Sunday, September 24, 2017
The first good quality counterfeit bill I have ever seen recently showed up at my library. Or, I should probably correct that: The first good quality counterfeit bill I have ever seen that I knew was counterfeit recently showed up at my library. The paper was pretty good. The printing not too bad, though when compared directly to a genuine bill the colors were more faded. Bizarrely there was some Chinese printed on the bills in red. Apparently the writing says, in Chinese, something like "For training purposes only". The money is supposedly made for training Chinese bank tellers in foreign currency and has been appearing in some misguided attempts at circulating in the American economy.
But perhaps the oddest thing about it is that this bill, a ten, wasn't passed to us at the front desk. It was deposited in our printing honor boxes. At my library if you make a printout from a computer, or buy some books in the Friend's Bookstore, or make some copies over at our copier, we simply ask that you deposit whatever you owe us in our honor boxes.
If one wants to steal copies and printouts from us all one need do is not put any money in the box. This should be clear to even the most rudimentary level of thieves. But I guess it isn't rudimentary enough. I suppose we'll need yet another sign:
Please deposit 20¢ for each copy or print in the box below. If you are stealing prints and copies from us it is not necessary to deposit anything.
Saturday, September 23, 2017
I understand how nervous you are. You know that you'll have to reject the vast majority of manuscript submissions you receive. And that's not really that hard for you to do at this point. But you know how easy it is to make a mistake. And that's what you dread. You dread making a mistake.
It's not just a few of the most successful books ever written that have been rejected, but, frighteningly it's most of them. Agatha Christie was rejected for five solid years, and J. K. Rowling was told to keep her day job. Did she even have one? Titans of literature like Melville (for Moby Dick, no less), Borges, Nabokov, LeGuin, and James Joyce were roundly and comprehensively squashed by people doing the same exact job as you. But it wasn't just the good stuff that has come back to humiliate publishers like yourself. You're not safe merely by having an eye for literature. Twilight went down and so did The Fountainhead, The Notebook and Watership Down. Hell, I would still reject Watership Down, but maybe I don't want badly enough to be rich. I'd just blow all that money on... happiness.
Yeah, that's what you think you'd blow it on too. Ah happiness! Oh how you don't want to let another chance slip through your fingers. Because if my math's correct, you've already missed out on a few big ones. There are too many rejections out there for you to not have made a grave mistake somewhere along the line. Clearly you're too young for Catch 22 or Mary Shelley, but every year has its best sellers and most of those authors have been shut out a dozen or so times along the way. There's simply too much rejection out there for you to have escaped unscathed.
Which brings me to me and my manuscript. As you read it you will often feel confused and irritated. You will think you fully comprehend the nature of its shortcomings. Much like the French editor who said about Proust's The Remembrance of Things Past "I rack my brains why a chap would need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before he goes to sleep." you might wonder why anyone would write 350 essays extolling the virtues of those 350 essays. So I'm suggesting that when you think my work strange reflect on Dr. Seuss, who was confidently rejected by one publisher for being "too different", and when my writing all falls flat and cold under your astute gaze consider Anne Frank's Diary, which was rejected because, according to a publisher, she didn't "have a special perception or feeling which would lift the book above the curiosity level."
"Are you" You wonder in a kind of stunned shock, "Comparing yourself to Proust, Anne Frank, and Dr. Seuss?"
Yes, that sums up my writing perfectly. That's why I chose them.
Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to working with you.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Today I learned that the human attention span on the Internet is eight seconds. This is one second shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. I have decided to write today's post in accordance with that fact.
This part is for goldfish.
Thursday, September 21, 2017
In the late Summer, swarms of strange fruit flies took over our library break room kitchen. I call them strange because they did not behave quite along the standard fruit fly lines. The eschewed our vinegar trap and seemed less interested in food and water than in our dry paper towel dispenser, where they hung out, like as at a day at the beach, on the clean white hanging sheets of dispensed towel.
I'm probably making overmuch of these fruit flies' peculiarities. The towels do hang over the delicious (to fruit flies) garbage can. And this all takes place in a corner of the kitchen with the dishwasher, which I consider to be the main spawning grounds for the fruit flies. This is a dishwasher that runs an astonishing 22 hour cycle wherein it doesn't so much wash dishes as it sort of slow steams them into submission. It's an ever moist fruit fly paradise.
To my astonishment I heard that our property management took an interest in this fruit fly infestation and was going to get involved. This was odd because property management does not normally show any interest in our personal comfort. But I'm not sure what they've done and no one else seems to know. All I know is that at the end of last week two cases of bananas showed up in the back hallway of our library. So many bananas that half of our back workroom smells intensely of bananas. And now the bananas are slowly turning brown. But oddly there is not a single fruit fly over by those bananas. There's something wrong with these fruit flies.
But then there's something wrong with our property management. I think they might be working on a plan to rescue the paper towels.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Yesterday, on the brink of my having to go out walking in the rain, I attempted to keep my chin up by posting news of my plans right here, on clerkmanifesto. Just knowing that I could let the world know I might imminently be getting wet gave me the courage to go on. But the outpouring of concern afterwards, and the offers of help from readers all over the world was most gratifying to me of all. I have been deeply moved by the messages, cards, pneumonia medications, hot toddy recipes, ponchos, gifts, support, and kind queries as to my health and well-being. When one writes a blog like this it sometimes feels very small and personal, almost like my own journal that I have left out for others to see. It is only when a crisis and disaster hits that one realizes just how many millions of people are out there. When one looks at one's blog statistics and sees that over 32 million people are subscribed to clerkmanifesto it is a mere abstraction, almost meaningless. But when one faces the very real possibilities of getting heavily rained on, and the frightful possibility of becoming wet, and those 32 million subscribers turn into actual, specific worried messages of concern piled so high that I cannot count them, and I receive gifts of fruitcakes so numerous that I can only barely count them (I have currently received 392 fruitcakes. Thank you all so much!), the endeavor of writing a daily blog becomes tangible and inspiring in a different way.
But first of all, let me reassure everyone. I'm okay! The rain was heavy and steady, but I made it through. I sustained wetness on my knees, shoes, around the ankle on my right foot, and, quite heavily on my hands and wrists. I am resting up and recovering well. I know some of you have been extremely concerned, but I guarantee you I am not currently wet. And while the several hundred towels that readers have sent proved helpful, we are now through that phase and well stocked. I must politely ask you not to send any more towels at this point. My Doctors and Chakra Consultants now inform me that I am largely out of danger and should try to relax, think warm thoughts, and imbibe warm, sweet, alcoholic beverages.
Many of you have also been kind enough to inquire as to how I am coming through this disaster on an emotional level. It has not been easy. The memories of my cold wet hands yet haunt me, but when I sip Frangelico, leaf quietly through The Picturebook of the Sahara Desert (as was prescribed to me), and bask in the care and concern that the people of the world have shown me, well, I almost feel as if I can carry on.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
All morning, with my walking commute looming, the clouds grow darker. I need more lights on in the house at nine in the morning than I needed when I awoke. A strange rumbling shakes the sky. It's probably just planes. Lots and lots of planes. Planes with deep, ominous voices.
I look out the upstairs windows and see a squirrel hunkered down in our oak tree. His bushy tail is bent back over him like some desperate awning. That squirrel is going to get wet. And he knows it. And he doesn't like it.
I, however, will be fine. I have a hat.
Monday, September 18, 2017
Contrary to popular opinion, you can judge a book by its cover. Covers are just jammed with telling information these days. What's really difficult, it turns out, is judging people by their clothes. One would think this isn't so hard; often where I work people even wear messages right on their persons, t-shirts proclaiming their love of beer, for instance, or proclaiming the company they work for. But work with the public as I do, in a chatty way, and one will be quickly disabused of such a notion. Their love of beer shirt will like as not turn out to be an ironic gift from a friend who knows how they hate beer. And it turns out their family won 300 of those company shirts in a raffle and they're very comfortable garments. They're not sure what the company is though.
If a visitor to my library is wearing some large aggressive letters on a large aggressive shirt that says "Whatch'ou lookin' at?" and I say "Nothing. I swear I'm not looking at anything." They will look confused until I gesture at their terrifying shirt. Then they will chuckle and sweetly say they forgot they even owned that shirt. Every once in awhile someone will come up wearing some very nice Barcelona Futbol Club shirt that I'd like to have. Obsessed as I am with this team I will immediately make chit chat.
"I'm so glad they pulled it out today." I say. "Brilliant goal by Paulinho!"
At which point they look at me blankly. After I explain overmuch about their shirt, and soccer, and so on, they explain back.
"Yeah." They confess. "I used to be into them, but I don't really follow basketball much anymore."
"Soccer." I correct.
"Uh, yeah." They reply without interest.
A friendly man came up to the front desk today wearing a baseball cap that had four huge letters on it. "DOPE" it said.
I figured he wouldn't be very bright. But he seemed pretty coherent to me.
I figured he would have low self esteem, but he seemed fairly self assured.
If I needed any drugs I suppose I could have asked.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
Oh man, I got "Mammed" on the phone again at the library today! I don't precisely have a baritone, but rather the pleasant, easy to listen to, slightly high yet very soothing voice of a grown man. And I get a little sensitive about being called "Ma'am" on the phone. I usually gesticulate dramatically, roll my eyes to the heavens, and silently hate the person on the other end of the phone. So I did all this when this woman called me Ma'am. But other than my silent dramatics, and my usual futile attempt to lower my voice to make the caller see reason, I behaved with my usual courtesy on the phone. I asked the woman for her library card. She read it off to me.
It was a man!
But jesus, at least I didn't call him ma'am!
Saturday, September 16, 2017
In the course of writing 200 reviews of Rome I have also been posting those reviews to Google. Why shouldn't the people researching their trips to Rome benefit from all this, this, from my, from all the, well, I'm at a loss for words. Anyway, if people are toodling about on the Google maps of Rome, as I was doing obsessively a year or more ago, they can now see what I had to say about many of the cafes and museums and stores and sights of Rome. And if they like my exhaustive analysis they can click on a little thumbs up to indicate their approval and, by extension, make my review more visible.
So today Google robot sent me an email.
Congratulations, they cried. You have a new record of 50 likes. I have fifty fans of my reviews!
Unfortunately they neglect to mention that 47 of those people are me.
Friday, September 15, 2017
Nothing throws cold water over my interest in a book quite like the sort of description I just read on the cover of a Science Fiction book I was just shelving at my library:
Joe is an ordinary guy leading his safe and ordinary existence, but a devastating medical diagnosis causes him to throw caution to the wind and take his unused time machine out of the garage in order to go on the adventure of a lifetime.
Actually, on second thought, that book doesn't sound so bad. I think in the paraphrasing I accidentally improved it. I'd read this book! Still, I do object to its take on ordinary guys. For one thing I'm extremely unclear on just what an ordinary guy is. Are they all the people who write the comments on the Internet? But no matter how I'm going to interpret the definition of "ordinary guy" I know that it's never going to include "owns or is capable of making a time machine."
How about this then:
Mike is as regular a guy as you'd ever meet, but he just keeps his head down and quietly lives his bland life trying not to be noticed. People often forget he's even in the room, which suits him fine. But when his world famous rock band gets an intriguing offer from the devil, Mike decides to listen to his magic cat for once and use some of the money from his Nobel Peace Prize to go on a daring adventure that might just save the life of his best friend (who might also be God).
Oh, fine, I'd read that too.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
After some decades of quasi vegetarianism, the burger became a large part of my dining out life once again. And for reasons too detailed for me to go into here, the burger has even become the very centerpiece of my dining out experience. This is a great and terrible burden for the simple burger, but fortunately the burger is sturdy, and well structured, and seems to be holding up under the weight.
And so naturally enough I have come up with a strong sense of what is proper for any burger, and for the serving of burgers, in restaurants. And as is my wont I have decided these things that I believe, prefer, respect, and enjoy, occupy a state of absolute truth, a moral mandate, and a vision of inspiration. This passion, this overwhelming absorption in my own deciphering of the Universe, is the very thing that makes clerkmanifesto into the the kind of blog that very, very, very few of the people reading this post will ever read again.
And so, these are the Platonic ideals of the restaurant burger. Hear my rules and defy them at the peril of your soul.
1. The animal that the burger is made from must be grass fed.
I'm okay with murdering a perfectly nice animal like a cow. I can just begin to bear that hideous, delicious burden. But torturing said animal with unnatural feedstuffs and industrial processing makes us into monsters and puts the burden of that cow's torture onto us. When we simply murder the animal, well, that's mostly god's fault, a design flaw. But when we defy the natural order, well, then it's on us.
2. French fries must be served.
I do believe there should be a salad option. I don't mind choices for sides. And while I believe an accompaniment should be included with one's burger, because that's more gracious and beautiful, I can bear having to purchase the fries if I have to. But fries, fryer cooked, are an indication of the seriousness of a burger place. They demonstrate conviction, and a willingness to make an effort. Chips indicate slovenly laziness and a kitchen and restaurant that just can't be bothered.
3. Cheese means cheese.
The more specific the cheese the better. Montamore, for instance, trumps "cheddar". Varieties of cheeses tailored to specific burgers is good. And most of all, American Cheese is not cheese. Nevertheless its use is permitted ironically, in a throwback burger imitating, for instance, a Big Mac.
4. Fast Food burgers are not actually good.
The idea that they are good is an illusion of marketing, photography, and nostalgia. "You mean I have to pay $14 for a burger?" You ask. Yes, or even more! It's a cruel world and we are murderers.
5. Doneness is real.
There's a chart. You can find it on Wikipedia. The cook should be able to hit it with some accuracy. You should know, if you don't, everything on this chart is pinker than you'd think.
6. Fake burgers are acceptable only if you mean it from the bottom of your heart.
Sure, go ahead and put a fake burger on your menu for the less ethically impaired among us. But it has to be good! I can only say that a veggie burger is only theoretically good. In two decades of desperately trying I was never able to make or purchase one.
7. The bun should be both delicious and invisible.
I should not notice that the bun even exists. However, if I compel myself to do so, I should find it graciously light, strong, and scrumptious.
8. Respect the load bearing limit.
All burgers have a load bearing limit. No matter how dramatic and appealing it may be to exceed that limit, if the burger is not structurally sound enough for me to eat by picking it up and biting into it, it is not a successful burger.
9. Napkins are required.
I don't need a bath towel (well, maybe I do!), but either way one crumbling paper napkin is not going to cut it. This is a burger. It's going to get messy.
10. Special orders shouldn't upset you.
Different people have different needs and limitations. If you have a kitchen full of pure, delicious, and basic ingredients, and if you have a capable cook with at least a little creativity, and if you have a waitperson who is capable of professionally communicating with people, this will be easy.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
I have been writing about the good points and bad points of my job at the library for years now. If you hit the "libraries" subject tag alone for my blog you will be returned over 500 essays. And yet, just today, after shelving a small selection of large type books from my cart, I suddenly realized the solution to all my problems here. It finally, at long last, occurred to me one huge thing that would make my job suddenly entirely compelling and rewarding:
My job should be more like a video game.
When I shelve a book correctly it should make a pleasant little chime. I should also get a point. If I shelve a whole cart of books fast enough I should not only get the standard cart shelving points and hear a short little happy song play, but I should also get bonus speed points. And these points won't be meaningless. I can take them to the library store and buy perhaps some +1 shelving gloves, which help me shelve even faster, or, if I have enough points I could even spend them to upgrade my book cart from Wood to Iron, which gives a 10% point bonus to all books shelved from it.
Working in the afternoon, downstairs at the front desk, I can win the highly sought after bronze, silver, or gold stars for dealing successfully with a difficult patron, or solving a complicated puzzle involving a missing item. And because it's a generously designed game I'll get tons of points for registering new library cards, making a once irksome task into a bit of good luck. You and all five of your children want library cards? Ka-ching! And when my two hour shift at the front desk is over, where a good crowd meant I racked up tons of points and stars, I'll excitedly take all my accumulated stars and points and go shopping once again at the library store. I'll use my points to purchase a new +2 quick-type ring, so I can type faster, and a second ring that gives me even more points for each registration. But the stars I accumulated are most valuable of all. With a silver star I'll buy a delicious plate of sushi, which gives me increased endurance to last out the night, collecting even more points and stars. Two gold stars buy me a whole week off, so I won't be back for awhile. To tell you the truth, with all my upgrades and experience I have so many gold stars that I hardly ever have to work if I don't want to.
Mostly I just come in because it's so fun.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Some of my favorite contemporary authors have lately taken to promising books and not delivering. I recently finished rereading Jasper Fforde's The Fourth Bear which managed to delight me as near as much as ever, only to come to the back of the book heralding of the next book in the series, The Last Great Tortoise Race. It's been 11 years and I'm still waiting.
Perhaps even more egregious is Patrick Rothfuss who has written two-thirds of one of the best fantasy trilogies I've ever read five times, but he seems to have stalled out on the concluding volume. Six and a half years and we're still waiting. I'm not sure I'd find six and a half years so unbearable if it weren't for his air of irritation around people wanting a third book. I can only imagine what a burden it must be for large groups of paying readers to enjoy one's writing. Quelle horreur! Then still it might not be so bad if he didn't much go out in public, but sometimes it seems like he's involved in so many conventions, talks, and projects related to what amounts to his unfinished, partly published, and, admittedly, very long novel, he could hardly have much time to work on it.
But I don't mean to just rant to you. I do have a very important point to make about all this. And I will definitely do so, any second now. But don't hold me to that. Watch this space!
Monday, September 11, 2017
We have a few rough regulars at my library. Most days they're here. Some of them smell. Some have unpleasant obsessive habits, like relentlessly chewing, for instance, or covering their head in toilet paper. Some are insane and regularly complain to us about being followed. But mostly, in one way or another, they all just take up a lot of space, sonically, physically, and psychically.
Lately, to be contrary, I started warmly greeting these people. "Hey." I say with casual friendliness to the man who takes up four random chairs and a whole precious study room with his bag collections, grunts, and ocd rituals. He hasn't smiled in ten years, and he sure doesn't smile at my greeting, but he does look startled.
"G'night." I say warmly to the smelly young man, head down, scurrying to the exit a minute or two after we close. He glances up at me, confused at first. Then he grunts some kind of farewell back to me. Sounded like "Nnh."
Who am I being contrary to by greeting these people? I don't know. Them? The library culture? Myself? Yeah, probably, above all, myself. After all, who am I to tell myself what to do and how to be? I don't know everything! I don't have to listen to everything I have to say!
So how, you wonder, is my new "greetings" routine working out?
Hard to tell. Perhaps it is giving these people a tiny taste of human warmth and connection, shining a slender ray of hope and love into their lives. Or, possibly, it's just making them really, really, really nervous.
I see it as a win either way.
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Here is my list of the 10 worst things about having a short attention span. I'm not saying I have ADHD or anything, but I have suffered in my life many times from the curse of easily losing interest, and these are the 10 very worst things about it:
Saturday, September 9, 2017
Oh, I was feeling pretty bad at work. You can always tell I'm feeling bad at work when I start talking about my managers a lot, and then I commence to reference Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener.
Anyway, I was working pretty hard and thinking about how I could somehow not work on Wednesday because it all just looked so... suffocating, when my eye chanced upon our darling new family car out the window, in the library parking lot. It's an aegean blue Honda Civic Coupe. It doesn't sound like much I know, but its surprisingly sporty, and fancy. It cheered me right up for a couple of seconds.
At least two seconds, maybe three.
At this point in any respectable literary, spiritual, highly enlightened blog post, such as the kind I write, like, constantly, you would traditionally see a careful and witty skewering of materialism and the craven bankruptcy of the American soul. But do you know how much money I make for doing that?
Nada, zip, zilch.
So I'm going to go look at my car again.
Friday, September 8, 2017
I had 5 days off and was not feeling too bright or happy to be back at work at the library. I felt the weight of it, not so much in books to be shelved, but more in the hierarchy of people above me, their loathsome, dead weight so compressing the air as to make it half like a deep sea, dark, hard to breathe, and slow to move in.
So I went upstairs to shelve fiction. And I shelved without complaints a cart of books that had less the feel of being read and more the feel of having meant to be read.
We only ask that you try.
Bah, no, we're a library. We don't even ask that.
I shelved to the "M's" and suddenly I held Bartleby the Scrivener in my hands.
I looked it over for a good long time.
I put it in its place on the shelf.
And then, standing there, letting a strange little chunk of the afternoon pass by, I did nothing. Nothing at all.
Thursday, September 7, 2017
I know one is not supposed to say these sorts of things, but I've made it a policy not to hold back: Lately I've been writing really good blog posts. For a week or so I was running behind and writing close up to my self imposed deadline, and running late always makes it harder to get that satisfied feeling. It makes it hard to test things out obsessively. Yes, usually I test these out obsessively,. The antique, cracked paint, rusted quality is produced only by careful layering and distressing even if to the general Internet it looks like I fell on my keyboard. Suckers. But then, over the course of two or three days I was keen to get out ahead on my posts for a five day vacation. Oh, I'm not going anywhere, I was just sort of hoping to loll about reading on the couch with my wife without any distractions. So I wrote a lot. It went well. I kept getting this feeling. I don't know how to explain the feeling. It's triumphant and oddly humble. Confident, even if just for a moment, it says "Yes, I got that little tiny piece of magic I made out of nothing, and there it is."
So I wrote like six posts like ringers, the horseshoes piling up, and having just finished up some short, ridiculous and perfect essay, I thought "There is nothing different between how I feel now and how, say, the Rolling Stones felt when they finished Satisfaction."
The difference only came later when they made 40 million dollars from it and had to sing it thousands of more times to astonishing adulation and increasing levels of desperate weariness.
I got nothing more from my success than the satisfaction, but I'll probably read it again to myself a few times in the years to come with unpredictable results.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
There is some public display at my library right now about stereotyping. One of my managers is so enthusiastic about this display that he spends a fair amount of time lately working on it, augmenting it, displaying it, and trying to make it better. I'm not here to comment on all that.
I'm only here to tell you about how when he was putting together a bunch of signs in the backroom with "Stereotype" and "Stereotyping" in big letters on them it was my big moment to venture back there dramatically and say "That's bad! You should use one typewriter with two hands and never two typewriters with one hand each!"
Once that was fully understood the conversation turned to how stereotyping is genuinely a problem, and not as well understood as it should be. I was happy to take up that banner.
"Kids in middle school nowadays," I started to complain "Don't even understand what the term stereotyping means!"
Then I cleared out of the backroom before anyone could try and trick me into having a remotely serious discussion.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
I have been writing now with at least a little facility for almost 40 years. And though over that time I had my moments, it is only in the past five years that I not only became very dedicated, but I also got really good at it. I got so good that I started to think "Hey, I could go pro!" I work at a library and I see professional writers' work all the time and I swear I can hardly open up a book anymore without thinking "I can totally do this!" Maybe not Jane Austen or James Joyce, but possibly Rex Stout, I'm pretty sure Jodi Picoult, and definitely Kazuo Ishiguro. So I began to contact publishers like yourself. Over a few years I contacted 93 professional publishers (like yourself) and not a single one of them thought I was ready to go pro.
I had to face a reckoning: Should I believe 93 writing community professionals whose very livelihood depends upon their acute evaluations of the quality of writing, or should I believe in myself.
I decided to believe in myself!
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Good choice!"
But I was a little nervous about it because 93 sober, intelligent professionals were a lot to go up against. So I looked to the Internet. I typed in a search for believe-in-yourself quotes thinking I could find inspiration from the authors I most admired. But it turns out that while there are an almost endless array of quotes by famous people about believing in oneself, not a single one of them was by a real author. Not even Kazuo Ishiguro, if that would count.
Here is a partial list of the people who told me, in no uncertain terms, to believe in myself:
Norman Vincent Peale
Oscar Pistorius (!)
So, I'm feeling a little confused right now, and I'll have to get back to you later.
Thank you for your time.