Monday, November 30, 2015

Dear Publisher: Just a few things

Dear Publisher:

Once again let me just say how excited I am to be working with you. It has always been a dream of mine to publish a book, so, naturally, I'm quite thrilled right now. But, right, of course you don't want to hear about that. You want to get down to business. Me too.

You are probably wondering why I have not yet signed the publishing agreement that you have sent me. Please don't get me wrong. I think it is really a terrific agreement, and already I am super impressed with how well your office is run and how great your staff seems to be. I feel like I am in super good hands!

I just have a couple of tiny issues about the agreement. I mean, they're so small I really could have just signed it and mentioned them outside of the contract because I'm sure they're the sort of things you'd do anyway. I certainly don't want to be one of those writers who's a lot of work, if you know what I mean. I don't want to be one of those High Maintenance Writers, like Cervantes or Rowling. I want us to have a good, smooth, harmonious relationship. And because of that I figured that making the minuscule adjustments here will set us up with an unbreakable foundation. I'm not saying the other foundation would have been a problem, but why not take an extra minute if we can make it perfect?

Now I'm not insisting all these things need to be in the contract. I just thought, hey, let's get them out there in the air between us, and if you think they belong in the contract go ahead and have your staff put them in. I trust you that much. Already we can see the superb advantage of us from the start being on such excellent footing.

You know how sometimes, like, in a book of Pablo Neruda poetry, they'll have Spanish on one page and then the English on the facing page? I was thinking that it would be a good idea to do that in my book with a quality Hindustani translation facing my original English. 

No, I'm not Indian. Why do you ask?

Font? Can we just put in that I have final say on the font? I mean, I figure any final font approval would come to me anyway, but it's not mentioned in the agreement so why not just throw it in there. But don't worry, I'm not like, some obsessive or anything. If there's a font you like for this book I'm excited to take a look at it. It's not like I think Trebuchet is the only font in the world and that I must use it no matter what. I just really like it, a lot.

Actors playing me in the film version: I know that's not really going to be your purview, but I figured, hey, why don't we start getting on the same page from the start. A now retired co-worker of mine thought I looked like Ben Stiller. I'm very fond of George Clooney, and I have sort of a fear that I am most like Danny Devito. But you know what, what if we just threw caution to the wind and had all of them, and a whole slew of other actors, play me in a story closely tracking my essays and telling a widely diverse version of me through disparate angles. It's just an idea. I know it went horribly in that Dylan movie, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea.

We should also put in the contract that Dylan will play himself in the movie. I'm pretty sure he'll want to.

Because I have so much material, I think we might make it unduly hard for ourselves in the editing process by trying to choose just 150 or 200 pieces. I'm thinking we might both be more comfortable if we agree now to a 14 volume series. That way we can just sort of lay it all out in the beginning to have a visual and thematic consistancy. We should probably expand the agreement to 14 volumes so the framework is set up right from the start. Don't worry, I only need the advance for the first volume right now.

I know in the correspondence we've had so far I've said money doesn't matter to me. None of that stuff really does. I don't need more fame or riches or any of that. I joke around, but I'm a pretty spiritual person. And really, let me assure you I am just happy and honored to be working with your excellent and well regarded publishing house. That said I'd like to see the marketing budget doubled for this book along with my percentage of the take from each volume sold. I think you'll find it just feels better that way.

I'll stop here, the rest of the issues we can discuss over long lunches in New York that I'm so looking forward to. If you want to have your people amend the contract with all this stuff I'll sign it right away. The other stuff we'll talk about can just be inked in and initialed.

Once again I am so excited to be working with you and am happy everything is off to such a smooth start. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

In professional friendship,

F. Calypso

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The grisly scene

Rarely do I come across evidence of such a dramatic story. The violence and heavy symbolism of this one led to easy interpretations, but I find the easy interpretations are never quite all the way true.

But let me tell you.

I took my regular walk into the University. It was my first cold morning of the season. Strange pebbles of white ice, almost like hail, were scattered thinly on the sidewalks. The water features of the University were frozen into hard sheets of cracked ice.

Something had happened up on The Scholars' Walk. This is a path lined with glass plaques engraved with the names of honored scholars from the University's history; MacArthur Fellows, Rhodes Scholars, Nobel Prize Winners and dozens and dozens of other categories you may or may not have heard of. One of the plaques was shattered. I don't know what the honor category was because far too much of the glass was broken. Only a small portion of the bottom of the engraved glass remained, with jagged spears holding the last few bits of lost names. The walk was strewn with glass...

And blood.

Great splatters of blood weaved along the walk. Like a tracker I followed it, but I needed no skill or intent as it marked the path I was traveling anyway. Here is where the person listed to the side and paused, raining blood, before stumbling on. There the blood splashed down, there flung, there dripped. And ever it marked the weaving way leaving the scene of the smashed monument.

People are just full of blood.

I noted the splashes and trails with irresistible interest. But finally, at a corner, I had to part ways with the path of blood, which, hopefully, may have been thinning. A bleeding wound can do one of two things: clot or run out the source.

What a sight. What a trail. I'm thinking I won't ever find out the story, but stories are for making up anyway. 

For me I picture a drunk scholar, perhaps a chemist, passed over again by the National Honor Society of Chemists, expressing the frustrations of his unrealized dreams as twilight falls on his career. He is teaching Advanced Chemistry today, badly hungover, but with a secret twinkle of satisfaction in his eye, and all the while with the class eyeing his mysterious great white bandage, wrapped copiously around his right arm and hand.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

My living room

If working at my library for 21 years has done one thing, it has given me a level of comfort there. When I sit at the front desk, looking out over our New Book Collection and our AV Collection and our 3 million computers and all the fair variety of people who come by I feel strangely at home.

Yes, it's a job out there, and I'll watch the clock counting down my front desk time, and I would always rather be at my real home, and I miss my wife, and I wish I were King sometimes, and I'm not really happy to see everyone who comes by, and on and on and on. But somehow my heart is warm. On my best days I am not doing a job. I am hosting. I am there out of pure pleasure.

Some people who work with the public do it from a professional perspective. Sometimes that works best, for them and for who they help. But for good or ill that's not me. The library is more like the living room of my house to me, though curiously I am far more formal if you visit me in my real house. At my library house I fling the doors open. I welcome you to drop in and hang out at any time. It's always nice to see you. Come out of the rain. I won't fuss over you, but I'll do my best to get you pretty much anything you want. I'll visit with you. I have few rules, nearly all of them reasonable. My resources are utterly at your command. I am not solicitous, particularly industrious, officious, or professional in the sense we too often take professional to be. I do not act like I am supposed to. My secret that I will not tell you is that I am not an agent of the library, or a representative of said institution. I just live there. And often enough I might not even look like I work there. Though clean, I occasionally dress in rags. I don't mind slouching. I will talk with you about anything. I am casual, human, conscious, and on my own. I do not give you things or information you do not ask for. But if you do ask I will turn the library upside down for you. You are my guest, and you have a place forever.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Care and feeding of God

There is never a good reason to hit God, a firm "No!" is the best approach. I have always been a bit hot headed in my relationship to God, but I have learned that a firm and measured response gets far better results than being rough. Discipline with love, I say.

Today I was on my long solitary morning walk to work. This is a ruminative time for me, restorative, nay, dare I say, even spiritual. I harmonize with the air and the river and the wild birds. I enjoy space and quiet and the sound of the trees. So when God, from on high, moves his pieces and sends out, onto a mile long stretch of river path that is otherwise empty, another walker, heading in my direction, at my natural walking speed, I am not amused.

Do not enter into an argument with God. No one has achieved any success ever crying out "Why God?" This opens the issue up for discussion, a discussion you don't want to have, especially when it puts the ball in God's court. Instead you speak firmly and you say "Bad God. You are not to put people in my path when you have the whole river to work with. No!" A firm, consistent, but not angry tone gets the message across best. Contrary to how it may seem, God is not out to hurt you. God seeks your love and approval, but easily feels neglected and in need of attention. You must make it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated. "God." You should say, evenly "You take this walking person right now and put them somewhere else. This is my space." This must teach God that if he wants your recognition rainbows are always an option, petty irritations are emphatically not.

The person who has merged onto the river in step with me, at my pace and direction, abruptly remembers somewhere else they need to be. They immediately turn off the path and disappear back into the neighborhood. "Good, God. That's a Good God." You say. And if you have one, give God a treat.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Eve

Twas the night before Thanksgiving, and I was at the library, working. Patrons were gathered around the DVD collection in hopes that something good would still be there. I was out at the front desk in the early evening watching the little pre holiday fever build. I could not fail to notice that as we drove closer and closer towards Thanksgiving it became a more and more obligatory topic of discussion with everyone I dealt with. What at five in the evening was "Do you have a list of what DVDs came out in the past few weeks?" became at 6:30 "Do you have big plans for Thanksgiving?"

"Oh, you don't need to come up here to ask me about my Thanksgiving plans, you can use the self checkout terminals for that." 

No, I'm kidding. I'm just thankful they took an interest in me. So I said we might have bacon and eggs and in turn I learned about sweet potato waffles and turkey chow mein, and horrible sounding things involving vegetables.

By eight the library was quiet, like on the nights of big storms. I watched the big machine do nothing. I gathered my things far before it was time to leave and dawdled. I triple checked everything twice. I went home.

I am thankful, whether you wanted to know or not.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Amazing feats of shelving

I am willing to confess that shelving is not the place where I am most prone to apply my elbow grease (metaphorically. The books, sadly, tend to come supplied with their own layer of grease). I'll do my share, but my pace is mellow, and while I am thorough and meticulous, there are few side interests of mine that I am unwilling to indulge, in moderation, during that time.

But for some reason, today, during two hours of shelving, I rather applied myself for awhile. Rolled up the ol' sleeves and all that. The first hour was in non-fiction, with its awkward, extra interesting books and its overwhelming Dewey Decimal numbers.  I plowed through a whole cart of the stuff, went down for my afternoon cappuccino, and switched to the easier fiction collection.

It was amazingly easy. I rarely had to pause as I pulled books off my cart and fluidly shelved them in their place one after the other. I didn't pause or break, I think just from the enchantment of it all being so smooth and simple. As I worked through shelving the last of my books it bogged down a bit, but I kept at it, finished, and was delighted to find that I had shelved a whole cart of books in less than ten minutes.

If you are not familiar with average shelving speeds, let me assure you that that is freakishly fast, far faster than any of my normal shelving. I attribute it to what I call the backpacker's effect. If one is hiking up into the Sierras, in California, for instance, all uphill for miles, with a 60 pound pack on, when one takes the pack off one feels like one is floating. Baseball players employ this effect by putting weights, or "doughnuts" on the end of their bats as they warm up on deck. With the weight removed they stand at the plate and their bat feels extra light and quick. So it was for me shelving in non fiction. The books are heavy and need to be shoved about. The spines are hard to read, one has to make lists of numbers in one's head for matching as they go. The number of the book one is trying to shelve may be three books away or seven stacks away, and one must track the 343.65453's for as long as they go. Intuition gets a shelver in non fiction almost nowhere. But do that for awhile and then head to fiction. Wow. It's like the spaces where your books need to go glow, and your hands are like birds, rising to meet them.

Sadly, the effect wears off after a short while, which is why I bogged down toward the end of my magically fast cart of fiction. So I finished up, and then I read something interesting for awhile, a long while. There's invariably something good in either section.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More problems with rich people

Wandering the back issues newspapers section of my library, a more than month old New York Times front page story leaped out at me. It was about how a small amount of very rich people were responsible for a huge portion of presidential campaign donations. I already know this stuff, and in The New York Time's defense we are talking about an old newspaper anyway. But what really caught me in this story was their above the fold picture of these various rich families' mansions. I think there were nine of them.

All of the pictures of the houses were taken from, admittedly, not the most flattering aerial view, but the angle was low enough that one could get a proper sense for the mansions. One could see that each of them was very big and none were crowded by any neighbors. They tended to have a bulk, rectangular section and then a kind of longer section so that maybe people could bowl back to back, or run sprints without turning. Or maybe once you get rich enough your house's square footage is no longer quite the thing. It's all about length. "Oh, your house is 87,000 square feet? Cute. My Hamptons Mansion is three-quarters of a mile long." The truth is all these houses look amazingly similar, like they could all belong to some bizarre goliathan suburb, which, in a way, they do.

But besides all these commonalities: massiveness, layout and style similarities, homogenization, and the owners all showering politicians with money, they have one other likeness that I find above all appalling.

They don't look very nice. They're not beautiful. They are bizarrely utilitarian, as if each owner mandated: spare no expense as to land, solidity and quality of construction materials, interior space and number and variety of rooms, and any possibility of any personal feature we might conceivably ever have the slightest inkling for in the next 75 years, but beyond that, waste not a penny more!

And this is the true horror of all these rich people. There they are pouring money at politicians so they can get more money, but they have no idea what to do with the money they get beyond the driven paranoia of getting more money. Nothing they build is there to endure. Nothing is created. Nothing they have can ever be enjoyed by anyone else. They have wealth beyond the measure of history, in a world where that wealth gives them astonishing powers of creation. With only a touch of effort they could live in masterworks, marshaled from out of the deepest pool of artistic and creative talent the world has ever known, but instead they choose to live in gigantic fancy suburban tract homes, and that is all they will leave us.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Virtuous circle

To get a better deal on my healthcare deductables I clipped an odometer to my clothes and kept track of my steps taken each day for a couple of months. I found this so interesting, and, as it was supposed to be, a little motivating as well, that I got a fancier odometer and just kept going, tracking my steps each day.

Two things surprised me. With the daily goal of steps generally set at 10,000, I was dismayed to find that my well-paced hour and twenty minute walk across the city is only good for less than 9,000 steps. I really would have thought a three to four mile walk would take care of my daily quota of steps. But have no fear for my health, at least as it's measured in steps, because, also to my surprise, it turns out that I walk like mad at my library job. Just a regular, full day at work is also good for 8,000 or 9,000 steps. Ka-ching. The epicenter of all that work walking is my time spent working on the automated check in machine. Running back and forth and all around the big machine is good for thousands of steps, but our spread out library and my on-the-move nature really fills up my meter over the course of a long day as well.

Of course, all this healthful activity really works up an appetite in me. Out in the back room (and occasionally beyond) you will find me almost constantly eating something. On most days all of lunch and dinner takes place during my work hours. I try to have a jar of water to drink. I invariably have an afternoon cappuccino. There's an afternoon snack and an evening snack. And though I have official breaks and a full hour dinner break, I'm under a lot of pressure to try and reserve those times for blogging. It can be very hard to blog while eating, but drinking a cappuccino while shelving, or even at the front desk, or managing my supply ordering or the check in machine with one hand while carrying around a sandwich with the other is second nature to me. If I had to at this point I could probably do this job one handed now. Luckily I don't have to do this job one handed, because if I did, how would I eat?

This is where the virtuous circle comes into it. You may better know the virtuous circle's shadow, the vicious circle. The virtuous circle is where the positive thing leads to a positive thing which causes the positive thing ad infinitum. Here it turns out that my near constant long walks to the library break room kitchen give me a huge number of steps. These steps make me hungry! This causes me to go to the break room to get more food, which gives me even more steps.

This is why I have an odometer.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Mighty legends walk among us! One would not think such giants would roam my large but, let's admit it, fairly anonymous, almost urban library. And I doubt you would recognize them as legends anyway. But what is a legend? You AMERICA with your Presidents and Pop Stars and Unicorns and Barbies and Football Players and Lauded Movie Star Dogs such as Rin Tin Tin. I don't know those people (or dogs). They are no real part of my life. I can't tell Rin Tin Tin from any savagely barking German Shepherd on the other side of some chain link fence in my neighborhood. These myths of yours are too wispy. Give me my library legends, people who have earned it the hard way, without riches or happiness or notoriety or friends or anywhere else to go. To me these people are epic, mythical, for the ages. Who are they?

They are:


Now in his late seventies, maybe 80, bent, hobbled, but intrepid, Jerome has been coming here, mostly evenings, occasionally weekends, for as long as I've worked here. I'd say he is a steady three-times-a-week user. He is officious and blunt and looks like a banker from a Frank Capra movie. He is always in a hurry, something he still manages to convey a piece of even though he can no longer move quickly. My signature memory of him is from the days, fifteen years ago or more, when he used to come in to the library just before we closed and try and collect his requested items and get them checked out while the library closed around him. One day, five minutes after the library's closing time, he made a scooting run for the check out lanes and took a mighty, sprawling spill. A disaster. It was the only time I ever saw him embarrassed, but he shook it off pretty quick. Only age has taught him his hobbled walk.


Lee is older now too, and it's easiest to ascribe her qualities to age, but, honestly, she was always a bit like this. A five times a week user, here comes Lee to the one of the desks. Any desk will do. She has a question. Any question will do. I answered this question for you now 274 times, Lee. You want me to refresh your memory? Sure, Lee, for you are a legend.

John Mueller:

Perhaps it's his gruffness and remove that sets him apart. He is weary of fame without having any fame. Oh Mr. Mueller is weary. But two or three times a week for decades he makes it to the library and conducts his grave interactions. What is the library to him. It is CDs and CDs alone. I have checked out thousands and thousands of his requested CDs, maybe even 10,000 CDs; that's a hundred CDs for every word we've exchanged.

That is enough legends for today, though there are dozens more. And though surely my facetiousness once again spills out of every crack of every sentence herein, I say this with frank honesty: My heart skips a beat every time I see one of these people roaming our building, they are all very famous to me, and with each accumulating drip of their monumental library story, some strange, beautiful chord of myth is sounded far down inside me.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

In the works

Oh, I am too tired to wake up. I am too tired to go to work at the library. But here I am at the library anyway, too tired to shelve or even to look over the books in an assessing, how-would-it-be-to-read-this way. I am too tired to remember to only breathe through my mouth to protect myself from the smelly man in the north wing. How tired am I? I can stand. I like the rain. And I can blog. Well, look at that, I can still blog.

Last night, on my evening break, I went into the break room and left it dark and wrote. Sometimes I am mighty here on clerkmanifesto. But sometimes my blog is just a dream world. I find a staircase that goes down and down and down and down. And it is all gears and machinery in there, clicks and squeaks and gentle grinding. The grand, gloomy, and fuming works are dull brass and pewter and I cannot see to the end of them. A cool wilderness of the works for me to see my breath in. I burrow deep into the vast rows of machines. I crouch down to make everything small and close, and I tinker with nothing. I mutter quietly about how beautiful it is outside even as outside is miles away.

It is, you know, beautiful, even in the dreary rain. I was thinking of going out there, but some other time. I mutter, and this is what you hear.

Sometimes I wish, just a little, that this blog weren't so very, very famous, and I could tell you things like this.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Like any well functioning workplace all our employees here in my library system are kept track of on our rating system. Just because this rating system takes place entirely in my head does not mean it doesn't exist. And just because it's barely conscious doesn't mean it isn't wildly complex.

It is frighteningly complex. Even I don't really understand it.

But at first glance it is actually quite simple. Everyone who works in this library system has a score from one to one hundred. The score is an overall indication of employee quality, pleasantness, effectiveness, contribution and competence. The higher the score the better the employee. So obviously it would be better to work a shift with a co-worker whose rating is 74 over one with a 32. But there are many ways for these scores to quickly grow complex. Would you rather see a new library page position, one of maybe 15 positions, filled by an 82, or would you benefit more if, say, the head of automation services were improved up to a 50 from his or her 22? An 81 library director, or property manager, or human resources person could have a hugely positive impact on my work life, but would that be more so than, perhaps, an 88 librarian who shares my feelings about soccer, or cats? And all of that is before we delve into the profound variability of these numbers. A staff member may be a 68 one day, and yet an 81 on another. They may be a 7 when I'm following them on the check in machine, but a 54 when they're off shelving for the afternoon. And what about on a day when I am working with an 11, a 16, a 24, a 29, and a 55? That 55, usually blankly acceptable, is suddenly my lifeline for the day. Surely a curve comes into it. Isn't that 55 now a 75 or an 80? I am inclined to think so. To be really accurate we need to involve the relativity of worker quality and the fact that everyone is better or worse in different positions, doing different jobs, and facing unique moment to moment challenges. A staff person's ranking is best graphed as it undulates across a time chart. The color of the line should change with hues indicating their relation to the average and perhaps line thickness would speak to the challenges facing them.

This is all a lot to keep track of in my head. I struggle to keep up with it all. But it's important that I know where I am with everyone.

What's my score?

My score as a clerk? 

God, I hope I don't have a score. That would be rude!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Weather relativity

I will argue passionately for the unassailable virtues of the sculptures of Bernini, beyond taste or predilection. I will perhaps manage to be vaguely polite in response to your pronouncement of not much liking blue cheeses, but will know in my heart that it is not a matter of preference; Good quality blue cheeses are objectively tasty. My leftist humanism is ordained by all that is good and true in the universe. Ursula K. LeGuin is a great writer just as flowers are pretty and the world is round. But when it comes to weather, I am a relativist.

Cold rain can be a good day. Sunny and seventy can be depressing. An ice storm might thrill to my mood, and a sweet, breezy day mock me. Three days of darkness and downpour have been upon us. It's worked out for me, but I fully understand others feelings of dismay.

Here I stand entirely in Hamlet's camp:

for there is no weather either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Yes, over a thousand daily essays and only now I get around to quoting Shakespeare. I've been saving up.

The quote is wrong?

No, no, my quote is from the first draft of Hamlet, when the play was more about weather, not whether.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Books as junk

While books remain fundamentally objects of art and communication to me, decades of library work have also put me in a constant, secondary relationship to them as things. They are wonderful, magical, interesting, thrilling, pointless, and infuriating expressions of thought, art, and design, but they are also mere coal, and I shovel it. They are bricks, and I stack them. They are recyclables, and I sort them, even if they can turn suddenly into birds in my hands.

In the first decade of my work here, and then some, these materials I worked with possessed a greater intrinsic value. I could still be rough with them. They could still be mere bricks to me at times. But they were also the whole game. A book was the only way to read a book. A CD or cassette or album was how one listened to music of one's own choice. Not only that, but our collection was a growing thing. The idea of my library having more books, or more videocassettes, was valued by us, was part of our identification. It was our goal and what made us an increasingly better, more interesting library.

Cut forward to the present and much has changed. Our stacks are maxed out, and it has been at least ten years since we had any interest, even through massive building remodels, expansions, and new construction, in creating any new space for any new materials. Our focus has shifted to services, classes, databases and the digital world. Underneath, as I have argued recently, we are still fundamentally brick and mortar, but the reality of space and cultural valuations of physical media has altered the preciousness of each item that comes through my hands. We are not looking for ways to preserve every element of our collection we can, rather we are actively looking for excuses and justifications to get rid of things we do have. Every marginal item we can weed is a still popular, or relevant item we aren't forced to weed for space.

Not much more than ten years ago there was a mini scandal involving a local library system. It turned out a local news team uncovered evidence that this library system was simply throwing weeded books away, like, in a dumpster! Ripples of horror sounded through the local book world. Careful reforms circulated into the metro area. Imagining the same event happening today one can easily imagine a phlegmatic response to anyone's concern. "Find someone who wants them and they can have them. And good luck to that."

So how does this effect me, down in the trenches, shoveling books, hoisting them like sacks of flour? I find I have to actively remind myself of these materials expendability. But once I do there is a kind of pleasure in it. One has a lot of aggression to work out spending so many hours laboring away in a library. What better place to unleash that but upon our Berenstain Bear books, or our Barbie Videos. And when they're all a bit battered up it can be quite cheering to weed them without compunction and toss them unceremoniously in the garbage.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sinclair Lewis

As a transplanted Minnesotan I have always tended to take heart and connection from the luminous artistic figures from this state. There is a small group of creative people here who have a powerful sense of regionalism, but whose work is also etched deeply into the world's consciousness. Though most importantly to me these are people who have simply had a wonderful impact on me, and I have found it delightful to spend the bulk of my adulthood wandering around in their source material. Dylan, though perhaps the least intensely regional of them, counts high in this list. Charles Schulz, as regional as they come, though more strongly in his better, first half of his career, has made a similar impact of pleasure and recognition upon me. I have richly appreciated Garrison Keillor, in a real sympathy, though oddly I never seem to find anyone else around here who can stand him. My love of The Jayhawks was late to the party, but pure. Luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Prince, and Judy Garland have all had communicated a lesser impression upon me, but I'm pleased to have them around. And I am currently taking an unexpected gratification in, and identification with, Sinclair Lewis.

I am eleven things here on this blog. I can't list them now because I am cutting it way too close to deadlines to waste a perfectly good blog post on an aside, but I will say that one of those eleven things is that I am a satirist. And as a satirist I enjoy seeing dear satire sprinkled about the world. Alas that satire is pretty thin on the ground these days. I don't get the feeling it plays well on the Internet where it is either high profile (The Onion, The Daily Show), or a valiant low level effort that devolves into a group of people not getting it followed by a group of people explaining it, which all seems to suck the life out of it.

So imagine my delight when I opened Sinclair Lewis' old Arrowsmith and found some hardcore, stone cold satire. He is a terrifying satirist.

I read this. It is about a fictional college, Winnemac, of a fictional state, but I take it as no small reference to the University of Minnesota because, why not?

It is not a snobbish rich-man's college, devoted to leisurely nonsense. It is the property of the people of the state, and what they want- or what they are told they want- is a mill to turn out men and women who will lead moral lives, play bridge, drive good cars, be enterprising in business, and occasionally mention books, though they are not expected to have time to read them. It is a Ford Motor Factory, and if its products rattle a little, they are beautifully standardized, with perfectly interchangeable parts. Hourly the University of Winnemac grows in numbers and influence, and by 1950 one may expect it to have created an entirely new world-civilization, a civilization larger and brisker and purer.

Ah yes. It's a bit of a cruel thing, and nearly a hundred years old. I am eleven things in this blog. Oh but that one. I read my fellow Minnesotan Sinclair Lewis and think

I am home.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Post number 1013

It's hard to believe we have already reached the anniversary milestone of our 1013th post here on clerkmanifesto. Why, it seems like less than two weeks ago that we reached our 1000th post. That was a party! And here we are already at 1013! Wow. 

Many of you wonder why 1013 is such a significant number. I was wondering that too, but a simple Google search of 1013 quickly brought up, um, actually, nothing of note or interest.

I know what you are thinking. "It had to happen. More than a thousand posts of breathtaking scope, range, and artistry. He had to finally run out of things to say."


I have millions of things to say. I will never run out of things to say. I have great, bountiful, endless things to say.

For instance did anyone ever tell you about the time Sweyn was proclaimed the King of all England? It was back in 1013. A very special time and a very special year. One we like to remember around here. Usually with a big party, with delicious cheeses, and champagne, but only if the special numbers line up, and no one says anything about running out of things to say.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Amateur hour

I have been writing a lot about new employees lately, and through them about old employees too, but it recently struck me that there is a similar distinction among our library patrons as well. 

Our library is full of grizzled, veteran library users. They are keenly aware of our systems and have their own areas of expertise, such as using the request system to exploit every minute advantage, or grabbing the best study room for the day, or arriving every Tuesday at 11 to check out one copy of each new rental DVD release whether they want to watch them or not. The most extreme of these dedicated patrons come in every single day. But many come weekly, or whenever their schedule allows. They're regulars, specialists, professional library users. I know many by name, virtually all by habit, and generally, if they need help from me, it will be on a more sophisticated, nuanced level.

On the other hand we also get a vast number of new library users. Of course, everyone has to start somewhere, and all those pro library users were once neophytes. But there is a wide swath of people who come infrequently enough that they forget how everything works in their long spaces between visits. And there is a surprisingly huge contingent of people who come in one time, bumble inaccurately through our unfamiliar (to them) systems, and never come again.

Because so many of these complete beginners come on the weekend I have started to think of working the front desk on weekends as Amateur Hour. My skills are not put to the test in providing a constant stream of describing where the bathroom is, or registering cards, or explaining how you don't do that here, you do that there, but I will take care of it here for today. I don't mind instructing people on how to insert a book through a slot. I don't mind checking someone's books out because they don't understand our seven simple self check out stations, or merely can't find them. I don't mind teaching someone how to look up a book and then maybe find a book. I don't mind showing someone where we put the book that's on hold for them. I don't mind telling someone how to get on a computer. But there is a lot of it on the weekend, and I have to try hard to forget that on those days my careful lessons and preparations will never be used again. I do not love the brief tedium of library card registration, but it is only for me to get a person a card. It is for them alone to decide what they want to do with it; whether that is to never use the card again, or whether it is to unlock the secrets of the universe.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

That smell

I have done what I could about that smell that most days now dominates the whole fiction wing of my library. I discussed it with our branch manager, twice. I argued for action both times, making the best case I could. Do you smell that smell? Yes? It is not sewage backup. We have no rotting garbage. A family of raccoons did not die in our walls. No one tracked anything in. It is not mildew, excrement, or zombies. A child did not heave up secretly behind one the comfy chairs. No, it is that man. His clothes are rotting on him as we speak. They are dark and stained with human grease. His urine has dried into them. He smells like old rotten bandages boiled in hot piss and then left to steep for a nice long time.

I am sympathetic. I don't know what the gentleman is going through. I know the branch manager doesn't want to talk to him. What would he say? Maybe if the patrons complained. But here is what I don't understand most of all: No one complains.

No one complains. People at my library have complained about insanely minute things. They complain about our having parking spaces for fuel efficient cars. They have complained about the laughter of children. They complain about having to verify their address to get a library card. They complain about having to wait for a book they want to read. They complain about the computers shutting down when we close. But a man who smells so bad you know where he is and has been within 200 feet, a man who smells so bad it will induce your gag reflex, well, no one wants to be rude.

Ah well, that's sort of sweet in its own, self-suffering way. Minnesota. I have made my pitch and my rant. Now I will learn to always remember to breathe through my mouth and rejoice in the inoffensiveness of my community.

I'm not touching his chair though.


Friday, November 13, 2015

The seven stages to acceptance

It can be a long, hard road to accepting your new co-worker. Take heart! I have compiled a list of the seven stages of acceptance of the new employee. This list will let you know where you are at any time during the slow, arduous process of bringing your new co-worker into the bosom of your work family.

Stage 1.  

Who is that person? I should probably tell them this is a staff only area.

Stage 2.

Mildly awkward introduction where you try to pretend this random person won't have a notable impact on your life, followed immediately by the ceremonial forgetting of their name.

Stage 3.

Bizarre moment of intuition wherein, based on absolutely nothing, you understand the horrible, fatal character flaw of your new co-worker.

Stage 4.

The era of irritation wherein you have to grit your teeth a lot and figure out subtle methods to correct your delicate newbie so that they don't self destruct.

Stage 5.

The coming together moment where your co-worker looks to be getting the basics, and you berate yourself for your cruel, judgmental, and prejudicial first impressions that turn out to have been wrong.

Stage 6.

The time when you realize that, no, it turns out your original, horrible intuition was uncannily, unerringly accurate, but what the hell.

Stage 7.

The final stage. This is the time when it feels like you have always worked with your new co-worker and are genuinely surprised when they have no recollection of work events from 14 years ago.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The book quote

Dear Publisher,

I have a small business proposition for you. I would like to write book quotes for your publications. I would like to be paid $500 per blurb. I can't guarantee that my quotes will be positive as that would be unethical. However, I passionately love every book that has ever been written in all of history and publishing, if that is any help to you as an indicator.

Would you like to see some of my quotes?

The most involving and moving book I have read this year. Oh, the hell with it, the most involving and wonderful and moving book I have read ever. Ever!

If I were to be granted one wish in all the Universe it would be to have the memory of reading this book erased from my mind so I could experience the astonishing thrill of reading it for the first time again.

I have never said this in any review I have ever written, but, even knowing nothing about you, you are in for an extraordinary treat. You, absolutely whoever you are. It's just that much of a treat.

"Yes, yes." You are no doubt saying, "But what is a blurb without a meaningful blurber. Are you famous? Are you Toni Morrison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jasper Fforde, Miguel Cervantes? Most people look at blurbs anyway and think, 'Oh, it's probably a friend of the author.'  Who are you?"

Me? No, I admit I am nobody famous. However, I am just back from the courthouse, my legal name change completed.

I so hope we can work together.


Publishers Weekly

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New people

To work broadly off of a line from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:  In the end I like everyone I work with. If I don't like them it isn't the end.

At any give time I do like almost everyone I work with. For the paltry few that I don't like I eventually work around to a fascination at their ineptitude. Their irritating qualities become an almost reassuring touchstone. I come to partly enjoy their bizarre role in the identity of my workplace. And when they leave, and everybody leaves, eventually, somehow all of that has turned into some strange thread of affection, woven through my heart in the great fulcrum of time. If work is full of anything, it is full of time.

We have had several new people start working here at my library in the past month or so. My understanding is that the long view can give one wisdom, and after more than two decades of working where I do I have some piece of that wisdom. But long history is dangerous in its clarity as well. The new people come. I barely even know them yet. At this point they are little more than irritating to me. No, I don't like most of them yet. But still, I look over at them, pushing along a cart of books, and I think "One day you too will break my heart."

Years from now that new person will leave and someone will replace them, and they will break my heart too.

So I'd better get working on my liking; the days for it are ever numbered.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Your phone

I have been all over town lately. I have been on long walks down by the creek watching the leaves flying down in the cold air and turning to pure gold as they go. I've been to see the wild, controlled smears of Delecroix paintings at the Museum, juxtaposed to an uncharacteristic, but similar Van Gogh still life, and then an array of early 20th Century Japanese prints that delighted me to no end. I've been out at my local cafe watching crusty troubadours singing unsteadily until it turned into something beautiful. And on my birthday I went out to our most committed slow food restaurant, Heartland, and had as good a restaurant meal as I've had in a long time. I saw professional baseball players in full Halloween costumes play a scrimmage in light rain at a new, small, downtown stadium. I saw surprisingly wonderful things on the St. Paul Art Crawl, including a giant camera obscura casting a giant upside down image of the city in real time onto a tall kitchen wall.

But no matter where I went, and no matter what I saw, your phone looked better.

There you were, pouring over your phone, looking into that little two by four inch window into eternity. It glowed out in the dark places, illuminating your face with a soft and magical light. Whatever you saw was ever changing. How absorbed you were! You stroked it with your thumb, tenderly, all love. You softly prodded it with your finger and who knows what wonderful things that caused your phone to do. How amazing it must be to interact with such a thing. What a miracle to look into that! The world I saw was nothing around you, a blank. There was no song playing, no painting, no food or spectacle. Ah, how could they compare? It was just you and your phone. Let the world swirl around you in a time lapse, like with Dr. Seuss's North-going Zax. Let it swirl around you like a South-going Zax as well. What could possibly compete?

I don't know what's on that phone of yours. Me with my paltry masterpieces, my live music, my opulent meal, I am clearly missing out. How I pine to look over your shoulder. I would give it all over in a second for a bare glimpse. How I dream of those possessing wonders of yours. How I long to know!

But alas, it is your phone. It is not mine and not for me. I am marooned in this world. All I can do is look upon your endless absorption, and dream...

Monday, November 9, 2015


I have never, to my understanding, experienced hallucinations. This is not for want of trying. In my youth I was an avid user of (the poorly named) hallucinogenic drugs. At least some of my motives in my ingestion of LSD, Mushrooms, Peyote, and the like, was in the hopes of seeing things that weren't there. That seemed sort of fun and interesting. I eventually understood that seeing things that weren't there was the opposite of what those drugs actually allow for. On the contrary they excel at showing things that are there. Lots and lots of things that are there, all in great, excruciating detail.

I was already pretty good at seeing that.

So now I try and look in between the things that are there. I try and find the cracks. I peer into the cracks, and though I do not find any hallucinations, there is definitely something fishy going on back there. Maybe it is just this:

If you look carefully behind the things that are there, into the secret recesses of the Universe, you just keep finding more things that are there.

Perhaps that is the good and bad of the Universe in a nutshell, you can't get away from it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Library supplies questionnaire

Dear Staff:

In my job as master of supplies at our library I am asking you again this year to fill out our brief questionnaire. Your answers provide valuable input to us and allow us to improve our service to you. With your careful answers you can look forward to a more responsive, efficient, and friendly supplies department, and you can expect to see the supplies you most need and want, delivered to you in a timely manner.

It is not mandatory that you fill out this questionnaire. However, by not responding you will indicate you don't much care about supplies, which is great for the library system as a whole because we will be able to send you all the junky used pens no one else wants, using the savings to purchase elegant, silky, graceful pens for people who are interested in the supplies department and all the nice things we can order for our friends.

So it's up to you.

1. I find that the supplies I request arrive

     A. Promptly.
     B. Faster than I even hoped.
     C. With a kind of style and charm I particularly admire.

2. If I could see but one change in the supply department it would be

     A. That the master of supplies would receive the respect he deserves!
     B. That premium beverages would be covered in the supply budget to promote staff harmony.
     C. That the supply department be operated as an independent Kingdom, with heralds, jousting, and its own castle.

3.  Overall I find the supply department to be

     A. Satisfactory, and please send me some more bic pens.
     B. Excellent, and please send another bunch of those beautiful Italian leather journals.
     C. A beacon of light in a dim world, and please send an espresso machine and a new sushi chef. The old sushi chef has lost a step or two.

Thank you for your time. Your results will be carefully considered and noted for all time in one of our lovely Italian leather journals.