Sunday, November 30, 2014

My fervent belief in Finnegans Wake

I have discussed James Joyce's great masterwork Finnegans Wake here before (Ulysses? Feh!). Sure, at first it was the bizarre novelty of it. And to this date I have only, cumulatively, read eleven pages of it. But once one passes through the I-can't-believe-this-is-a-book phase, the this-is-sort-of-good-in-an-unreadable-but-fascinating-way phase, the look-at-me-I'm-reading-Finnegans-Wake phase, and the why,-he's-very-talented-phase, one comes to the ultimate utility of the great Finnegan's Wake: ballast.

Does what you read define you? Well, that's an easy question, because everything defines you. Emerson said “I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”  which isn't exactly "Our cubehouse still rocks as earwitness to the thunder of his arafatas but we hear also through successive ages that shebby choruysh of unkalified muzzlenimiissilehims that would blackguardise the whitestone ever hurtleturtled out of heaven.", but it makes my point better. And that point is that you are what you read. So if you are a bit over fond of rereading old Dick Francis novels, and the first third of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and random YA Fiction featuring talking dinosaurs, and stories where nice people fall in love or fix the universe or whatever, Finnegans Wake will act like condensed mass, it will hold you ship to the water, it will bleed gravity into every sentence you touch.

Here, check out this random reading list:

Ten favorite novels:

1. The Fulfillment by LaVyrle Spencer

2. Bygones by LaVyrle Spencer

3. Savor the Moment by Nora Roberts

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

5. Vision in White by Nora Roberts 

6. Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

7. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

8. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

9. November of the Heart by LaVyrle Spencer

10. Manhunt by Janet Evanovich 

You cannot judge this list. It is impenetrable unless you have read and fully understood Finnegans Wake, which you haven't. So get off your high horse!

Not that you were on one. 

I mean them. You know, they.

Here's another reading list for you:

1. Clerk Manifesto the blog by Feldenstein Calypso

2. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

I'm just saying, when it comes to your reading, keep everyone confused.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Your wisdom blog

Some people are under the impression that this is a library blog, or maybe it's a moose blog, or perhaps a Dylan blog, or a cooking blog (couldn't you go for some potato taquitos just about now?), or a graffiti blog a Disney blog a grape blog a cat blog a coffee blog a fake blog (ooh, consider that one!) a blog about blogs a writing blog a marketing blog a book blog, or the blog to end all blogs.

But nope, fooled you. It's a wisdom blog! 

Wisdom blogs are where all the big money is these days. 

Yes, you can tweet that if you want.

Yesterday, right here, at this time, the subject of infinite wisdom came up. I had one more little thing to add today before we left it sitting there, on its lonesome mountain peak, quietly radiating peace, at least for awhile, until we decide to visit it again and pepper it with questions it will refuse to answer but that we suspect makes it ever so slightly nervous.

I am willing to accept a glimmer of possibility for all sorts religious constructions from waving chickens over your head to get rid of your sins through prophets flying on miniature horses with the face of a woman and the tail of a peacock to virgin births and enlightenment. 

But I draw the line at infinite wisdom. 

That stuff needs a good fence around it or it gets in everything!

Friday, November 28, 2014

All the answer you will ever need

Let's see, what fascinating library story can I regale you with today?

None, because I am home with a hurt back.

How did I hurt my back?

It was just sort of visited upon me by the gods.

Why would the gods do this?

I don't know. Let us ask the gods.

Hey, gods, why did you visit upon me the hurting of my back?

(please don't say infinite wisdom please don't say infinite wisdom please don't say in...)

Infinite Wisdom.

Oh man. Never ask the gods anything!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Nazi in library!

At my best I love the patrons of my library in the way Jesus was supposed to love everyone. 

No, really, I do. 

I am no particular fan of Jesus, nor do I hold unconditional love for humanity to be the ideal of my passage through life, but that's how it happens sometimes. My heart is wide open. Everyone who walks through the door fills me with an absolute sympathy. I find the most miserable, crustiest of them to be utterly dear. But that doesn't mean these are all good people. No, it doesn't mean that at all.

Tens of thousands of people come through my library. What all darkness is on them, what bloodstains and vast litanies of crimes petty and unforgivable is on them, I do not know. Most of the time I don't want to know. The library is its own ivory tower. We don't offer redemption. We only offer, when we can, all distance and remove, the dream of the mind. I suppose there is hope in that, if you want it.

But occasionally, whether I want to or not, I do know or suspect things about our patrons. Notorious murderers have been regulars at my library. I have seen dark tattoos inscribed into patron's flesh. The ugly misdeeds of others occasionally rise to common currency. And some are quite open about what nastiness circles their heart. For instance, an avid Nazi spends his days at our library. He disappears for a few months at a time for what I assume to be periods of institutionalization, then he takes up his spot at a computer once again. 

Let us call him Clive.

Clive loves our computers and our printer and our copier and our various office supplies. He loves our help. He likes us to see what he's working on. He likes to leave his twisted up documents lying around the computer area for others to find. He likes to mutter darkly about us, I think because we're government employees or Jews, or both. He likes to wander up to that thin line where he might get banned from the library, and then retreat just in time. He is difficult to deal with. He can be very difficult to deal with.

So when I was chatting, during a few quiet moments at the front desk, with my colleague and desk partner of the day, and she saw Clive heading towards us, she went a little ashen. "Oh no!" She muttered with dread. "Here comes Clive." The Nazi was headed our way!

I looked him in the eye, warmly, as he approached, to bring him to my side of the desk. "Hi." I said. "What's up?"

He held out a library card to me. "Someone left this over by the computers." He said.

"Oh. Thanks."

Yes, every once in awhile I love everyone who comes to the library. It is not doctrinal. I don't even really recommend it. It just happens. It's just, what the hell...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


If no one has been up shelving in fiction for awhile you will sometimes find a lot of books scattered on the shelves. It looks pretty much like someone has been roaming through fiction, pulling an occasional book out of its place and setting it face up on a nearby shelf. Or it could be that they're browsing, pulling out interesting books, briefly looking them over, and then, instead of putting them back in the gapped space they created, they make little scatterings of books, like animal marks of their passing, or droppings, or tributes to the god of disorder.

These unshelved books, when I find them, always feel like acts of hostility to me, like finding little notes on the shelves that say "Fuck you".

But I think that really they are cries for help. Horrible cries for help, left anonymously. Mysterious cries for help that, at the same time they cry out, also insulate the crier from the very possibility of being helped.

That explanation is not supposed to cheer you up, in case you wondered.

I was in the teen room and some heavy traffic was going on there back and forth into our meeting room. Each time the door closed it made a terrible screech, like a miserably lonely bird of prey. Among we small group of staff nearby comments were made: "Someone should do something about this door." Was said. It occurred to me that I am someone! So I went and found some WD-40.

It turned out that this particular door had an amazing number of hinges and moving parts. It was full of a nearly impossible amount of possible joins that could create the horrible squeak. So we started applying WD-40 and listening. When we got to the 35th hinge and doused it, all of the sudden the wrenching squeaking cry was gone! Fantastic!

I immediately took the WD-40 to the fiction section and applied it to all the patrons.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Potato taquitos!

Real Recipes for Real People!

Potato Taquitos.


11 minutes
(for God, chef ruler of the Universe)


5 intensely difficult hours 
(for you!)


Corn tortillas
Pallet of paper towels
Pantry items

Step 1:

Boil potatoes. 

What variety?

The variety you bought at the store!

Step 2:

Blend cooked potatoes in a food processor or just mash them up with grated cheddar or Parmesan, garlic, salt, olive oil, maybe some lemon or lime juice if you have it.

How much of each for all these?

Look, I could make up amounts, but whatever you do at random will probably turn out better than what I used.

Step 3:

At this point, you should have a modestly gluey mash of potatoes and an already distressing number of dishes to clean. These potatoes, as is, taste pretty good. You might want to cut your losses now and just eat these. No? Okay, but consider yourself warned.

Step 4:

Heat two fingers width of peanut oil in a large frying pan. This will turn out to be a terrible mistake, but it's in this recipe so you're supposed to do it.

Step 5:

Plop a large scoop of potato filling onto a corn tortilla. Then, with the back of the spoon, spread the filling evenly on the whole tortilla to the very specific depth of 11/57 inches thick. For the rest of the world 49 mm thick will work, but not as well. If this recipe does not work out exactly as I say it will come down to depth variations of potato on tortilla and so is not my fault.

Step 6:

Gently roll the tortilla into a tube, like a taquito! Watch in horror as the tortilla rebels against being curved and breaks apart into useless, messy slabs.

Step 7:

Turn down the oil! It is so hot that it's singeing overflying aircraft!

Step 8:

Okay, new plan. We'll make these more like quesadillas!

Step 9:

Make a new layer of potato on tortilla. Press another tortilla on top of it. Perfect!

Step 10:

Put your "taquito" in the oil. Because the searing oil didn't exactly cool down in the two minutes since Step 7, bits of blinding hot exploding particulates will now fly painfully into your face. Swear freely.

Step 11:

If blind seek medical care, if not blind, carry on.

Step 12:

Prepare your second "taquito", then note with alarm the following two things:

The insides of your taquito/quesadilla are somehow sort of oozing out into the oil, and

The top tortilla is no longer flat! It has sort of curled up on itself like a dead spider.

Step 13: 

Flip the taquito thing. How do you do this without burning yourself and losing most of the filling and having the top tortilla all bunched in on itself? Now is not the time for a bunch of affected niceties!

Step 14:

With a metal spatula scrape all the stuff off the bottom of your frying pan. This will be the first of so many times that you have to do this that I will no longer mention it in the steps. Rather I'll just advise you now to do this every minute or two for the next several hours.

Step 15:

Remember that broken mess of an original taquito? You might as well throw that in the oil since the chaos in your frying pan can't get any worse.

Step 16:

Remove your first taquito or whatever it is now (the one you flipped). Set it on a pillow of 20 sheets of paper towels. Oil will still soak through this amount of paper towels, but concern for the environment has prevented me from fully exploring how many paper towels it would really take to prevent this.

Step 17:

Repeat with the oozing, scraping, splattering, blinding yourself process. Don't be gentle with these quesataquitos. You want to cook them into crunchy submission!

Step 18:

At some point, with all the oil and potato filling you will wonder if you can make a potato pancake. Scoop a couple large dollops of batter into the oil and lightly press down.

Step 19: 

When it becomes clear that you can't make potato pancakes because they dissolve in the oil you will need to up the frequency of your pan scraping. Set aside fried bits scraped out onto more forest killing layers of paper towels.

Step 20:

Keep cooking until all tortillas and batter has been used up. Turn off stove.

Step 21:

While waiting for quesataquitos to cool, eat your collected crunchy bits. Extremely delicious, no? Yes they are! You have now consumed the equivalent of two 12 ounce glasses of peanut oil.

Step 22:

Eat what you can of your quesataquitos as they will be no good to anyone in about 45 minutes. If you have anyone in the house or nearby in your neighborhood feed them quesataquitos until there's nothing left in your kitchen that a full container of dish soap and two hours of washing won't take care of.

Step 23:

Figure the nausea will pass in about ten hours, at which point you will crave:

Potato Quesataquitos!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Walking dead fines

An occasionally recurring motif at the library, involving certain patrons who feel beset by constant library fines, occurs in the form of a peculiar belief. They decide that they keep paying the same fine over and over. They become convinced that they have paid their late charge, seen it disappear, only to have that same late charge reappear at a later time, sometimes over and over. A zombie late charge, so to speak, laid to rest only to reemerge from its resting place to roam the earth once again, or, at least, to roam our computer system once again.

Everything's possible, and, on the whole, this belief is probably a bit more likely to be true than the one involving real zombies, stumbling through our library, muttering about brains.

Nevertheless it is still not very likely. I can easily think of many vastly more likely explanations for these people's seemingly reanimated fines. And I do think of them. Then I carefully examine the evidence and invariably find a lot of support for one of those explanations.

Such as: 

A similar fine was paid for different books, or 

the book in question was renewed late and paid for and then returned late after that, 

or they only paid half of the fines last time around.

And so on.

And usually when I hit them with a barrage of theories, reassurances, historical accounts, explanations, and evidence, they reluctantly relent. They unbend. They become sort of convinced.

But sometimes they don't.

And who am I to say they are wrong. People believe all sorts of things that seem palpably impossible to me: God had a baby, Republicans aren't evil, non dairy creamer works in a pinch, and, well, I could go on forever, but I don't want to offend anyone. And as I said, who am I to say? What about my own passionate beliefs that defy all logic, run counter to all experience and to all evidence?


Well, surely the world's all time greatest blogger has at least one!

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Oh, here.

I am in a parking lot sitting in the passenger seat, waiting. I turn on the radio and a lovely song is playing:

 Little did we know, that the world was dying.
That the birds outside, they never sing for us

And I think:


I wish that I loved everything.

Well, almost everything.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wind rips face

I have experienced a great variety of worse weather. Colder, windier, snowier, more cruel. But today, as I took my long walk through the city, when the wind gusted to 40 mph and ripped the fine snow off of rooftops and tried to peel the flesh off of my face with it, those fine distinctions of worseness became curiously unintelligible to me. I leaned into the particle blast and plowed on in a confused haze of exhaustion. The city was all around me, going about its normal business, almost oblivious. The sky went from clear blue to dark grey in less than 15 minutes. The weather seemed unreal.

And I had a thought. If I were walking in some remote Minnesota woods, down some trail, a suddenly distant mile or two from some cozy cabin of the great north, and this were the weather, I would be probably be fearing for my life a little bit. I would be picturing myself freezing to death as the snow grew deeper and deeper. I would be wondering at how hard a wind can blow. Can it blow harder than this? Than this? The wind, I would find, can always blow harder. I would worry about the numbness in my cheeks, the stinging in my ears that I was unable to relieve. I would think "I can only stay warm enough now by moving, and it is getting harder and harder to move. The wind would howl in the trees and sound like wolves. Night would fall in the middle of the day. Trees would explode. I would crawl.

"I need shelter" I would mumble to myself, coming to an understanding of just how serious the situation had become. I  would pull myself through the trees and the drifts, cowering as the wind tried to beat me down. And then I would find my way inside. It is light and warm in there. People are chatting at tables. I unwrap my scarf, and I buy myself a sandwich.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A new winter

The sun didn't set at four o'clock in the afternoon. Flowers bloomed and the trees were luxuriant. Dazzling birds populated the world. A few simple items of clothes, taking mere seconds to put on, were sufficient dress for all the needs of the day, public and private. The air was rich, the sky was blue, and the city belonged to everyone.

And then the first snow came with its shoulder lowered, and it slammed into the city with deep layers of hard ice and heavy snow. Warmth sank deep under the bitter winds blowing. It was quiet, and it was night almost all the time.

I drove terrified and floundering over the terrible ice of the world and reeled from the shock of it, but after a week I remembered that the cold doesn't bother me at all, and the ice is only terrible at first. So I stepped into the world again and resumed my long walking commute.

And I found the city empty. Few bikes if any, and the rare people around were all far away and obscured by silence and clothes and steam. It is our own little annual Armageddon. The birds are scattered and scrappy and rough, the trees jagged and asleep. Smell is gone, light is clear, air is fierce. The cars are like creatures stalking. The sky is endlessly tall and empty and indistinct from all of space and time. The wide river path runs out in front of me, empty for as far as I can see.

The city is mine again.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

You can only ever get halfway there

The phone rings at my library.

"Do you have a lost and found?"

"Yes." I reply.

"My daughter lost her wallet yesterday. Do you possibly have it?"

"I can check. What does it look like?"

"It's sort of thinner, and greenish. It mostly has cards in it, and some cash."

"Hold on. I'll go see."

I go see.

"I have four greenish wallets." I report back. "Pattern or no?" I ask.

"No pattern." 

We're down to three wallets.

"I'm pretty sure it had her library card in it."

"Two of the wallets have library cards." I say after a brief look through. "What's your daughter's name?"


"Ah!" I exclaim. "I have Lynette Watson's wallet right here."

"Oh, no. It's Lynette Sloan. Do you have Lynette Sloan's wallet?"

"Green, cards, no pattern, Lynette... Sloan?"


"No. We don't have her wallet."

"Okay, well, thanks for looking."

I suspect it was an elaborate prank call.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Big chair

Writing, as I do, on the Internet, a very social medium these days, I get a lot of messages from readers.

"Hey," one of these messages says "Write more about your trip to Disney World. Write about that time you went to Gaston's Tavern, near the Beast's castle. Write about how Gaston's Tavern was actually of a uniquely (for Disney World) suitable size to echo what it was supposed to be: a small deep forest rural village hunting tavern. Write about how you bought there that weird toasted marshmallow flavored apple slushie that came topped with mango passion fruit foam. And then how you wandered the baking sun trying to figure somewhere just to be for awhile, but there wasn't anywhere, because the Magic Kingdom doesn't really do places to just be, so you gave up and went back into the charming, but full, seating area of the tavern. Then, suddenly, dreamily, IT was there! Write about that, about how all of a sudden there was a beautiful, magical, gigantic throne-like chair, covered in bear hides or something ruggedly rustic like that, to the right of the roaring fake fireplace, all perfect for you and your wife to sit together in. But just as you made your way to this gargantuan chair a very small child from a nearby table spotted the chair too. You were there first though, and you sat down and it was absolutely heavenly. But as you sat in delight, sipping your bizarre, but very appealing, drink, and admiring the excellent room with all its Beauty and the Beast references, it was impossible to ignore the three year old child in a state of exquisite agony as he longed for your chair with every fiber of his being, all while his parents desperately tried to soothe him. Write about how you got up and let him have the chair and found a table facing the roaring fake fire as the parents mouthed 'thank you' at you. Write about how that was a pretty good seat too, but not quite as nice as the bear throne."

"Okay." I write back. "I will."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Grand Floridian

As one of the biggest fans of my blogs I am not shy about peppering myself with things I'd like to see me write about.

"Hey." I write. "Let's hear some stories about your trip to Disney World."


"Do you have any funny Scrabble stories?"


"Write a blog post about me."

Well, as the bible's unauthorized sequel says:

Ask and ye shall receive.

Or, in everyday American English that we can actually understand:

Ask and you could receive if you're one of the first ten callers.

Despite its contemporary nature, the second of these is actually quite a bit closer to the original Koine Greek it was written in, or I don't know my Koine Greek!

Of course, my willingness to respond to my requests does not apply to the one for funny Scrabble stories because I don't have any funny Scrabble stories. So ask all you like but nothing is happening there. Fortunately I do have lots of Disney World stories, so let's go with that, which, conveniently takes care of the third request as well.

It was my wife and I's third day at the Magic Kingdom, and in the mid afternoon our crowd batteries were running low, so we decided to pop out and cruise the monorail in order to investigate some of the super swanky, near Disney resorts and maybe see about lunch somewhere.

We had crossed the beautiful Seven Seas Lagoon on the wonderful ferry boat to Magic Kingdom many times now, and always, off to our left, was the giant resort wonderland of the Grand Floridian, beckoning to me and suggesting that if we were just corporate lawyers, or people with marvelous trust funds, or willing to forgo our next two-week European vacation, we could be staying there, for only 800 dollars a night. What I am saying is that I felt the longings when I looked over at it. I wondered how piercing my longings might be. I wondered if my longings were justified.

So we rode the monorail to The Grand Floridian. It looks just like the Hotel Del Coronado, a grand hotel of its own out on the beach somewhere near San Diego.  I hung out on that hotel's beach once with three very nice people I no longer know. How long ago? Well, one of them told me about how lasers were going to change our lives. They did! So, it was back at the dawn of lasers. I'm just saying my associations were positive, and ancient.

We got off the monorail and wandered around the Grand Floridian. It had a Disney shop that sold mostly the same things in other Disney shops, only with more Princess dresses, very fancy Princess dresses. It had a lot of well reviewed restaurants that were closed. It had a stand trying to sell some Disney vacation program. It was a simulacrum of waspish gentility, but it didn't seem like a very good one. Why? 

Here is the trick with Disney. It's very fun when it does a good enough simulation of something very far away and fantasy like, like Pirate town, or the African Savanna, but it can just seem sort of sad when it's running a simulation of, say, what a nice hotel in Florida might be, in Florida.

So, jilted and judgmental, I hated the Grand Floridian. And, just as I decided to hate The Grand Floridian, while walking into the main, grand atrium, we looked down on the ground and saw one enormous cockroach.

It was great.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Living the boy scout dream

I've known her for what? Three years? Fifteen years? She comes to the library. She was always old. That didn't matter one way or the other. She just was. Then she was older. She's heavy on her tripod cane and not so fast moving around. She came in for a DVD on hold for her today. She was regretting it. 

"There is too much ice." She said. 

Winter came early here this year and brought a lot of ice. I haven't been so keen on it either.

But she was weighing heavier things about it than me: giving up her car, how to live. She was scared to make the walk back out into the night, scared of how to get to her car across the black and slick parking lot.

"I parked close to another car so I could help stabilize myself against it." She said. "But now it's gone."

She paused.

"Could you help me walk to my car?"

Wheels turned in my head. My first inclination was against it. But when I went to talk to someone about it I found I was just asking them to watch the desk for me. I figured I might be gone for a bit.

I walked her out. I gave her my arm.

"Think of me as your grandma." She advised.

"Okay." I said. 

I coached her along. I guess those handicapped spaces are close for reasons, less ice to cross for one. We made it there more quickly than I thought we would. I opened her unlocked car door. She got her cane in. Carefully she sat down.

"Thank god." She exclaimed, utterly relieved to be in her car.

"Drive safe." I said. This week in the Twin Cities no one says "Goodbye." It's all "Drive safe." 

I closed her door and, breathing the good and bitter and cold air, headed back into the library.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Sometimes my mind is all aflame with grand themes and portentous analysis that I worry over in my mind for days and simply must tell you about. Notes pile up in my pockets and I type late into the evening, feeling just like one's supposed to feel like as a writer, all gritty and impassioned. Things go pretty well, and though the clock on new blog posts never stops ticking for a one-post-a-day writer like myself, the fish are biting and I have have no compunction about throwing back all sorts of ideas that aren't worthy of my flashing genius.

And then, sometimes, the waters get a little played out. I'll take just about anything to write about. I make a poor, absurdist joke at the front desk of my library about how great it would be if all the books on my cart were the same book. My co worker laughs politely. She probably didn't even hear me correctly, though things have been better lately with her new hearing aide, but, either way, good enough for me! As soon as I can I'll type it up into a blog post. Beggars can't be choosers. I limp from post to post searching for flotsam. There is nothing. When I write I hear a scraping noise. Can you hear that scraping noise? No?

I hear a scraping noise.

Here is another pendulum for you (besides the one that swings from fecundity to aridity): Sometimes you, the audience is all in my mind. I think of all the people who will be pleased by my little essay, I think about its impact. I lean, further and further and further, and then, just before I tumble over I catch myself. 

I go back to my basement, and I write this beautiful thing:

Nothing here matters.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


I'm thorry if you can' unnerstan wha I'm sayin. Ith juss tha ma mouth is so latherated that it's fecting my thpeech!

What's that?

I'm not talking, I'm writing?

Oh, right that. Good show. Yes, certainly I can write normally, no problem.

So I will tell you all about lunch!

I had a lovely loaf of Rustica Bakery's Levain bread. This is from the best bakery in my state. The Levain is a lovely, crusty sort of deep sourdoughish bread, crusty and chewy. I sliced it. I had some butter and olive oil that I put on the slices, a pinch of salt. I squeezed a bit of lemon juice over it. I had some excellent English Cheddar that I cut up and scattered around over the tops of the slices. I did the same with several very thin shavings of parmigiano reggiano. I artfully bedecked it all with translucent rounds of fresh garlic and then drew thin, swirling lines over the lot of them with not very much honey. I blasted it in our beautiful new broiler until it was luscious and soft and fiercely crunchy.

I ate one slice at home to test. It needed no correction. I took the rest to work and ate them throughout the day with very much enjoyment.

And pain.

It was like eating supremely delicious razor blades.

My mouth is criss-crossed with lacerations. Hours after eating the last one my mouth still tastes faintly of blood. Blood and garlic. Butter and blood.

It was worth it. They were very delicious razor blades. And though talking is hard, well, I can still write. What more does a blogger need.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Catch 22 library

There I was putting another cart of books in order by authors' last names. Patterson goes before Preston, Sail before Suzanne's Diary, when I came upon something magical. There were two identical copies of Catch 22 on my cart! Yes, this sort of delightful thing has certainly happened to me before, but this time, with such a fine and funny book, it seemed somehow so visceral. How neatly these two books went together on my cart! How little fuss in regard to their relation to each other! One copy could go before the other or after the other and it was all the same. And then it came to me: we have, all these years at the library, been making it so unnecessarily hard on ourselves. All these vast varieties of items, all different, in so many ways; different types of media, different subjects, different author last names, different titles, thousands and thousands of different things.

It's a horrible lot to keep track of, to put in order, to organize and account for.

But what if we, at the library, had just one item. No DVDs or talking books, no paper backs or non fiction, no genres or stream of authors through history. One author. One subject. One story. One book. How about that Catch 22 for instance. That was a very good book. We could just have 10,000 copies of Catch 22! Think of how deliriously easy it would be to put a full cart of those in order, how easy to shelve them, how easy to find them! And reference questions, my God!

"Do you have any copies of To Kill a Mockingbird?"

I don't even need to look it up. I don't even need a computer. "No. We have Catch 22. It's by Joseph Heller."

Ha, you say, but what about those people who want to read To Kill a Mockingbird?

I am not heartless. I have thought of this. Each branch in the library system can have their own book. So, for instance, one of our other branches could have all To Kill a Mockingbirds. It would be a little like those One Book programs cities sometimes have, where everyone is supposed to read the same book, only this would be on a different sort of scale, and more permanent, and more beneficial to our shelving system, oh so much more beneficial to our shelving system. Each branch could, instead of being known for their neighborhood or town, could be known for their book. We, for instance, would henceforth be known as The Catch 22 Library. Sure, someone could still come in and say "Do you have a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird?" But I can say "No, this is The Catch 22 Library." And I could put a lot of emphasis on "The Catch 22 Library." I even wrote it in bold so you could see. "If you want To Kill a Mockingbird" I would say "You need to go to the To Kill a Mockingbird Library."

Sure, it might be a pain for the patron to have to schlep all the way over there for a book, but I think that once they get there, they'll be delighted at how easy the book is to find on their shelves.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The revealing song

I was working a short afternoon stint on the giant check in machine, the AMH. It was the first snowy day of winter. It was a quiet day, though there were plenty of books to run through the AMH. The machine and I were getting along pretty well, and I started to sing.

Before I tell you what song I sang I feel obliged to my dignity to run through a brief litany of my more exalted roles at the library I work at:

I have changed policies, spearheaded projects, and made fundamental redesigns of the current library building I write you from. I have resolved major issues with patrons and materials. I have run major staff events. I have repaired broken systems and advised on our collection. I have done lots and lots of important things around here!

But these are all exceptions. Mostly, fundamentally, I am a clerk. And the song I sang goes like this:

Oompa loompa doompety doo
I've got a perfect puzzle for you
Oompa loompa doompety dee
If you are wise you'll listen to me

I am an oompa loompa.

If you work most days of the week,  mostly down in the unglamorous machinery of a workplace, you might be an oompa lompa dompety too.

Oompa loompa doompety da
If you're not greedy, you will go far
You will live in happiness too
Like the Oompa Loompa Doompety do
Doompety do

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book bag quotes

We sell book bags here at my library. We also give out old, collected, used shopping bags, mostly the plastic ones. These latter free ones are vastly the more popular. The reusable durable bags are a quite reasonable $3.00, but I have only sold one in the more than a year that we have had them. It's possible there is some kind of strange sales curse on me that makes all sales transactions go badly for me. There was a month long period when we were out of bags during which dozens and dozens of people asked if we sold book bags. "We usually do." I could have answered. "But when you can actually buy one of them I will mysteriously not be the person you do it with."

It's actually not that bad as far as curses go. Except maybe when I am trying to sell my blog to the Internet. "Hey, Internet, buy my blog!"

"How much."

"Less than zero?"

"No thank you."

Actually that might not be so bad either. Maybe it's not a curse at all. It might be a secret blessing.

With each new batch of book bags we get the same design with a new quote. We are on our second quote:

"Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them."

-Lemony Snicket

I suspect that this bag is not selling as well as it could because its quote is too smug and cheeky for a book bag. Perhaps we should try:

"Never trust anyone who does not own this book bag."

Hmm, yes, I like that one!

But maybe I am not the one to go to for sales advice. I have received the miraculous gift of not being very good at that.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


I read a lot of reviews on the Internet. I would like for my blog, or perhaps for something like Wikipedia, to be the high water mark of the Internet, but, alas, they aren't. Product reviews are the high water mark of the Internet. This tells you most of what you need to know about the Internet.

But though I allude in that to all sorts of personal cultural dissatisfactions, there is no denying that I am extremely well read when it comes to product reviews and am, only ever so barely reluctantly, a great fan of them too. I want to know what espresso makers, Orlando hotels, and party based role playing games meet the peoples' standards.

But there is one thing I simply cannot abide. I loathe when a reviewer makes general reference to things that simply don't exist.

I'm not talking about absurd flights of fancy here. I am talking about a too common rhetorical device. I think it would be easiest to show in an example:

"The Mr. Coffee Pump Espresso Maker, while making a competent espresso, and having a very effective steamer, simply does not last long enough to warrant its admittedly cheap price. It is definitely worth going to the next level up and paying twice as much for a more reliable machine."

Okay, I'm ready. I've saved up. Which one? Because there is nothing in the 150 thousand reviews I have just read that suggests such a thing exists.

I admit this is a trifling complaint. I'm sorry. I suggest that you might prefer a blog dealing with weightier issues in a much more compelling fashion. There are many of them out there, on the Internet, somewhere...

Monday, November 10, 2014

Been here awhile

There is a developmentally disabled volunteer who has been working here for at least a few years now. I've written about her before. She likes to tell stories about her family as if you are very familiar with all these people you have never heard of and will delight with her in their crazy antics. But we're not talking about one of those stories now. Indeed, our purview today is even smaller that.

I was shelving up in fiction and this volunteer came around the corner mumbling to herself, looking for something on a request list. Absorbed as she was, she was surprised to see me shelving there.

"When did you sneak in here?" She exclaimed.

"The mid nineties." I replied.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Death defying

Having written recently about the Franklin Avenue Bridge graffiti, in combination with being on foot rather than on bike when I cross that bridge, has made me even more keenly aware of the bridge area's graffiti. The art on the east bank, which I wrote about, is uncharacteristically a mess, and the really terrific piece is a large one on the west bank, with unusually soft (but strong) color work in leathers and rust, and flawless, distinctive letter work. It's a good sized piece just on the river road as it passes under the start of the bridge. But if you go up onto the bridge, and look north out over the waters of the Mississippi to the high looming Highway 94 bridge, there is something of a marvel: down below the giant road bed, at the top of two different 60 foot columns rising out of the depths of the river, are a set of two large, well executed letter pairs. I can't remember the letters just now. They must be four to six feet high. I say they are well executed, though they also look curiously incomplete, as if the artist will be back night after night until the message streams across the entire bridge, something I'm guessing would take anywhere from 50 to 100 letters. I hope it says something good!

I also wrote recently about setting up a naturalist's blind at work to track the mysterious movements of our scissors. I know, silly, yes. But here's one for you, and I mean it: I sure would like to see how those letter pairs were painted out on the sky of that bridge, hanging out way over the great and cold Mississippi river. Is it one person with astonishing, death defying wits and agility, or a little team with climbing gear, ropes, and no less moxie? A few nights hunkered down with night vision goggles in the scrub shrubs of the river bluffs could reveal fascinating wonders to me. I would dearly like to see it. Though, I confess, I would not like to see it quite so much as I would like to sleep in my warm and cozy bed, at home at night, instead.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A brief study on the migration pattern of scissors

I have long been a student of wildlife, but I'm not a very good student. I am respectful, for instance, of people who cover themselves in acorns, strap themselves to oak trees, and fill notebooks with beautiful drawings and detailed notes about the lives of squirrels. After all, I like squirrels too. I can watch squirrels all the way up until they stop doing interesting things, or the weather stops being perfect, or I think of something else to do, or it's time for a snack. I guess whichever of those comes first. But my version of squirrel watching probably doesn't make me a naturalist. Nevertheless sometimes I do become so overwhelmingly interested in some natural phenomenon that there's nothing for it but for me to become some kind of dedicated behaviorist, for me to break out my inner Jane Goodall in order to get to the bottom of what is behind some curious goings on in the natural world. This is what has recently happened to me, at the library I work at, with our scissors.

I have long noted the restless migrations of the library scissors across the breadth of the library, and I always wondered about it. But it was one day recently when I could find not a single one of our eleven pairs of scissors that made me seriously wonder. How do they do it? How do scissors move across the library? What motivates them? Why do they seek dark places and gather together? Are they capable of independent movement, or do they use hosts?

I was thinking I could maybe create a blind for myself, perhaps a large cardboard box with eye holes. Perhaps we could set a computer on top of me. Then perhaps a colleague could gather all our scissors and set them on a nearby table. I can watch. It's been pretty slow at the library lately, what with everyone trading in reading in order to spend their days on something to do with their phones. So I suspect the library can spare me for a couple weeks. They're always sending librarians to conventions. Surely this is just as important? I'll just sit in my box for a few weeks and see what happens to those eleven scissors. I can live on Space Food Sticks. I understand someone is still making those, and in two flavors, peanut butter and chocolate. No one makes the caramel flavor anymore, but I don't so much remember the caramel flavor.

Of course, there's always a chance my co-workers are somehow involved, so I am thinking of putting an invisible staining ultra violet dye all over the scissors. Then, later, I can go around the library with my little black-light. "You've been using scissors." I'll say. "You've been cutting things, haven't you?" Then I'll munch my chocolate Space Stick and make more notes. Lots more notes.

Friday, November 7, 2014


I joke about a lot of things, but I don't joke about everything. The long running trend among professional comedians is the appearance that they will go anywhere, comedically, and joke about anything, but of course no one does that. Take a look at a favorite comedian and think about what they will never joke about. It will be part of the bedrock of their comedy. An astonishing frankness about sex or religion might co-exist with a fantastic prudishness about Capitalism or the American Military. "The stone that the builder refused will always be the head corner stone" Said Bob Marley, or The Psalms, or something.

However, just what I'm willing and not willing to joke about is a moving line, and I do occasionally wonder "Am I willing to joke about that?" A while ago we had the worst, goriest accident we have ever had at my library. Someone collapsed on our large, hard staircase. I made a joke about it to Dave in the back corner of the staff area that night. It was wildly inappropriate. The person in the accident seemed like they would be okay at the time, but they ultimately... weren't. Had I known that outcome I might just have shied from the joke, and yet I find it hard to regret because it was the one time in my life I made my co-worker Dave have a laughing fit.

When I walk down our stairs here now, the stairs of said tragic incident, I always think "Here I am, daring the stairs of death." Up until this moment that was fairly innocent because it was just a joke with myself. Not so much anymore, now that I have shared it with you.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The city and the graffiti

On the east side of the river, left of the Franklin bridge, is one of my city's hotspots for good quality graffiti. There's a series of nice concrete walls, well exposed to the river and the bridge above, picturesquely situated at the top of the bluffs. There seems to be a new show of graffiti every couple of weeks. The current one is very much a mixed bag. There's a rose up there that I might like, I need to take a better look, and some small, cryptic pieces of what almost appears to be alien writing. The alien writing is distinctive and small and I recognize the artist's work from other random walls of my city. It's beautifully designed.

But however much I like the art that people painted in the wild, without hope of remuneration, and all dodging incarceration, I'd better enjoy it fast. Soon the city will come and paint everything away in a dull gray, fresh for new art. It doesn't matter if some piece is so good it deserves to stay forever. Indeed many are that good. But this is a temporary gallery, and no judgement or acclaim can change that. After a week, or two, or three at the absolute most, everything must go, buried in its sealed coffin of gray.

I cannot tell. Does my city hate this fine art? Is it lost in some endless, hopeless war on graffiti, endlessly spending time and money to paint the same walls over and over? Or is the city a dedicated curator, setting the neutral rules, impartial and dedicated, letting the artists of the city each shine forth for their time?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Getting all votey

I voted. I generally take this to be a grim and unpleasant experience in which I am vaguely and hopelessly attempting to stem the tide of something worse happening. I have yet to feel like something good is on the ballot. I vote like I am a passenger in a car being driven by a crazed, drunken, and reckless driver, pressing my right foot desperately into the floorboards of the car, deluding myself that I can will the floor into being a brake.

Contributing to this grim vision is my conception of my vote merely being canceled out by some horrible person of opposite political persuasion. Just one person in the small crowd of my polling place, voting the evil party line, is enough to mute me and empty my vote. Alas, what a bleak thought of my voting insignificance!

But I have a solution!

You all go ahead and vote first.

Go ahead.

Are you all done?


Now cancel out all your contrasting votes. Just put a line through on each side. Yes, sorry, that's the way it goes in a two party Democracy, dissenting opinions and all. 

You all evenly canceled out? Good, good. Clear the ballot then. I'm going last!

I'll be the best President you ever had.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The long view

Well ensconced in my top 11,000 work irritations is one best exemplified in the busy evening I had at the front desk of my library with Dave, whose name I have randomly scrambled, but having only four letters it came out pretty much as it does when you spell it properly. We were very busy. At one point he was doing five card registrations in a row while I ran a more rapid stream of patron interactions over on my side of the desk. I tried to tell him about all the tiger documentaries I have been watching, but by the time I could remember what fascinating Siberian tiger anecdote I was in the middle of telling him about, new people were at the desk needing help. In our first hour at the desk we had one lull, for about a minute, which, of course, was the only time a manager walked by.

The manager chirpily said "Maybe you'd like to bring something out to the desk to work on?"

I don't talk about the failings of managers much here on my blog for two reasons. One, the discussions of the failings of managers is so enormous and toothsome that it would devour this blog whole, and, two, as exemplified in "one", my authority issues make me unable to see these issues in a reasonable, measured, and fully sympathetic way.

But somehow I wanted to tell you this story, so I figured I'd better try and buck up and put on my very wise person's glasses. So I'll try.

The problem, as I see it here, is that we (the workers at my library, human beings in general), see whatever is just before us as the whole story. We think a single glimpse, a moment in time, tells a far greater story than it really does. So when my manager comes upon Vade (oh, it scrambled better this time!) and I chatting amiably at the front desk, she has a huge piece of evidence for us being idle slackers. She could know us, or trust us, or think about the time of day and the actual patterns of the library. She could see how many people are there in the building and what that might mean. She can even hold her tongue and check back a few times if it's really getting to her. But that single moment is too huge, so real for that second that it clouds a reality that's larger, and longer, and truer. And so she fails. She misunderstands the night, the library, and the excellent work we are doing. She suggests we do something that will make our job performance worse, and she errs and alienates and loses respect.

Now you wonder where are the wise glasses. Here are the wise glasses:

I do the same thing.

Mad at this failure of my manager I see only it, giant, emblematic, enraging. But how many times does she let ride my fooling around, my extreme autonomy? How many times does she get it right, trust me, properly read what I do, or give me the extra credit and apply it as I do, to the places that let me chat or read, or make coffee once again? She does it at least some, and probably a whole lot more. How many times has she walked past when it really is quiet at the front desk and just let it all go? I am hassled only very rarely, and if I am going to hate it as much as I do, it might behoove me to appreciate the many many times it doesn't happen. I am responsible and yet I remain quite wild. That fact in itself presents a broader picture of meaning.

Arrgh, these wisdom glasses really pinch at the nose! They're a bit of strain on the eyes too, so allow me to take them off for a second. 

I am no apologist, and there is always an important line to watch here with Managers. I don't even think I believe in Management.

Hmm, that's a bit of relief.

Nevertheless, a little perspective here will do me no harm.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Work emails not sent

Dear Staff,

As your supply procurer I hope you know that I am happy to get you anything you need to make your job run more smoothly and easily. A particular color of post it note you are fond of, or your own pair of left handed scissors are both things I am delighted to try and acquire. I do not directly order, but rather I order from the orderer, and I have never had a remotely reasonable request questioned. For many years now we have not been a restrictive organization when it comes to having the necessary equipment to do our jobs.

However, there is a supply problem I'd like to talk to you about.

Paper clips. 

I used to be able to go years between needing to place paper clip orders. Now I feel like no amount will satisfy you. How many paper clips can you possibly need? What are all these pieces of paper you are so eagerly attaching to each other? We have gone through more than five boxes of jumbo paper clips in the past month. That's over 500 paper clips! Did you know that, unlike, for instance, staples, after you're finished keeping your pages attached to each other you can reuse that paper clip? It's true. You don't even need to use it right away. It is perfectly okay to return the paper clip to the paper clip box. No one will think the worse of you. No one thinks a paper clip needs to be in "unused" condition to work properly, or, if they do, and they question your putting a paper clip into the paper clip box, please direct them to me. If necessary I will personally revoke their paper clip usage privileges.

Yes, it has become that serious.

I have been examining the bulk cost of paper clips on various websites. An individual paper clip can cost three quarters of a cent and only goes up from there. While this may not seem to be a great deal of money to you, I cannot help but note that when a library patron pays off a small fine to you in pennies you dutifully place them in the cash register. You do not toss these pennies over your shoulder as if they are meaningless. This is effectively what you are doing with paper clips when you continue to use them irresponsibly.

Thank you for your careful attention to this matter.

We can talk about pens next week.