Sunday, January 31, 2016

To the person in charge

There was a recent endeavor to resolve a long standing issue with one of the smaller departments of our library. It was sensibly and responsibly conceived and put into action at a modest hierarchical level. Everyone pitched in for a bit and the results showed, a bit alarmingly, how useful and effective this project was. It was not designed to show anyone up. It was not slyly blaming anyone. It was just a thoughtful concept by someone taking action where action was needed. It is one of the things I like best about my library, that most of the time it is run on energy such as this.

But alas, the person sort of in charge of this small department took umbrage at the project, feeling control was being stripped from them, and they put a stop to it. And so it is done for now. But as it went it caused me to have the following reflections:

I understand lazy. I am not unfamiliar with lazy. I know how sweet it can be to shirk. I have indulged in the appealing sprawl of nothingness. I have not gotten around to things so many times in my life I have lost count in the same way I have lost count of my total number of lifetime sips of liquids. I can live with it. Sure, I am not inclined to count laziness as a virtue, and if I could rewrite my nature I would perhaps do so by putting in just a shred of laziness, for its appealing mouthal feel, rather than keeping my current two hearty scoops of laziness, in there now apparently for their sinful, health-be-damned richness.

I also understand controlling. Look at me here on clerkmanifesto, tyrant of all I survey. No collaborative effort here. I am patrolling every sentence and letter of well over a thousand essays like an angry and vengeful God. I am not above an overwhelming confidence and an abiding feeling that certain things should be exactly just so. Is this controlling characteristic as much a character flaw as laziness? Maybe. It wins a few points for the powers of its generative energies, and kept to one's absolutely personal domain it likely wreaks only a small amount of havoc. One might even say it even expresses a certain kind of antidotal quality to laziness. And so too, though I recognize the madness of its attempt at dominion, I accept my flawed tendency towards controlling as well.

But one cannot be both lazy and controlling together in the same arena. It makes you into a monster.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The week of the rough walk

Perhaps I tempted the fates when I recently wrote about my disappointments with ice and snow. Perhaps the trickster god of ice heard me and took petty vengeance, enlisting as it went the help of the usually sleepy and fluffy god of snow. I don't know, but it was a rough week for me out on the sidewalks of Minneapolis.

On Monday I stepped out onto the sidewalk in a freezing drizzle to find it skating rink slick. I was just saying here in this (metaphorical) space that when I grew up in Southern California I imagined in the Winter that one could skate along the sidewalks of Minnesota. So it was hard not to imagine that I was being mocked with the sudden appearance of rigorously iced sidewalks, though I doubt skates would have worked on those walks because the layer of ice was so invisible and thin that a skate would have sliced through it to the concrete below. My boots, however, were easily supported by this layer of ice, though, of course, not given the barest shred of traction. And so I walked four miles with a fierce, stiff-legged concentration, straining to keep the required perfect balance, and only flailing into near death experiences a half dozen times.

Then on Tuesday came the snow. I have no terrible complaint about walking in an inch or two of new snow, though it is hard work, much like walking in sand. No, what I hate, alas, is snow blowing in my face. And for an hour and fifteen minutes that's exactly what it did. No looking up for me. I must keep my chin tucked at all times, my eyes protected and blind to the world. Mainly my nose takes on the great brunt of elements, fielding all the many blowing bits of snowflake and ice. This makes my nose itch terribly so I have to wipe my scratching nose with my sleeve every twenty seconds.

Who knows what mocking disaster is next for me out walking my daily four miles of city, but I am duly chastened and will now attempt to appease the small god of ice with flattery:

Oh wonderful ice god, thank you for your humorous gift of ice. What a clever trick with water! While I recognize its jewel-like beauty, I love it best to cool drinks, especially, these days, cocktails, which I will drink in your honor. Please don't kill me. Please don't break any of my limbs. And do say hello for me to your good friend the god of snow.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Now not only angels have wings


I just overheard a librarian talking excitedly about a TV show, which is maybe a bad sign to begin with. She was referring to a small line from a character, and she said the line would warm any librarian's heart. The character, the librarian said, shows off a bit of useful, obscure knowledge and says "I'm old school, pre-Google."

Later that same night a librarian was looking for an old map our library system hasn't printed for at least twelve years. It showed a chart that revealed the distance between all of our branches. She wanted to know the distance between our branch and another. I briefly waxed nostalgic over those ancient distance grid maps I haven't seen in a decade, but then I walked over to one of our readily available computers and entered a few small pieces of information. "Eleven point two miles" I said. If she wanted to I could have given it to her in strict geographic distance, and I could also have told her in Sanskrit (११.२ मिलेस ).

There are so many, many things I dislike about the Internet, so many things wrong with it, and certainly I could spend the rest of my blog life exploring those horrible failures of our powers, imagination, and technology. But as far as the Internet taking away the bulky, obtuse project of looking up blunt information, as far as the Internet's ability as a reference tool, as far as the Internet making the research skills of a brilliantly trained 1950s style librarian, one with vast shelves of reference books at their command, available to pretty much anyone, anywhere, with the simplest of Internet connected devices and very modest Internet search skills, I cannot even imagine a valid complaint against it.


Twenty years ago a patron could have come to me at the front desk of the library and asked "You know in that old Richard Barthelmess movie about the freight company, what did Bonnie Lee's dad used to do?" 

And I would have said "They can help you with that at the reference desk."

Today if someone came and asked me "You know in that old Richard Barthelmess movie about the freight company, what did Bonnie Lee's dad used to do?"

 I would look it up in three seconds and say "He was a trapeze artist without a net." 

"Oh yeah." They would say. "I thought it was something dangerous like that. What was the name of that port they worked out of again?"

"Barranca." I would easily answer.

"Do you have a DVD of the movie?"

Three second search. "Unfortunately ours is out." I say. "I hate that. Shall I put it on hold for you? It should be here in a couple days."

"Okay, that would be great. One more thing." They would hesitate for a bit. "How do you cure Liver Cancer."

And I would reply "They can help you with that at the Reference desk upstairs." 

Enough is enough.

"Oh." They would say. "Upstairs?" 

No one seems to like to go upstairs unless they have to. 

"Never mind then." They say sadly. "Thanks for the help anyway."

And then I'd feel bad for them, so I'd cure their liver cancer anyway, with my Internet, new school.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Where we stand

I try not to discuss politics here. This is not due to my fear of offending, my lack of clarity, or any absence of interest on my part. It has to do with the ferociousness that comes upon me, the stripping of humor, and the righteousness that seizes me. So unless I can manage to come at my politics sideways, with delicacy, and, preferably, still possessed of a wry humor, I do my best to abstain.

But this is a big political year and I run a big time major American blog. So people are more frequently wondering just where I stand politically. And I thought if I could find a way to articulate simply the fundamentals of my politics, then you, my reader, can do or not do with it as you wish.

I have chosen a relative, yet absolute, barometer of my political position.

It is this:

No matter where you stand politically, I am to the left of that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

To all the funny people

My dear funny people,

This is a message to everyone because everyone, everywhere, sometimes wants to be funny. Even I like to sometimes be funny, like on peoples' birthdays and when there's weather out and stuff. And I have learned a few things, and you would think they would be funny, but they're not. Wouldn't it have been great if they were funny though, and we were having a really good time?

Yes it would. But this isn't that kind of a message.

I am here today to give you valuable information about being funny. This will not help you very much in all your future humorous endeavors, but still, you should know all these things I have learned. 

I warn you, they are a little grim. And then more grim when you think about them.

1. No matter how funny you become, no matter how many people you make laugh, or what a delightful riot you might be, there will still be times when you attempt to say something funny, and it won't be. It really really really won't be.

2. Every bit of humor is like a piece of orchard fruit; it slowly ripens, is perfectly ripe for but a single, delicate moment, and then it quickly begins to rot.

3. People laughing at your joke does not necessarily mean they think it's funny.

Now you know. But from pain, comes comedy. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

In the shadow of Vesuvius

Every day that I work at the library I work until closing time. I am well acquainted with closing time's technicalities and peculiarities, the way people linger and appear out of crevices seven minutes after we lock the doors, the look and feel of the place as we shut down, the eerie, appealing quiet and darkness of a library put to bed. And surely there are a dozen or two posts concerning these closing issues, all scattered across my voluminous history here.

But today I was making up a couple extra hours that I was short for a recent holiday, and so I was uncharacteristically here on a Sunday morning, preparing the building for its add-people-and-shake instant opening. I roamed the whole library turning hundreds of things on, picking hundreds of things up, and being generally fascinated by how the library looked.

As we leave the library at night it looks sleepy and settled, but I never realized what was obscured in that. Because in the morning, in the light of a fresh day, the library looks like the aftermath of the rapture. It looks like people were sucked up midstride. It looks like Vesuvius erupted without warning, every action of every patron frozen exactly as they were in the moment the library shut down. There are no bodies, fortunately, but there are carefully chosen books and DVDs, ready for check out just... abandoned, uncompleted. A scarf and backpack lie sadly together on the floor like a human being disintegrated into ash rather than make the effort of walking out of the building. There is a chair pulled out for a person to sit in, though no one is there. A notebook sits on the table before that absent person, half a sentence written, a pencil there almost seems to still be rocking back and forth, so fresh is its abandonment.

Who were these evaporating patrons? Were they beamed up? Do visitors from starships come to our library? Do they tell Scotty to beam them down.

"Scotty," They instruct. "Beam us down into the science area of non fiction. The library closes at 9:00 so just set it to auto beam us back up then."

"Are you sure? If we beam you back up at nine exactly then everything you're doing will be left behind." 

"Oh, don't worry." They reply. "There's plenty of warning for when the library closes. I'm sure we'll be all prepared and ready to go when it does."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Third thursday

My wife and I missed the open mike night at The Riverview Cafe for a museum event tonight, but at its heart it was all the same.

We are members at the Mia, which is also known as the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. It's a brilliant art museum in an all over sort of way, but is particularly excellent in its Asian Art collection and in the major traveling exhibitions it somehow succeeds in snagging. Currently up is Delecroix and his influence. You like Delecroix, don't you? Scads of Delecroix?

But we weren't there for that because tonight was acquisition night, the highlight of the member year for me. There were free drinks (I had two gin and tonics) and an incredibly tasty spread with cheeses, fruit (fantastic pineapple), little caprese things, and heaps of grilled vegetables with aioli. This was followed by the curators briefly presenting on the highlights of the museum's new purchases from the past year or so. It all put me in a very agreeable mood.

None of the new purchases were big deal ones, no matter how the curators were inclined to spin it. Which is to say that I, with my moderate art knowledge, hadn't heard of a single one of the acquired artists. But everything was certainly very good, excellent even. And so that is exactly where it was all the same as open mike night at The Riverview Cafe. Everyone was very good. Indeed, after the evening's presentation ended we dispersed out into the greater museum which was open as part of their Third Thursday event. On Third Thursday the Museum stays open late, has bars and live music. And here too it was just like I end up feeling at the Riverview Cafe. We wandered about, heard a band, and saw hundreds and hundreds of pieces of art, some casually and some under closer scrutiny. I become wonderstruck, a rube, some sort of Grandmother. "Oh my!" I exclaimed. "Everyone, through all of history, was so talented!"

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The song of coughs

Alas, I fear for my health. Perhaps clean living will save me. Perhaps all that healthful, frigid air I have been breathing on my long, bracing, bitter, outdoor Winter walks will bolster my immune system. It will need a lot of bolstering today because I am working in what sounds like a tuberculosis ward.

I am upstairs this afternoon shelving in the fiction wing of the library. Deep, rattling, phlegmy coughs create a kind of chorus all around me. Sneezes, roars, saws, and hocking. Oh the hocking! What are they going to with that when they do manage to dredge it up? What have they touched? Where have they been? I try not to touch my own now surely germ laden hands to my face, but I am afraid I never mastered the exotic skill of not touching my face. Just thinking about not touching my face makes me want to make sure my face is still there. I can't see my face. If only I could just grab my nose or something.

Cough, cough, cough, cough,
cough, cough, cough, cough,
cough, cough, cough, cough,
cough, cough, cough, cough.

I picture the head nurse at the Infectious Diseases Ward of the local hospital turning away yet another ill and hacking, terribly diseased patient.

"I'm sorry Ma'am. We're going to have to discharge you from the Infectious Diseases Ward."

"But why!" Cries the sick woman amongst horrible throaty hacks.

"I'm afraid you're just too infectious for us here at the Infectious Diseases Ward."

"But where shall I go." Moans the piteously sick patient. "Where will I take my ragged, incessant cough and all of my hideous gobs of thick brown phlegm?"

"Well," Replies the nurse thoughtfully "How about the library?"

Not a bad idea. They do seem to fit right in here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Illusions of snow

Knowing that so many school children in Southern climates use clerkmanifesto as their source for reports on what it's like to live in a cold climate, I have become acutely aware of my responsibility to tell the whole story. Enamored as I am with the bitter cold of Winter in Minnesota, and perhaps even more accurately, with my adaptability to it, I have dwelled greatly on the curious pleasures of the hard Winters here.

But that isn't the full picture. And because I was once a child growing up in sunny Southern California I want to be fair. I want the young people writing their reports to be apprised of some of the misleading things they will pick up out there in the Southlands about Minnesota and true Winter.

Curiously, the misinformation that children, such as the one I once was, hold about a climate like Minnesota is less connected to temperature and far more connected to all our glamorous snow and ice. And so today I am setting the record straight by telling you the illusions I carried, I think quite naturally, about snow and ice, and how they turned out to be disappointingly untrue. Any sensible third grader in, say, Scottsdale, Arizona, would naturally want to relocate to the Twin Cities, but they will need to disabuse themselves of these notions first before they can begin their glorious adaptation process.

1. Ice is a readily available, delightfully slippery, skateable surface.

There is so much wrong with this. Let me walk you through it.

A. Ice skating sucks. 

It's probably great if you grow up with it, but basically it is nothing like it looks on TV and in cartoons. Your feet at all times want to flop over onto your ankles, and the only reason they (sort of) don't is because your feet are locked in a vice like boot. Also, and this is surprisingly important, pushing off on ice does not allow you to glide giddily for ages, rather it allows you to glide for about three inches before you have to push off again.

B. There is hardly any ice skating. 

I know I said ice skating sucks. But even if you defy the odds and become a joyful skater with powerful ankles you will find there is hardly any actual ice skating here. My idea was that all the sidewalks would be skateable. Or how about my own local Mississippi River? If it's ten below zero for a week surely I should be able to go commute skating up the river like Russell Crowe in that thrilling opening shot of the Mystery Alaska movie? Nope. All ice is apparently ruddy and uneven and snow covered unless it's carefully created, crafted, tended, and polished. If you want to skate at all it will be at a very specific rink or park that you have to walk or drive to and sometimes even pay for the privilege of using. That's right, you may have to pay for ice, in Winter, in Minnesota!

2. Snow is slippery, sculptable, dry, packable, sleddable, skiable, fun!

The trick here is that snow has a lot of different qualities and conditions. When Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson draws snow in Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes the snow partakes of qualities that snow actually has, but never at the same time.

A. Snow is dry or packable.

Want a nice fluffy snowball? Sorry, if the snow is light, dry, and fluffy it will be like trying to make a ball out of sand. For snowballs you will need wetter snow that will usually make cruel snowballs you have to be at least a little bit of an asshole to throw at someone. They will also leave your hands soaking wet and bitterly cold. Instant Karma. Also, if you want to build a Snowman, that nice thick layer of fluffy snow will resist forming any kind of a ball and will make for a frustrating project. You will need the heavier, wetter snow that's invariably thinner on the ground and that leaves you sopping and freezing, with a lumpy, misshapen, muddy, far smaller than anticipated Snowman.

B. Sledding is, actually, pretty fun.

But only on an inflatable sled, and if you're young and have no back problems, and only for about 20 minutes, and only if the snow is pretty fresh, and only if you can find a good hill, which can be hard to do here, because it is all pretty flat. 

C. What about cross country skiing?

As far as I can tell there are three days every two years that are good for cross country skiing, but you can only enjoy them if you make sure you're cross country skiing most of the other 727 days.

Other than that you'll love it. Good luck on your reports.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Saffron in the break room

The subject of disliked foods came up one day with a couple of my colleagues in the break room. One of them disliked papaya. She said she felt slightly guilty not liking papaya. I wondered at the things we don't like that we try to like, that in some way we know we should like. I have known people who have a real love of good, real food, but somehow just don't like blue cheese. How strange and mystifying. I myself don't like much the taste of saffron. I can't figure it out. I have tried a thousand foods that people said were good, trustworthy people, people of good judgement, and they were right all along. What makes saffron different? I know it should be good to me, but it isn't particularly. 

I mentioned all this to my colleagues. 

"You don't like saffron!" They cried. "How can you not like saffron?"

And I thought the strangest thing: 

I have really got to stop having so many opinions.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Another Riverview Cafe story

Tonight was an especially good show at the Riverview Cafe Open Mike night. There was an unusually diverse mix of styles and a couple of standout performances. No one was bad, but then they never are. 

Some people wrote their own songs and some people sang other people's songs. Some people did one of each, and a few people managed to sing fast enough to squeeze in a third song. Covered artists included Johnny Cash (the same song for the second week in a row, but by different people), Patty Griffin (Twice! Two different songs. Two different people), Stephen Foster by way of Neil Young, R.E.M., The Who, Roy Clark, A song Hank Williams made famous but didn't write, and Ray Charles. A performer we'd seen before did a song I liked about The Peshtigo Fire, a huge fire I'd never heard of that was in Door County on the same day as The Chicago Fire. It had this really nice line in the refrain (I'm afraid I don't have it exact in my memory), something like:

Some people jumped in the Peshtigo River,
But that was on fire too.

Well, you know, the lines are always better sung.

There was also an unusual run on comic songs tonight. A really terrific ukulele player, who played it like a blues guitar, did some damage to his blues songs by being too funny, and a woman did a couple of specifically comic songs of an NC-17 rating that sent a couple people of delicate sensibilities into the back hall. These funny songs were kind of close together and when a crusty old duo we'd seen before came on and started a song that clearly looked to be funny I immediately thought to myself "Uh-oh, I guess I don't much like funny songs." 

It ended up being one of the most charming songs of the night. Again here's my best, not as good as the original, rendition of a few of its key lines:

I think my cat has feline dementia,
I think my cat has feline dementia,
He wants to go outside,
Then he wants to come inside,
Then he wants to go outside again.
I think my cat has feline dementia.

Again, much better when sung, with a good, low key, blind harmonica player accompanist, so you may have to take my word for it that it was delightful. 

But perhaps that last little story is the best way to sum up The Riverview Cafe Open Mike Night, really on pretty much any given night. You start out with a little feeling of "Uh-oh" and then you end up charmed, if not downright amazed.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Library stories x 2

I am in a perfectly fine mood, and if these two grumbly library stories make me sound touchy or irritable, please know I take them fully in stride. One might even say I liked them, odd as that may seem...

1. It was a quiet night, deep in Winter, at the library. An old lady came to the front desk to ask about last month's issue of a local free newspaper. I offered what help I could and the woman strolled away from the desk. Halfway across the giant main floor of the library she turned back to me and, conversationally, but also in a more or less yelling voice, asked "QUIET NIGHT AT THE LIBRARY IS IT?"

The response "It was until you asked." Came to mind.

But I held my tongue. "Yes it is" I replied.

She took one step towards me.

"WHAT?" She called.

Well, I've never really had a projecting kind of a voice.

2. A woman had called from another library to have a book put aside for her. There is an important protocol to this. The item is requested on the patron's card, checked in, and promptly shelved on our request shelves. Unfortunately the librarians have too often forgotten to bring the item down to the request shelves, or have even left it on their desks upstairs while going to lunch or home for the evening. These mistakes can cause a lot of problems. So when we could not find the item this woman came for on the request shelves I went to the second floor to inquire of
the available librarians. One librarian knew exactly the book I was talking about, and, with the affronted air of one who this time has handled the transaction in a manner above reproach, she told me she had indeed processed the item and put it on the request shelves as per the protocol.

What could I say. I went downstairs to have another look. The patron and I scanned the shelves for the item and, dedicated, we finally found it, eleven alphabetical items out of order.

But hey, no big deal, it's not like she put the book in one of our gas fireplaces or something.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Riverview Cafe saves my life again

And the shadows fall and I think I am writing in pure darkness. Who can read anything I write when it is too pitch black in the world to read and when all of light is owned? I grow bitter about the precise ways fame fails to visit me. I imprudently complain about all the people not reading what I write to the very people who are reading what I write. I am faithless. I have worked all my life as an artist, and I have achieved only...


So I go to The Riverview Cafe on Thursday night. And everyone is a genius. Greatness nips at every singer songwriter's heels. How many people do my wife and I hear sing and play? Maybe twenty or thirty. None of them are remunerated, none long remembered, none lionized. No ones ship, or maybe I should say train, since they sing about them so much,  is ever coming in. Oh, all of them are gifted enough. All of them try hard enough. Everyone of them deserved something more. And why not. You may take this as a hard argument against God, or you may take it as the best way to love God, but

Everyone everywhere, through all of time, deserved something more.

Spare me the black tongues of realists. I'll have none of that cold acceptance that passes for pragmatic. "Life's not fair." is the devil's version of "Everyone deserved more." Let's start with that then: Everyone deserved more.

And so everyone playing at The Riverview Cafe deserved more. They deserved to be able to see, to walk again without pain, to be young again, to have someone hear their lovely voice and put them on a great stage and give them so much money they don't have to work in some grinding job. They deserve an old fashioned record contract, love, a fresh start, and more applause than such a modest audience as ours can produce. Sometimes, sitting there, I actually wish I could clap louder. But even though I swear they all deserve it, I don't believe that in those shining moments, on that unglamorous and raggedy stage, any one of them cares. I can't see them caring at all. Sometimes I even look for it, hear it whispering around, but every time I look I find that all of that deserving more dies dead on the stage. No one cares. For two songs a person, ten minutes maximum, no musician, no singer, cares that they deserve more. They have whatever there is to have. Their piece of art.

Oh how I like listening to them. Oh how my heart is restored.

Some of the performers are okay that night, some are completely wonderful. That's the way it goes. Maybe it's just that night, and those who are great will later be merely okay, and someone okay may, in three weeks time, play a song more lovely and touching than I would ever imagine hearing, for free, in such a humble place. And then too they may never play that song again.

Did you know that genius belongs to everyone? 

Genius belongs to everyone. That's what they sing to me, on Thursday night, Open Mike Night, at The Riverview Cafe, when they save my life.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Making my fortune

A lot of people don't know that you can make a million dollars at a library! A million dollars! All at your free and local library!

I am going to tell you how.

How to make a million dollars at a library:

You just work there, a really, really, really long time.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

More experiments with extreme cold

Oh boy, it's ten below zero this morning. And it's more than twenty below with the windchill factor. It's time for me to walk my 3.75 mile walk to the University. 

I get to conduct more experiments with extreme cold!

Happily, and unusually, I am not at all late. I have done my exercises. I have had my cappuccino. I showered and made sure my morning blog post is telling the truth mostly. I am ready and with a minute or two to spare. I just need to pull on my extra thick long underwear and my fleece oversocks. My corduroy pants go on.  My long sleeve shirt goes over my short sleeve shirt and a short sleeve shirt over that. It's pretty cold so I'll put on this thin long sleeve brown shirt over all of that too. Every little bit helps. Downstairs I put on my oversize thermal shirt, so that's five shirts if you're keeping score. I wrap my half cashmere scarf that I got in London around my neck. I put on my down jacket and my green balaclava that I am lately having a lot of fun pronouncing like the Greek pastry (baLAclava). My brown fleece hat goes over my baLAclava. I put on my insulated waterproof boots and then my red woolen glittens (cut off gloves with tops to make them convertible mittens), and I am all dressed.

I am very warm. And I am now ten minutes late, so out the door I go. 

Steam is immediately pouring off of me!

The air bites, but it's kind of a friendly bite. Everything acts funny in this kind of cold. The screen door's brake doesn't work and it closes hard behind me. Sound is different, both sharp and distant. The streets are mine alone. I am wreathed in a fog of my own making, my mouth a thick billow of steam. My eyes start pouring water down my cheeks. I wipe the tears off as fast as I can because they quickly act like acid, their trails burning bitter ice rivers over my stinging cheekbones.

Hey, I'm not warm anymore. But I'm not terribly cold either. It's all localized. My thighs are quite cold, and my cheeks. My tongue is cold, but pleasantly so. My hands in their glittens are cold, but easily warmed by putting them in my jacket pockets. I walk.

Constant minute adjustments are called for. I keep the balaclava away from my lips as it easily gets saturated by my breath, then grows full of ice. I take my hands out of my pockets and expose the bare fingers to let off a little heat. I press lightly on my cheekbones to warm them up. Weird joints and isolated parts of my body hurt for two steps and then don't hurt. My fourth left toe stings with cold. My right foot toes are merely chilly. Mostly I am warm to the touch. My back feels hot.

I cross the river and there is a boat down on the Mississippi. Strange, maybe it is breaking the ice for some reason. There is a kind of path of open water, steaming and freezing, but the wind is blowing hard on me on the bridge, hurting my exposed face too much, so I have to look away.

Last stretch. The wind keeps blowing my coat off my shoulders, but if I zippered it I would be too hot. My ankle hurts terribly for one second and then is perfectly fine. A bike passes me, good old Minnesota.

I get in my car. Just being out of the wind is enough for me to throw off my hats and jacket and be perfectly comfortable. I keep the window open so I don't steam and freeze the inside of the car. I am much more tired and hungry than I am after a more moderate temperature version of this walk. There is something demanding about such cold. One enters into a complex relationship with it and has to pay a lot of attention.

Tomorrow it is supposed to be about 10 degrees or even warmer by the time I walk. Alas, it's practically Summer already. I might want to start thinking about my garden...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Politics for Christians

I find Christianity to be strikingly straightforward on paper, so it's surprising that it's so tangled and bizarre when in action. As a helpful, non partisan outsider, I have put together this useful checklist:

For Christians who die and find themselves in Hell.

1. Did you believeth?

Okay, good, just checking.

2. Did you confess and ask forgiveness and repent and all that?

Right, right, excellent.

3. Did you generally at least vaguely try to be a sort of good person doing unto others and so on?

Okay, nice job, easy ones out of the way now.

4. Were you rich?

No, no, it's okay you weren't, eye of the needle and everything.

5. Were you a considerate library user, not fussing too much about paying your fines and not pulling tons of books off the shelves and leaving them scattered in the stacks?

Glad to hear it, thank you. No, this was not Scriptural, just a private theory.

6. Did you attend church or something churchlike at least occasionally?

Okay, fine, right, sure, so that's not it.

7. Did you vote Republican?



Friday, January 15, 2016

Peaunts Movie

It is very rare that I go out to see a real live movie in a real live movie theater. I cannot bear the strangers sitting beside me, and I dread anyone taller than 3'11" sitting in front of me because I was born with a minor birth defect that prevents me from seeing through peoples' skulls. Furthermore it is a small torture to me any of the unreasonable sounds my random movie neighbors are inclined to make, like breathing, or smiling. But I live mere blocks from a beautiful, old style, art decoish single screen theater on a grand scale, showing discount, almost ready to come out on DVD movies. So sometimes I am overcome with an impatience to see a movie and my wife and I go, despite the difficulties involved.

And that is how we found ourselves at a Saturday afternoon showing of The Peanuts Movie.

Curiously The Peanuts Movie was everything I heard the new Star Wars movie was; a piece of homage fan fiction, updated, but as much as possible in the spirit and tradition of the source material. And when I say source material I mean the heyday stuff. While Schulz did not savage and mismanage his own creation like George Lucas did his, there is no doubt that the latter years, focusing an awful lot on Snoopy's brother Spike, in the desert, with a cactus, did not have the richness of the strips that were consistently brilliant in the sixties and seventies.

But first, let me say that the filmmakers here did something very clever. They showed a new modern cartoon short film featuring some kind of not cute squirrel creature with an acorn, that was so restless, and humorless, and desperate, that every shred of peacefulness in the Peanuts feature, when it finally came, was double the relief. At least I think that was the filmmakers clever intention. I can't figure out any other reason for it.

And let me also say that I was surprised to find that people still go to the movies despite the fact that one can view the entire history of cinema at one's leisure in one's own home on a large, high resolution screen. There is something sort of sweet and old fashioned about that. The theater, which is a large one, was very full, and my wife and I were nearly the only ones there without kids. During the only weak parts of The Peanuts Movie (some extended sequences with Snoopy pursuing the Red Baron) I looked around the audience and found it bobbing like a mosh pit at a 1990 grunge concert.

So I kind of loved the movie. But it did have a few minor drawbacks as well. The Charlie Brown main story particularly spoke to me. All my life I have publicly been most like Snoopy. I have wished I was most like Linus or even Schroeder. But watching Charlie Brown this time, well, suddenly it all came clear: Charlie Brown, c'est moi!

What I loved:

1. A mostly low key core traditional story retelling (Charlie Brown and the little red haired girl) with all the traditional characters in their most traditional settings (school, home, skating rink, neighborhood, parks).

2. Uses many of the old gags, but usually in fresh, natural, plot relevant ways (Peppermint Patty sleeping in school, Linus philosophizing advice with Charlie Brown, Snoopy's writing ambitions, Lucy working as a horrible Psychiatrist).

3. Includes many updates, jokes, and mild modernizations that were in the spirit of the original. Charlie brown choosing a shirt is an excellent gag along these lines. Sally cashing in on her brother's celebrity was charming, modern, self referential, and consistent. The kids use old style phones with cords, but there was curbside recycling in the neighborhood.

4. The voice work seemed more naturalistic and true to life than the old shows and was the better for it.

What I liked:

1. Computer animation that still captured the feel and prettiness of The Peanuts, albeit with a small loss of expressionism. The small touches of hand drawing were a sweet homage to the source material as well.

The few smaller problems:

1. The red baron sequences go on too long, and are too action heavy in the direction of what ruins every Pixar movie (that is, a 40 minute chase sequence). Fortunately, in this movie it's probably only 5 or 10 minutes too much of this, but if they dared to slow the pace on this movie just a smidgen more it would have been much the better for it. Also, this series of Red Baron vignettes feature a poodle named Fifi (think Fonzie's girlfriend Pinky Tuscadero). Never an original comic strip character, Fifi made me wistful for Snoopy's pursuit of Marcie as a French barmaid and the interconnection of fantasy and neighborhood reality that it brought with it (we get a small reference to this at the end).

2. While the settings are pretty and Twin Cities-ish (important to me!), I think the neighborhood skews more towards an idyllic suburb than to a city neighborhood, losing some of the particular charm of the original strip's semi urban setting.

And that is my Peanuts Movie review.
Best animated kid movie of 2015, that I saw, I mean, out of the two that I did see. Four out of five stars, but I'm giving it officially five stars because of grading inflation, in an unethical attempt to improve its Internet average up towards what I think it should be, and out of a slight fit of pique that it wasn't nominated for an academy award.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Gluten free pretzels

Today I have decided to discuss the gluten free pretzels in the library break room.

Will you being doing this in a "call and response" format?

Why, yes, yes I will.

Why would you, who usually writes such an entertaining blog, write about a bag of gluten free pretzels in your library's break room?

Tough, tough question. But I don't shy away from tough questions around here.

You don't?

Not unless we're discussing gluten free pretzels.

So, fine, what's the deal with these gluten free pretzels?

Ah! I have a ten point list to discuss the mild curiosities of these pretzels.

Wait, don't you usually do blog essays in a "call and response" format or you use a list format, but never do you do both a "call and response" format and a list format?

Yes. It is a very special day here.

I'm ready for your list.

1. These pretzels, in a large, but by no means huge bag, have defied every historical measure of the break room free food table and have been here for six days. It's not that people aren't eating them either. People are eating them, the bag level goes down, but they seem to last forever!

2. Even though I have had no interest up until writing this post, people keep weighing in on their feelings about these pretzels to me, like it's the new Star Wars movie or something.

3. 75 percent of respondents dislike the pretzels and think they have a weird aftertaste. 25 percent think they are unusually good and don't normally like pretzels.

4. I have no interest in trying these pretzels, but it is unclear at this point whether I will have to for the sake of art.

5. The pretzels' slogan is "We are what you eat", and that phrase is trademarked.

6. The pretzels are made with palm oil which, in its environmentally degrading production guise, kills Sumatran tigers. The package could also say "Tiger killing pretzels" which they could also trademark because one can apparently trademark pretty much anything. We are what you trademark.TM

7. The package says there are 13 pretzel servings inside, but so far there have been 218 servings inside, making these the Hanukkah miracle of tiger killing pretzels.

8. I don't really have a ten point list of peculiarities about these pretzels, only eight, of which I suspect only two were truly peculiar.

Which two?

Items one and two, with seven being a repeat of one, and three being an addendum to two.

Have you tasted these pretzels?

No, but they are sitting right here if you want one, and you like to keep gluten free, and you hate tigers.

So, seriously, what was the point of all this about these pretzels?

Sometimes I just start with something and see where it goes and magic happens!

Has magic happened?

Not that I am aware of at this point.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Library crimes

Working at a library, as I do (I have mentioned it here in 80 percent of my 1100 blog posts, but I certainly don't expect you to remember everything), I encounter a wide array of patron responses to library transgressions, or, for fun, let's call them crimes. One person may be guilt ridden and horrified as they confess to and pay up a small overdue fine, whereas many others will blithely pay a notable fine off, calling it their "contribution to the library", as if their keeping a book past its time was an act of generosity and civic engagement on their part. Of course there are some who go even farther than that and take the fine to be a grave injustice visited upon them. I have had patrons return horribly savaged books, soaked, chewed, bloodied, either hoping no one will notice, or figuring we're extraordinarily creative with tape, and I have had patrons humbly approach me with a book with a loose binding they could in no way be responsible for and offer to pay for its replacement.

There are a lot of library crimes out there, and it can be hard to know how bad any given one is. So I have put together a little guide, a countdown list from the least grave to the most vile. If you cross a line or two on some of the early items on this list, don't sweat it much, but if those things at the bottom seem uncomfortably familiar, look to your soul. I cannot guarantee there is time or forgiveness enough for you to repent, but I suggest you try.

10.  Returning requested materials a bit late and uncomplainingly paying fees.

Barely a transgression at all, and note that this implies that returning non requested materials late and paying the fees is not even a misdemeanor (which does not mean that it is a contribution to the library!).

9. Dog eared pages, or small scale food stain on item that looks innocent and was cleaned off as well as possible.

Mea culpa.

8. Library process hobbyism.

If you don't work at a library you might be surprised this even exists. But any library will have a few of these people at any given time, and more of us have the tendency than you might think. This crime refers to the steady engagement with the processes of the library, requesting items, especially in more complicated ways like interlibrary loan, incessantly checking out and returning and renewing items at the limits of allowability, and constantly engaging with the staff to manage the whole circus, all, and this is the essential point, all without at least mostly using, listening to, watching, and reading the items that are checked out.

7. Returning a damaged item that may or may not need to be weeded from the system, anonymously.

Whether you are hoping this will go unnoticed or not, you are functionally, morally, acting as if you hope it will go unnoticed. The only proper way to return a modestly damaged book is to bring it directly to a staff member like me, which, because it is proper and decent and not a library crime at all, will cause me to do everything in my power to not charge you. We can do wonders with tape.

6. Returning a damaged item that is disgusting and/or obviously in ruined condition.

This is only a slight shade worse than item 7, mostly because it has an extra layer of being insulting.

5. Isolated theft of item because you just have to have it.

You can have it! Just bring it back. Then you can have it again!

4. Returning items on automated return machine in stacks, even though its computery voice says: "Please return items one at a time."

I know you're in a hurry and this is probably a special instance and it's really not that huge of a problem for us and you were distracted and I hate you and I hope you die. 


3. Chronic theft of items because of some weird hording obsession.

A somewhat rare, but regular problem, that wrecks havoc on libraries and our collections. This would be the worst on the list in terms of impact.

2. Intentional theft of material for resale.

I understand that once upon a time no book collector of any kind valued any ex-library book as collectible in any way. I'm going to go big here, and I apologize, but: Even if you buy a book directly from the library itself, if you value it (financially), sell it, or trade it at any value above a reading copy you should consider yourself in violation of  2. Intentional theft of material for resale. 

1. Underlining, highlighting, and/or writing in library materials.

You might as well just burn the library down, you monster.