Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Newspaper days

In some strange way I recognize that much of my relationship to the Internet is no different than how I related to the Newspapers of my youth. Newspapers were and are so comparatively limited, and the Internet is so vast, one might not think there would be so much commonality between them, but truly there is. What do I do on the Internet? I check the few things that are important to me, the sites that report on my hobbies for instance, whatever they are at the moment, I check headlines, weather, a cartoonist, a writer. It can all be done in 15 minutes and is a near mimic of my Newspaper habits of old.
How did I read the paper? A glance at headlines, a look at weather, when I was younger box scores were poured over, but always Peanuts, Doonesbury, then later, Bloom County for awhile, Calvin and Hobbes. If Miss Manners had a column that day it was a good day in the Newspaper. Maybe the opinion page, but mostly I only dug deeper if I had nothing else to do, wanted to draw out the morning, the time.

What difference is the Internet to me? Sure, it's wider, it folds in more resources; mail, reference library, TV, and it's everywhere, but it doesn't really seem to update any quicker than a Newspaper. In the end, if I really want to, I could be in and out of the Internet in the same way in those same 15 minutes.
I don't mean for this to be a big griping post about the Internet, though I have written my share and will no doubt write more, nor is this a great nostalgia for the Newspapers of my youth. Perhaps what it's really about is how things change slower than we think, or how things can look so very different on the outside, but you lift up the hood and the engine driving it all is astonishingly similar to all the ones before.

I would love for the Internet to be so packed with my favorite content that I could not hope to exhaust it before it is all new again. There would be 200 great daily comics. There would be people as clear and funny and fun as Miss Manners spilling out of the woodwork. The weather report would be inexhaustible, and columnists, my people, known on the Internet as bloggers, would be so interesting that I could not bear to miss a single day of them despite not having nearly the time for them all.

But it is curiously not so. I find no cartoonist the equivalent of Schultz or Breathed, though there are a few I like quite a bit, albeit many of them post only weekly. If I am flexible I can find one or two funny enough Miss Manners equivalents. The weather is the same thing I can find to this day on the Newspaper weather page, no deeper, just, uselessly I can find 20 versions of the same thing in different graphics. And bloggers, the daily columnists of the Internet, I am a little embarrassed to say that in a year of looking I have not found a one. Except me. Who I read every day. It doesn't take long.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Milk in coffee

In the great Nero Wolfe mysteries, by Rex Stout, our tough guy, competent, clown of a narrator, Archie, is a big milk drinker. It is one the many charming affectations and eccentricities that rhythmically, naturally, and charmingly punctuate the series. There is our tough, savvy, New York City private dick drinking the beverage of babies and small children. Milk. 

I haven't had a glass of plain milk in years. My one great drink obsession is coffee. And coffee is a quintessentially adult beverage. Classic, tough, savvy private eyes normally enough drink coffee like it's water, or scotch. But underpinning my coffee drinking, essential to it, expressing its variations and quality, is milk.

I love milk.

Setting aside the absolute coffee purist, the black coffee drinker, the espresso, straight up, thrown back drinker, and I am happy to set them aside because I am not them, I believe a great coffee drink rests on three legs: the bean, the brew, and the milk. And I am beginning to believe the greatest of these is milk, simple milk.

I have lately much been out of my native element, forced by the exigencies of life to seek dreadful coffee in waiting rooms and nefarious coffee kiosks. I have uniformly found that this poor coffee is made palatable or, alternately, undrinkable by the nature of the milk that can be added. With non dairy creamer it is utterly undrinkable and I will go without no matter what the cost. With a couple of those little hyper pasteurized plastic containers of half and half it is distinctly unsatisfactory, yet drinkable to the desperate, which of course I am. But find me a pint of whole milk somewhere, maybe rBGH free if I'm lucky, throw in a 50 percent portion to that lame cup of coffee and... it's pretty good.

In your big city, or the one nearest to you, you should these days be able to find at least one truly great cafe. Look behind the counter. A dollar will get you ten that their milk comes in glass, is organic, from grass fed cows.

My dream coffee? The best I've ever had has been in the city, but for my dream coffee I believe we'd have to go pastoral, out where the cows spend languid days grazing on a lush variety of grasses. There's still a dew on the flowers, a small chill in the morning air, birds. We pull my espresso, same coffee, same machines, but for the milk, ah for the milk. We walk over to the happy cow and milk right into the pitcher. We steam it up. Creamy. Not too warm. It goes gently into the crema, the espresso. Cappuccino. Heaven.

Monday, April 28, 2014


Not so many years ago, that is, in the grand scheme of things, the people of my library community decided to throw twenty million dollars or so into building a new library to replace our old one. Technically speaking it was a remodel, but one so dramatic that it is fair to look at it as a new building.

I had something close to a front row seat at the design of our new library. Watching all the interesting ideas, the fancy ideas, and the Very Useful But Expensive ideas get cut away left me initially feeling that our new library, with a 50 percent increase or so in budget, could have really been something.

But it couldn't. It wouldn't. It wasn't.

First of all, money is always like that, it always says that the next level, the next add on, the next amount spent is what it takes to get that which is really desirable. And there is always another level.

Second of all, we were building a generic, of its time, cookie cutter, modern, medium-large library. That might make it sound worse than it is. And it is and it isn't worse than it is. When my new library was built it looked fresh and slick, modern and inventive. Indeed, it's still new enough that it still does look that way. It's white and minimal, clean and faintly techno. Its pallet is formed by accent colors that are bravely contemporary, that is, if corporate design and the color of Target store products can be said to be contemporary, which, sadly, I suppose they can. In five years it will look dated. Maybe in ten we can paint it over to chase past glories. It is also a library profoundly similar to every library of its type across the country. It's as if hundreds of architectural firms are pretending to diligently and inventively work on all these exciting new library projects, only to secretly send off the basic parameters to one wildly overworked and unhealthy architect working in a basement somewhere in Toledo, Ohio who draws up the same basic plan for every single one of these libraries.

And everyone is happy. Sort of.

The more I looked at libraries across North America the more I saw of this not entirely unpleasing slavish conformity, but it was an encounter with a beautiful coffee table book of great libraries of the world that really brought it all home to me.

I think the book is called The Library: A World History, and I saw it come through new when I was processing requested items. I immediately ceased all my work in order to familiarize myself with this new book, feeling, as I do, that it is very, very, very important that I know what's on every last page of every book in our library. Just, you know, in case it comes up with the patrons. The book is basically made of beautiful photo essays of some of the most glorious and grand libraries in the world, old (mostly) and new (an equally interesting few). So, anyway, I am paging through this book, enchanted, when suddenly, there, in a giant two-page spread, is a picture of my library!

My jaw dropped.

No, really, it did. I gaped. Of course, it took only a second or two to see that it wasn't really my library. The scale was wrong. The library in the picture was twice as big as my library. And, naturally then, it was full of minor differences; shelving, content, placement, thousands of details. Yes, actually it was very different, but the basic design, layout, and aesthetic were amazingly similar. My library, or rather its prototype, its platonic ideal, it turns out, is in Berlin, Germany! It was built in 1979, thirty five years ago! My super up to date contemporary library is practically plagiarized from a 35 year old building.

I am not in the place to floridly expand today's post into a vast essay on the nature of architecture, culture, genius, and provincial but not too provincial libraries. For my own happiness I strive to keep things here in appetizer sized portions, joke size, poetry size, rock song size, Mona Lisa size.

So I will cut to the chase.

You have heard the rhetoric about creativity, its celebration, its advocates, the grand tales of its history. We tell our collective story as a story of creativity. But that's just dreaming. Down here on the ground we are in love with conformity. It rules everything we see and touch and do. It is the roast and the potatoes, the mead and the vegetables, the bread and the cheese, everything laid out at the banquet.

Creativity is just a spice.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Full of falcons

The Sunday post. Draw up a chair. Well, no, I know they are too enormous to move. Everything is over-sized here in this room, I have even seen falcons come flying through, but the plush, eight foot tall golden chairs are comfortable just as they are, and the immensity of the stone walls and stone floors are made enchanting by the great roaring fire in the hearth, by the vast rugs that soften everything. Don't look too long though into those carpets. I think they are haunted, their beauty is endless, and you will be lost in them forever. You will start to see that the red is not red, and you will go deeper and deeper and not come back. This will not do because we are toasting fresh bread for you in the fireplace. We have butter. Listen to the sound of the rain falling. Yes, it is perfect here. Perfect.

Unfortunately there is nothing wrong with that.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Front desk notes

Our library front desk is peopled by two workers. Today, one of these teams cleverly left notes on the computer desktop for the next shift. I think I am three shifts later from these notes, but there they are. I really do like the idea and so am providing my own desk notes, little helpful hints for the seven to nine shift that follows us. But I thought you might find them of interest too.

Notes from the five O'clock crew.

Good evening seven o'clock crew!

It is likely a man with a ponytail will be by to ask if he is being followed. Don't concernedly ask about it. Just say "No, but I will keep a careful eye out."  Expect eleven or twelve visits in your two hour shift.

Trending upward:

Patrons checking out DVDs and telling us how they feel about each actor in the movie.
Patrons who couldn't figure out how to return their books and so want to give them to you.
Patrons who you think should be on disabled status but you can't bring yourself to do it because you think they'd be horrified if they found out.

Trending downward:

Patrons who have proper ID for a new card.
Available rental copies of the new Hobbit movie.

For some reason a staff member keeps coming out and straightening the "Form Line Here" sign. Watch for patrons jostling it.

There are three books on American Presidents under the desk that a teen couple swears they are coming back for. I am so convinced they are not coming back that I will give you five dollars if they do. Nevertheless I am not so convinced that they are not coming back that I am willing to break my promise and check the books in.

And that is all from the five o'clock crew. I will check in on you periodically from seven to nine as taking care of the check in machine gets a little lonely sometimes.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The biggest website

The public computers have been catching my eye again. I thought I had seen everything there was to be seen. I thought I had issued my full compliment of blog posts on the nature of what our library public looks at on the internet.  But with my eye drawing back to those glowy screens once again it has become clear that there was something I had missed.

At the local library, on the Internet computers, people play simple games obsessively. They shop. They attend to Email. People even occasionally do research on our computers. They watch Korean boy bands. There are cats and GIFs and hobbies and celebrities and hilarious injuries, useful information and endless, endless marketing disguised as entertainment. Most of these things all these people do on the Internet are mundane and familiar. A rare few are strange and compelling. But only recently has it struck me that there is one other very common thing people do on the Internet. It was hiding so fiercely in plain sight that I have gone years without seeing it, but now that I have seen it, I see it everywhere. I never see it spoken of, perhaps because it is not flattering to the Internet, and the Internet is above all most concerned with feathering its own nest, but I have become so aware of it that I am not sure that it isn't the single most common thing people do on the Internet. Here it is.

They stare blankly at the screen at a complete loss. 

The oversold promise surrounds them and they have nowhere to go. How does one choose from a million paths?

The loudest wins. We invent interests. We follow where we are told to go. 

But sometimes instead we break down and stare into nothingness. We are inscrutable. We disappear between the countless stars.

 If staring into nothingness were a website, it would be bigger than Google.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Eyre affair

I am perched in a window, four floors up. I am not at work or at leisure. I am in the in-between world for an indefinite amount of time, living on sunflower seeds and handwritten blog posts.

I knew I was coming to this nether world so I brought the most comfortable book I could think of, The Eyre Affair. I've only read it eleven or twelve times. There's life in it yet, tiny, overlooked details to spot from out my long acquaintance, the joy of watching its vast underworkings, the beautiful rhythm of the familiar ride.

Some books sweep me away on a wave of tone and leave me infected with a fever of voice, a strange music cadence, a flooding sense. I love the delirium of these books and how it feels like their very language is seeping for days into every sentence I touch. But I perhaps love even more the kind of book Jasper Fforde so perfectly expresses: a magnificence of plot and character and a relentless sense that our world is being commented on, teased, and explained within. All of it is sewn so neatly together that strain as I might to spot the tiny perfect stitches I end up bewildered. This makes me think of my favorite paintings, where one can peer into the cream of brushwork or the blots of marks and color, down where it is all paint, and then step back and it is a world, an arm, a tree, and it seems hopeless to fathom how it was done. You go from one view to the other and cannot spot any trick or plan.

To my regret The Eyre Affair and its sequels and attendants will not be getting withing spitting distance of Canon. I can see how and why that is just from the enthusiastic quotes plastered across its paperback edition covers. All the giant East Coast Media is there singing its praises; the New York Times, their Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, the papers that we carry at my library even though they are from way out of town. It's like these reviewers know they've got something special, but they're not entirely sure what to do with it. So they hit the comparing sauce, and they hit it hard. Just the front and back covers gets The Eyre Affair compared to:

Monty Python
Harry Potter (Twice)
Stephen Hawking
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Bridget Jones
Nancy Drew
Dirty Harry
The Hitchhiker's Guide series
Lewis Carroll
Woody Allen

This all may seem like an illustrative shorthand. And clearly it must be fine stuff for cover marketing. But at heart, what they're really doing is passing the buck. 

The Cowards.

Here is my back of the book quote:

I have never seen anything like this book anywhere, and yet every last piece of it feels like an improvement on something I have loved in the past.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


For two days I have been thinking of that story about the elephant. I can't remember it very clearly and have completely forgotten its source, but that doesn't stop it trumpeting around in me. It's the one where a group of different people have a compromised view of an elephant and each one is convinced the elephant is something it's not; a person touching the skin of its leg thinks it's the bark of a tree, a person at its trunk thinks the elephant is a snake, the person petting the elephant's ear is all like "Whoa! This feels so weird, and all this hot breath on my head is freaking me out!"

The story, as I recall, does not relate what the elephant is thinking. My guess is that, in keeping with the story, the elephant, confronted with all these pesky, invasive, smaller creatures, must think they are mosquitoes. This means everyone in the story is confused and misguided.

But we, reading it, are not confused and misguided. Neither is our omniscient narrator, nor the original author. We are like gods, albeit unruly ones, looking down at it all, saying "Ha! That is an elephant not a tree!" and "Those are so obviously people, not mosquitoes!" and "Pick me! I know what the moral of the story is!"

Ah. But what if we're all standing too close to the fable and are just characters who have gotten it all wrong again?

What if the story keeps going out into another story, forever?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On recommendation

Somewhere in all the vast catacombs of this blog I have written about book recommendations. Said post about recommendations is out in that labyrinthine archive somewhere, and if you merely read carefully through my 400 blog posts of the past 14 months you will surely find it.

I will wait here while you do so.

I will have a cappuccino. I don't mind waiting. It's nice to just sit here and enjoy the air in my blog. It smells sort of like peppermint here today.

I will listen to John Cage's immortal 4'33" (official blog soundtrack at reader request) and wait until you are finished searching.

Ah. You're back. You found it. You reread it. Splendid.

But just on the very, very, extremely and unusually remote chance that you did not read it, I had better briefly and inaccurately recap the referred to post. The post said that book recommendations are difficult for me because I tend to be unprepared when the requester asks me for a request out of nowhere. They also tend to be difficult because the requester's frame of reference can sometimes be so alien to my own. And finally, they are difficult because I tend to be out in the stacks, far removed from my resources and my carefully (well, roughly) assembled lists, and the moment a patron asks me for a request, the clock is ticking. I have about twelve seconds before they lose interest and decide it's not worth it.

We did our best to solve all those problems, and then some, in that blog post, but there is an opposite problem. And that is what we will work on here today.

What if I see the requester all the time? What if they're a sympathetic co-worker? What if their frame of reference, their taste is full of commonalities with me? What if I have all the time in the world to mull over lists and be reminded of favorite books, or music, or movies, and constant opportunities to tell them? What if the request door is hardly ever closed and I don't have just twelve seconds to work with, but twelve years?

I have found it is just as easy to go wrong in this situation as it is in the first one. My inclination has been to flood the person with wildly enthusiastic suggestions, mostly hoping an occasional one will stick. I have only just begun to understand that this is all wrong. Floods sweep away everything. This situation requires care, control, patience, and restraint. This situation must be taken seriously. This situation must be treated respectfully, craftily, and thoughtfully. Above all, this situation requires a plan of action.

If I am talking with someone and it becomes clear that I can think of eleven fantastic books that I know they would love, I should not recommend them. I should put them on a little shelf in my brain, and I should think about them. I should think about what I love best, and I should think about what I think they would be most likely to love best. I should make one choice. And then I should not recommend it. I should hold onto it. While I am holding onto it, for days, or weeks, new things will occur to me, new recommendations. I should measure them against my one choice, always keeping the strongest, curing it, smoking it, holding it with care. And still I should not recommend it.

Then one day, this person will complain about having nothing good to read, or they will wish there was something, or they might even ask, directly for a recommendation.

Yes, now, carefully, I should say, yes, there is one very special book I have thought of, one alone, and I should quietly, seriously, earnestly recommend it and it alone.

They probably won't read it. I should not give up. I should not go to choice two. I should not even have a choice two. I should not ask about it. I should not recommend it again. But I might want to get a copy to have around. Books this good are, surprisingly, even in a big library, often checked out. I should keep my copy. I should say nothing.

Then one day, this person will complain about having nothing good to read, or they will wish there was something, or they might even ask, directly for a recommendation.

In the same way as before, quietly, seriously, I should recommend my book again, with no reference to having recommended it before.

If they say they tried it and didn't like it I should not recommend a new book. I am going to need to do some rethinking. I am going to need to start over. If they make vague positive noises I should continue to wait and I should not press. If they get very interested I should let them look for and request a copy before I give them my own, to keep.

But always, before moving on to a second recommendation, I should get either a negative report or a positive report that they read the book I recommended. If I have to spend twelve years quietly recommending the same book without result, so be it. It wasn't meant to be. Failures and successes though I will take into account, and I will begin the same process, ever so carefully, once again.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The paper towel process

I'm on my way downstairs after shelving a cart of Genre Fiction. I stop to talk to Dave for a bit, and a man approaches to inform us that the Men's Room is out of towels. I assure the man that I will begin the exhaustive process to replace towels in the towel dispenser. The man departs. You, however, are still here.

"A process?" You ask. "What is this exhaustive process?"

It is generally speaking a 17 step process to replace paper towels during non janitorial coverage times. It is an optional task (come to think of it, I think all tasks might be optional around my library). But I'm a giver. So I will replace the towels, and I will carefully detail the 17 steps for you in case you ever need to replace paper towel rolls in an institutional building.

But before I start I want to say that I would love to answer the burning question: "Why does it take so many procedural steps to replace a roll of towels?" Unfortunately this is too big, strange, and complicated a question for this post, so we must stick with our tale of the 17 steps, which are as follows:

1. Find a knowledgeable co-worker or manager who is up on the current (always slightly transgressive) schemes for towel replacement. You can skip this step if you've replaced towels in the past few days, but beware of any more days having gone by than that, as the towel replacement scheme changes without notice, roughly once a week.

2. Remove the towel dispenser key from its current hiding place (learned in step one).

3. Get the master key ring from the cash register. It has the downstairs janitor closet key. The janitor closet is now, according to step one, stocking a small supply of towel rolls.

4. When the master key ring turns out not to be in the cash register where it's supposed to be, go to the meeting room where a librarian is using the master key ring.

5. Do a small task for the librarian in trade for possession of the master key ring.

6. Open the janitor closet and search for the towel rolls. There won't be any. Don't panic. It wouldn't be much of a 17 step process if you obtained a towel roll in step six.

7. Go back to your consultant from step one. They will be only momentarily disheartened at your news. They advise going to the upstairs janitor closet.

8. Report to front desk that you have the master key ring so they won't panic when you disappear in to distant lands with it.

9. Go upstairs and attempt to unlock upstairs janitor closet with your janitor closet key. It will not work.

10. Go to the important nearby manager who has The Knowledge. He will explain, like it's the most natural, sensible thing in the world, that the upstairs janitor closet uses a different key than the downstairs janitor closet. The upstairs key is held at the reference desk.

11. Acquire the upstairs janitor closet key from the reference desk.

12. Open the janitor closet door and break the mysterious emergency supplies seal to take one roll of paper towels.

13. Go into the bathroom, unlock the paper towel dispenser, and, following diagrams, insert the new paper towel roll.

14. Return the upstairs janitor closet key to the reference desk.

15. Return the master key ring (with the downstairs janitor closet key) to its standard location.

16. Return the towel dispenser key to its secret hiding place.

17 Go tell everyone that you're going to write a blog post about your adventures.

And that's it. If you follow all the steps carefully it's a lot simpler than it seems.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The post that uses gravity

So, Sunday is casual day around my blog, but the curious thing is sometimes that can be a bit unnerving. I carry all these little blog ideas around in my head, and most days, when I sit down to write a post, I have, informally, all these pieces in place, little models of what I'll say, maps, charts, a diagram. I may spin off and start talking about anything, but I usually hit one of my arrows, and my arrow says to me "Go left." and I, being very agreeable as a writer, say "Okay, sure, why? Is there a good surprise?" And most of the time there is.

But on casual day I just find the nearest hill and go to the top of it, dragging my rickety go-cart, the one I built out of scrap lumber and old lawnmower wheels. It has a rope steering wheel, more like reins really, and no brakes other than a 2x4 that can be pulled on to drag against the ground. I climb in and start rolling slowly down. At first I barely move, but the hill quickly drops off and soon birds are scattering before me in bewildered surprise. I would like to look at the birds, but that would be crazy because I have to be scanning constantly for trees and rocks to dodge, I have to anticipate, I have to go left, left, LEFT!! and I'm in the air and I'm in a bush and I'm bleeding and the right front wheel is wobbling frighteningly. The steering has stopped working and straight ahead is a telephone pole. I lean, just miss it, careen across an old logging road into more thorny bushes. Then there is sand. I spin, and, like that, sideways, I stop.

I touch my cheek. Yes, it's smeared with blood, but not too much. And suddenly it's so peaceful and quiet everywhere. And I think, maybe there's not much sense to casual day, but, it's pretty invigorating, I mean, when you live through it.

Which I guess I have.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Repeats repeat

I believe the saying is "You can't step in the same river twice." But you and I know that for all its iconic wisdom there's a bit of splitting hairs in that quote. And you certainly can't split the same hair twice, because then you're quartering it. What's a person supposed to do with a quarter of a hair? My point is that, sure, you can't step in the same river twice, but unless you have the expanding, massive consciousness of a god, it's going to seem a lot like the same river.

And so writing a blog post about the very same exact thing I wrote a blog post about two days ago should turn out to be futile, repetitive, and boring.

And yet this post is already so wildly different than the post I wrote two days ago that I can't help thinking that maybe one doesn't have to have the expanding massive consciousness of a god after all. Maybe with something as lovely and complicated as a river it takes very little to re-engage with it and have everything go completely differently.

To tell you the truth this is more how I hoped it would be. I was thinking a little while ago about how sometimes I'll have a very nice idea for a blog post, and how when I remember that I already wrote that very idea it sort of puts the kibosh on my new ambition. But you never set foot in the same river twice, or, fine, it's the same damn river, but sometimes you set foot in and a bunch of fish dart away from your foot in panic, and sometimes you set foot and there is a crash of distant thunder, and sometimes you set foot in and you realize there is an owl in that tree, just sitting there.

Well, this isn't a river, but I'm hoping you take my point, even if it's for the second time...

And counting.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Emergency room

We are spending the night in the Emergency Room. Life! You might like to know all the exciting stories behind it, but that's not what I'm here for. 

If I were you I would be curious.

But I'm not you. I'm in an Emergency Room writing to you. And that is different. It lets me imagine whatever I like. What I imagine is that you have a series of questions. But don't worry! I am going to answer all the questions I am going to imagine you having.

1. What is it like at the Emergency Room?

It is very loud and busy, and yet seems wholly populated by tons of people who work here, and hardly anyone else.

2. Is this what you pictured for an Emergency Room?

No! I pictured all the loudness and busyness, but all of that busyness surrounding people whose arms were just torn off, or who are bleeding from their dazed heads, or who are being wheeled on a gurney IN A GREAT HURRY by a group of very focused people.

3. Does the Emergency Room remind you of the library.


4. Could you elaborate?

Practically everything is like my library.


Are you still mad I'm not telling you the exciting stories behind my visit here?

6. No. How so in this particular case?

There are computers and monitors of various sorts making strange noises and displaying inscrutable information all of which probably quickly becomes mundanely intelligible when you work here or have been here for a bit. The staff seems to be mostly socializing, yet seems to basically get the job done. Those who can communicate well and understand others are like gods, those who can't... aren't. I read and write here in my spare time too. Everyone looks like one of my former co-workers. There are way too many workers for the job at hand, except, just in the time I've been writing this, there are way too few, and no one can ever fix that problem. You can overhear a lot. All the answers and things to be done are on the computers. The staff all sort of complain about each other.

7. What's your room like?

Aside from all the hospital stuff it's a theme room, like one of those hotels with theme rooms that I always think I might like to stay at but never get around to because they never seem quite nice enough.

8. What's the theme?

Underwater world, with wall to ceiling murals on all walls, all of being underwater. There are a few sea plants, a few fish, a few bubbles, and the sandy ocean floor. It's pretty nice.

9. How are you doing?

It's not for me, but I've been better.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Sometimes, wandering around, I have a splendid idea for something I'd really like to write. Then, sadly, I realize I've written it.

But does that have to be the end of it?

I am up here shelving the same books I have shelved before. I read the same flaps and covers of books I've read the flaps and covers of before. I decide, no, for the fifth time I don't want to read this book. I am just finishing the same drink, a cappuccino, I have drunk thousands of times. I have greeted that person there several times in the past. Every item of clothing I am currently wearing I have worn before. I will have the same lunch I usually have lately. My wife and I may watch a movie tonight that we have seen two or three times already.

So I am thinking, hell, I might as well write again on the same exact idea I've written on before. No moment is ever the same. Words will change, and phrasing will shift wildly around. Perhaps I'll offer a new twist or even come to a different conclusion. New jokes may find their way in, different sentences, a different feel.

And even if the new take is extremely similar to the old take, if you're anything like me, you'll have mostly forgotten that old interpretation anyway. It may all end up like a pleasant reminder of something you once sort of knew.

By the way, in case you were wondering, this is the first time I've written about all this for you here. But it may not necessarily be the last. So try not to remember this too clearly. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I affect new effects

I was out at the front desk with one of my very favorite people to be out at the front desk with (there are more of them than you might think. It oddly occurs to me that I like most of my co-workers). The patron traffic was on the quiet side, certainly not dead, but the early evening weather was phenomenally nice outside, and so we had comfortably undisturbed spaces for the chatting portion of the evening. At that moment we were talking about my blog.

Sure, yes, I don't market or even bandy my blog about quite like I used to, but I'm still pretty free with it coming up, though usually only with people who read it some anyway. Illustrative points from my blog posts just seem to naturally bubble into my conversations, so much so that sometimes it's all I can do to stop an overwhelming tidal wave of these bubbles. Apparently I was not succeeding in the bubble bursting, anti tidal wave work of that evening because I was telling my desk partner about the post I had been working on. She was expressing a reasonable positivity at receiving insider, advance knowledge on an upcoming post, which was no help to me if I was looking for a way not to talk about my blog, which, frankly, I wasn't. The subject of my post and our discussion was about the slide show, projected on the wall above us to the right, showing kids with little sayings they had written on small chalkboards. I told my co worker roughly the conceit of my post and we fell into an agreeable discussion on the merits, or lack of merits, of this photography show. My colleague brought up a couple of interesting observations, and then, almost in passing, expressed a disdain for people who confuse the use of affect and effect, which, apparently, one of the kids had done. I hadn't noticed.

I thought "Uh oh." And hoped my blog posts weren't riddled with affect, effect errors. Then I affected to have a clear understanding of the proper use of these words. Then I moved the subject along. But I quietly resolved to get clear on my usage of affect and effect. I hardly want to go about needlessly antagonizing the sort of reader who at least affects pleasure when I bring up my blog.

So I have studied the issue carefully. Sadly I am not sure this studying is having quite the effect I hoped it would. Yes, the effect of my study is that I have managed, I believe, to affect my blog so that it remains free of affect/effect errors, but I have mainly done this by constantly double checking multiple guiding sources. I understand that affect is a verb and effect is a noun, but this knowledge has mostly had a negative effect on my once firm understanding of just what a noun or a verb is. I think learning these rules has not so much affected my understanding as much as it has infected it.

I really hope I got that right.

I still remember my friend Grape having written a poem that was all about the confusion concerning the use of lay and lie, and maybe laid and layed and lied, and who knows what all else. It was a long time ago. I am pretty sure the poem was shorter than this little essay, but I don't remember whether it laid out the rules clearly. It was a poem so it could easily have been more about Deeper Things. Nevertheless, multiple decades after reading his poem, I have carried away only that that there is a series of words out there that I might want to be confused about. It's nice to be able to add to the list occasionally.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Sometimes working my job with a small host of other co-workers is a lot like exploring in the woods. There are signs of life everywhere. I see traces of activity, the effect of industry and life, all without actually seeing much of it happen. Out in the woods I might see the prints of an animal on the damp forest floor. Perhaps I'll see some trampled plants or some debris of large fruits from a tree that has been stripped bare. I hear chattering in the distance, or hidden in the greenery, and perhaps the calls and industrious scurryings of birds. There are animal droppings, bones, a bit of fur caught on the end of a shrub. But despite all this evidence, it is rare that I see any of it as it takes place, and often, even if I am a regular habitue of the woods, just exactly what happened at each of these scenes remains partly a mystery. Was that a squirrel or an Owl? Did something die here or was it born? Did someone eat this? What was it? Who did it?

Don't get me wrong. I see my co-workers all the time. And a lot of the time they're working, or sort of working, but it's all very vague. Mostly we're all moving about, commenting, socializing, interacting, skirting the edges. The work part, the main work part, is all done kind of privately. We don't alphabetize carts jointly, or answer the same phone calls. We don't team up to register patrons, or to put books away, or to request a series of obscure items for a patron. No, we go into our private worlds for that, our dens, up into the tree tops, off into the bushes. Good jobs, bad jobs, comprehensive, sloppy, industrious, fruitful, scattershot, and helpful jobs I don't really see happening, but the evidence of it having taken place is all around me.

My job is mostly a collective task done anonymously. While I may be specifically responsible for a very distinct task for an hour or two, it is hardly my job alone. I leave and someone else comes, they leave and someone else comes, they leave and someone else comes. They leave and I am back again. Why is this box filled so inefficiently? Who took the last slip and did not replace it? Who would leave this infuriating and pointless note here? Who left this mess for me? I don't usually know. I know all these people I work with, sort of. I may be able to hazard a guess occasionally. But I don't know. All these carts are in order. These bins were emptied. The holds for this person are all where they were supposed to be. Someone did it. I don't know who. It just sort of happens. I don't mostly see it happen, except maybe when I myself am the one doing it, but that is just a trickle into the pond.

We are invisible. We are on our honor. I am doing more than that person there and that person is doing more than me.

Sometimes I see someone go upstairs with a cart of books to shelve. It takes anywhere from 15 to 80 minutes to shelve them all. I take up a cart myself after five minutes and the person before me is nowhere to be seen. Where did they go. The library is not that big. What are they, a deer? A jackal? A hummingbird. Have they disappeared? 

We are all horribly autonomous, cheaters, industrious, grunts, masters. We are all living secret lives. And no matter what we do, we cannot seem to help but to get it all done.

Monday, April 14, 2014

New platitudes

At my library we have a large projector that casts a continuous slide show of images onto a large white wall in the central area of our library. I will refrain from going into a massive screed against this demonic device (just kidding, I'm pretty sure it's not really demonic) and will limit myself to one essential, negative, but mostly technical, observation. The projector, as expensive and powerful as it is, is not powerful enough to project a good quality image in a lit area. All the images it casts look bleached, washed out, and slightly vague.

These slide shows of dwindled images have so far been devoted to photography shows. The current one is of school aged kids holding a small slate board on which they appear to have written a message in chalk. The message tends to be a small piece of advice, or, sometimes, a little bit about their feelings. It might not be a bad photography show (it is, I know, by a photographer I greatly respect), or it wouldn't necessarily be bad, if only it weren't all horribly washed out and hard to see. Indeed, time after time, as a new image rotates up, even though I have seen that image many times before, I completely misread what the vague, bleached chalkboard writing has to say. Unfortunately, often when I misread the chalked message I think "Oh! I like that one!" only to face the disappointment of what the chalkboard actually says.

I am not keen to criticize what these kids have to say on their little chalkboards. But I will note that the sayings tend to fall into one of three categories:

1. Out of the mouths of babes.
2. Regurgitated platitudes.
3. Misspelled and poorly phrased regurgitated platitudes

My misreadings have created a fourth category. Let's call them, 

4. Surreal wisdoms. 

I don't mean to take credit for them. They are what, to me, just seems at first to be actually there. I will share a small collection of these misreadings with you now. If you would like to see selections from the first three categories you're on your own. We're open seven days a week.

1. Be yourself and follow your ears.

2. I work to get white lies.

3. Don't think. It's impossible.

4. Peace is feeling different because paper rules things.

5. Don't judge people on the backboards of what they like.

6. Don't let the pigeons affect you.

7. People see me as haughty, but I'm actually sane.

8. The world is drowning in odd details.

And finally I will leave you with my last, favorite one in hopes that you might apply it wisely to this very post:

9. Adore and misunderstand.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Two weeks

It has been two weeks now since I shut the gates. That is to say it has been two weeks since I ceased marketing my blog in any real way. As I knew it would, all the numbers of visitors, those one time visitors. those numbers I try not to look at, have dwindled down  to their core. I slowly adjust. I do not really miss any of those strangers, nor the weird feeling of their complacency and disorientation and disaffection. I like all the people here now, known or unknown, and I doubt there is a single one of you who has not been here before. I miss the numbers, but I don't know what the numbers were. Mostly I try and feel around for what I miss. It is vaporous and swirling with amorphous spirits. It is ghosts. It is all ghosts.

Today is Sunday, casual day at this blog, and so I talk about these things. But, right, I remember. You have been here before and so you know. You know that it is always pretty casual around here, in the way comedy is casual, or the weather in Minnesota, or just life itself. There are a lot of things you can't possibly begin to dress up for.

I wanted to say this: sometimes someone leaves a nice or funny comment, or a friend in a letter writes about talking about my blog with another friend, or someone says they really liked a post, or a co-worker asks me something about the man who almost died maybe, or shares a resonating reaction to Bob Dylan car commercials, and they all seem very, very, very nice to me.

Tonight I was reading about Piglet, who does a Very Grand Thing, and bravely rescues Owl and Pooh by going through Owl's mailbox. Pooh promises, and then writes and sings a song, in Piglet's honor. It's a lovely, sweet study in pride. I love how Piglet's nose turns pink with it. The pink spreads to his ears. And I love his work to appear casual when he feels no such thing.

I used to make a lot of self deprecating jokes about having millions of readers, or not millions of readers, or about adulation, but I just wanted to say to you, who are kind enough to read this, that there is something about just being here, that I am starting to get.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How much time to spend with each patron

Today we are going to talk about TPP and the algorithmic efficiencies of placement staff time allocations (PSTA's) to best accelerate customer contact diagnostics.

Oh! But where are my manners! I am aware that more than half of my readers are not library professionals. Let me assure you that while this post may occasionally of necessity dip into Libraristic Nomenclatures, the subject matter will be illuminating and of use to anyone, and the technical terms will be fully explained. Ultimately, I am saying, you will find this to be an easy read. While my clerk, page, and librarian colleagues across the globe will readily understand such terms as TPP (Time Per Patron), Accumulated Service Step Ratios, Consultation Quantification Reductions in Coactive Problem Solving Analytics, and Paradigmatic Social Softening Equations, these terms may not yet be entirely familiar to the non library worker. But, trust me, dear non library professional, when you are through reading this blog post you pretty much won't be able to stop talking about things like "Hubristic pre-research intuit scans". They look complicated and boring at first glance, but you will soon find them to be an awesome force for clarity, understanding, and goodness.

So is everyone all set?


Today we are discussing TPP, that is, the appropriate amount of time each front line staff person spends with each patron.

Is everyone following me so far?


You see, time per patron reflects an average time an individual staff member spends with patrons. You understand average time, right? 

Yes, yes, sorry, I'm just being very careful here. 

Er, so anyway, the time spent on a single interaction with a single patron, or customer, is too variable to easily judge, much like a single At Bat of a baseball player. By gathering a larger grouping of interactions we can establish a baseline measurement. 

Does this make sense?

You"re sure?


Ready to move on?


Once the baseline metaphor is correlated with influx parables, we survey the vocal plexigrams of our spurial subjectives. Say you have a DAP pointer of eleven. From there we tandemize our foot traffic service falcrums to release a back counter, or, in layman terms, a numerological imperative. The individual service representative's syllabic analytical will then show what is called a hyper-data range. If this range indicates from a Baz-five-11 to anywhere near the "L" alphabetical on the Zackson-Polley exchange we can at least know, that, yes, perhaps our subject has an has a heightened DAP inveigh.

Did that all make sense?

Good, good.

Sure, yes, I can put it a little more simply to make sure we're on the same page.

How simply would you like it?

Oh? One sentence? It's pretty complex.

No, I can do it. I can try.



The amount of time one should spend with any given patron varies.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Long may you run

I am going to share something I learned today. It's a bit trivial, but it surprised me.

I was listening to an old concert from 1974. I had gotten to this concert in part because I was doing something sort of like research for yesterday's blog post. Neil Young was singing, accompanied by himself on guitar and harmonica. It sounds like there were about 60 people in the audience. In this concert he played the song Long May You Run. Apparently it was a couple of years before it was ever released on an album. I have always taken this to be a lovely, almost anthemic song of love and friendship, at once wistful and hopeful and sad. Maybe in some ways similar to Forever Young by Dylan, or One, by U2, or Woodstock, by Joni Mitchell. It is not my all time favorite Neil Young song, but I certainly have always found it bittersweet and lovely.

Long may you run.
Long may you run.
Although these changes
have come
With your chrome heart shining
in the sun
Long may you run.

Today I learned that it is about Neil Young's car.

No, really. 

He said so. He said "I wrote this song for my car." Then he played the song.

Of course, once he said it was written for his car all the lyrics fall into place for it. That chrome heart shining in the sun thing is a real give away. It only gets more specific from there.

Maybe you knew all along it was about his car, I can be strangely inattentive to lyrics, but it was really a bit of a surprise to me.

But maybe it's okay that it's about a car. It makes me think a little bit differently about my family's cute, intrepid, durable little car. It's a Honda. It's silver. My wife and I have driven it well over 100,000 miles now.

We've been through
some things together
With trunks of memories
still to come
We found things to do
in stormy weather
Long may you run.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Public radio

There are two public radio stations I will occasionally listen to in my car. One is the straight up Public Radio public radio station with all the talking. The other is the one that plays alternative (but not too alternative, or alternative to something but no one is sure what) music. Both of them can really irritate me. The talking one gets to me most often for bringing in an unreasonable point of view to balance any reasonable point of view and then tacitly or explicitly suggesting that the truth or virtue lies somewhere roughly balanced between the two. The music station gets to me most often by engaging overmuch in manipulative teasing to keep a listener listening. Despite these irritations I felt I should call in and pledge. Or, wait, maybe it was because of these irritations. I'm not sure.

"Public Radio pledge line. How can I assist you today?"

"I am about to make a really huge and impressive pledge. I am going to donate quite a lot of money to Public Radio."

"Yes? I just need your..."

"But before we get to that I wanted to discuss a few other things."

"I really just take pledges sir, if..."

"Oh. Yes. I am going to pledge greatly. It's going to be huge. You will love this pledge!"

"Excellent, sir. If we could start with your..."

"But before we get to the pledge I'd like to discuss why I never hear you play Ambulance Blues."

"Excuse me?"

"Ambulance Blues. It is a song by Neil Young. I can listen to it all the time. It's just so fierce. I want to hear it on the radio every once in awhile. Is that unreasonable?"

"Um, no sir, but I'm not a programmer. You would have to call the station for that. I just take pledges. Would you like me to give you the station number, or do you have a pledge?"

"I have a pledge."

"That's great. If I could just start with..."

"But before I pledge I need to put someone on the phone who disagrees with me."

"What? Sir I..."

"Hello. Hello! I am trying to stop my colleague here from throwing away a lot of money on your radio station."

"I think you would need to talk to him. I just take pledges."

"Have you ever listened to the music of the oceans?"

"I don't..."

"Whale songs. All radio stations all the time should play whale songs! No one should have to pay for the music of the oceans! The music of the oceans is our right as Americans and is as fundamental as a sound military, good roads and representative government. I pay taxes and I want to be able to hear whale songs on the radio, for free, all the time, no matter where on the dial I am!"

"You would have to contact your representatives in the legislature Ma'am. I'm afraid that..."

"Hi. I'm back. I still want to make a pledge! Even more than ever! If I want to hear whale songs I will go to the ocean! I find whale song intriguingly moody, but mostly boring. Let's do this pledge thing.

"Great. If you will start by..."

"But first I'd like to play Neil Young's immortal Ambulance Blues."

"I am going to have to hang up sir."

"It's only nine minutes and then I'll be right back."

"I am hanging up sir."

"(Music plays for nine minutes.)"

Dial tone.

So you see, I try to pledge, but it never works out.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kurt Cobain

I have been reading a lot about Kurt Cobain and maybe you have been too. There's plenty out there if you want it. The twentieth anniversary of his death just passed us by and Nirvana gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame right  And If a person wants to doubt anything about the art they can watch the unplugged performance of Where Did You Sleep Last Night and... shiver. The whole night through.

And everyone takes their shot at illuminating something about him and about what happened. It's okay. You take one person, gone, and they are like the sky at night. A thousand people could write brilliant essays, each one shedding the tiniest pinprick of light on the subject of Kurt Cobain. Maybe I could read every good piece written over the past 24 years or so and they will array like the stars in the sky. All those beautiful stars in the sky, but what we mostly see, what we will ever mostly see is the darkness.

And here is my story. I was late as usual, just recently finished with a confusion between The Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, and waking up to how Nirvana Unplugged was exactly what I wanted to listen to, forever. 

Then he killed himself.

I don't know Kurt Cobain. Or I know him only slightly better than Caravaggio or Tolstoy, for instance. But he was exactly my generation. And I will tell you this dear readers, your generation is always the last generation. And because all this is so I feel I can say:

My favorite album of Kurt Cobain's was the solo album he made in the summer of 2000. I would give all of those stars in the sky, this little one of my own, and then some more, to be able to hear it just once.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


It has been at least ten years since I've seen him, probably more. I imagine him dead for reasons that may soon seem apparent to you. He was a library regular for awhile. I had no great rapport with him, but I can picture him vividly and still remember his name.

For a stretch of a few years he came in three or four times a week to the library, always with his adorable, uncertain, round little daughter in tow. He was gruff and a little bit distant, perhaps preoccupied with cares and illness. He liked to sit in one of the chairs in front of what was then our young DVD collection. His daughter would come back and forth to him, maybe from ventures to the children's room. He read. I don't remember what. It was a library. He had a lot to choose from. And he napped.

He was also notably fat. Hugely fat. His corpulence seemed to swell up all around his face, the only part of him that was unable to get bigger. He was not the absolute fattest person I have ever seen in my library, and generally enough I take people's weights as they come, but there was a certain alarming decrepitness to his obesity. Somehow all his great flesh wasn't staying on the frame of his body so well. He would wrap himself in rolls of elastic bandages, yards and yards of bandages, like some enormous swollen mummy, all to hold himself together, to hold his fat and flesh to his frame.

One day his little girl came up to me at what then would have been the registration desk. She was scared, scared at the situation, scared at being alone, scared at having to seek help from strangers. Her fear itself was heartbreaking.

"I can't wake my dad up." She said.

We went together to the man. He made a small mountain of his chair. His eyes were closed and not a single thing about him moved. There was no sign of consciousness, presence, heartbeat, or breath. 

"Sir!" I called close to his ear. Nothing. I inspected him. A librarian I still work with now joined me. We circled the situation. We made noise. We shook his chair and started imagining that he was dead. It was my colleague, I believe, who grasped his meaty shoulder and shook. He breathed in, a loud sucking of air like in the movies when some hero victim has his chest pounded on by some other hero yelling "Live, dammit, live!" and nothing happens and nothing happens and then


And he stirred, and roused, and said "I must have dozed off." Like it was nothing. And maybe it was. But it was hard not to think he was not long for our world. Anyone who could just take a nap in a library and accidentally almost slip into death is walking a fine line. I felt it. I swear that little kid felt it too.

Death had come to the library, but it decided, in the end, not to check anything out.

Monday, April 7, 2014

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