Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ready for vacation

There is a certain kind of terrible patron I have learned to take heart in.

These people are chaotic and antagonistic. They owe late fines all the time. They check out great quantities of items, usually AV materials. They return them mixed up, swapped in cases, empty. Library business is always going wrong for them. We didn't check in their items. We lost it. We didn't inform them. They called us about that. They shouldn't have to pay for a rental DVD that didn't work and none of them worked. They are exasperated that I am telling them about their 30 dollar late and lost fees. That was supposed to be cleared up by the woman they talked to. They would recognize her if they saw her. "That's her!" They say.

"She doesn't work here." I say patiently.

Why am I patient?

These people need merely be waited out. They are a self solving problem. We just hold steady to enough of our simple procedural rules, not even all of them, just hang on to a few basics and these people will dash themselves on the rocks of them. We will never hear from them again. Eventually some mistake will be too big. They will lose six DVDs. They will return 20 CDs a month late, and they will be gone forever.

But, you ask, aren't we a library? Don't we wish for everyone to be able to use it and benefit from it and come to it for all the wonderful things it has to give?


Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Sometimes when I write about a subject here, no matter how fiercely it had been churning inside me, when I write it, it's like it's released. Whether it's the aggravations of some awful co-worker, an obsession with fruit syrups, or some bit of nonsense rampaging through my brain like a gaggle of frisky coyotes, I give voice, and there is silence. Maybe all art is like a more or less polite exorcism. We invite some demon to possess us. We're lucky if it's a terrible one. This terribleness is usually indicated by causing a spinning head and a lot of throwing up. Then we begin the pleasurable and laborious exorcism, the setting down of the right words, the sentence testing, the exasperated starting all over again, the ceremonial 14th rereading. And then it's over. The demon is safely locked away in a poem, or a painting, a cartoon or a blog post.

But it's a tricky process. Sometimes the exorcism doesn't take. Sometimes there are still things to be said.

Those are the ones I keep coming back to. Sometimes they are too mighty to get at; my anti-quest for fame, the complexity of book jacket covers, my feelings towards the automated check in machine. Some are fathomless, like cats or birds, and some are trivial and require a lighter touch than I can sometimes find, like the passive aggressiveness of bicyclists, or people returning books in stacks as the pleasant machine voice is asking them nicely to return their books one at a time. But whatever it is I keep trying. The exorcisms never end. And if I can't get these demons out I don't mind too much. After they've been in there awhile they're my demons. Irritating, yes, but like bits of sand in an oyster, they are layered and transformed in me. Whenever I get one of those pearls out you know it. You may even comment.

"I liked your post today." You say when this happens.

"Thank you." I say. "I miss it already."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More moose madness

While you read this I am probably watching majestic mooses cavort in their woodland homes. There are no mosquitoes flying about, but I can see a rainbow descending into the moody mists of Lake Superior. Did I mention that the moose are majestic? Oh, and what's this? A patch of wild blueberries? Why, these are the best blueberries I've ever tasted! What's that moose nosing around at? It looks like some kind of chest. Could it be? NO! Yes! It is the lost treasure of the Voyageurs! Sacre bleu! Why, there must be 200 dollars worth of beaver pelts in there!

Hmm? Oh, what's that. Yes, yes. I must have sort of wandered. I suppose when one is nearing vacation one's mind begins to drift. My mind is out drifting just off the shore of Lake Superior. It is partly cloudy, 74 degrees. The lake is calm as I drift on my kayak. Loons bob in the water and the water is so clear that I can see far into its fathomless depths. There is something enormous down there in that translucent emerald green. Is that a shipwreck or something? No, it's moving. I think it might be a fish? But my god, that's not just any fish! I believe that is the legendary Monster Lake Trout of Grand Marais. The beast must be 30 feet long if it's an inch. I must have some fishing tackle here somewhere! I do, but, what's this? A moose is sitting on my fishing tackle! How did a moose get in my kayak?

Oh, right. Yes. I am back. Where am I? What am I doing?


No, no, not blogging, that's not it. I am shelving. 

But soon I will be on vacation. Or did it already happen?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why I will see a moose

Reeling from a wilderness sea kayaking trip 14 years ago to see killer whales that mysteriously never showed up, I have been leery of pinning my hopes, in any trip, on seeing any particular sort of animal. And so, last year, when I was on a trip to the North Woods, I had no expectations. 

But then I started dreaming of mooses.

Oh sure, at first it was all just an excuse to use the word "mooses" as often as possible on my blog, and that was sustaining for awhile. But then all that pretend peering into the shrubbery started to get to me. I started to wonder "Hey, what if I actually saw a moose?" And with that the fever started a slow burn.

Last year I did not see a moose, though I did suspect that the mooses were watching me from places of concealment. "That's okay, let them acclimate." I thought. With my return to the North Woods this year they will hopefully recognize me. Perhaps they will take me for a friend. And if you'll think about your own relationships with your friends I think you will note that, even if you are hiding from your friend in the shrubbery, eventually you are inclined to pop out, brush yourself off, and say "Hey, nice to see you." 

I see no reason that a moose would differ on this account.

Am I setting myself up for disappointment?

Yes, absolutely. But I think that avoiding disappointment is dangerous, while setting oneself up for disappointment is brave, and magical, and quixotic, and very, very, very attractive to moose.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Moose vacation

Around this time of year I go on vacation to try and see a moose. While my blog is never far from my heart, this moose watching (er, attempted moose watching) brings me far from any place to enter blog posts or interact with my blog in any way. So while I will no doubt write extensively about my moose tracking while I am on vacation, you have no way to read any of it until I can turn it all into blog posts after I come back.

I have four options in this situation.

1. I can shut down my blog for a week or two.

This option is unrealistic as the shock would destroy the Internet. My feelings are mixed about the Internet, but I am emotionally unable to deal with the responsibility for killing the Internet. Sure the Internet looks ferocious and monstrous now, but when I imagine its furry little limp body in my hands... no.

2. I could get my friend Grape to guest blog.

Last year he did three guest blog posts for my moose hunting time. He writes well! The posts were fun! And I got mentioned in them! This year I sent out feelers thinking he'd probably been waiting all year to get a crack at this again.

I don't think he'd been waiting all year to get a crack at this again.

3. I can run repeats.

While this would work for my more casual readers it would leave my most devoted readers out in the cold as they have already memorized all my past posts a la Fahrenheit 451.

4. In the days leading up to my vacation trip I can sleeplessly and feverishly try and write nine or ten extra blog posts to release like clockwork here during the time I am off on my moosing expeditions.

This one is probably the most problematic solution of them all. Overextended, the quality of my writing may suffer. I will run out of ideas. I may become snappish and slightly unenlightened. The muses will kick me down the stairs. Battered and exhausted, strung out and delusional I will start hallucinating moose.

Number four it is then.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why blog

Yesterday I accidentally voiced the question "Why must this blog be written?"

Then I accidentally mentioned something about how I might answer that question today.

Why why why do I say these things and then make rash promises on my blog?!

Perhaps I can answer that tomorrow. Yes! I will answer that tomorrow!

Today we are answering the question of why this blog must be written.

We feel that this blog itself is its own answer to the question of why it must be written. Furthermore we don't actually have an answer to why it must be written. Though even as you read this a circle is closed. It must be written because you have come to this exact spot in the universe. Everything that is happening in the universe at this moment is a kind of destiny.

Yes, that is a horrible answer too.

To be honest, I despaired of any proper answer for any of this until I remembered the blogger's holy grail, the most powerful explanatory force in the universe. Yes, I remembered the ten-item list.

Why Must This Blog Be Written

1. I know that one is not supposed to scratch an itch, but just you try it!

2. Without this blog the library I work at would seem to consist of a random series of incidents rather than a cohesive narrative building to a brilliant, world saving conclusion.

3. This small blog, read by just a few dozen people, is all that prevents the Internet from collapsing in on itself and becoming a black hole of knowledge and wisdom, sucking everything in the world down into its absolute darkness of overwhelming, runaway gravity.

4. I would lose the one stylish reason I have for drinking coffee.

5. All my paying attention would devolve into gawking.

6. I am under a geas. Unfortunately the laws of the geas prevent me from explaining the specific nature of this geas. I'm not sure then if this counts as a legitimate explanation.

7.  Oh, they'd like it plenty if I didn't write this blog!

8. Yes, fire burns, but it also illuminates. Which is my way of saying I am still just a bit afraid of the dark.

9. I took a holy vow to write the mega blog post of enlightenment. Each post, even this one, is part of my quest. One day I will write that post.

10. I sort of hate to say it, but if you don't know by now you never will.

Friday, July 25, 2014

7 reasons there is no blog post here

Sometimes a blogger gets a little blue. External impediments, lack of confidence, and weariness all stand in the bloggers way and nothing seems worth writing. But no matter the trials of life, blogging, imagination, and psychology, the blog must go on.

Why must the blog go on?

Ah, now there's a blog post for you!

If only I felt like writing it. 

Maybe tomorrow. Today we are writing the seven reasons why I can't write a blog post today!

Yes, I know this may be disappointing for you. I can only hope that this explanatory list could somehow stand in lieu of a blog post. But no, I don't know how it could.

                            Seven Reasons I Cannot Write a Blog Post Today

1. I do not have enough hubris. I think I left it as a bookmark in the Terry Pratchett book I am reading at home.

2. My left pinkie feels a bit crampy when I type. Well, more like it might cramp if I exposed it to vigorous typing.

3. Everyone is mysteriously behaving themselves at the library today.

4. Evil portents. Two nights ago I dreamed I saw a two-headed moose. Today, walking to work, the lavender flowers were all closed up and unscented. Kafka, the library cat hissed at me. I hear someone moaning and dragging chains in the ceiling ducts above me. Great big vultures sit on every light post of our parking lot, peering into the library windows. I keep seeing blood on my hands out of the corner of my eye.

5.I have too much to say and only silence can carry the weight of such fecundity.

6. The time is not yet ripe to reveal my nefarious plans.

7. I could write something, but you deserve more than something.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Money for nothing

Only in our dreams are we free. The rest of the time we need wages.

-Terry Pratchett

I just read this quote in an introduction written by Zadie Smith for a book of short stories. The quote is by George Eliot:

I don't want the world to give me anything for my books, except money to save me from the temptation of writing only for money.

Yeah. That. In fact, I don't even want the money. I am happy in my little bubble where all my needs are taken care of and I need not write a single word for money. I am happy with my Grant.

Oh, you didn't know I was the recipient of a Grant? I suppose I don't bandy it about much. But I have the great honor of being the recipient of the very generous Library Bloggers Support Grant, known commonly as the LBSG. I don't remember exactly how I got it because it was so long ago. You see, one of the many generous things about this grant is that one receives it for as long as one wants it. Yep. No reapplication, no new forms, no review, nothing. The rights and responsibilities of this grant just keep rolling in until you don't want them anymore. Amazing, yes?

I started out using the grant to support cartooning. This was followed by a period of experimental river running, portrait painting, and then, finally, hardcore daily library blogging. The LBSG's faith in me has been extraordinary, and I like to think it's paid off quite well for them. But then there are several things I like to think that are completely unhinged, so this one could go either way. Still, it's not like they've revoked my grant. Surely that's some indication of satisfaction on their part.

So what do I get? I receive 38,000 dollars a year to pursue my artistic and other interests. I'm not rich, but to quote George Eliot again, it saves me "from the temptation of writing only for money."

You're thinking "Too good to be true!" But oh it is true. And there are no strings attached. Yes, sure, like any large scale grant there are little things like paperwork or teaching or public shows and performances. In my case I have to show up at the library 36 hours a week, but I'd probably do that anyway for background material. And I'm supposed to do customer service, shelve, operate machines, order supplies, and generally help make the library work, but only during the scant 36 hours a week that I'm there. The rest of the time I am completely free to devote myself to my interests. 

I know! Awesome.

Oh, one other little thing. I'm not supposed to let anyone know it's a grant. The terms of the grant require that I present myself as a "Clerk". I've never been entirely clear on the reasoning behind this provision, but I have suspected that it's sort of a Superhero thing. It's hardly a burden. I mean, who wouldn't want to be a superhero?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The lavender thief

I am generally a respecter of private property, not least in my own neighborhood. Every year, walking, I pass thousands and thousands of houses, and it is a rare thing indeed for me to step a single inch off the public sidewalk. Perhaps I will shyly do it a couple times in the spring with my wife to smell a magnolia or lilac or two, and possibly petting a stray cat will bring my toes or knee onto someone's road verge, but that's the extent of it. 

If a neighbor is growing tomatoes and those tomatoes are ripely and gloriously bulging out over the path I primly look the other way. A hedge of raspberries might be teeming with fruit and falling to the ground ripe and abandoned, but I manage to resist. Not a single one of those berries is mine. And I wouldn't dare to cut across anyone's yard for a short cut, even if I'm in a hurry. I'd feel just weird being in someone else's yard. I just stay out.

And as to flowers, well, I like looking at them. This is indeed a lovely time for it. I look a lot, but I would think myself mad if I started cutting myself a bouquet. I would never dream of popping up the path of some pretty house, pulling out my penknife, and clipping a few Asters for myself or something. What kind of person, I ask you, would reach into someone's yard and pluck out flowers that a person carefully planted and nurtured and grew just to make their yard, and the very world I'm walking in, prettier?

Me, it turns out.

I am that person.

I am absolutely incapable of walking past a blooming lavender plant and not pulling off a bit of flower. I take a little snip right from the end without ever breaking my stride. I roll and crush the small stalk of flower in my fingers and then I smell it. The smell to me is Summer. Right now I feel I can smell the ghost of lavender I crushed in my fingers on my walk in the morning 12 hours ago. I stole flowers from at least three different big, sidewalk verging, lavender plants. I will do it again tomorrow, from every single lavender plant I pass. It is a tithe I take from the world. It is the reason for summer.

Is it a crime? I ask you. Is it a sin?

Of course it is, but what a tiny one! The plants all live heartily on. The homeowners are oblivious. And without it the whole hot steaming mess of Summer would have no point. We might as well close up this place at the end of spring. We might as well shut down the world until the leaves have started to change color and there is a hint of bite to the wind. July and August have no beating heart without the smell of crushed lavender. Lavender saves summer.

Could I grow some lavender of my own? Alas, first of all I doubt I could because my yard is too shady. But more importantly I am beginning to think that lavender doesn't quite smell right if it is properly obtained. It has to be stolen wantonly and with religious consistency for its soft purple smell to come all the way out. Lavender, while lovely, is only made into summer by truancy and vandalism. I am here to do it.

I am the lavender thief.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fruit magnet

I could ascribe it to my virtues. The Universe could be sending me messages. I might just be at the right place at the right time. It is, after all, the season, but no matter where i turn people keep giving me fruit.

Conversely enough I think in some odd way it was set in motion when I walked through today's midweek midday farmers' market with my wife. I looked at the beautiful raspberries, I gazed longingly at large trays of deep blue-black blueberries, but I walked on. This seemed shortly afterwards like it was a mistake. Blueberries were very much on my mind.

But then it began.

Sitting at the phones I was asked if I liked organic blackberries. An enthusiastic yes provided me with a cup of small sweet tart blackberries grown organically in someone's friend's backyard. They were fresh and bright with just the hint of the taste of jam. No one bothered me until they were done, but as soon as I was finished another co-worker immediately offered me some cherries, bing cherries. I took a couple. "No, no," my co-worker said "Take more. In fact, there's a bag in the refrigerator. Help yourself."

Not much later I had a question for one of the librarians upstairs. "Oh, hey." She said quietly, as if trying not to let it spread around. "Do you want some blueberries?"

Yes, actually, I did want some blueberries.

Co-workers, like trees, can be very nice. They can provide protection from nefarious forces in the world, they can be pleasant to visit with, and gathered together in harmony they can provide a rich, healthful and interesting environment.

But co-workers, like trees in my opinion, are at their absolute best when they bear fruit.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Time again

I have been overwhelmed for a few weeks. It has been difficult to find time to do everything I need to in my life. I scrimp on sleep. I am always running behind. And I am always, these days, always late.

This is not my fault. It is time's fault. Time pretends to be absolute, studied, dispassionate and utterly objective. It isn't. Time is mercurial, thin-skinned and easily slighted, vengeful, playful, tricky, comical, and vain. I'm afraid I have gotten on the wrong side of time lately, and I am really paying for it. I am now getting by on a paltry seven hours of sleep a night. I find myself trying to desperately shave five minutes off my bike commute and yet somehow end up only going slower. I am slipping quietly into the back of the library hoping no one notices that I haven't already been there for ten minutes. It is a stressful way of life.

And yet, having offended time, probably through some futile, desperate attempt to cheat it, or because I stole a few minutes somewhere (which I have now given back ten-fold!), and even as I am being hammered by time, I am finding it pretty fascinating. The thing is that when time is pretending to be all just and passive and imperturbable it is nearly impossible to see what it is capable of. But when it starts working its mad tricks on you the bizarre magic of it is exposed. And if you aren't too overwhelmed with suffering you can catch glimpses of strange miracles fueling the center of our universe.

I suppose this makes it sound like I'm going to tell you something grand indeed. But that's not how magic runs. The gods, who can be strangely quiet about so many things, are most quiet about magic. And so they hide it in small things. The petty magics of the god Time are scrupulously held in the mundane. So be prepared to be unamazed. But it's still magic. 

1. I am ready to leave the house. I check my watch. I am late but maybe if I walk very fast I won't be too late. I unlock the front door, step outside, then I relock the front door. Walking away from my front stoop I check my watch again. Elapsed time to unlock door, step outside, lock door, and walk five steps: four minutes.

2.  I am at the front desk of the library. In twenty minutes I will be off the desk. I have just thought of a few sentences I need to write in the blog post I am working on, but it is very busy at the desk so I need to just hold onto my thoughts if I can for a short time. A couple comes to the desk, both needing cards. I register them and answer several location questions and explain our DVDs for them. A woman is confused about some items and charges on her card. We track down her history and I find a picture of one of the items on Amazon for her that refreshes her memory. She pays her fine by tediously pulling out bits of change from a deep bag, pennies and dimes predominate. The next person wonders if we have a book but has the wrong author. We work out what it is and request the book for him. A small child wants to say hi. We say hi. Thankfully I still remember the few sentences I wanted to write. Elapsed time to register two cards, answer questions and briefly explain a system, resolve a fine issue, collect money and put it in the cash register, find and request a book, and greet a child: one minute. Yes, one minute. I still have 19 minutes to go before I can write down my sentences.

3. It is just after ten in the evening and I want to write a blog piece about the strange, hostile, and mundanely magical ways that time has been moving for me. I go to my basement studio. Half of the post was already written during the day. I diligently type away on my computer. It's not my best piece or anything, but it goes smoothly enough, and I am fond of the first joke, known as the "four minutes" joke. I hope to get to bed by 12:15 so that I can still get close to eight and a half hours of sleep. Two hours and 15 minutes to finish a piece that will have taken you one or two minutes to read seems entirely reasonable. And what time is it now?

It is just after two in the morning. 

I have got to go to bed!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Romantic comedy

As you know by now Sunday is the day where we discuss procedural matters on clerkmanifesto. Just how dedicated a reader you are is fully illuminated when we discuss our flexon algorithms and the curious retention rates we are experiencing among new readers in Madagascar. It is also a day where we get very self referential. During the other six days of the week I refer to myself or to my blog a scant 98.2 percent of the time, but on Sunday this jumps wildly to 99.1 percent of the time. The figure is even larger than that if we don't count the time I unintentionally left the text body blank one Sunday. Did you know that the reddit "minimalism" page linked to it, and to this day it is still my most heavily viewed page? It has over 14 million thumbs up.

Today we will discuss my recommended books page. I am honestly not sure why I bring this up so much. Trust me that I say this utterly without recrimination, but almost no one visits that page. It is too complex, probably, for newcomers, who we don't really have around here anyway, and it is mostly old hat for, well, you. Hi. Plus it's ramshackle and constantly under construction. But strangely I feel like one day it will suddenly be, if not done, than at least highly presentable. It will come into its own. So I keep picking at it, fiddling, improving, connecting, all in little ways, but with bits of forward momentum that I tell you about on many Sundays, as if you'd be far more interested in that than in another tale of a deranged person at my library.

The newest change to my recommended books list was precipitated by a moment of jealousy. One of my favorite co-workers (I know, there are many), who is no longer around much, told me about being out shelving in the DVDs and being asked for recommendations on Romantic Comedies. I'm afraid I no longer remember the rest of that story because I was so overcome with jealousy from not being asked that question myself that I was no longer thinking clearly. I have an absolute thing for Romantic Comedies and the only other things I am as keen to offer my opinion on are Caravaggio, Mysteries, Science Fiction, Jasper Fforde, Videogames, Bob Dylan, CDs, Anarchism, Ursula K. LeGuin, late Tolstoy, Messi, The Kinks, the 1974 Los Angeles Dodgers, drug legalization, tomatoes, coffee drinks, Bernini...

Oh, sorry. It turns out that I was trapped in a list that actually, technically, had no end whatsoever. But that being said I am very keen to recommend Romantic Comedies. Indeed, I was so keen at the thought of someone else being asked for a recommendation that I decided to open the floodgates and breach my limit of only recommending books on my recommended books list. So I am going to add a Romantic Comedy section. As always it will harbor within it links to appropriate blog posts. Off hand (pun intended), the only immediate link I can think of is to a post called "Anger" that will be linked to from the recommendation of Moonstruck ("I lost my hand!"), but there may be more out there.

So what's on the list? Am I going to make you go to the dreaded Recommended Books page to see?

No, I'm not going to make you go there. I'm not even going to give you the link. You'd have to really work for it to go there. And as to what's on the list, it turns out this whole post is a bit premature. I haven't even started to add this new section yet. But for starters my obvious choices of the Romantic Comedies I love and recommend include:

Notting Hill
Love Actually
Music and Lyrics
French Kiss
Tin Cup
Two Weeks Notice
50 First Dates
New in Town
About Time

Well, I'd have to think about all the other ones some more, what with the high standard there is for love.

After Romantic Comedies, now that the wall is down, I'll no doubt be adding albums.

I will say this though:

My recommended books list will be and is clever, engaging, diverse and idiosyncratic.

My list of loved albums (CDs) will be overwhelmingly accurate and brave and deep and wide ranging and critically astute.

But I must confess that this list (possibly any list), but definitely my list, of Romantic Comedies will be a bit treacly, oddball, giddy, and hopelessly aesthetically and politically unsupportable in every way.

I just thought you should know.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sadly the decorum and the code of my job means I must disguise this person. I am telling a real story, but no matter how deep the sins of this patron, he is still entitled to a rough anonymity here. He is a type, but he is specific. Nothing I write here in describing him will be particularly true, but I do hope very much to get at the basic idea.

He needs help. 

There is a variety of patron that needs help. No, not the regular every day help that so many patrons need and that some of us actually like giving. This is chronic help. Unending help. These are people that the staff has to learn. These are people we huddle together in the back forming special rules for. I have seen actual library policy rewritten around single individuals like this, general rules that ultimately only ever ended up applying to one person. While our maximum number of items checked out allowed is far more reasonable now, we once had to invent a rule limiting it to 500. Five hundred! This was almost 15 years ago and I can still remember the patron's name. These people can sear themselves into one's consciousness. How fiercely she had to juggle to abide by our newly strict 500 item limit! There were calls and renewals and elaborate trades where certain books had to be checked in so that certain books could then go out. It inevitably ended badly because a few books out a few days late at 30 cents per book a day is manageable, but a small returning mistake with 300 biographies is going to hurt.

Our current guy isn't asking for anything unreasonable, but that's the problem. A few reasonable requests: "Can you remove my card from my wallet?", "Can you fix this thing attached to my cane?", "Will you load these in here?" are bearable enough, the man has a series of physical disabilities, but when they pile forever upon each other they will bury you.

So we work out, with the managers, all the things to say no to, things that would be individually churlish, but that are absolutely necessary. We are not to help him or touch his property. We can't do things for him. He says "I've dropped my wallet. Could you just pick it up for me?" And we look at him, his legs wrapped in unbending braces, helpless before his wallet, and we say "I'm so sorry. I'm not allowed to touch your wallet." and sort of hope that there are no other patrons standing around looking at us like we're dirt as they pick the wallet up for him. Of course, a lot of the time we don't say it so kindly even as that. We say tersely "I can't touch your wallet. No." But that terseness isn't usually until his 14th needy request.

I haven't been out on the front desk with him around much, but tonight I was. He wanted me to copy a coupon for him. He dropped something. He needed an adjustment on his painful looking shoes. He wished me to push something over for him and to carry something of his from one place to another. He just needed a hand. Oh, he dropped something again. Could I hand him one of those envelopes?

No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Sorry.

It wasn't a bad night, seven "no's" and I was out. It is well established that the "yes's" go on forever. He ended up corralling various random patrons for his needs. I was unable to protect them and they were embroiled in acts of momentary kindness that swallowed them like quicksand. I would see them occasionally gulping for air and wondering if they'd ever escape. When he'd had enough of that he mysteriously stopped dropping things. Seven "no's" was the right thing, along with the four "no's" from my partner at the front desk. We did well.

But I hated it. I hated saying no at the service desk. It always seems like a terrible defeat to me, whether of the library, or my resolve to be helpful, or of how I want the world to be. The one thing that I think I am truly afraid of ever acquiring at the front desk is a real taste for saying no. Yes, saying "no" is one of the most valuable and important and powerful tools we have, but we are a library, and no matter how completely right and perfect and just it is, in a library "no" is always stained with a little blood.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The statistics of help

Today I will tell you a tiny game we played today at the service desk of my library.

Every once in awhile we have to fill out a survey sheet for our time at the front desk. It is a tally of Reference questions and Directional questions. Because there are a lot of people in a row to help sometimes, and because of the ambiguity and strange complexity of a surprising number of these interactions, it can be a little too hard to really keep proper track of these, or to take the whole thing very seriously, so we sort of guess.

And then today we did this:

Me: "Where is the survey sheet?"

My co-worker: "Here." (pointing).

Me: Makes one tick in the tally under "directional questions".
My co-worker: "What is the survey sheet?"

Me: "It's a sheet where we keep track of reference questions."

My co-worker: Makes one tick in the tally under "reference questions".

Then we repeated it until we had filled out the approximate number of directional and reference questions we would handle for two hours. 

Then we helped people.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Messi the Introverted Soccer Player

This is a children's story. I'm thinking that it will ultimately be a picture book. I will only say at this point that the illustrations are being worked out. With the international popularity of soccer I am sure it will be easy to find a publisher. Of course, this will be easy enough to begin with as publishers these days are desperate for manuscripts and will publish almost anything to feed the national craze for reading.

For foreign markets we will use the word "Football" rather than "Soccer" because foreigners use different words.

 This story turned out to be the only way I could work out my strong feelings about the soccer player Messi.

Messi the Introverted Soccer Player

Once upon a time there was the greatest soccer player in the world.

His name was Messi

He was not like the other great soccer players.

He did not strut.

He did not shout.

And he did not throw his chest out.

His smile did not light up the world.

It was just a nice, shy sort of smile.

Messi was an introverted soccer player.

Messi was always little for his age.

They called him the flea.

Some people said he was autistic.

Some people said he was terribly shy.

Some people said he should be different.

They do not understand.

He is introverted.

It is hard to be introverted.

But it gives you secret wisdom.

Millions of people love Messi because he is so great.

But with his secret wisdom,

Messi knows this is not really love.

Love is how he feels about soccer,

And about the people close to him.

Messi does not say a lot.

But he scores a lot of goals.

More in one year than anyone ever has.

He does not do it by being dramatic,

And kicking the ball far away.

He keeps the ball very close to him.

Closer than anyone else.

Messi is an introvert,

And the best soccer player in the world.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Soccer, truth and stories

The team I wanted to win The World Cup lost in the finals. But somewhere watching the finals I realized I didn't really love Argentina. I just wanted Messi to win. I don't think I even liked Argentina that much.

For those of you who don't care about soccer and know little to nothing about Messi I will give you a brief outline.

Messi is the greatest soccer player in the world. Approximately 70 percent of the Football firmament are agreed on this. A notable portion of them feel he is the greatest football player ever.

And it is always a joy to watch people who are so miraculously great at something.

Another 30 percent of the soccer firmament think Messi is not that great. Sadly this 30 percent naysayers seems to have included the entire Argentina World Cup team, Messi's own team! I walked away from their sad last game thinking they needed to push the ball to him, hoping he would make it happen. But they liked the idea that they could do it on their own, all together. They couldn't. They were not that good.

When I become very interested in something I write a kind of story about it in my head. The story says it is the real truth. A few weeks ago I knew almost nothing about the state of world football. I suppose that after my information binge I still don't know much. But I wrote a story about it in my head. This story. I wrote Messi's story.

Once I write the story in my head I think maybe I believe it all a little too much.

It pains me to say that. I have to pull it out of me, wrench it out of me because once I write the story I am convinced. I hardly even know it is a story.

But now that I have found a way to confess this I suppose I'd better go all the way.

Sometimes here I think that I am writing the shimmering truth. Brave truth, angry truth, hidden truth. But no, I am writing stories. Stories wiggle in their slots. They creek in their gears. They overflow their banks. They whir and clank and smell faintly of blood. They are like the truth, sometimes they are truer than the truth, but they are stories.

Sometimes I come up with just the thing I want to tell you here. It will blow your mind. It will change everything in the world. You will be convinced.

But it never comes out that way.

The truth is like a crow in your arms. You can hold it for a few minutes if you're feeling brave and wild enough and don't mind a little blood. Then you can set it down and tell it where to go. 

Ever so reliably, it won't go there.

It will scramble off cawing and seeking its small destiny. And all the truth you dreamed of will become something you barely knew, screaming hoarsely in a tree. But if you are lucky you will still recognize some tiny hint of what you thought you knew in its harsh call.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

We'll never know

I was at a midweek farmers' market with my wife today. I got a free band-aid, a tote, and a lanyard key chain. Some of the berries looked good but I wasn't feeling flush enough to buy any. Someone was selling half pints of tart cherries for four dollars. Please don't tell my co-worker that she is giving me about 80 dollars worth of cherries this year. My fancy thank you pint of ice cream that I plan on getting her is looking a bit thin right now.

Between a couple of booths I was surprised to see my name written clearly in chalk on a bare place in the asphalt. That may sound a bit fanciful, and yet it's completely true. My first name actually was spelled out exactly, in a moderately neat, pale yellow script. It faced towards the main thoroughfare of the market. So I stood behind it and waved for awhile. No one paid much attention, but I'm not sure what was supposed to happen anyway.

Monday, July 14, 2014

No hippies

I have now seen a curious sign twice in my neighborhood. I am not sure if the first one I saw is still up, but I pass the second one every day that I walk to get a bike to get a car to go to work. The sign is posted near the front door of a modest, nondescript, single story home and says "Hippies use side door."

As best I can tell this sign is meant to be humorously disparaging of hippies, and holds within it echoes of traditional hippie putdowns like "Dirty Hippies". At least, that's the one these signs make me think of.

I am not surprised by the hippie animosity in these signs. Hippie bashing followed fast on the heels of the hippies first cultural appearances and I have had opportunity enough to see it in my life, but there are two very strange things to me about these signs.

The first is that if there were any hippies left they would actually be in my neighborhood. I live in the most modest, humbly and sweetly unadorned middle class, fiercely leftist, innocent, pro hippie neighborhood in the entire Nation. In any election Greens will receive more votes from my neighborhood than Republicans. The sounds of middle aged men playing electric guitars rises from the basements, at least, when they are not in flood. If my state had the simple sense to legalize marijuana (which I suppose 95% of my neighborhood would vote for) I suspect they would sell it in my neighborhood from roaming marijuana ice cream trucks that play Grateful Dead music. If there were a pro hippie sign, I would expect to see that in my neighborhood, but a mocking, anti hippie sign is just churlishly bizarre.

And yet it is particularly bizarre because of the even stranger second oddity here:

There actually are no more hippies left in the world.

Nope. Not a one.

"Hippies use side door" might just as well be "No Phoenician Solicitors"

Hippies were scattered, diluted and bought off through the seventies, quashed and marginalized through the eighties and remade and killed off in the nineties. Hippies exist now curiously as hipsters, who are slightly more closely related to beatniks and are only hippies in the way that say, Etruscans became Italians, or the Anasazi became Hopis, or Phoenicians became Iraqis, or you became your parents.

And though we can have more or less similarities and commonalities with, say, the fish that first crawled from the sea, we are not them.

So if all that peace, love, and understanding stuff, if the hippies broken, failed dream of a better world, and all their high water mark music is so offensive to someone, you'd think they'd be satisfied with the hippies extinction.

No, man, no long hairs will be nosing around your front door ever again.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wild Library

An author I rather go on about a bit here, Jasper Fforde, has, on his ornate, entertaining website, a section called "Wild Library Tales". It is devoted to library stories that others have submitted. There are almost no stories there, but there is a funny picture of the author. The link seems semi abandoned and outdated. I decided that it was my sort of thing, so I am sending Mr. Fforde some of my library stories.

I have a lot of them.

This is probably a violation of my non marketing vow, but I've decided to pretend it isn't. It remains to be seen how hard I will need to pretend.

But the real reason I am telling you this is because it got me thinking about my library tales and how they aren't wild at all. I'm pretty sure most of the good library stories have to do with things being incorrectly filed. I know, weird. But it's a library, and stories in a library are naturally ornate, low key, humorous, thoughtful, ironic, whispered.

Yes, wild things happen in my library occasionally, but they are not at all my favorite stories. Once, many years ago, a mentally disabled young man with a group home, generally a pretty friendly kid, came running down the checkout lanes and leaped on one of the group's leaders. He knocked her to the ground in one of the most visceral attacks I've ever seen up close. There was an intense thud of flesh and bone and flesh and bone and pure rage all meeting as hard as they could. The young man was like a bulldog, utterly compacted, stout, dense. He was pulled off the group leader quickly, but five hard working people were required. The group leader was not lastingly hurt. The whole thing was over in seconds, and they were all gone from the library in minutes. But for 20 seconds it was absolutely wild in the library.

I do believe that Mr. Fforde, when he includes a wild library tales section, means it with a certain touch of playfulness and irony and a wide sense of the word "wild". And I eagerly take the suitability of my stories in that guise. It's my bread and butter here.

Nevertheless, if a tornado rips through my library sometime this summer, I'll probably give you a straight up account...


Saturday, July 12, 2014

The failures of others

Each day that I work at the library I am faced with the evidence of the failures of my co-workers. We could be generous, or perhaps even just, and call them mistakes, but because I work with a great assortment of people engaged in largely anonymous work it makes these mistakes amorphous and collective. It weaves them into a slow trail of broken things. It makes the word mistake feel wrong. Individuals trying, living, acting, and working make mistakes, but institutions such as libraries are littered with little failures. They sit there, lumpen, like speed bumps in my tasks. I am no paragon of perfection. I'm sure that I, in all my many jobs in a given week, make mistakes that I don't catch. But I am forgiven for my mistakes. I try. I work. They are just mistakes really. But alas, when someone else finds one later, anonymized, my little seed of mistake is sprouted. It no longer belongs to me. It is a free growing weed, a bitter fruit. It has grown into its own failure, untraceable, possessed only of itself and freed of a creator.

But surely whatever mistakes I make unknowing are dwarfed by all the mistakes I stumble upon. There are just so many!

What do we have today? The same sort of things we have everyday: A bin full of easy books that says it's supposed to go to another of our branches when it absolutely isn't supposed to. A cart pushed into the wrong place or merely forgotten. A cord I need that's been removed and not replaced. Two rows of books wildly mis-shelved. The last of the masking tape taken so that the bare cardboard core forlornly sits in the dispenser, looking naked and useless. A note on a patron's record frantically alerting us to something that has already been resolved. A very popular book that we don't own a single copy of. A used Internet pass in the unused stack. And so on...

And what says my heart at the fresh and frequent encounter with each new failure?

"Who are these people?!!!"

I am furious like a flash of lightning. I am superior, diligent, mystified, stunned, suspicious, tired, and righteous.

I set the failure right. The cord is replaced, the vestigial note deleted, new tape is added, and the books are re-shelved. Perhaps I have even done it correctly. And if I have then the waters can close over our failure. The failure drops into the depths and soon even I, who was the only one ever to see it, have forgotten it completely. For twenty seconds the library is whole again. I am on to the next thing. And so are 17 other people, my co-workers, all working some job around our grand library. Eighteen of us then working at a given moment, 17 of us perfectly.

Friday, July 11, 2014

How we shelve

While I was shelving in the genre fiction section I could hear a woman grumbling about poor instructions and about not finding any of the books and just generally about how unjust everything was in the world. So when she popped around the corner into my row I defied my tendency not to offer help unasked while shelving and inquired whether there was anything I could do for her.

There was!

She was looking for several books by Emily Griffin. She was told they were in, but she couldn't find them!

"Are you sure it's not Emily Giffin?" I asked. I was pretty sure it was Emily Giffin.

"No, it's Griffin." She said emphatically.

"I think it will be in fiction." I said, starting to lead the way.

"I'm pretty sure it's in romance." She said to my back.

Like I said I was pretty sure it was Giffin, not Griffin, but I had a weird hunch, one that would let me pretend to believe her, so I led her to the Griffins in fiction. There, perfectly misshelved, was one Emily Giffin book. I pulled it out and handed it to her.

"It is Giffin." I said. "The rest will be here." I headed around the corner to where the Emily Giffin books should be shelved. She followed slowly, examining her new Emily Giffin book.

"Here are the rest of them." I said, gesturing to a full shelf of Emily Giffin books.

"Oh." She said. "I'm sorry. I thought for sure it was Griffin."

"That's okay." I said. I meant it too. 

After all, we weren't so clear on it either.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Carny barker

I don't mean to generalize too much, but when I am working on the phones a lot of the people who call are senior citizens. Very senior. The kind that does not do computers, cannot handle automated phone renewal systems, and is left with the old school option they seem to prefer. They call us. Sometimes they cannot hear well. Sometimes they are easily confused. Sometimes they struggle to read their library card number, or to use their phone properly, or to fully track what we're talking about. Projecting, communicating, and transacting the required business in these situations can sometimes require extra effort. I don't really mind. But, still, when the phone rang today and there was a 90-year old ex carny barker who needed help I was delighted. It was a breath of fresh air. It was intensely audible, it inspired me to speak loudly and clearly, and the whole transaction was crisp, clear, and neat, albeit slightly more thorough than is my preference.

Plus I made my co-worker laugh when I reenacted our conversation upon it's conclusion.

I can't do that here, exactly, but I can try and demonstrate a bit of it.

You might want to turn your computer down a bit.

A bit more.

Yes, there, that's good.

"Good afternoon, this is the library." I said.


"Great, um, I just need the barcode number off your library card."


"Okay, your three books will now be due on July 28th."


"Bye." I said.

Well, it wasn't quite exactly that, but it's as close as I can get.

I so hope he calls back soon!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


I have written on occasion about coincidence here at the library. One of my points has been to stress how even a lot of quite striking coincidences fall within a statistically normal range. Talking about a famous person with a co-worker, for instance, and then shortly after coming across some book or DVD or something that prominently features that person feels a little funny, but famous people are famous because, well, they're famous. They're ubiquitous. In a place like a library, packed to the gills with cultural references, one is unlikely to go twenty feet without smacking into a hundred mentions, pictures and odes to famous people, from Dr. Seuss to Madame Curie to Rimbaud to Phranc the lesbian folksinger. It can come at you like great waves.

So I try to keep the coincidence stories to a minimum.

I know this sounds like I am going to tell you a coincidence story anyway. And I am. But it's not because it's such an amazing coincidence. It's because I was unnerved. I am writing about this to you because I secretly believe it will dispel the curse of the coincidence I encountered.

It will be brief.

Our requests at this library are filed under a three letter code derived from the first two letters of a patron's last name and the first letter of their first. So, requested items are filed under a three letter code. When one works on the phones one processes materials on hold for people to generate slips that get placed in the item. I think that's enough of an explanation. Anyway, that's what I was doing.  I ran a DVD over our reader pad and generated a slip with the initials GOD. 

The DVD belonging to that slip is a scary looking horror movie called You're Next.

GOD, and then, You're Next.

I am not keen on the message. But if you're seeing this post, I am probably okay.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Deciding not to read

One of the most important skills for a person working at a library is knowing how to decide what not to read. There are way too many interesting books here, and bringing eleven of them downstairs after a round of shelving is an unrealistic endeavor. Imagine a buffet created by master chefs, indeed, the greatest chefs in the world. Then pretend that all buffets don't suck. Okay? Now picture brilliant and diverse displays of every cuisine and culinary trend you can think of. Miles of brilliant, exquisite food. Now have a yourself a meal.

I think you see the problem.

At this point it might be a good idea to develop some highly particular traits, princess and the pea traits, obsessive peculiarities, a raft of allergies, hair-triggers, and impossible perfectionisms. No food over 80 degrees. You like beets but not enough. No beets them. No shellfish smaller than your fist. No cheese you have already heard of. Nothing derived from the corn plant. No sugar, no bacon, nothing foamy, nothing you can name by smell, and nothing derived from any plant or animal that was over one year old. You can take the list from here, but it had better run for several pages or you're going to get gout. Do you want gout? It's almost as bad as jaundice. Worse sometimes than beriberi.

I saw a new book today by Diane Keaton, a sort of post memoir, commentary on life and aging and success sort of book. She has been in several movies I liked very much. Maybe she has interesting things to say. She seems smart and quirky and idiosyncratic. Or at least, it says something like that on the book flaps. I think it talks about what a nice dose of unconventional, to the beat of her own drum, fresh bit of sauce we'll get from Diane Keaton if we open up the book and see what iconoclastic things she has to say.

I opened the book at random and read "I have never met a woman who doesn't love to shop."

I closed the book. 

I don't eat any cheese I have already heard of.

You have to draw the line somewhere.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cat among pigeons

I read my fair share of mystery books, but I do not do it for the joy of matching wits with the detective, or with the author, or for the joy of figuring out who did it. I never figure out who did it. I reread mystery books a few short years after my first read, and I still don't know who did it. I could say that I am too avid a reader, too interested in the plot and characters to sit around puzzling out the clues and the patterns and the red herrings, but really I suspect that I am not particularly good at that sort of puzzle solving.

So you might imagine my delight when I solved a chain of real life crimes by a serial murderer.

Oh, ho, you think I'm kidding?


No one knew they were murders, but people were dying left and right. Someone wrote a book about it, but they missed the crimes completely, and so did everyone who read and commented on the book. They were all looking elsewhere. The book was about something else entirely, not crime related. I looked over the book and solved a mystery that was sitting in plain sight, snuggled deviously into the very conceit of the book, disguised as innocence. I spotted a crime wave. I used my little gray cells. I figured it out. I solved a string of murders! It was a delicious, heady feeling.

I don't know if I can stop this horrible chain of killings, but of course I have every hope I will. I expect that this post will serve to alert the authorities and these ghastly murders will come to an end.

But this isn't how you're supposed to tell mystery stories. I am giving the game away before I start. And now, when I tell you the set up, you will be all primed and able to figure it out for yourself. You will be less impressed with my sudden burst of sleuthing genius. And so I understand now why Poirot and Holmes and Nero Wolfe all hold so much back.

But this is real life, and a real story, and so you will have to be impressed or not as you see fit.

But maybe, before we start, you can pretend a little that you didn't just read all of that.

A book came through the delivery, and, as is my habit, I read up all the words on the covers and inside flaps. The book was called Making the Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa. What I learned from the cover, and from later research on the Internet, is that people mostly like this book. It is supposedly a heartwarming and interesting story. And it has a very interesting cat. Everyone likes cats.

The story is that there is Nursing Home where this cat Oscar lives. Oscar is an aloof cat. David Dosa is a geriatrician who does not much like cats. But he hears about this cat who hangs around dying patients and comforts them, and so he watches this cat and decides there's something to it. Oscar apparently has an uncanny ability to predict when a patient's time is nearing. He snuggles with the patient until the patient passes. He refuses to leave the dying patient's room. His presence reassures and comforts the grieving and frightened family. Etc. etc.

I like cats a lot. I am all ready to be taken in by this heartwarming and interesting story. But when I read about it some latent detective aspect was awoken in me instead. Something was off. I started thinking, using my little gray cells, as Poirot puts it. I came up with this:

1. Oscar is always, then, in the room with the patient when they die.

2. We only know they are dying patients in hindsight, because when Oscar goes to them, and starts hanging out with them, they die.

3. If Oscar is so "Aloof", what's going on with all this snuggling of people who soon die with him in their beds?

Or perhaps we should look at it from another angle, perhaps an angle featured plentifully in mystery fiction. Let's say there is a healthy young woman who marries old men. Immediately after marrying them they sicken and die. Do we marvel at this woman and say she has an enormous heart, she senses the imminent death of these, perhaps wealthy, old men and marries them to ease their passing? Do we suggest that she has a second sense for the nearing footsteps of death? No. We suspect her of murder. We look carefully at the situation. We don't let ourselves get distracted by fanciful, magical explanations. We ask, who had access to these people when they died. Who had an alibi? Has anything like this happened in this person's past before?

And so it is with Oscar the cat. He alone has the opportunity. And while old people are perhaps more prone to die than the young, we are talking about dozens of people, alone and vulnerable, dying with this cat. Indeed, it is every single person this aloof cat "befriends". The cat watches the dying, but who is watching the cat?

I will admit I do not have the case sewn up, but there is a precedence for this in the detective fiction. We have the victims, we have the killer, it can be no one else. We only lack the motive.

Why is Oscar the cat killing all these old people?

To bring this case to a proper conclusion I would need to be called in on the scene like a proper detective. But I do think we can get close enough even at this distance.
We are only missing motive and method. As to motive, I think we are not in the realm of the usual human motives like greed and anger, and psychopathology. This is a cat. And much as I adore all cats I have noticed that they have a real taste for recreational killing. Murder. I think Oscar may just be a perverse and clever master of this. Whether this is "wrong" is perhaps for others to say. The victims are old and weak and ill. And no one seems put out by these deaths. Indeed a whole book has been written here to speak well of these deaths.

But when we speak of method, when you think of it, think of a person struggling feebly and succumbing, your view of it may be altered. We cannot forget to consider the victims.

Clearly the method cannot be by claw or tooth. Cuts or bleeding would have been noticed, but if I were on the scene I would first verify the lack of mysterious wounds. Based on the silent deaths and the habits of cats I believe the method used is suffocation. The elderly victims are being smothered. Oscar presses down over their mouths and noses and our old, feeble victims are at first confused, then too weak to pry the small, but tough and able cat off of their faces. This method has the effect of causing the whole murder to be silent as the victims are unable to cry out.

In a proper case there would be a dramatic denouement where I would reveal this all with a more appropriate impressiveness. But as I stated this is reality, with real senior citizen victims. I was not called in as a consulting detective and have not been able to test all my hypothesis. Nevertheless our facts are clear and our conjectures, though they may differ slightly from the actuality of events, could only stray so far. Oscar the cat has the deadly,  hunter cat inclinations which, as anyone who has received a "gift" from a cat knows, would easily suffice for motive. Oscar alone had the opportunity in death after death. Oscar alone explains an unusual series of deaths as well. And Oscar, the geriatric killing, fluffy, suffocating cat, had the means.

I think that if this case isn't exactly "closed", it is fair to say it is solved. Oscar the cat, j'accuse.