Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Seating etiquette

I have a large collection of views on child rearing. They begin with Summerhill and then wander freely through world, going wherever they feel like going. They remain mostly untested and they're pretty happy that way. But I'm not going to go into all that right now. I'm just going to bring up one crucial, vital lesson, one thing that every parent must teach their child at the start of early toddlerhood. It is a critical lesson, more important than potty training, er, almost. Teaching it will not make a parent a "good" parent, but failure to teach it will soil, to the point of ruination, even the most exemplary and beautiful record of parenting.

Here is the lesson:

Anywhere that one has a seat and there is a seat in front of one, this could be in a classroom, on public transportation, or at a theater, the space of ones own seat is completely ones own. It extends to exactly one millimeter short of the back of the seat in front of one and no farther. Venturing to anything beyond that is the same as kicking the person in front of one

The strictures regarding the disallowability of kicking strangers goes beyond the realm of lessons.

If you are a parent and have not yet taught this, it is your very first order of business, probably before breathing. And I'm not only talking to whoever was sitting behind my wife and I at the dance recital we attended this evening.

If you are already an adult now and have failed to fully understand this lesson then I can only hope that god can forgive you. I doubt I can.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Dylan outflanks me again

Hey, did you read my post yesterday? Go ahead. I don't expect you to remember it even if you did. Just go ahead and read it now. I'll wait here.

What took so long? Oh, you wandered off and read dozens of other of my older posts? Well, gosh, I'm touched. But today we'll just be talking about yesterday's post. So you might want to go back and just refresh your memory on that particular one once more. If it's your third run through on the post you can probably just sort of skim it. I'll wait here.

Okay, we're all set.


This is a true story. All of it.

Yesterday's post, about how Bob Dylan covered The Great American Songbook, but how I think it would be better if, for instance, he covered the cheesy and semi cheesy songs of the late sixties and seventies, occurred to me when I was working on the automated check in machine at my library. My boss was in the back room with me, playing an array of music, which he listens to in between my occasional interruptions where I perform short pieces of original comic monologues, versions of which sometimes show up right here in this space. At some point back there the song Abraham, Martin, and John started playing.

It was the song that sparked the whole idea of yesterday's post. Wouldn't it be great if instead of those old standards, covered by Sinatra, Tony Bennett et al, Dylan covered a sort of ridiculous but almost wonderful song like Abraham, Martin, and John? The permutations were delightful to consider; He could also cover The Carpenters, Neil Diamond, The Osmonds. While I was working away on the machine I mused on this and composed some early version of the post in my head and maybe even performed a brief monologue of it for my boss, who seems to like my brief monologues (not that brief), but might just be laughing politely.

And somewhere in all that composing in my head, and humorously picturing Dylan absurdly singing old Bee Gees songs or Abraham, Martin, and John I thought I should actually look up Abraham, Martin, and John on the Internet and get my facts straight on it.

I soon found my way to its Wikipedia page. First recorded by Dion it was a Number four hit. It was written in 1968 by Dick Holler. Then I was reading some of the people who covered it: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Andy Williams, Moms Mabley, Leonard Nimoy, and then this:

During a 1981 tour, Bob Dylan sang the song in concert. 

Touche Bob.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


My good friend Bob Dylan, or maybe he's my occasional acquaintance who I'm pretty sure never listens to anything I say, just turned 75 years old. He is just the amount older than me that qualifies him as not quite old no matter how old he gets. Besides the birthday, just recently he came out with a new album, his second in a row of interpretations from The Great American Songbook. It is really really really good. To a Dylan fan this would be both surprising and not surprising. To a non Dylan fan this would probably seem frankly unbelievable and yet not at all worth investigating to make sure. But no matter how you look at the issue of Dylan there is no great conceptual originality to an older rock, folk, pop, or country star doing standards from The Great American Songbook. It's a trend that's been going on with regularity for decades now. They are all free to do what they want. Some of them even do a beautiful job of it, Dylan now, Willie Nelson has done some nice ones. I believe Linda Ronstadt worked successfully with the great old time arranger/bandleader Nelson Riddle more than once.

But, and I say this with all due respect, fuck The Great American Songbook. 

It doesn't matter how juicy the lemon, eventually you're just mashing a peel in your fist.

Garry Trudeau, artist of one of the four great cartoon strips (yes, there have only been the four), once, many years ago did a clever series in Doonesbury about Elvis coming back from his "disappearance". He's having a big welcome back concert and everyone is terribly excited. Then he announces that he is going to devote himself entirely to doing the work of his good friend John Denver.

I know, funny. But I also think Mr Trudeau, perhaps just a tiny bit inadvertently, has something there. What about the cheesy and semi-cheesy popular songs of the late sixties and seventies? There is an endless amount of mostly untapped material there. Extracting something new and fresh from It Had To Be You requires a knife sharp enough to split atoms. But take a stab at How Can You Mend a Broken Heart and the field is wide open.

With that in mind I have proposed to Bob that if he wants to do another album of covers for his next CD he consider taking a shot at the following songlist:

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
Dancing in the Moonlight
Abraham, Martin, and John
Brand New Key
Alone Again (Naturally)
Close to You
Knock Three Times
Cracklin' Rosie
Without you
If I Can't Have You
One Bad Apple
If You Leave Me Now
Sunshine On My Shoulders

It's just an idea. If it works out I've got plenty more. There's a guy down at the Riverview Cafe who covers this stuff sometimes and he is just killing it. They're all yours for the taking. When there's so much new old territory why glean in the thrice gleaned fields

We're ready for that next new old chapter. And there's so much out there. How about seventies supergroups, Styx, REO Speedwagon, and Kansas, or an album all of Beatles songs. Or I know, best of all he could cover the songs of Bob Dylan. Oh sure, I know he's been doing it for decades, but never with anything near this level of respect he's affording The Great American Songbook. Man, I'd buy that record! I can see it now:

Bob Dylan covers the Great Bob Dylan Songbook.

Oh yeah.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

So you want to write a blog post

You have your beautifully designed website that houses your gorgeous new blog. Over two hundred thousand people are subscribed to your blog and await excitedly upon your utterance. Tasteful and appropriate corporate sponsorship is locked in for two years, allowing you to quit your day job and just focus on your new venture without worries for a few years, maybe as many as ten if you're careful. You've signed a three book contract so you know that blogging won't be the end of it. A few national magazines have featured some nice write ups about your new blogging venture, and an agent and publicist work tirelessly on your behalf.

So you're at about par for a beginning blogger.

Now it is time to write up your first blog post. Don't be nervous. There is no rush, and I am going to slowly walk you through this.

Just be natural.

Whatever comes to mind. Absolutely anything is okay, we can work with it, bring it forth.

No, not that.

Or that.

Absolutely anything.

How about going for a walk. Walks are very stimulating. Things happen on walks.

You know, things. You'll see.

Got your shoes? Got your keys? Okay.

Yes, it is rather warm, but I'd say that weather is a tough blog post to pull off. Maybe after you've had a bit of experience.

You were just being conversational? No no no. Focus!

That I agree is a very pretty iris. Purple. Quick, get out your pen and pad of post it notes. Write it down.

What you just said, "iris" "purple". Good. We can head back home.

Quick now, go turn on your computer. We have a blog post to write.

Hey, this is a nice espresso machine. Can I make myself a cappuccino? While I make a cappuccino you turn on the computer and think about irises. Let your mind wander. Free associate. Don't be afraid to play with words.

Wait, I won't be able to hear you while I froth the milk.

Here I am. I made two cappuccinos. Oh, you don't? That's okay, I'll drink both.

So what have you got?

Good, "iris" "purple". Let's do some Internet research.

Let's see, iris is a flower. Purple is a color. Hmm. Irises are also part of the eye that determines your eye color too. Hmm, the stroma and the epithelial cells.

Well I'm bored too! You think I'm not bored?

We'll just take a little break to watch a funny cat video I remember.

That is one cute cat. Oh, hit that link!

Hmm, hit that link. No, that one.

Ha ha ha ha ha!

Huh, did you know that the Golden Gate Bridge first opened today? Me neither. Too bad about that storm in Mississippi. Oh that Trump! Can I just check a soccer score?

Wow, look at the time. I better get going.

Your blog post? Don't worry. You've been taking notes, right?

Just type those up and you'll be fine.

Friday, May 27, 2016

So you want to write a blog!

It happens mysteriously. One morning you wake up and decide that you want to write a blog. You think you know what a blog is. Indeed, you think you have read many blogs. You are wrong on both counts. But that's not important. And when you eagerly sit down to your computer to begin research on how to write a blog, merely by scrolling down to the 111,465,312th search result you find this useful blog post. Out of 142 million posts on the subject it is the only one that will be of any help.

So, good eye!

I'm not going to tell you it's easy. Wait, yes I am. It is super easy to write a blog. It is almost 100 percent easy.

"Uh oh." You say, because you are naturally pessimistic and wonder what that "almost" denotes.

It's not what you think.

Making a blog site is an absolute breeze. Writing every single day, either on a single subject or on many, is child's play. Attracting millions of pleasant and engaged readers comes naturally and of its own accord. Influencing and changing the world for the better with your wit and insight is inevitable. Making money on your own terms is like picking low hanging fruit. And dealing with the technical aspects of blog planning and maintenance is surprisingly simple and more or less automated. The only thing that is just a wee bit tricky is getting the right blog supplies.

You will need a blue gel pen, preferably a G-2, but I am not a fanatic about them. And you should carry with you at all times a pad or two of yellow, 3x3 post-it notes.

That's it. You're all set!

This is gonna be great. I can't wait to read it!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Taxes, death, and libraries

A patron just came up to the front desk, handed me a library card, and said "He died yesterday."

"I'm so sorry." I said with sympathy. And why not. What's with all this dying stuff anyway?

She said thank you and that she returned his books and if there is anything else owed or any other issues we could call them, if we had to.

And that was that.

But it brings up an important point.

The very moment a loved one of yours dies don't call anyone. Don't even stop to tell the nurse. Do not shed a tear. No mortuaries, relatives, friends, or hospice workers should be contacted. At least not at first. Because before you do a single other thing you must get yourself to your loved one's library and let them know that your loved one has passed away. Only after you have alerted your loved one's library is it okay to begin all the secondary aspects of dealing with their death.

And why must you above all immediately contact the library?

So I can sit here holding a dead person's library card, like some dark talisman, wondering what to do with it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


There are few traditional parental expostulations I loathe more than "Life's not fair." Explaining that the world sucks as a justification for the world sucking puts one on the wrong side of love and beauty every time. Do you want to be on the wrong side of love and beauty?

I don't either, though I understand the pay is excellent.

But I will confess that my heightened attunement to incidents of injustice can be exhausting. Do you know how many there are? The Bible says:

As there are stars in the sky
And fishes in the sea
So is each moment in the world
Numbered with injustice.

Actually the bible doesn't really say that. I made it up. Is it fair that an ancient work of cranky mythology wields more authority than my exacting essays could ever hope to?

No, life's not fair. I mean, really not fair. Which is why life is just raking it in.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Religious joke


Did you hear? The Rapture came this morning.

No one disappeared.

Monday, May 23, 2016

To love

It may not be the most pithy quote, or the deepest, but for the sheer Beatles level popularity and ubiquity of it there may be no quote that beats

'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

While rivaled, surely there is no more gigantic quote.

This morning I was thinking about it. I assumed it must be by Shakespeare or something. And I was right! It is by or something.

I love getting things right.

The line is from a long poem, In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII by Lord Alfred Tennyson. I didn't know about all that, specifically, or at all, but I do know now, and I would rather look forward than dwell on the always less informed versions of my former self.

You might as well have the whole passage that concludes with these enduring lines because, though they're a bit of work, they fill it out nicely, though they don't change it at all in its basic meaning, in case you were worried.

I envy not in any moods
         The captive void of noble rage,
         The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
         His license in the field of time,
         Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
         The heart that never plighted troth
         But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
         I feel it, when I sorrow most;
         'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all. 

Perhaps some small part of this quote's mighty success is that it barely exceeds saying nothing. It may as well be saying that it is better to live and die than to just be dead. It is worth the loss of anything to have something.

But despite the claims of an occasional bumper sticker of a lesser quote, love is not life. Love is better. Life fights death to a draw. But love alone triumphs over death, even as death has the last word. And that is Tennyson's claim and his genius.
I am never terribly fond of the device in books and movies where the impediment to a romance is one person's fear of loss. After all, 'tis better to have loved and lost than
never to have loved at all. But I understand it. Nothing terrifies me more than the loss of the one I love. I am sure I could not bear it. I am certain it would break me, mangle me, diminish me. It would destroy me. But like Tennyson I can look darkness in the eye. It will have its sickening victory, but I, I have won forever.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Advancements in traffic

An impressive array of obese companies like Google are now working on driverless cars. Apparently some models of the things are already in use. I am thrilled at the prospect because I don't want to drive. I don't want to interact with strangers, and I don't want to own a car. I am filled with hope for the dream of being able to just hop into a car that pulls up as I need it and have it take me wherever I want to go. I want a chauffeur, only without the cost or the chauffeur. I want a robot, a robot that I sit in.

My only reservations are due to what I am told is in the limits of my technical understanding. The whole "car driving itself" thing, with said car reading the road, anticipating and calculating motion, shifting lanes, seeing bikers, pedestrians, squirrels, construction, and obstructions seems so wildly complex as to cause the driverless car to glitch out just when it comes to that crucial last tricky two percent of driving. I am assured I am wrong. The Internet says functioning driverless cars are already happening.

Which brings me to the point of my discussion. You see, I'm not really here to talk about driverless cars. Oh that I were!

I'm here to discuss the lowly traffic light. It seems vastly more simple, and wildly within our capabilities to make a smart traffic light. How difficult would it be to program and design a traffic light that says "Gosh, there are 90 cars lined up at my red light and zero cars passing through my green light. Perhaps I could switch them." And crosswalks, let me tell you how most cross walks function for me. I push the button to cross. Nothing happens to my walk sign, but as no cars are coming I cross the street anyway. Shortly after I am finished the traffic light will turn red for approaching cars so that a now non existent person can cross with the walk sign. They are making a million cars that each one can see me the second I step near a curb, certainly they can manage a cross walk symbol that does the same. It doesn't even have to avoid hitting me. It just has to change a few signs and make me legal. I really don't much mind waiting at an intersection, on foot, on a bike, or in a car when other cars and people are passing through the other directions, at least I don't mind for awhile. But just sitting there watching nothing move is way too much like searching the Internet on one of my library's computers.

Here's a small idea. What if Google or Apple made a smart traffic light. It's a bit less ambitious and dramatic, but it would create good will and I'm sure it would be really good practice, sort of a proof of concept. If they can manage to do that then they're ready to move on. If not, maybe we should all continue to watch out for the squirrels on our own.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Letter to a young shelver

Dear Young Shelver:

Congratulations on landing your dream job, and welcome to the noble fraternity of book shelvers. A rich world awaits you, and though you will not receive much in the way of pay, power, or respect, you need only crack open a few of the books you are shelving to understand these things are chimeras, succubi, body snatchers. They cannot bring you what the exalted cause of book shelving can, a life of enlightenment. Take it all in. You are home now.

One of the beautiful things about being a book shelver is that it is a craft that can never be perfected. The decades of training that led you to this job was only the beginning. It is a long, engaging road to mastery, and even mastery cannot put a seal on it. I have been working with these books for more than twenty years and I still have much to learn. Nevertheless I have, through great trial and attention, association and fellowship, become privy to some of the great secrets of our calling.

I have seen you shelving with gusto. I admire your elan. I rejoice in your thrilling beginnings of a life lived in our beautiful, alphabetical dream. To welcome you to this calling I would like to share with you one of these great secrets. In viewing some of your early work I thought this particular secret would be of use to you from the start. It is merely the first secret. More will be revealed to you in time. But for now, get out your pen and paper. You may want to write this down.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

Dan Brown and Dale Brown are two different people.

Yes, Dan Brown and Dale Brown are two different authors.

I know. They do seem similar!

Yes, you are right, "Brown" is the exact same as "Brown".

But they are not the same person.

Yes, you are right, it is an important distinction, but not if it's true, rather, because it's true!

You are correct. Their books do look similar, but one clue is that the Dale Brown books have a more "Military suspense" feel to them whereas the Dan Brown books have a more "Secret society quasi religious suspense" feel to them.

I lost you, didn't I? We'll go back. 

Yes, "Brown" is the exact same as "Brown".  However "Dale" is different than "Dan".

Yes, they both start with "DA", but look at the next letter. Do you see? One is an "L" and one is a "N".

You see it?

You do see it! Good job. Well done! 

This means all the Dale Brown books will be filed before all the Dan Brown books.

I know! It's exciting how it all works out.

Next week maybe I'll send you a letter about the writing Millers: Henry, Julie, Linda Lael, Arthur, and Sue. You'll love it.

Welcome to our fold,

F. Calypso, 


Friday, May 20, 2016

The ten minute announcement

The library is closing in ten minutes and I need to make an announcement. Here is what I am thinking:

The great Voltaire once said

“Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” 

The library is closing in ten minutes, so that would be a good time to switch from reading to dancing. However if you aren't much for dancing you can take some of our books with you and continue reading long after we are closed. If you would like to take some of our books simply check them out at the appropriate kiosk or bring them to the service desk where we will do it for you. You have ten minutes left to do so, which should be just enough time.

That is my announcement then. 

This blog, on the other hand, never closes.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A thousand miles

My library employer is not noted for its great generosity to us employees. Perhaps the library's outpouring of free books, movies, provisional "day" housing, classes, and information to the local community has exhausted its ability to give. Instead I have my strict employment contract, hammered out every three years between my union and the county. Never in all the years of contracts has my library ever said "Let's just this once throw the rule book out the window. What say you to a four percent raise! More vacation? A sushi lunch?" No, ever has it been a strict exchange of labor for an exacting attempt at fair compensation. We receive no special perks as library users other than that which craftiness and knowledge affords us. Our no-late-fines perk was nailed to a cross at least a decade ago. I regale new employees with stories about it. They are not sufficiently dazzled. Perhaps they recently worked somewhere that provided something amazing, like free pizza twice a year.  The most lavish holiday gift ever provided to the staff here consisted of a large, three flavor tin of popcorn: orange flavor, brown flavor, and tan flavor. The annual In Service Day has long ago been stripped of any moments that might be seen as entertaining or engaging, let alone non work oriented. The desperately anticipated free lunch provided on that day consists of three dozen day old whole loaves of bread dropped simultaneously onto four tables. Each table also includes two jugs of water, one with a thin slice of lemon floating in it, one not. If you want to drink the water you must remember to bring your own cup.

This explains, perhaps, why I feel as I do about our paper towels. Loaded into the dispensers in ready locations, they are great big rolls of cheap, white, sort of absorbent towels. Tear a healthy chunk off and more towel spits out at you, all with a pleasant whirring sound. It seems to cheerily insist "Have more!"

"Don't mind if I do." You say as you help yourself to seconds. Two towels are better than one towel. Rainforests denuded? Global warming wastefulness? I don't care. I have so little. Let me have my endless towels!

I use these towels for everything. They are my plate or bowl for food. They are a safe work surface. They function as gloves. I dry my hands with them. I store things in them. I have made costumes out of them, and provisional garments. They are useful for cleaning and as a dish mat. Folded enough they function as padding, perhaps for an uneven table, or one can make a witty book cover out of them. One can sneeze into them or spit out into them the food one has inadvisably sampled from the free food table. I have made ice packs out of them, written on them, and applied them as a cooling poultice to my fevered brow. I have piled great gouts of them into a giant mop. And in a pinch they can be used to strain things like coffee or curds and whey. Endless towels are what I have here, my one free gift, and they are all the more dear to me for that.

I have always measured my time at this library in years. I have been here 21 years, almost 22 now. But perhaps I have gotten it all wrong. Rather I should measure my time here in towels, miles and miles of towels.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Closing announcement

I must prepare for the twenty minute closing announcement at my library. It has fallen to me. I was thinking I would say this. I'm strangely nervous:

As the last faint golden glow of the sun falls on our library so too falls the bittersweet last moments of our library day. As the great Ray Bradbury said “Without libraries what have we? We have no past and no future.” Here is the past and here is the future for you then: twenty minutes ago we were open forever, and twenty minutes from now we must close for the evening. If you need a library card, now is the time to get one at our service desk. With that card you may be able to open something even greater than a library...

Well, that's done. I'm exhausted. I can't help anyone now. I have to save my voice for the ten minute announcement.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


One of the advantages of my long tenure at my library, in addition to knowing where the bodies are buried, is that when some new management peccadillo comes down I can understand at a glance exactly how it will all go down. Many years ago a new policy was introduced wherein patrons needed to provide a library card for check out. If they did not have their card we could look them up with their license and issue them a new card for two dollars. Otherwise they could not check out at all. In other words, they had to have a library card to check anything out or they had to pay for it.

I still think of this as one of the most appallingly absurd policy decisions in my system's history. But when it came down as official policy I had already been here for so long that I barely even found it upsetting. I knew at an instant that 

A. None of us would seriously enforce it, and 

B. At the psychologically unstable branches, where some people did enforce it, they would finally alienate the wrong person, who would then set the whole house of cards falling down.

And so it was. The policy was dead in the water in less than half a year, except at one (now formerly) psychologically unstable branch who tenaciously carried on a version of the expired policy because they hate you.

Luckily they don't hate you anymore. For the most part you'll have to go to another library system to find people who hate you. 

Though why anyone anywhere would hate you is beyond me. You're so nice!

A more recent "from on high" decision involved the introduction of small grocery store like shopping carts to my library. This one, on the face of it more sensible, I was actually more upset by. I could see at a glance that the main users of these would be the indigent men who are spending their declining years at our library (meaning their last four decades), avoiding showers, and who need a kind of portable in library home on wheels. And so these carts are, little mobile homes for people like the smelly man, who finds it a useful tool to hold snacks, greasy clothes, and also serves to assist him in his decrepit walking. While I have, on occasion, seen people use these carts to hold books, it is the exception, and often becomes a problem for them when they have to transition to leaving the library without the cart. The beauty of the non cart system is that what one can carry (and books are quite neat and transportable) is a good measure of how many books one can read, or how many movies one can watch in the course of a natural check out period. If you can watch more movies in a week than you can comfortably carry, then whatever extra effort it takes for you to carry those is probably sorely needed by you.

Of course, the main reason these carts were upsetting to me is that they aren't policy. They're well made objects that will be with us for years and years to come. I am right now sitting next to a spine stapler that has been in this library since the fifties! Does it work? Very well, except that it jams and has to be disassembled after every four uses.

So I guess I'm saying that having enough experience to make one able to see the future is a mixed bag. It can give one perspective and patience. It can be calming and give one a semblance of wisdom. But on the other hand it can just make one have to go through everything twice.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A good reason for gardening

My wife and I spent much of this weekend putting in our garden at the community garden where we have a plot. I don't know what I'm doing and more or less refuse to figure it out. This year we covered everything in half a foot of straw. That's a lot of straw. Our plot is beautifully, if incongruently, golden. I mostly planted tomatoes, from plants I bought at the garden store. All things being equal I should be waiting another week or so for planting tomatoes here in chilly Minnesota, but when have things ever been equal? I'm still eagerly awaiting the day things are equal. I am frankly irritated at how much they simply aren't equal.

As the summer goes on my tomatoes will mostly grow heavy with fruit, ranging from exquisitely sweet to bland and nearly inedible as is, and 50 percent of everything else I grow will sort of work out. 

I expect little, hope for a lot, and split the difference.

We have two rhubarb plants in our garden. One was in the plot, in the Northwest corner, there when we inherited it, and it's huge. The other we accepted as a gift and planted before we understood just how huge the other one was. My wife was cutting stalks of rhubarb from the big plant today to put in the Community Garden's cooler for food shelf pick up. I looked at the endless rhubarb and thought "I guess if that's food maybe I should do something with it." So I cut a bunch of stalks for myself and brought them home. Oh, there's plenty to go around. But it will be at least a month before there's anything else to eat from the garden, maybe two, so I better get what I can when I can.

Now rhubarb is strange, mostly because it's a vegetable that's entirely like a fruit. It's the reddish stalk of its giant leaves we eat. When one cuts it down to edible components it is vaguely similar to celery, except red. But look who I'm describing rhubarb to! You've probably been messing with rhubarb your whole life. You're probably a rhubarb expert. Nevertheless today I have a rhubarb recipe so complex, so mindbending, that you will likely never have imagined such a thing.

Rhubarb Recipe


Cut up rhubarb
Some honey
Pinch of salt (because I'm fancy like that)


Put them in a pot and cook them.

This is the very recipe I made tonight. I ended up with a sauce, a rhubarb sauce. I don't know what to do with it exactly, but it was unbelievably delicious. No, I mean that literally, as in not believable. I tasted it and was so surprised at how good it was that I kept trying to work out how I was wrong and how it wasn't really that good. Un believable. But I'm pretty sure it really was that good.

Wait here. I have it in a jar in the refrigerator. I will go taste it again.

Hmm. A bit sludgy looking. I take a spoonful and put it in my mouth. There is a hint of the vegetal at first, then sweet sour bursts into and across my tongue, strawberries, and something more subtle, the ghost of some wonderful flavor, the secret hidden flavor of rhubarb, unfindable but taunting my taste buds and leading them on a merry chase. Exhausted my tastebuds fall back and reside.  A quiet subsidence follows. My mouth grows calm. 

Interestingly there is no taste of honey in it at all.  The honey was surrounded by the strength of the rhubarb and worked all its magic from behind. All aftertaste of the sour sweet rhubarb is clean, a counter intuitive purity. 

I have heard of rhubarb before, a crude Midwestern country fair food only to be combined with other, better foods. So all this in my experience can't be right. And yet there it is, in my refrigerator. All humble magic. Waiting.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How it used to be

Last night one of my newer, but not totally new, co-workers said she didn't know if she liked it being so quiet, as in not busy, at the library (quiet, library, do you think it's still 1955?). She didn't know if she was comfortable about there being occasional times, as there have been lately, where the shelving is all caught up. It has been known to happen in the past couple of weeks where one is assigned to shelving when there is nothing to shelve. She just didn't like when there was no work. What to do?

I began telling my co-worker about my unending passion for slow times at the library, forged in the crucible of an unceasingly busy, ever understaffed library. We were like frogs in a heating pot, never leaping away as we slowly boiled to death. All these work conditions at my library now, all the free time, the chatting, the lack of pressure, this is all the afterlife for me. I am in library heaven, and as far as I'm concerned it is all payback for my years in a hell on earth, albeit a hell I didn't exactly know was happening at the time.

She said I told her this already.


I even got the impression from her that maybe I mentioned it more than once.

So I suggested she take up a library hobby.  I have several library hobbies, and though they're stressful and often a lot of work, mostly because having a hobby at work is sort of illicit, and one is always having to work those hobbies at the murky edge of things, I find they really fill one's day out. Oddly these hobbies all make me better at my job in some ways, while of course they also... don't. Three of my biggest library hobbies are following Spanish soccer and the great Messi, knowing everything, and blogging. I'm not sure about recommending soccer as a hobby as it will break your heart. Knowing everything is very complicated and only suited to deeply particular personalities. But blogging is a great library hobby. Everyone should blog. You might think I would be reluctant to cede being the only blogger left on the Internet, and some years ago I might have felt like that, but I have learned that being the only blogger on the Internet 

A. Confers no advantage.
B. Is something no one other than me believes to be true anyway.
C. Does not change the general cultural idea that blogs are ubiquitous, worthless, and needy.
D. Has never caused an actual person to read my blog. (Actual person: "I have heard about these blog things and would like to read one! Hmm, there is only one blog. I can't find it. I think I will watch Game of Thrones.")
E. Is just a little lonely.

It was a moot point though because I don't think my co-worker was interested in writing a blog. She's never been terribly keen on my suggestions anyway. So it's a good thing I didn't say this:

Our library is a mess. Human beings, books, detritus, pour through it at an astonishing volume. There has never been nothing to do at our library. An industrious, productive person could find a hundred useful, helpful, positive things to do even at the deadest time. If you're not up for something recreationally useful like following Messi or learning Italian or writing a blog, then go do one of those hundred hard working things everyone will appreciate you for. I'm in heaven here, and if you keep complaining I'm, I'm, well, I'm going to have to tell you how it used to be around here.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Last call

Then, finally, there was a day without Prince.

On a glorious day a week or two ago my wife and I had a day, a Minnesota day, a regional day. It was a day rich in what the greater twin cities had to offer. We went to a better than you would think is possible Minnesota winery. A person there took us on a tour of the place. We tasted half a dozen wines until we were too drunk to drive, so instead we wandered among the just budding vines and flowering apple trees. Mostly sobered up we drove back to the cities. We poked about a couple new, interesting restaurants without eating at them. We went to an art opening at a gallery near our modern art museum. I had champagne there, perhaps inadvisably. We took a walk in one of my favorite neighborhoods, up by Groveland Terrace with all its mansions and views. We managed to squeeze in, without reservations, at a high end but fun restaurant, where a snack turned into something of a feast, scallops and lemongrass aioli. From there we went to a chorale concert, a composer's doctoral thesis concert for free, held at the beautiful Tedd Mann Auditorium pitched up high on the banks of the University over the Mississippi River. 

And then we were out of things to do and drove home. And driving home I thought about how it was the first day in maybe a week and a half where Prince didn't come up. I know that internationally his death was a big deal, with major musicians doing tribute covers from out of nowhere and famous monuments being lit in purple, but in his home that was multiplied exponentially. Billboards all filled with Prince here. He was on everyone's lips. No event excluded his memory. All the spring flowers turned purple. The city was renamed with a symbol. Highways suddenly had lanes strictly for the use of purple motorcycles, and all shirts were ruffled. Even those of us with no notable memories of Prince recounted them somberly and reverently as if we were at a never ending funeral of reflection.

But it was finally over. Prince was gone. The funeral was done. The city moved on and he was invisible to us for our whole day.

And then, within just a few blocks of our home and bed for the night we drove past the local old art deco theater. A late show of Purple Rain was starting in five minutes. Neither of us had ever seen it. We looked at each other. We pulled the car over onto a side street and raced over to the packed movie house.

No one ever mentioned to me that Purple Rain is a very awful movie about wife beating, interspersed with a sort of funny movie about an ambiguously aged Prince, interspersed with a truly great concert film. Whatever it was it was for me the brilliant last gasp of the death of Prince.

And then it became a new time in Minneapolis, and it was history.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The geese

I have written about the birds.

I've written about eagles many times, and I've written about turkeys even more. Crows, woodpeckers, owls, ducks, loons, and seagulls have all been well covered here. Assorted songbirds might fly through a post at any time. There goes one now. Did you see that? It was a robin, all chunky with spring feeding. Perhaps being so satiated allows him the free time to go lumbering out of my yard and into my blog post.

Let's just leave him be while he thuds across my my keyboard.

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There's no secret message in his typewriter walking. Robins aren't much into secret messages. Go take a look at a robin. There's bound to be one just out your door or somewhere milling about one of these paragraphs. A guileless bird, don't you think?

But I'm not here to talk about robins. I am not here to talk about the eagles or turkeys. And I am not here to talk about the crows or the woodpeckers or the owls or the ducks or the loons or the seagulls.

I'm here about the geese.

I hardly ever mention the geese. I see them on so many of my walks. Occasionally they fly beautifully in formation over the river. Occasionally I see them swimming the Mississippi down below me. But mostly they are right out on the bike and walking paths, sauntering. Sauntering, eating, and excreting.

I have heard many stories about aggressive geese, how they will chase you down, peck you meanly, and hector you even as you try to flee. And because of all those stories I approach geese with caution. I step gingerly through their strange fields of green and copious poo. I give these large when close birds a wide berth, much as I might a pack of stray dogs, trying to feel no fear and rehearsing in my mind my plan of violent self defense and retribution should I be attacked. Just today on my walk I came upon half a dozen Minneapolitan geese on my path. I treaded gingerly into the wet grass to allow them all their space. I held my breath. 

And then I suddenly realized- these geese are nothing like dogs! For all the thousands of geese I have encountered on walks not a one has barked at me, growled, twittered, or honked. None have taken a single step out of their way towards me. I have never seen a single geese looking cross, perturbed, agitated, or threatened. And perhaps most amazingly I'm not sure I've even ever seen a single geese take the least notice of me. I have never, that i can remember, seen a goose look at me. 

Geese don't hate, fear, or wonder about me. They don't avoid, respect, or disrespect me. 

When it comes right down to it I'm not even sure I exist to geese.

I'm okay with that. I've always somewhere suspected, when I see birds I am looking across worlds, from one universe into another.