Monday, July 31, 2017

Rex Stout and me in the clouds

Astonished as I am that I am not regularly quoted in the press and in everyday erudite conversation ("When you fire into a crowd you will kill someone you would not dream of hurting"), I am even more surprised that Rex Stout isn't ("We are all vainer of our luck than our merits"). While it is impossible for me to read through a play by Shakespeare without coming across some wildly famous saying that makes me cry out "Ha! This is where it's from!", it is equally impossible for me to read a Nero Wolfe novel without being compelled occasionally to stop everything and jot down some tossed off piece of genius from our narrator, Archie Griffin. Why the one is so famous that I know it, and the other so excellent that I am amazed I don't, seems purely a matter of chance, since as far as I can tell it has nothing to do with merit, both of them being roughly equal on that score.

In the last Nero Wolfe book I read there was this quote that I have been carrying around for awhile:

"No man should tell a lie unless he is shrewd enough to recognize the time for renouncing it, if and when it comes, and know how to renounce it gracefully."

Perhaps I find that so compelling because we as a people may have come to the ragged end of renouncing lies. And no quote is quite so compelling as one that seems to upbraid others.

I checked out a three story collection by Mr. Stout today.  I saw a bit of the introduction in which there was much talk of what a terrific admirer Rex Stout was of Jane Austen. I can be happy enough with that. There is the lineage; from Jane Austen, to Rex Stout, to me. Whether that power waxes or wanes is for you alone to decide. No, that's a lie. I renounce it. It's downhill all the way. But I'm not put out. Even successively lower than the two, I can still see everything from up here.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

200 Views of Rome: Grano Frutta e Farina


5 Stars

"Hey." You cry out in wonder. "Why is the cruelest, most acid-tongued reviewer on the Internet giving this unassuming little Spanish Steps area bistro a full five stars?"

And I would answer if I weren't so insulted at your characterization of me as "the cruelest, most acid-tongued reviewer on the Internet".

Have you so quickly forgotten my five star review of The Cafe in Palazzo Barberini, which is merely a vending machine? I gave five stars to a vending machine! Well, an espresso making vending machine, and one of a magnetic complexity and glory, but nevertheless...

But we're not talking about the Palazzo Barberini espresso vending machine. We're talking about Grano Frutta e Farina, and about why I gave it five stars, and why you think I'm acid-tongued when I'm really not, and why I'm so defensive about it all.


Well maybe a little. Because having given my extraordinary, and rare, and sought after five star seal of approval to the sweet garden patio themed cafe/restaurant, with some pleasant light food and drinks, that I don't that clearly remember, I am not sure what I could say about Grano Frutta e Farina that would support my elaborate rating. So, um...

It was nice.

Five stars.

I was not paid for this review.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

200 Views of Rome: Zuccari Palace


4 Stars

That 4th star might be sheer sentimentality, or the lack of a fifth sour grapes.

I'd heard of this more or less Mannerist monster house decades ago. The door is a giant face, and the windows are too. They are all big Mannerist monstrous faces! Keen to see it some 13 or so years ago we popped over- it's in the area around the top of the Spanish Steps- and found it was all wrapped up for repairs. Foiled!

So a couple years later we went to Rome again, and we headed to Zuccari Palace all a twitter with trepidation. ARRRRRGGHHH! They were still working on it. That's a lot of work.

So we waited a decade, just to make sure. Well, there were other reasons, but the important point is this is exactly how it worked out. Once we were there we walked on over, and...

Boy, I bet you are on the edge of your seat!

Even I, knowing how it all turns out, am trembling in anticipation.


It was okay! We could see it!

It was, you know, nice.

I mean, it was complicated. Like if, ignorant, we accidentally came upon it it would have been marvelously delightful. Informed and making three attempts in 13 years it was slightly... less... so.

But, since reading this, you would be in the same boat in terms of preparedness, I must say that mainly the doorway is neat, with its gaping mouth housing a wooden door, and there's something charming how they were messing about with this sort of whimsy four or so hundred years ago. But alas, the building itself, though nice, isn't terribly interesting (just the outside. I'm not sure what it would take to get inside), and really it's one of those things where they needed to go all out with their concept for it to be really special. As it is it's just a few fun features on the side of an old building.

But I will finally add this: After all those years of repair it is indeed a building in fabulous condition!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Mall of America 25 years

We have spent the entire day, a Saturday, shopping at the Mall of America, which this year turned 25 years old. At one of the 312 stores we went into, possibly Eddie Bauer, which used to be in a very different, larger space, the young, unperceptive salesperson asked my wife and I if this was our first time visiting the Mall.

Laughing lightly at the outlandish errancy of this question we said "No", finding the question vaguely insulting in the bargain.

After all, could he have possibly been more wrong? Do we look like look like weekend tourists from (shudder) Chicago?

We practiced for The Mall of America before that salesperson or the Mall of America were even born, way back in the notable early seventies malls of major metropolitan suburbs. A quarter century ago, already seasoned, and with eyes wide open, we went to the very opening of Mall of America like it was our birthright. We have eaten at mall restaurants that are now long forgotten, visited more stores that no longer exist than an average mall can even count, and can chart a vast array of our life changes through various shopping trips to this mall. We defended The Mall of America before a panoply of confused friends and acquaintances who found our affection mysterious and strange and still wince in baffled horror at a simple statement like "We spent Saturday at The Mall of America." We endured the quarter century agony of the mall's continuing inability to have one decent coffee shop. And we still burn with the bitterness of the tragic, yes tragic, conversion of the central mall amusement park from the glorious, and appropriately local, Camp Snoopy theme, to the entirely bland and scattered "Nickelodeon" theme. We understand that however much any of us in the Twin Cities might like Claes Oldenburg's Spoon and Cherry sculpture, or Mary Tyler Moore, or one of our crappy sports teams, to be the symbol of this city, it is all futile. Across the world we are the home of The Mall of America, symbol of both us, as a Metropolitan area, and also of all retail sales everywhere, and thus, of America itself. It is the shining, outlandish, tawdry fantasy beacon of Capitalism.

Yes, Capitalism itself is a fantasy that will consume us all. It is an ever devouring shark (which, coincidentally, we have in the Mall of America Aquarium, where one can walk through a tunnel of sharks!). This capitalist dream will disfigure and destroy everything we love and admire and hope for in the world. It is shorn of a heart. It is broken, mad, and unappeasable. Because of the runaway train, or, er, runaway shark, of capitalism Donald Trump was President, seas rise, and slaves toil. The rich get richer and there is no future for your children. You were mad to have them anyway. Everything will be eaten by Capitalism as it knows not the cessation of hunger, and one day, horrifyingly not long from now, one person alone will own everything there is to own in the whole world, but it will all be nothing other than poisoned water and ashes. That is the inevitable endgame of Capitalism.

But in the meantime, believe you me, The Mall of America can be a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

On determining

A man calls me at the library. It takes him awhile to form a sentence. "Can you renew my books?" He asks. "That I have out?" He adds. "Over the phone?" He adds again. "From the library?" He slowly concludes.

A long transaction for some relatively simple issues follows. And the whole time we are on the phone I am wondering if I should put his card on our "Persons with disabilities" status, or if he's just really stoned.

And that's the thing in working with the great and diverse public I encounter daily; I frequently find myself trying to fuss out dichotomies, trying to come to grips with the status of the person before me. Are they newly arrived from Somalia, or do they have a speech impediment? Are they living out of their car, or did they spend the morning hobby gardening in front of their swanky house? Are they sociopathic liars, or victims of a splash of freakish bad luck?

Sometimes it matters whether I know, sometimes it's idle curiosity. Are they hard of hearing, or just distracted? Did they lose a bet, or do they really believe what their T-shirt says? Are they dangerously angry, or do they just have a cantankerous personality? Have they never been to a library, or are they merely in need of constant reassurance? Do they know me from somewhere, or are they just wildly committed to being friendly? Are they a well-adjusted precocious child, or is something really wrong here? Is this for scholastic purposes, or are they slowly losing their mind?

I'd like to know. I could use the guidance. I make my best guess. And I only know one thing for sure. They're not, none of them, normal.

That is the one guiding thing I have learned working with the public; No one is.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dear Publisher: The choice

Dear Publisher:

There comes a time in the life of every publisher and every publishing house when they must decide who they are. They will have to face up to whether their ultimate goal is the betterment of readers, literature, and the arts, and the enlightenment of humankind, or whether their ultimate goal is having a pleasant time of it, receiving a lot of hollow praise, and living in a overlarge and lovely house.

Here is the scenario:

One day two manuscripts will arrive in your office.

One will be pristine and beautiful, exactly as a submission should be. It will be humble, properly addressed, and to the point. The proposal for publication will be professional in every way, from the very bond of the paper to its reasonable expectations. The writing sample will be a clear demonstration of a skill that is adequate to a successful life in letters. And holding this stress free submission in your hands you will know that this offer will provide timely, sellable work that the author will remain a tireless and reasonable advocate for in public, and thus an effective salesperson. You and this author will have a mutually beneficial alliance together that makes you both money, though you more of it, if you can help it. And their long string of quite successful books will be generally forgotten before you even manage to retire.

The other submission will be written, metaphorically at least, in crayon, by an unbalanced, possible genius. It will be hard to tell if this person really is a genius because they will seem so confident of it that it will rattle your own judgment, which is not easily rattled. Their demands on you will be high. Their compliance low. They may make you some money, but not for awhile, and when they do finally start doing so they will mysteriously disappear for six or seven years. At the end of that time you may find them sleeping in your basement. Their work will be acclaimed at certain points, making you glow with pride, and yet at other points small mobs may take to the streets to burn their books after an imprudent comment or two of theirs. They will treat you badly and consider you a dear friend. You may die younger because of them, or have no real retirement, but their work will somehow carry on, and thus so will yours, probably.

And so you hold my submission for publication in your hands. "Which of these two fundamental choices is he?" You wonder.

Oh no. I am neither of these. I am practice.

I hope you choose well.

With the kindest regards,

F. Calypso

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

America as it may be

The library and America as we dream it is:

I pull into the library parking lot to start my work day. In the back of the lot is a large mobile home, and I think "How nice, they're visiting our library to stock up on materials for their big trip!"

The library and America as it is:

I leave work for the day and see the mobile home is still in the exact same place in the back of our parking lot. And I think "We are their big trip."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Hawks in gutter

Biking through my neighborhood something heavy lifts from out of a gutter where water has gathered and not drained off. Two hawks heavily beat their wings to rise up wet into the trees.

"Did I just see that?" I wonder.

Today, five days later I am biking on the same street, same place, same gutter, and something sloshes in the water. A hawk. I stop my bike. The hawk stops bathing and regards me. I move a bit closer. Never having been so close to a hawk like this I am eager to see all I can, but I don't want to be impolite. The hawk doesn't seem to care. It is happy in the gutter. It dances a little. I stare.

"How strange." This hawk must think. "Why does this man visit me every time I have my bath?"

Sunday, July 23, 2017

200 Views of Rome: Pastificio


2 Stars

Pastificio is a little takeout pasta place in the Spanish Steps area. I just went and looked at Internet pictures to make sure I had the right place. There are a lot of pictures of crowds of people lined up outside. I didn't have that experience and was the lone customer, with my wife, when we arrived. But it was the right place. I went there once and got two kinds of pasta that I remember distinctly as "flavor one" and "flavor two". In looking at the pictures I saw so many exterior shots of Pastificio I started to think "People must like the idea of the place more than any food." Maybe I'm right, maybe not. I did get to the food pictures finally, and that was just as I remembered. Not bad pastas coated in largely featureless sauces of no great flavor or integrity. Go there and you have a few choices of varieties of pasta from behind their glass. Don't worry too much what flavor you pick as they are all pasta flavor. It's cheap, maybe five or six euros a serving, which seems amazing until you realize this just seems to preclude them putting anything good on the pasta. Perhaps it would have been improved by a liberal grating of excellent Parmigiano Reggiano, but I'm pretty sure a boot would be greatly improved with a liberal grating of excellent Parmigiano Reggiano.

I took my two flavors home with me. It probably made them worse so I've tempered my rating. I did taste it at the takeout though and can't say it had come far down from that. The pasta had grown more soupy mostly. There was never much flavor to lose. I wanted to like it. I threw most of it out. 

And so, two stars for the stars in our eyes when we're in lovely Rome, that can cloud our judgement when we review cheap pasta takeouts. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pot refers to Kettle

In defense of sunshine and happiness and kittens everywhere I would like to bring to your attention a deficit in the English language. It has to do with the phrase "That's the pot calling the kettle black." There is nothing per se wrong with this pejorative burn. It can be a useful rejoinder to one who criticizes another over something that they themselves are guilty of. In my life there's a lot of pot calling the kettle black at my library job over other people not working, which is why I like to stick to complaining about people not working effectively, and strive to defend, even sometimes against my inclinations, my co-workers' chatting, Internet surfing, reading, and standing around complaining.

But that's all negative in the end. What about the sunshine and kittens version of pot calling kettle black? What does one call it when someone arrayed in a dazzling collection of antique Lalique jewelry admires your ring? What could I say if I did something amusing and Steve Martin happened to be standing nearby and said "Good one."? What if Jane Austen wrote a comment on my blog that said "That was a lovely turn of phrase." I mean, besides thanking her for coming back from the grave to tell me and everything.

Yesterday a man at the library with the most massive hair I have ever seen, piled in wild curls extending more than a foot from his head, had some business to transact with me at the front desk of the library. At the end, in parting, he said "I like your hair."

"That's the pot calling the kettle black" as a response seems not quite right, harsh and hostile for no reason. "That's the frog calling the leaf green" just seems odd, imitative, and confusing. I suppose I could have gone with "That's like John Coltrane calling me cool." But I didn't think of it at the time. So in the end I simply went with "I'm sorry. I don't accept personal comments about my appearance at the desk." 


Friday, July 21, 2017

Half a million

In the backstage of this blog, among the many pieces of information available to me, there is a listing for my total number of pageviews. This, allegedly, is an updated accounting of the total number of times anyone, anywhere, has viewed my blog.

I have hit a number there that I feel is strangely irresistible: 500,000.

Half a million.

Half a million people have read my blog.

This is exciting!

But alas our excitement must be tempered. For the Internet is run by robots, and the counter intuitive thing about robots is... they are not very smart.

So we are going to have to pound out the math on this ourselves.

Subtract 300,000: 

for all the bots and programs and Internet devices out there that pretend to look at my blog so I will say " I wonder why the website is coming to look so much at my blog?" and then get so flattered and curious that I go look at their site and buy some pickle forks.

Subtract 100,000:

for Stumbleupon and Reddit and suchlike sites that I or someone else has cajoled into linking to my site, causing a random person to land here, count as a pageview, but decidedly not resulting in them reading anything when they do.

Subtract 50,000:

for various mistaken landings on one of my blog pages, either by other people looking for something else, like a library clerk job, or entertainment, which is really not my thing, or even by myself, just checking to see that everything looks

Subtract 25,000:

for Bob Dylan, who understands how much page counts mean to me so spends 20 minutes every day (when on tour) randomly clicking on various of my pages to make me feel happy.

Subtract 20,000:

for all the people who came here, read, and said. "Huh." And never came here again. 

I refuse to count them or consider them "people".

Subtract 4,500:

for all the people who came here in good faith, but were called away by the phone ringing, or a sudden stabbing pain in their earlobe, or had to dash off before they got a chance to read anything.

Subtract 400:

for people who bow out of posts because they feel there is too much math in them.

Subtract 99:

for technical miscounts and glitches, like where one pageview is counted as two.

So let's add that all up:




500,000 - 499,999 = 1

Well, look at that! I guess that just leaves you. You, alone, right here, right now. 

What can I say? I am overwhelmed. 

Thank you for reading my blog half a million times.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

The secret

Joking on the square means making a joke about something, but also meaning it.

One of the great themes of this blog is my joking on the square insistence that this is a profoundly great blog, aye, an immortal collection of essays, and that I am one of the finest, most important writers of my era. It's just that nobody has much noticed.

I will explain my joking on the square with a secret.

Here is the secret:

Sometimes, late at night I write you, and my heart is so light I think it could fly away. But sometimes, maybe that same night, I wake up at five in the morning, and I lie there, unable to sleep for an hour and a half, doing nothing but feeling the pain of not being a genius. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A quote I wish were by Mark Twain

No matter how clever your immortal and witty quip is, it will, in the fullness of time, end up being attributed to someone else.

But only if it's really good.


Hello clerkmanifesto reader. I offer here one last reminder, and then I will likely never mention them on clerkmanifesto again: 

We have recently started two new auxiliary blogs that you might like to sign up for. Here are the links:

The B Blog (erratic postings of more unhinged and less proper things not suited so well to clerkmanifesto, more details at the link).

The Best of Clerkmanifesto (highlights from the history of this blog, posted as I find them, more details at the link). 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

200 Views of Rome: Tiger (Flying Tiger Copenhagen)

Oh the hell with it:


5 Stars

In the course of writing 200 reviews of Rome one becomes exhausted from all the superlatives:

 "The lavender gelato made me collapse onto the black brick streets of Rome, lying there weeping and babbling about a conversion to Catholicism"


 "The swooping inlays of the marble were so exquisite that I insisted on tracking down the nearby family of the 17th Century artisan who crafted them to thank them for their ancestor."

So this morning when it came time for me to write up a new review of something in Rome I thought I might enjoy looking for something more plebeian and common. At least something calmer and less spectacular. Maybe something that I could criticize and make light of. And when my eye fell upon the store known commonly as Tiger, I knew I had found just the thing. This is a store with multiple branches, so a chain, and one that hardly even seems Italian (it's from Denmark I guess). It sells useful junk, like an upscale dollar store, as if Ikea were running it.

 So I rolled up my sleeves to write my desultory review, only to realize:

 I love Tiger, with a passion. It is a fantastic store, one of our favorites in Rome. Five stars!!!

Sometimes in Central Rome it can be hard to find stuff. There are little crammed hardware stores and gift stores and souvenir stores and food stores. And sometimes they all have the same things, same t-shirts, same salamis, same garish liqueurs, same exact postcards, and same papers for the same stationery. Interesting things are expensive, cheap things are cheap, and practical things can get a little tricky to track down. I'm not complaining. But Tiger is an awfully nice alternate universe. It's pretty big. Nothing in it is very far from junk, but none of it quite exactly is. And none of it is very far from dirt cheap, but none of it quite is dirt cheap, I mean, for what it is. It is full of practical things, but you could not really predict what any of those might be, and the versions of those practical things will be slightly more interesting than the normal practical thing. Those Band-Aids, for instance, or pushpins, will have a twist. The scotch tape will be blue. Of course there are scads of non practical things as well, some that might be useful, and some that surely won't, and some that will be very useful if you are just clever enough to think of something good to do with them. There are a lot of things that are like unique, inexpensive souvenirs from no specific place in the Universe.

 "I went a strange store and I brought these back for you! I don't know what they are. They're from Tiger."

 "Thank you. Where's Tiger?"

 "It's in Rome, near the cat sanctuary, but that's not the point. It could be a store on a space station as comfortably." 
I only now remember two things I got there, though there were many more. I got some blue tape and 3 mysterious balls of slime.

Monday, July 17, 2017

New for you!

I am delighted to present two new side features to the wonderland you know as Clerkmanifesto!

I know that sounds like the set up to the kind of satire I regularly employ here, but, no, really. This is genuine. You must believe me. Not one, but two new amazing side features. Really.

I bet you're wondering how you can sign up for them!

You aren't?

No, it's not a joke.

I swear.

Yep. Two new features, blogs actually.

They are:

The Clerkmanifesto B Blog


The Best of Clerkmanifesto Blog.

Besides their above names being links to them, the side board of this blog also now contains links to them.

Now I will answer your many questions that you never ask me so I make them up myself but I'm not bitter.

How will this affect Clerkmanifesto?

This will not in any way affect Clerkmanifesto, and the daily blogging will carry on, exactly as is, into the sunset, or to the end of time, wherever in the far distance they may be.

What are these new blogs?

They are two blogs related to clerkmanifesto. Both to be posted on a more random and infrequent basis than clerkmanifesto, but filling in some spaces that clerkmanifesto doesn't cover.

Should I keep asking questions? I feel finished.

No. Sorry. You have to ask some more questions and be very interested.

I'm really excited about these two new blogs! Tell me about the B blog.

The B blog is for odd things that don't fit in the careful, distilled, artistic perfection of clerkmanifesto. It's where I might go on at length about my dear Barcelona Soccer team, and Messi, or put in links to things I like, or take a picture of something, or rant without a calming wisdom, or swear extra, or even publish off kilter things from the history of the main blog. It's all less careful, wilder, and less concerned with getting things just right. You can read more about what it is here, on the blog itself. There you can also sign up for email delivery if it sounds like your cup of tea.

Done! I love it. I'm signed up to get the emails. Now tell me about the Best of Clerkmanifesto blog. 

This is simpler. It is pieces that I will occasionally post from the increasingly deep history of Clerkmanifesto that I particularly liked. So as it says, the best of clerkmanifesto, in so far as I find it to be the best. But, of course, I may not be the best judge of all that. You can find it linked here, or at anytime on the sidebar of this blog, and if you hit the link you will see more detailed information.

So it sounds like a more unhinged and diverse and messy (pun intended) clerkmanifesto, and then also a more perfected and peaceful one. Who might these be suited for?

Um, people who simply can't get enough of clerkmanifesto. Or, maybe I suppose too, people who like clerkmanifesto but would like to get a bit less of it.

That second part made me feel sad. 

I am proud to have a reader like you.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

On the species

Charles Schulz, or maybe more properly Linus Van Pelt, once said "I love mankind... It's people I can't stand." It's cleverness impressed me deeply as an eight year old and I've always loved to muse on it, like it was a puzzle. Like I'd have to work it all out to get it straight in my head. I love mankind... It's people I can't stand. But every time I try and work it out in my life it somehow comes out opposite.

When I walk through the upper floor of my library, after shelving a cart of non fiction, I see all the lost souls out on our great banks of computers up there. It often gives me this strange, hollow, sad feeling. It looks like something out of a dystopian future from the eighties. Alone, killing time, feeding into isolated machines, sitting one next to the other but entirely disconnected from one another and everything around them, there they are; humanity. Mankind. Staring into screens full of pre packaged information, slickly produced video, pouring over strange forms to fill out, meaningless plastic things to buy, and the desultory comments of people just like them with just enough energy to type into their own computers. Nothing out in this sea can attract my eye. They are featureless, uninspired, beaten down, yet pulled on in some collective march to disaster and dissonance. They look like they're all doing some kind of extremely undemanding factory work on some assembly line designed by evil robots.

But then I invariably look at just one of them. I don't know why. Maybe I recognize someone, or someone asks me a question, but it breaks the spell. Now they come alive. Here's the homeless kid, smelly in his unwashed clothes, watching bad anime. He laughs. I hear he's trying to work things out with a community resource advocate. There's the daffy guy who writes books that are huge, unhinged, and unreadable. He talked the library into buying one or two of them for our collection through his sheer genial energy, nervousness, and persistence. I can tell you that he loves stamps. And there is that lady who is always, always there, playing that pointless game where you shoot colored balls at a ceiling of colored balls. But my god she's getting good at it!

And so it is: I love people... It's mankind I can't stand.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On the proper use of "literally"

We got an interesting new book a couple months ago at the library. I picked it up off the New Books shelf. It's a book all about OCD. I literally can't stop reading it.

Friday, July 14, 2017


Shelving books at a library wears everyone down. Everyone. We never have had, and never will have, a great, long term shelver of books.

We could have an explicit rule that says "For every hour one is assigned to shelve books, we expect a person to shelve books for at least 30 minutes." The advantage of this rule would be that it is roughly accurate to what everyone actually does. The disadvantage of this rule is that, due to human nature, everyone would probably start shelving for 15 minutes, thinking "Surely no one expects me to shelve for the whole 30 minutes of my hour of shelving!"

On the other hand maybe if we had that 30 minute rule nothing would change. I don't believe most of us hate shelving. There are times when most of us like it. It can be our one chance to get away from everybody. How long can I, for instance, wander around the library working myself up into a lather about how no one else is doing any of the work I'm supposed to be doing, or thus may have to do. I need a break. Sometimes shelving is that break.

But one can't live on shelving.

Oh sure, every rare once in awhile we hire some amazing new person and they look like a real shelver. Naturally everyone is delighted with them. They are diligent, and industrious, and they like shelving. Give them a whopping three scheduled hours shelving and they spend three whole hours shelving. The manager, the one who only wants people to look busy, will adore them. But thinking they are just the sort of person they want to see around more in the workroom they will assign them to less and less shelving and more and more to tangential tasks, where they can observe and admire their industriousness. These once great shelvers will get a taste for these stray jobs. Everyone does. There's a feeling of responsibility, importance, and control of one's destiny that goes with them. Soon they will have taken something like organizing the incoming book donations, which got by for years with no one at all doing anything about it, and grown it into a mildly useful six or seven hour a week job. Now when it comes time to shelve for an hour they're just too backed up with book donation organizing to get to it right away. They need to empty these three boxes first. Then it's time for their fruit snack. Then they can get to their shelving. No problem, there's still about half an hour left. 

Which brings me to an older, cherished fantasy of shelving I still harbor: Every worker, at any level, who comes to the library, should do a small tithe of shelving.

I made a joke, as in joking on the square, last night, to a visiting branch manager that did not go well. She asked where our P.I.C. was, which took me a moment until I realized she meant Person In Charge. I said that we're more of an egalitarian library, not dominated by hierarchical structures. She became a bit more terse, and I instructed her on her way. She went and joined three other managers for two hours of a community program that required somewhere between zero and one staff members, closer to zero. It was an interesting program. Do I object to their gathering to chat, fuss around it, and then watch it for 90 minutes? No, no, no. Just so long as, since they're here, they put in an hour of shelving. This might seem like a lot, but it only takes half an hour, and even less if one works really hard.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

How to give us money

Lately I have been finding money lying around at the library I work at. Here's some in the aisle where I'm shelving books. I have had pleasant dreams like this: "Oh, here's a bill, and look at all this change! Oh, don't mind if I do. Why, there's so much!" Walking by the reference desk there's a dollar on the ground. I give it to the Reference Librarian. "I guess they missed your tip jar." I say. Someone leaves a quarter behind at the front desk. "Where'd this come from?" I just throw it into our cash register. I never keep any of this money. Somehow that would feel wrong, like I'm not some sort of physical part of my library. Like I'm a visitor.

I am not a visitor. Among all the comments and actions of patrons that I bristle at, there are few that get to me more than if I'm asked "Do you work here?"

"No, I sit here at this official looking desk with a name badge just to soak in what it all might feel like. Can I pretend to help you?"

Hmph! "Do I work here". One might as well ask a stack of non fiction bookshelves if they are part of the library.

"No." They would say. "We're just visiting for the day and adopted this clever camouflage in the hopes that no one would ask us any ridiculous questions!!!"

"Well excuse me. Everyone in this library is so touchy!"

Good point.

So, okay, yes, I work here. I have two main jobs: Delivering witty, irascible quips at every possible moment, and collecting the money people donate. Oh, you'd like to donate some money to the library? How kind. No, we don't have a box anywhere. Just throw it on the floor.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


A group of canned vegetables were sitting on a shelf and one of them was twisting around and checking himself out.

"Hey!" He cried proudly. "I'm one hundred percent corn, nothing else!"

Some fancy new can of Brussels sprouts swiveled to look at him. "But who cares? You're just corn." He said witheringly.

"Well I'm not corn. I'm heirloom asparagus." Bragged another can.

"Big deal! It's not like you're organic. I'm organic peas." Said some peas.

"Yuck. Peas! I..."

"Hey, hey, hey!" Interrupted a can of artichoke hearts. "Must we define ourselves by all these labels? Can't we just all be vegetables?"

All the cans stopped, and reflected, and they all saw how wise the artichoke hearts were. So they never moved, or spoke, or did anything for themselves ever again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Michael McClure again, again

Aloud, over the week, we read In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan. I wish I could fervently recommend it to you, long having counted it among books I loved. But I can only recommend it without my usual more fierce recommendation where I get militant and emotionally upset if you reply, noncommittally, "Maybe...". 

Nevertheless, there is still something wonderful about it within its scattering of flaws. Not least, after about 15 years of a culture well steeped in post apocalyptic fantasy/Sci fi narratives, where something vaguely like magic, or not, has emerged in a world that is suspiciously or specifically built on the ruins of our own, it is a surprise to find that Richard Brautigan seems to have fashioned one of these post apocalypse narratives in the mid sixties, under everyone's noses, about forty years ahead of time. Elements like the ever changing town of iDeath, that has rules we can't understand, The Forgotten Works, where old things are endlessly piled up, tainted and mostly useless, community factions, and a self contained semi rural community, fit neatly with probably a hundred books I could pull off the shelves of my library, if you'll just give me half an hour to look, and watch the front desk for me, and promise to check them all out and write a doctoral thesis based on my findings. When I read this book as young man the context wasn't available to me for understanding it as an adventurous genre take because the genre did not yet properly exist

This is an amazing trick. 

I hope somehow I am writing some kind of blog of the future now. Check with me in forty years.

Among the small pleasures of In Watermelon Sugar was getting to the end and seeing that it was dedicated in part to my own College English Teacher! 

I dedicate this post to my College English Teacher, who seemed to like my work quite a bit, based on almost nothing, and one day took me aside to say, with mysterious vision and passion, in 1987, "You must write a blog!"

Of course, blogs didn't exist. He must have learned that trick from his old friend Richard Brautigan. 

Monday, July 10, 2017


I have been on vacation for a week now, just at home, with my wife, nothing fancy. And I want to tell you how much, how wildly I have loved sleeping. 

Sleeping is great, the sweet, sprawling, luxurious perfecter of all things. I had a friend and roommate once named Chris who could only sleep four hours a night. He wasn't tired. He had so much time to do so much more than those of us who need eight, or eleven hours a night. He made large, dark, and intricate drawings. And yet I could ever feel his longing. Like those four or five hours of unconsciousness he was missing taunted him, lured him, remained unspeakably delicious and yet outside his reach.

And then there's cats.

I heard this joke recently:

One cat says to another "Sorry if I'm cranky. I only got 18 hours of sleep last night."

This then is just one more reason to treasure any moment with a cat- they have but half a year of wakefulness to give in the whole of their existence. So of course their attention is a treasure. And though they nearly sleep away their whole lives, who in their right mind would fault a cat?

The only real flaw I can find with the sweet sport of sleep is this: By its very nature, asleep and gone to the world, we miss out on it.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Dear Garrison Keillor

Dear Garrison Keillor:

This is a fan letter. But possibly more the "Cease and desist" type than the "Oh, isn't that nice!" type.

C., who I sometimes work with at the library, is a writer, and a few other things. He's deeply involved in the Twin Cities Arts community, and the Democratic Party, and, to tell you the truth I don't know what he's up to, but he knows a lot of people. But I'm sorry to report that he doesn't like you. 

I curiously meet a lot of people who don't like you. 

I'm not one of them. I ran into you with my wife, in the foyer of your bookstore. You sort of held the door for us in passing. I mean, what's not to like?

I said to C., who I quite like, as an aside to something we were talking about last week, referring to you, "Yeah, but sometimes he can be an incredibly good writer."

C. seemed surprised by this. Like such an idea never occurred to him. Look at this, a person, C., immersed in writing and the arts for more than 30 years, hailing from your very own hometown, Anoka, then moving to the same town you moved to, and yet the idea that you're an indisputably excellent writer was a completely new idea to him, not exactly outrageous or in dispute, merely foreign, baffling, like a response to "Bob Dylan has a good voice", or "Half the time Jane Austen is just making fun of people", or "Not reading clerkmanifesto regularly is a kind of nihilism and cowardice."

"Wait. What's clerkmanifesto?" You ask.

This! This is clerkmanifesto! Get on board!

Anyway, C. found the idea of you as a great writer so alien that it stuck in my brain, undigested, until, a week later I saw a quote of yours on the back of a book of poetry by Louis Jenkins. and not only did I think it was a terrific little quote, but it reminded me that I have read, or heard, something of yours on hundreds of different occasions and thought it was terrific.

So if I think you're a terrific, sagacious, wise, and funny writer, what's wrong with everyone else?

I don't think people like humorists. Oh, they like comedians, and they're wild about humorists when the humorists are being serious, but they don't really like humorists being humorists. It's because humorists have a troubling propensity for telling the truth, but they're always being so damn sneaky about it.

How else are you supposed to do it?

Anyway, I like to tell myself all this when I think about how I have 12 readers instead of 12 million. And I don't mind thinking it either when someone says to me "I don't really like Garrison Keillor. I saw him backstage somewhere and he didn't smile at me."

So I thought I'd share it with you, in case you had any doubts.

Warmly, and with respect,

F. Calypso