Saturday, May 27, 2017
It's already time for another session of Devil's Dictionary, with all due respect to Ambrose Bierce, and let's note how clever the phrase "With all due respect" is. Here, we'll do a Devil's Dictionary of it:
With all due respect:
Just the amount of respect someone deserves without saying just how much that is.
Today's Devil Dictionary terms are Internet ones. If anything needs an updated interpretation of terms it is surely those of the Internet!
Exactly what you were looking for until you realize it hasn't been updated since 2008.
An overly complicated place to look at pictures of pets.
A magical, always available, all-powerful librarian with the judgement and subtlety of a brick.
Where all voices cancel each other out.
An online compendium of knowledge everyone is supposed to approach skeptically, but no one does.
A crude webpage used by early humans and confused businesses.
Friday, May 26, 2017
Well, the vampires came to my library today. Apparently they had permission to pull up in their unholy mobile home, emblazoned with their perversion of the Christian symbol, all truncated to a plus sign and filled with blood. They parked their little castle on wheels in front of our library, spic and span and modernized, but I'm wise. There's bats in there somewhere. The wrong kind of bats.
"Where should I set up our information table?" One of their toadies asks me at the front desk.
"Wherever you want, Igor." I reply.
"Excuse me? My name isn't Igor."
"Oh, give it a break, Igor."
They don't fool me.
But management says they can be here, so I make them at home. I knock on the door of their little evil bloodsucking mobile home.
"Would you like to give blood?" They ask.
I shudder. "Oh, you all aren't fooling me with your white coats and politeness. No blood for you. I'm from the library. I baked a pie to welcome you."
I see his eyes light up. Maybe he thinks it's a blood pie. He lifts the pie to smell it and grimaces. "What is this pie?" He asks, making a face.
Ha, of course he does. "It's a garlic pie." I say triumphantly.
He blanches. "You should see your face!" I exclaim, and quickly hold up a mirror. He definitely flinched.
"Well, er, thank you for the pie." He says. Vampires are famous for their politeness, right up to where they suck your blood.
"If you're still hungry afterwards I can get you a steak." I say meaningfully.
He pretended not to understand, but standing there, hiding from the sun and my silver jewelry, he understood all too well.
Thursday, May 25, 2017
A co-worker came into the back room at the library looking for a hot new rental DVD for a patron. Don't ask me what it was. I'd never heard of it, but it was new, and a thriller, apparently with a lot of screeching violins and people in peril. My colleague said "Everyone today is looking for this movie. I don't know why. It is a horrible movie!"
Shrugging ruefully, Louise said "Well, there are a lot of horrible people."
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Here is a story about what the people of Minnesota are like.
The other day I told you about how I went to a Russian Ballet and it was bad. But I enjoyed hating it. After the intermission I'd had enough pleasure from despising it and tried to see what virtues I could find in it in the second half. I found a few, a bit of the dancing maybe, a costume, but it was still a ruthlessly terrible ballet, with cartoonishly, over telegraphed expressions, pantomimed dancing and absurdly posed plot points. The choreography was remedial, and there was a curious lack of real dance between the bad posing and false drama.
I watched it in a lovely theater called "The Northrup" along with pretty much every Russian person who currently lives in the twin cities. I only know one Russian emigre, someone I worked with once. She was there along with everyone she knew. The Russians were all Minnesotans too, though, and there were plenty of non Russian Minnesotans as well. It was a full house.
Hating the ballet, as I did, I hoped everyone else would share my good judgement as well. I think for the most part they did. But this is Minnesota, so here's what happened: The curtain went down and the audience applauded politely. The curtain went up for the bows and, then, still applauding politely and without any enthusiasm, our audience proceeded to give a standing ovation.
Perhaps the Russians were confused by this, because they seemed to take it as a cue to run through a long series of bows. Standing and tiredly clapping, the audience struggled through the dancer by dancer bows. Half applauding, at an astonishingly muted level, the crowd, while gathering their things, managed to keep up the appearance of applause until at long last the Russian dancers were finished basking in glory, and the final curtain went down.
Then, this ever so Minnesota crowd shuffled out of the theater, complaining quietly together about how bad this ballet was.
Yes, alas, Minnesota is where they give a standing ovation just to be polite.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
We were conducting our seasonal deep clean at my house. I was almost at the end too, finishing off by cleaning the bedroom windows. But to open these windows to clean the exterior part I had to push in two tabs and pull the top of the window out. The tabs wouldn't quite retreat enough. I pushed and prodded and several times thought "I'd better be careful. I could easily hurt myself." But I didn't listen so well.
Holding the tab in I tugged hard, and, to my delight, out popped the window from its track. Huzzah! Unfortunately my forefinger was a little in the way and, near the tip, was pinched between two hard, irresistibly moving objects. I pulled my finger away in shock and looked at it in fascination. There was this thick, instant blister on it, white and swollen, and, as I watched it, blood started welling up out of the sides of it like I'd struck oil. Ooooooooo.
I decided this would be a good time to visit my wife. So I made my way across our bed, leaving a bit of myself behind. I dripped blood down the stairs which were very clean and white. The blood looked beautiful on the pure unsullied background of the stairs. I dripped blood across the living room and found my wife.
And I was home again.
Monday, May 22, 2017
In the latest library development there is now a
GUY LIVING UNDER A CAR
in our parking lot.
I've seen worse. Plus, it's sort of entertaining. His red car has a flat now, so I don't think it's going anywhere soon. We asked the guy if he needed any help. We even have this handy Community Resource Advocate who regularly visits us who could possibly help him. The guy living under the car was offended at the implication that he needed help.
"Just because I am sleeping underneath my car in your parking lot does not mean I need help. I'm fine. I'M FINE!"
Sometimes some of the library patrons are a little concerned though.
"There's a red car out there." They say delicately. "And, well, there's stuff under it, like, backpacks, and... stuff. I think maybe it's been there for a long time."
"We're working on it." We say. And we are. We're batting it around quite a bit lately. It went from the front desk, to the circ manager to the branch manager. It then went from the branch manager to the Police. The Police sent it back to the branch manager who sent it to administration and administration gave it to property management. That's where it is now. Property management is thinking hard about who to send it to.
No hurry though. He's fine.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Whoa all this talk of Russians everywhere. All oligarchs and spies and ambassadors and collusion with our ridiculous President and his multitudinous slavering acolytes. I can hardly keep up with it. My head is spinning. What happened to the Russia of Tolstoy? What happened to the Russia of Stravinsky? What about the Russia that brought us Chagall and Kandinsky? Yes, there have always been manipulative tyrants and credulous, self-destructive masses in Russia, almost as many credulous, self-destructive masses as we have now here in America, but you gotta keep your culture going.
Artists are my people!
So I went to see a Russian Ballet, by an all Russian Ballet Company, The Eifman Ballet. I went to see Red Giselle.
I will not judge a whole people on their heartless leader and their dark rooms of hackers assiduously fudging the tiny slice of democracy we have left in America. I won't judge them on their B-movie villains, deplorable social policy, or all the mad ways they keep showing up on our front pages. I refuse to judge them on a tiny elite strangling a cowed country and crying out that they, they are Russia.
They aren't Russia.
No, I will judge Russia as they should be judged, by old and gracious standards. I will judge them on how good a ballet they can put on.
So bold of heart I went off in the late Spring rainstorms of Minnesota to see their mighty ballet.
And it was no good. No good at all. It was, all told, a terrible ballet in nearly every way. It was the single worst ballet I have ever seen in my life.
Ah well, as they say in Russia:
Беда́ никогда́ не прихо́дит одна́.
Trouble never comes alone.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Sadly, at my library, there are only two methods by which things are fixed.
Over in version number one something breaks and a series of consultations commence in the back room. A manager is brought into the discussion and after a lengthy meeting someone is appointed to make contact with the proper department. The proper department investigates and the wheels of repair are set in motion. As long as whatever broke hasn't ground the library to a halt we settle in to wait. Parts are ordered. The job is assigned a work order. It is placed on a docket with an unclear level of priority. Weeks, sometimes months go by as everyone works around the broken element. Occasionally the broken thing is brought up in discussion with the department responsible for repairing it, and the complicated reasons for the delays in it being fixed are explained. More weeks go by. Eventually everyone gives up hope. We get used to our temporary work arounds. Then, one or two workers, either ours or from somewhere else, show up. They work on the problem for four to six hours while we all hover excitedly about. They hit an impasse. A part they don't have and that is only in Ohio must be ordered in. It's fantastically expensive. They leave. Eight days later they return. In half an hour the broken thing is completely fixed and works and looks like nothing ever happened. It is like new.
In version number two something breaks and we start foraging for wrenches and rolls of duct tape. We pry a chunk of metal out of something. We reboot. It works but wobbles. We whack it six times to bend it over a bit then shove a binder clip wrapped in rubber bands to space it correctly. It holds! Job done. It will never be the same, but there is a good chance it will hold forever, and if it doesn't, well, now we know what to do.
I have dreamed of a third way, but in my heart I understand it is beyond the scope of human capability.
Friday, May 19, 2017
Someone whose identity I will protect brought in two enormous chocolate bars to the free food table in the break room (it was Marcus, the teen librarian, but you didn't hear if from me). It was more than two full pounds of chocolate in sheets too thick to break by hand. One had to drive a knife down between squares to get it into usable chunks. I strongly resist eating any food on the free food table. Usually this is easy because that food is disgusting. Sometimes though the free food is marginally good enough to require a reminder to myself that I have my own food and don't really do well eating whatever it is. But chocolate I do eat, and this was not bad chocolate. In fact it said right on the package that it came from Belgium. That's gotta be worth something, doesn't it, chocolate from Belgium? So I had a square of chocolate.
Several hours later when I was in the break room getting my 14th square of chocolate I suddenly noted that all this once seemingly endless chocolate was nearly gone. I was stunned. I did a quick, rough calculation and realized that for this to be possible nearly everyone else at my job had to be eating as much chocolate as me!
I had no idea. They all look so innocent.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
If you have been in any way following along with clerkmanifesto over these 1,600 posts you will likely be aware that my politics are leftist. They are so far to the left and so passionate and idiosyncratic that I can't much bring them out into polite conversation. They are too wild for me to safely handle with others around. My politics are so far to the left that mostly all I can do with them is take them into distant open prairie land and hunt small game with them. And though the whole vast panoply of Center and Right Wing politics that have dominated every aspect of power in my country throughout my life have been nothing but a bitterly painful sight for me to regard, there is at least some small satisfaction I get in venturing out to the aerie in my back yard, collecting my politics, and taking them to the edge of the city where they can hunt down mice and voles and small rabbits, even down by the river once, a couple of not insubstantial fish. Then I let my politics tear into the fresh meat before I take them home and hood them.
So, in my complicated way, I am saying that I have not had much experience with thinking like a reactionary, or in employing the handy, evil, frequently stupid catchphrases of the right.
So when it happened today it was something of an interesting surprise. Bracing, disturbing, liberating, and educational.
A colleague was relating a story from the front desk of our library. He said that a patron came up to him and said "You know that man with all the bags who sleeps upstairs in the fiction section?"
My colleague knew exactly who she was talking about. This was Bagman, OCD man, current patron burden number one for my library. He sleeps for hours taking up a small suite of chairs, eats noisily and unpleasantly in public, does repulsive things into garbage cans, roams the library seeking antiseptic gels and getting people to open doors for him, leaves a dozen target bags full of strange items holding his place, sometimes overnight, and complains if they're touched or messed with in any way. He is occasionally noisy, churlish when approached, and, worst of all, always extremely smelly. Shelving, one will always know if one is within 40 feet of him.
So, as my colleague reported, when this patron came up speaking about OCD man, he was prepared for the worst. "Yes, I know that man." My colleague responded cautiously, and he quickly organized in his mind the weak defense that the library belongs to everyone and we try to curtail offensive behavior.
But the woman was not there to complain. On the contrary. "I just want to thank the library for giving that man a place to go." She exclaimed. "I so very much appreciate that he can be here!"
My colleague expressed his surprise at this comment to me, and I, in response to the grateful woman and her comments, exclaimed, both aware and lucid, and to my horror:
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
When the time comes, regardless of date, Fall is frozen out and becomes Winter. Spring on the other hand gets burned out to become Summer. And so it has. Temperatures in the eighties over the weekend and pushing towards the nineties tomorrow does something to the world. A burst of hard sun makes all the gentle niceties of Spring clear out and toughen up. The bugs are released from some secret nefarious bunker of God. The cute crinkles of nascent leaves unfurl and sprawl like we're in an age of dinosaurs. And no more the gentle wafting of the scent of blossoms, rather the air is heavy with the smell of flowers and the gutters run with heaps of bruised and swollen petals. Hot storms come streaming in. Lightning cracks and the playful squirrels start interspersing swear words into their vocabulary. Rabbit sweat. Ducks wrestle in the vast hard grass that has alarmingly grown a shade too green. The gentle and profuse dandelions throw off their innocence and initiate their secret plan to poison all their neighbors. Look at them now, ringed in death! Great flocks of birds heading north for the Summer like locusts devour what they can and continue on, figuring surely they have not come far enough. Pine trees sag and weep acid before bursting into flames, songbirds fleeing them and throwing themselves into drying patches of mud, panting. We, who thought we could spend all our free time in our new, posh, patio setup, watch ants trudging over our tabletop and say "Maybe we'll just go inside for a bit." And we do, leaving the drapes closed, the house dark, and sipping cold water as we listen to jets roaring overhead to other places.
I thought it was all horrible, but writing you I suddenly understood. No, it's all fantastic.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Here is a recent true life exchange from the front desk of the library:
Patron: I don't have a card, but I can prove who I am.
Me: Okay, go ahead and act like yourself.
Patron: I could break into song.
Me: If that's who you are.
Patron: (With a sly grin full of secret knowledge, hands me a license)
Me: (Resignedly, because it was a slow afternoon) Good enough.
Monday, May 15, 2017
The people I see the most at the library are the most baffling. I have been compelled to conclude that this is because anyone who comes to the library six or seven times a week, often for the full 11 hours we're open, is mentally ill. I don't mean this pejoratively. That's why I graciously employed the term "Mentally ill" over "Crazy", a word I am perhaps over fond of, especially when talking about people I strongly disagree with. These library patron mental illnesses are all somewhat functional, that is these people manage to eat and dress themselves and maintain independent lives, at least in as much they can continue coming to the library. But whether these patrons nervously roam the library at high speed, transacting some kind of business every fifteen minutes at the front desk for ten straight hours, or they sit on the computers all day long with library headphones cocooned wildly in toilet paper, or they complain about the library's collusion in allowing people to monitor their movements, there is some element of madness driving much of their time here.
I have always assumed that there is a peculiar strain of mental illness that pushes a certain kind of person towards a library. But what if I have it wrong? What if the library itself is a dangerous place that, under too much exposure, will drive people mad? Could it be a result of the danger from a surfeit of knowledge, all collected too densely here, so that, like the bible's apple from the tree, it is enough to drive one from the garden of sanity? I don't know. All I know is that I have spent roughly 65,000 hours here at this library. I am hoping the small hourly stipend I receive confers a kind of immunity, that working negates the effects of an excessive ennoblement. Some days looking around at my stalwart and level headed co-workers I think surely this is so. But on other days I look around at some of the people I work with, who are here nearly everyday, staring with birdlike confusion at our check in equipment, or responding to every question with a disturbing monotone, and I feel an uncomfortable nervousness. My only balm, when I feel like this, is that ever and always I want to leave the library and go to my other life, rather than stay, and stay, and stay.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
I have recently landed in a few discussions regarding superpowers. And I doubt that there are any among you who have not had to contend with the question of what superpower you might like could you choose but one. Invisibility seems a tad loathsome and unwholesome, except perhaps for highly ethical people who would invariably ruin the effect by constantly clearing their throats and announcing "I'm here even though you can't see me." Flying strikes me as quite fun, but difficult to properly monetize. Although fortunately, as a library clerk, I have no real need of money, especially once cars and airplane trips become superfluous and I can collect all the valuable free stuff that collects at the tops of trees.
Recently I have come to the conclusion that time travel would be the superpower to go with. It would make one pretty much a god, having all knowledge and the ability to redirect fate. But as much as I might like to put the superpower issue to rest by being the first ever "Time Travel Man" I am aware of the exponential paradoxes involved, and, even in fantastical discussion, I fear collecting the memory of so many streams of alternate realities that my brain would split apart.
And so I leave the fancy superpowers then to a younger crowd. Let them lift super heavy objects, or run at the speed of sound. I have grown more humble. For my superpower I shall merely go with good health. I will be "Good Health Man". The older among you will understand even as the young fliers may not. The middle aged and older, enthralled, will ask this super-powered version of me "Wait, you are 52 years old? Your knee never mysteriously hurts you? Nor your back, shoulder, neck, or sciatica nerve? You have no strange cysts for the doctor to check out as soon as possible, and your teeth never ache as you bite down on something a little too hard?"
And amazingly I will say "No. And also I can turn into an owl whenever I like."
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Yesterday I put forward a little lexicon of updated political terms, a la The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Today it occurred to me that library terms have updated to new meanings every bit as much as political ones, so why not take a stab at those. But before I do I thought it might be nice to start off with a real Devil's Dictionary definition by Ambrose Bierce himself:
To take the thought or style of another writer one has never, never read.
And with that thought, we're off!
A community center for the purpose of building up one's immunity to diseases.
A disposable reminder of the number one needs to access various online services.
The person one uses to google things when one is too tired to type.
A private room in which to eat crunchy snacks.
An attempt to prolong the illusion that one will read a book.
A way to get in line for a popular book one will have lost all interest in reading by the time it arrives.
An item recently voted as one of the top 500 things to get at a library.
Friday, May 12, 2017
Today I was reflecting upon how in the many decades that I have followed politics many of the definitions of key words have incrementally changed to the point where I, or many other people, might have old, 1970s ideas of what they mean, but their real meaning has slowly become completely different. And so in the fine tradition of the The Devil's Dictionary I would like to take a stab at updating some of our common political terms so that you will know what they mean when you see them.
I hope this is of some help. These are perilous linguistic times.
A condition of wanting to punch something, even one's own face if necessary.
A Republican or Democrat prone to occasional fits of a desire to escape, but who does not think of using a shovel and just claws ineffectually at the dirt.
Willing to take a step to the right under the theory this will create future opportunities to take a step to the left.
An interest in equilibrium even if it means running towards fascists with your fulcrum.
Now with even more wiggle room!
An Anarchist who is afraid of everything except rich people.
The single element in all American politics that everyone else admires and yet finds a way to work together to stop.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
In the last segment of my bike trip to the University and to my car there is a tricky bit where my path feeds directly onto a walking path. This is not a combined path. It specifically forbids bikes on this section. But to avoid it I have to take my bike off a curb, veer sharply left, follow a road, turn right, and find some way back up onto the sidewalk to cut across to the next short section of my route. It's a considerable inconvenience. Because that convenient but illegal short walkway is wide and irresistible to me I have begun to give in and ride carefully along it. I don't think this really puts too many people out, but I felt I should be prepared in case someone says something to me.
I have found, in moments of surprise and stress it can be difficult to come up with the right thing to say. Being prepared gives me confidence. So I have prepared and now, if someone were to say to me "Hey, this is a walking path here. No bikes!" I have decided that I will respond "Once I have gotten over my initial hostility towards your comment I will take that under consideration."
And I will.
But until that comment I will go with the private thought: "There is no need to grease a wheel that hasn't squeaked"
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
I was in the backroom when they paged him. "Christian Berger, please come to the service desk. Christian Berger, please come to the service desk."
So I went out to the front desk. "The thing I hate about Christian Burger places" I said. "Is you get all that proselytizing when you just want some lunch."
Later in the day I was working on a complicated little crafts project making undershelf labels for a colleague's project with our CD collection. After plugging away at it throughout the day, usually while trying to watch soccer, I got them to an acceptable standard to go forward with. First up were a bunch of labels that read "oversized". Working on them at the front desk I held one up to her. We agreed it was good enough. "You know what they say." I said. "The perfect is the enemy of the completely mediocre."
And we'll just leave it there for the day.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
In preparation for a theoretical visit to our library a patron called and wanted to know about the issues and fines on her account. Great, I just needed her library card.
"My library card?" She replied. "I don't know where that is."
"I'm sorry, unfortunately over the phone, due to data privacy rules, I need a library card to give you information about items on your record."
She was exasperated. "Can't I just give you my social or something?"
I then proceeded to give her a long speech explaining data privacy, the limitations of what we can do on the phone without a card, and a brief history and theoretical study of the issues involved. But after a mere five or ten minutes, just when I was getting going, it occurred to me there might be no one on the other end of the line. I was right. I was all alone on the phone. Now that I thought about it I had heard a soft click of disconnection about five minutes ago but had blown past it in my passion for the subject matter.
Ah, it was just as well, all those concluding pleasantries can go on forever.
Monday, May 8, 2017
I was just reading an article Groucho wrote for The Saturday Evening Post back in 1931. He was reminiscing about miserable early career failures and other youthful performing disasters that he treasured. In one he discusses a Marx Brothers production called Mr. Green's Reception. He says:
"I think of that mournful afternoon in Battle Creek, Michigan, when we gave our entire show with only four patrons in the audience, in a theater that seated close to three thousand."
I'm glad he was able to look back and enjoy the bitter memory. Why not? After all, I say this writing to you now on the Internet, where nearly two hundred million people are currently roaming, but you alone, in all the world, are reading it.