in machine at my library. After an industrious 45 minutes all of my needing to do anything was sucked into a slow, peaceful, caught up silence. I wandered about checking up on everyone and everything. Then, that tour exhausted, and with some groaning and muttering, I sat down at my high computer with nothing to do.
I thought for awhile, staring into space. I looked at a book of pictures of Tuscan towns, and then with an hour til I could go home I started on a blog post.
This is that blog post!
It is very quiet around here tonight.
Recently at my library we all received a powerpoint of our benchmark data. This is an annual review of our usage data vs. all the other local libraries and a selection of similar sized libraries around the Country. Our ranking shuffled around in the middle of the pack when it came to how much money we got per capita (some) and how much we spent on our collection (not all that much), but when it came to circulation, to how many things we checked in and checked out per person in our system, per square foot of the library, and per hour of people working here, the numbers were positively freakish. We circulate, check in and check out, so much more stuff per capita and per employee to handle it than any other library that the charts look like there's been a mistake somewhere. But the numbers don't lie. I myself handle almost exactly twice as many items per year as my average colleague, working the same hours, does all across the Country.
Which brings home this astonishing fact:
As I write, all over America, there are library workers doing even less than I am right now.
God bless them.
Thursday, November 9, 2017
I have written a few times about co-workers leaving the library I work at. And over and over I have likened it to a battlefield death. There you are, in the trenches day after day with some co-worker, chasing away the boredom and stress, sharing anything from nonsense to life stories to soccer discussion. Years go by, and then on a pin they're gone. Sure, they're just off at another library branch making more money, or with a shorter commute, or maybe they're somewhere completely else, bravely getting on with their life. But what's all that to me, back here on these same old front lines, year after year, with another small hole blown into the dirt next to me, the smell of cordite, and the grizzly spray of blood?
Gone, gone, all gone.
Look at all these holes here.
And so now my friend the teen librarian is off to run some other small branch. And I tell you this: I am not really your "Go-to" for throwing parties around here when there are showers or retirements or farewells. In 23 years I have managed to muster up a scant few as necessary, and that is a far cry more than have ever been thrown for me. Not that I'm counting.
But now that it's come up, really, shouldn't we, who are to be consoled, be the ones a party is thrown for? Shouldn't those leaving, onto brighter, richer things, be throwing a nice farewell for those of us still here? We could use the small cheer and consolation. Why should we, who will have less, also give more? Let them, receiving him for instance, at his new library, throw a party to welcome him. They have gained. They are enriched and have something to celebrate!
We do not. We get only the loss. Today we are just, well, let's face it, I am just, an old soldier, in a field of holes, in the rain.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Among the many small surprises of Paris was one in which it turned out that I loved the Eiffel Tower. Before the trip I was vaguely aware that, though it never managed to stir anything in me, it was pretty much the most iconic building there is. But with the heightened awareness of having been in it I am finding it's ubiquity to be overwhelming. As a random example I have run an informal study here at my library and found that the Eiffel Tower features on the cover of 35% of all books we have, even, curiously, ones with nothing to do with Paris or France.
My wife and I had a lovely time simply spotting the tower as it ducked in and out of mysterious appearances all over Paris. Later we hung out under it for an hour or so, poking around in its shockingly crappy gift shops and food stands and waiting for our scheduled time to go up into it. We got a little, or a lot, nervous about all those heights. Then up we went in a double decker elevator feeling slightly amazed. "We're in the Eiffel Tower" We said. Though I am drawn to things I can say that I did, I know it's a pretty hollow pursuit. But not with the Eiffel Tower! I am going to see ten million more pictures in my life of The Eiffel Tower, and every time I do a tiny light in me is going to go on, a tiny "We were there."
And so we were. We went to the top and toasted each other with some champagne. We combed over every deck, platform, girder, view, and store. Long since home I now notice how all our giant TV and radio antennae are in the shape of Eiffel Towers. Funny thing is that the Eiffel Tower, built before radio antennae, is the Ur radio antennae. Even the usability of the Eiffel Tower later on as a radio antenna is one of the things that saved it from being taken down. The other, I imagine, is that no one in their right mind would want to undo all those rivets.
On my walk to work today I saw a few Eiffel Towers, that is, I saw radio or TV antennae out on the high ground in the Twin Cities. They really did catch my eye. No doubt there are tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of metal Eiffel Towerish things scattered across America. So it's a little funny that only the original design in Paris is actually at all pretty and magical. Only the Eiffel Tower itself works aesthetically. It's like it used up all the beauty of its own conception on itself.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
"Well, actually, you know, I'm a Republican!"
"Are you? You monster. You hypocritical vile monster! You have swathed yourself in ignorance and hypocrisy, and because you can't be bothered to spend five decent minutes to think things through you have cast your lot in with evil. You are a friend of injustice. You hate your children. You betray yourself, your family, love, and every hope for beauty in the world. You're a racist toadying fool who, even if merely rich and self-interested, is working to make your own life and world an uglier, more stupid one. There is nothing left. You are merely a cultist whose thinking is on a drip feed and as such can have nothing sensible to say.
"Oh! You think you know everything Sir? You think you're so perfect? Well let me tell you, you are not!"
"That's pathetic, a simple, political argument and you go and make it personal. My God, the lack of civility these days!"
Monday, November 6, 2017
We recently received three new circulation staff to train in at my library. It's been a week or two and I think they might have gotten the basics down, more or less. Now they are starting in on the secret rules, the culture, and who they will be here.
Today I have noticed that the first thing that each one of these new people has learned is that talking with, or spending time with the Manager is a safe zone from working.
I am sad to say that this is the 187th thing anyone should learn here, and ideally I like to see it learned through cynical observation, not through its happy occupation.
Sunday, November 5, 2017
I was shelving up in Science Fiction when I came upon it. Three copies, one hardcover, two paperback, but all looking a bit weathered.
"Oh yeah." I thought. "This was once so popular."
It was well reviewed and respected, hundreds of people were patiently (or not so patiently) waiting in line for their chance at one. The library couldn't own enough copies.
Now here were three copies of the book- maybe two too many? Maybe even all three?
The novel sounded good. I thought I might like to read it too, back then, but the line for it was just so terribly long, and though it would have been simple to request, it all seemed too abstract to put my name down on such a long list. And so like that it drifted away.
Now here I am with the sum of our copies, unrequested and undisturbed in their place on the shelf. I take one of the paperbacks down and read all the glowing comments from literati and the press both. I read the enthusiastic plot summary. Then I open the book.
I read the piece of a poem, by a storied poet, but not too storied, on the front page. I read the first paragraph of the book. It is quite good, clear, interesting. I close the book and put it back on the shelf.
And then I continue on my way.
Saturday, November 4, 2017
Yesterday in this space I told you my theory of elasticity. It is, even more briefly put than in my brief yesterday, a political tool used by the right in which a position at the edge of common discourse is established and then, with a ceaseless lack of compromise, inched further and further out, dragging the middle ground of the common discussion in that rightward direction.
I thought I would like to try to experiment with this technique on the side of the left. Many issues here tempt me, climate change, wealth inequality, but somewhere along the line I picked marijuana legalization. Currently the discussion is whether it should be legal for states to have highly regulated legal Marijuana, either for medical reasons or recreationally.
I start with the position that Marijuana should be legal everywhere.
The pushback to this is not worth giving voice to. Something about people who hate freedom and America.
My response to the freedom haters is they can have their martinis and firearms but I can't have a joint? All drugs should be legal; sugar, wine, mescaline, prozac, smack, and twitter.
At which point comes the inevitable outcry "But smack is dangerously addictive!"
Well, so is hypocrisy. This is why any Government job or position of being an elected official should require experience with hallucinogenics which offer helpful perspective. So now my position will roughly be that all drugs shouldn't just be legal, but in some selected cases compulsory.
At which point my opponents will be really mad, but also defensive, not offensive. So, at this point, if everything has gone according to plan, the compromised center on the issue will be something like: All drugs should be legal but carefully regulated and distributed like alcohol.
I will then consider this an outrageous bit of fascism, advocating for free joint dispensers in High Schools and Mushrooms in every movie theater and library in America.
And what will be my point to all this?
Well, eventually I won't have one. It'll just be a runaway train, and it will be beautiful.
Friday, November 3, 2017
Among the more effective strategies employed by the right in my lifetime is intransigence. Or it could also be described as moving the target. But I like best to think of it as elasticity.
Here's how it works:
One takes a strong, possibly even unhinged political position. Usually this is done preemptively at the point where reform you don't want seems necessary. Any right wing issue will do here, guns, opposing climate change action, but let's say taxes. The concentration of wealth is a crisis, so the position aggressively to be taken is that the rich are overtaxed in this country and it stifles and hurts the economy.
This is verifiably false, but one must keep in mind that arguing one's point is largely irrelevant here. Yes, one must say something to justify, but so long as it's crudely plausible and comes from a constant state of grievance, that's plenty for our purposes. The key and absolute thing is to not compromise. The strategy of elasticity relies upon never ceding any ground. On the contrary, what one always must do is step even further away from one's ideological opponent.
So let's say, and now I'm just making stuff up to illustrate, let's say that the top tax rate is 40%. And you are a rich Congressman who firmly pretends to believe that this is crippling to the economy and an enemy of freedom. So you propose it be reduced to a more sensible 30%. That's a good start. Now when the inevitable arguments against this come towards you it is not a point for discussion. It instead should be taken always as a hostile attack. In response you move even further into your position. Your opponents hate the rich even though they create all the jobs blah blah blah, and it is unfair that the rich pay far more taxes than other people when they etc. etc. and the top tax rate should simply be 25% for everyone.
You moved right. Now accuse the other side of refusing to compromise. Call for compromise. But don't you yourself move from your position, call for the other side to compromise. Now you have stretched the field of argument, making the midpoint which, perhaps, should have appropriately been somewhere between increasing effective taxes on the rich and the status quo of 40 percent, to instead being somewhere between 40 percent and 25 percent. Technically that would be 32.5 percent, but you are always shifting so that that is immediately unacceptable and the true fair tax rate should be more like 20 percent. You will never agree to anything. You just keep moving right. It does not matter how far.
Because the thing is you are not looking for legislation. You are not looking for a fix or solutions. You are looking to destroy peoples' spirits and change the frame of the world we operate under. If somehow you broke down people to the left of you so badly that the center ground became: "The rich, who contribute so much creatively and in purchasing and employing, should be exempt from taxes", you would never agree with these radical leftists, rather you would argue that money should be tithed to wealthy people who do the most for the economy with it. Taxes should not go to government, but rather directly to rich people who are more effective at filling society's needs than government ever could be.
There is no end game. There is only destabilization, moving the center, and infuriating and frustrating your opponents. The process is what's important. The legislation can come on its own and ever be claimed as not enough and no one listening to you.
I have been thinking of this approach. I would like to apply it to an issue of the left instead to see what it would be like. That's what we'll try tomorrow.
Thursday, November 2, 2017
Though I normally worked on the night of this past Halloween Eve I elected to take a few hours vacation time to go home and hand out candy with my wife. While I was still at work I remembered I had some really nice scar and wound tattoos and so put a brutal looking gash on my forehead. It's just realistic enough that it caused people at the library to look at me with alarm for about two or three seconds until it kicked in that
1. I'm me, and
2. It's Halloween
At which point their interest significantly lessened. Later, handing out candy, some sophisticated third grader said "I like your cut." I found this very satisfying.
When 4:30 came around it was time for me to leave the library, and I was happy to do it, ever preferring to be with my wife. Nevertheless I was suddenly aware that I was going home to do much the same thing I would have been doing if I stayed at the library: Ritually hand out free things to dazed, oddly dressed people.
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
I have a co-worker named Tao. He's a student worker, and he's very polite. He asks me polite questions about my day or sometimes about the Barcelona soccer team. I like him, but he is not the eternal Tao. He is not the eternal Tao because the Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao, which, unfortunately for a writer like me, goes for most things around here.
Nevertheless I'm always on the lookout.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
My wife and I were recently at our local cheesemonger. We were picking up some cheeses that we had acquired affection for in Paris. I was interested in the Camembert, ubiquitous in the cafes there. Thinking of Camembert just now this phrase popped unbidden into my mind: "The whipped cream of cheeses."
I have no idea why.
I asked the cheesemonger about the Camemberts. These were whole cheeses, not ones for him to cut, so he showed them to us. When asked about two of them he describe one of them as being redolent of Barnyard Fruits.
My wife asked what were the smells of Barnyard Fruits, a question I too was cautiously interested in hearing the answer to.
Without much hesitation or shame the cheesemonger answered "Things like urine soaked hay."
So I bought the cheese.
It was delicious.
Monday, October 30, 2017
A regular library goer was chatting with my co-worker and I at the front desk. The subject was an upcoming snowstorm. He said he was over near a tire place and there was a huge line of people trying to get in and get some snow tires on their cars. Derisively he added "That's so typical of people, procrastinating to the last minute and all trying to get it taken care of at once."
I said "Maybe since over the past ten years it hardly ever snows anymore until the middle of November all these people planned to change tires in a timely manner and only the unusual early storm drove them in?"
He regarded me for a good moment and said "Fair point. Maybe they did."
I really don't mind people saying foolish things so long as they can accept correction.
Especially as I am so keen to do it.