Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Greatest Author Ever Challenge: Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau is the current reigning champion in our weekly elimination tournament to determine the greatest writer ever. For those of you new to this elimination tournament what we have done is we compiled a database of all notable authors in history, and each week we pit the current champ against a random challenger until there are no challengers left. At that point one lone author will stand above the rest, the greatest writer in all history! Will Thoreau stand the long test, or will he be supplanted by Tolstoy, Austen, Shakespeare, Bronte, or any of the many other authors whose names have not yet been drawn?

To get you up to date, Thoreau took his crown three weeks ago against four week champ Colette. Holding off challenges from Mario Puzo and Audrey Niffenegger over the past two weeks, Thoreau is raring to go again. Let's see who, randomly drawn, is here to challenge him today.

And the author is:

Oh. This is awkward. 

It's me. 

Well, it was bound to happen sometime. So let us carry on with the impartiality and fair and deep scrutiny that we here at clerkmanifesto have come to be known for, somewhere, hopefully.

Mr. Thoreau, as champion, will go first. And our randomly chosen writing selection comes from Walden:

These statistics, however accidental and therefore uninstructive they may appear, as they have a certain completeness, have a certain value also. Nothing was given me of which I have not rendered some account. It appears from the above estimate, that my food alone cost me in money about twenty-seven cents a week.

Oh, and that is nice indeed. Very nice indeed! It is no mystery how Mr. Thoreau has held the hot seat for three weeks. Our challenger has quite the task before him. And Mr. Calypso's prose is randomly drawn from his still current blog The Clerkmanifesto:

To get you up to date, Thoreau took his crown three weeks ago against four week champ Collette. Holding off challenges from Mario Puzo and Audrey Niffenegger over the past two weeks, Thoreau is raring to go again. Let's see who, randomly drawn, is here to challenge him today.

And the author is:

Oh. This is awkward. 

It's me. 

That is indeed a fresh piece of writing! I can still smell the ink and it's pretty sweet. But is it enough to challenge Henry David Thoreau? This could go down to the wire. We've got an exciting one today, ladies and gentlemen. And what's this? The judges think it's a close one too. Things are getting pretty animated over in the judging box. Wait here, I'll be right back.

We've got some problems. We haven't planned for this. We don't know what to do. Hang on one more moment.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a tie! It's a tie! Chaos has broken out here at clerkmanifesto. Not only is the decision contentious, but we have no provision for ties. Some Thoreau supporters are staging a sit-in and a cabal of miffed Colette supporters are descending on the judges. It's total madness here. I'm now being torn from my keyb

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

You never know what you'll get

I used to have special hopes and dreams for this blog. But the years have rolled by, me sometimes reaching for the stars but often just grabbing for the nearest handful of dirt.

"Look everyone, a bug!" I cry.

"That's not a bug, that's a tiny pebble."

"Oh." I reply sadly. "Why is it hot?"

"Hot?" Looks closer. "Hey, that's not a pebble, it's a star!"

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bob Dylan finally says what it means

They served strong drinks at the cocktail bar Bob and I talked our way into at 15 minutes before they opened (It wasn't hard and involved people telling Bob Dylan that he's Bob Dylan, which he's already strikingly clear on). Perhaps we miscalculated in ordering a third variety each of their interesting cocktails. They made an infusion with pine tips and morel mushrooms that was confusing and dazzling. But we were way past that stuff and we were laughing too much at god knows what. 

But I remember the tingle in my spine when an increasingly loquacious Bob leaned in and said: 

"This is it. I'm going to tell you alone the secret truth all hidden in my lyrics." 

Then we both laughed as he waggled one hand like Marlon Brando. He does an amusing Godfather. You had to be there.

Then he said: 

"Here is the answer in all my songs and the thing I have been pressed for but not given." He laughed, but collected himself. "This is what I was trying to tell everyone..."

"Oh my god!" I exclaimed giggling. "I knew it!"

"The truth, the truth I have been trying to say, the secret truth..." He said before laughing. "The truth..."  And then he laughed so much it was infectious, and we burst into a hysterics it was hard to emerge from. My ribs ached. We did not actually fall off our seats from laughing but we did knock some strange table decoration flower onto the floor. It did not break, it bounced. Even this, stupidly, was hilarious. I still feel sore from it. Multiple times we both tried to talk, but could not for laughing. And, helpless, silent only to save our lives, and only after many minutes of recurring fits of laughter and some amusing hiccups were we finally able to calm down and dry our eyes. 

We paid. He got into his airport limo. And I walked home.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Seed art at the State Fair

I don't believe there should be any limitations or restrictions put on art from the outside. An artist should be entirely free to express themselves as they like or need. It does no good to say that a painting has to look like something, or a comedian can't swear, or a novelist must primarily compose in words, because when Kandinsky comes along, or Richard Pryor, or James Joyce, those once sensible seeming rules are going to look pretty ridiculous anyways. 

But that doesn't mean limitation can't have great utility in the arts. Poets do it with form. A painter might do it with restricted materials. I myself have written 1,700 essays with the understanding that if one of them ever goes all the way to eight paragraphs I will immediately wrap it up in a fit of pique.

It works for me. 

I think similar things work for others too. The history of Western Art is in some ways a history of constraint and the terrible power of artists as they break free of those limits. The raw naturalism of the Baroque bursting out of the stomach of the studied and measured grace of the Renaissance. Impressionism cutting the chains of a limiting academic culture. Rock and Roll screaming away from a music of polite expression. And there is terrible energy in breaking out of bindings like those. 

But because artists have figured this out they have broken by now all but the most carefully hidden cages. They have cut all but the tiniest chains. And, unfortunately, when there are no chains to be found it can get a little hard on all these rascally artists. Who wouldn't want to rebel in this world, but how does one do it?

My case in point is the humble Minnesota State Fair. The first day of the fair this year we went and poked around. And as is our wont we popped into the fine arts exhibition. This is a very competitive competition, a huge display of juried art, spanning all manner of approaches, styles, mediums, and materials. With diverse judges it is open to everything from classicism to the Avant Garde. And yet somehow it all seems to be less impressive each year I see it. I'm not saying there aren't enjoyable things numbered among its winners, but there's something unraveled about the whole experience. Something at once decorative, self important, and ambitious about it all. Almost everyone looks like they're trying too hard, not having much fun, and, able to say anything, not sure what to say.

Contrast this with our later visit to what we call around here "Seed" Art. This is where one uses seeds, glued to some kind of board, to make an image. You have to use seeds. And this stuff is great; sarcastic, witty, playful, virtuosic. This year's winner was an impressively executed take on Dr. Seuss's Yertle the Turtle subtly enough redone to reference Trump. It was clever, tight, silly, and smart. Better than anything in that huge art building, it was nevertheless hard to imagine it would have even made it to the wall if they had entered it in that contest there. 

And so in conclusion, let me just say that, oh, look, my time is up. Curses, just when I was getting to the good part. I demand to talk to who's in charge around here! One of these days I'm going nine paragraphs and you'll never be the same.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

More rock T-shirts: Nirvana

Here are some lyrics from a song by Nirvana called In Bloom. Some of you will know these lyrics. None of you who don't know them will be wearing a Nirvana t-shirt.

He's the one,
Who likes all our pretty songs,
And he likes to sing along,
And he likes to shoot his gun,
But he don't know what it means,
Don't know what it means.

I'm not saying that there haven't been brilliant albums produced in the last 40 years: White Stripes, Radiohead, Lucinda Williams, Bjork, R.E.M. and so on. There have been masterpieces! But still, I might only be willing to put one album from the past 40 years into my list of the 10 greatest albums, or CDs, ever. And that will be Unplugged, by Nirvana.

So when someone walked into my library wearing a Nirvana shirt I immediately prepared some remarks. They weren't meant as a test. They were offered in good faith. And when this man, with a salt and pepper beard and ten-year old kid, came to the front desk, I gestured to his shirt and said "I like all their pretty songs." Then I added to his nod "And I like to sing along with them." Then I briefly paused and finished with a tone of puzzlement "But I don't know what they mean. I don't know what they mean..."

And he nodded and replied "Yeah, their lyrics can be kind of weird to figure out."

Yeah, inscrutable. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Road less travelled

I am not one to often criticize peoples' reading habits on an individual basis, but sometimes I wheel a cart of fiction upstairs to shelve, and I can't help but criticize on a collective level. I mean, look at these books! I'm not saying some of these books aren't okay, in their way, or mildly entertaining, but these merely adequate books, rarely within screaming distance of the best we are capable of, are the same damn books I shelve over and over and over.

Here, on my cart once again, are your authors America: David Baldacci, Lee Child, Vince Flynn, John Grisham, Kristin Hannah, Elin Hilderbrand, Lisa Scottoline, and Nicholas Sparks. I could go downstairs and grab another cart full of all the same authors, or I could get some dozen equally recognizable authors along the same exact lines. But it won't vary much from there.

I'm not asking everyone to read Proust, for gods sake, but can't they, instead of taking four Lee Child books, take three and grab something strange and offbeat to try for a fourth? Can't they just mix it up a little, take a chance, dig just one more shovelful deeper? Look what the country, stultified in its tastes, is coming to.

But oy, look who I'm complaining to. One can't dig deeper in one's reading, or draw more outside of the lines than you! A person could hardly read more off the beaten path. I mean look at you, oh my god, you're reading this

One step further off the path than this and no one will ever see you again.

Friday, August 25, 2017

200 Views of Rome: Palazzo Barberini


5 Stars

Okay, so, The Palazzo Barberini is also known as the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Antica. It is weird and confusing to be in Rome, ancient Rome, and have them refer to a Baroque Palace full of 16th, 17th and 18th Century art as "Ancient". But I'm not here to complain. I'm also not here to complain about how the third floor, with the 18th Century art, was closed when we were there. Even if that meant missing out on seeing a Boucher. And aren't there period rooms up there too? I remember some from a trip a decade ago to the Barberini. I'm pretty sure one could view some rooms just as the family lived in them in the 1800s or something. Not when I was there this time. Oh I loved those rooms, but I'm not complaining about them either.  I'm also not here to complain about their lack of a cafe, especially since their exquisite vending machine (mostly producing vile espresso based drinks) was a more than adequate compensation, if not, perhaps, in the quality of the refreshments, but rather in their sheer entertainment value.

And that concludes my list of things not to complain about.

On the plus side are:

1. Staircase ecstasy.

Do you like staircases? Well, I never much thought about that either. But the Barberini has two compare-and-contrast staircases by the preeminent architects of their day. Luckily these staircases also express these brilliant artists' stature and prowess. Bernini's is big, very nice, prominent, and you will walk up it to get to the collection. Borromini's is an exquisite work of intimate, mindblowing genius, hidden in a closet, that you probably won't be allowed to set foot in (but you can look).

2. Ceiling ecstasy.

Oh man, they have some nice ceilings in there! I think most of the fame goes to a da Cortona one? It's in a big empty room. Let's face it, there are a universe of good ceilings in Rome, but this is the only one where I felt like I could get away with lying on the floor. It made all the difference. If I could have laid down in the Sistene Chapel my view of it would have gone from "Well, that was an annoying, but interesting experience." to "Holy mother of god I am now Catholic!"

3. The Raphael.

My opinion on Raphael was nonplussed. I'd seen some. I had nothing against him. He was like the Renaissance George Harrison to Leonardo's "John" and Michelangelo's "Paul". So, not really of huge interest to me. And then I saw his radiant jewel portrait here and understood I am a Beatles fan. Am I making any sense? This was like "Something" or "While My Guitar Gently Weeps". I'm just saying it's one amazing painting.

4. The grounds.

It's all kind of a small, walled, little city estate, full of interesting and peaceful gardens, curious surprises, places to poke about, and even entertaining basements (where the toilets are!).

5. Fun painting collection.

With the level of painting so high in Rome it is tempting to focus on the big names and masterpieces. But there are quite a few galleries, like this one, where the general level is just so high that it's fun to cast the edification and checklists aside and just look at whatever paintings one likes, because, mostly they are beautiful.

6. One of the greatest paintings ever created.

(Spoiler Alert) This painting is "Judith cuts off Holofernes head" though that may not be its official name. It's just my translation. It's by Caravaggio. If you don't like it you're in the wrong city. It is crowded in this city so please leave and don't take up our valuable space. Might I suggest maybe something more like Dallas?

Should you go to this Palazzo? I can't speak for your tastes and the nature of your...

Ha ha ha! Yes! It would be morally wrong not to.

And so in conclusion I, I, I have nothing left to say.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

How I like it here

I have two managers. I currently am getting along okay with one. That shifts all the time, but 50% is about average for me. In some ways they are very different from each other. One is sort of wounded and gentle, and one is all upbeat and bright. I think both would rather be doing the job alone, not sharing an office, authority, and a position. So they quietly tolerate each other and try not to mix; two side by side realities trying not to notice the other unless they have to.

They also have much in common, in good ways and bad. Both, for instance, can be genuinely kind and caring, and yet too both can be insecure of their positions and jealous of their authority.

But the main thing they have in common is perhaps the most defining.

I don't know how best to put it. So let me put it three different ways:

1. The library job gives them meaning in life.

2. They have few other interests.

3. They have no place else to go.

Their sick time has towered up into massive stockpiles. I can only imagine that their vacation time, capped by the county at a limit, more or less burns off unused. One of them uses vacation time every year to spend a week and a half doing a strongly library related job that might as well be paid for by our library anyway. The other maybe takes an official day or two off every once in awhile, but still comes in to work during those days, just more unofficially. I think both like to run errands during the day, or come in an hour or two late, not to get away from the library, but rather to justify to themselves their staying late most days and dropping in for an hour (or four) on their days off.

I hope you are getting my studied neutrality on this subject. I'm trying.

But they are here, like, all the time! All the time.

And even during the times I like them, even when I like them and all their best qualities, and even when I like them both at the same time, and when work is all harmony and they are good people and everything is beautiful, they are here all the time.

I like it here at the library. But I like it here better when they are not here.

And I like it here at the library best when I am not here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

More confusing messages to myself

Hi. I know I haven't written much lately. 

What's that?

Oh. I guess you're right. I guess I have written every single day for four years without fail. I don't know what I was thinking; I have written just as much lately as I ever have. To be honest they all sort of write themselves so sometimes I lose track. The fact is I find my blog posts every morning scrawled out on a ragged scrap of paper and stuffed into a little hollow in a tree in my front yard. I just type 'em up and I'm on my way.

Oh, right. I can see how you might feel I am taking an awful lot of credit for merely putting into a computer the words of another writer, but it's not that simple. The scraps of paper I find are completely illegible, and I have to make up what they say.

Also I'm the one who stuffs the paper in the tree every night. You know, to make sure there's one there for me each morning.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Saving myself

I wrote a short essay. Then, restless, I roamed through the forest of my thousands of old essays. Usually that ends in disaster. Usually I end up thinking "What ever made me think these were so good?"

But not this time. This time I was okay. But I did not know how to stop, or how to shut off my computer and go to bed. So I kept reading.

Until I came to a list from some years ago, and it said, item number four:

"Be unconfident, but like you are the God of unconfidence."

And I was done.

Monday, August 21, 2017


The Earth hurtles through space circling the Sun which also hurtles through space. Whizzing around the Earth is the Moon and everything is flying so damn fast you can only see it if you're racing right along with some of it. Stand still and everything's probably a blur. Luckily, in the scheme of the Universe there may be no such thing as standing still. It may be impossible.

Every rare once in awhile, if you are the Earth, or moving at just its speed and trajectory while nearby (easiest by standing on it), the Moon, swirling around you, will soar across that Sun that you are yourself hurtling around. And though the Moon is tiny compared to the Sun, it will, for a brief moment, block it. 

Today is one of those days.

The Moon is way smaller than the Sun. How can it possibly block it all? The same way if you hold your thumb up in front of your face you can block out a distant skyscraper, though your thumb is closer in size to that skyscraper than the Moon is to the Sun. The same way a moth, flying at night, can briefly blot out a star, bigger than the Sun in the same proportion the Sun is to the Moon.

I like to think of all of us as our own planets, mingling and circling each other on the Earth. Separate bodies, standing on Earth, sitting on Earth, circling the Sun. And every 24 hours or so the Earth, from our vantage points, eclipses the Sun. Every night is an eclipse to us. It goes for about 12 hours. During these roughly 12 hours of occlusion, called "night", it is safe to look directly at the sun. Stare at the ground.

There is always something in front of something else. Screen in front of shelf with books, in front of wall, in front of tree, in front of cloud in front of sky. Look at you, reading this. I have hidden the whole world behind it.

Today is the solar eclipse. But as far as eclipses go, all around you, everywhere, is full of  eclipse. A million things in eclipse. There is always something in front of something else. We are mostly in shadows. And when the eclipse is full, which, right now, in some way or another, it is for everything you have ever known or ever been, it is safe to look. So go ahead and open your eyes.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

My shortcomings and virtues in one

I was lying in bed, turning over a few good blog ideas in my head before dozing, when I got onto a really good one. So I started telling myself this sharp little blog post in my own mind, like a bedtime story. It was soothing, not least because here I was, short on my posts, and now there was this beautiful little one making dancing, erudite pictures in my imagination.

"Should I get up and go downstairs and write it?" I asked myself.

Hemingway would have. Tolstoy would have. Flannery O'Connor would have.

I rolled over and let the angels have it.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

We may not be the masters of our destiny

I was on a two hour stint of shelving and, despite taking time for a long chat with my boss about boxing and for a brief, desperate soccer consultation with teen librarian Marcus, I had shelved a lot of books. The trick might have been in taking only partially filled carts upstairs to shelve. Frequently going upstairs with books and downstairs with empty carts made me feel like I was getting a lot done. It is possible it was just an illusion that I was shelving a lot, but it certainly felt like I was.

In the end though I had a full cart of fiction, two rows of books squeezed completely onto the cart. I shelved steadily for roughly half a cart, at which point I suddenly felt it was all too slow for me. I didn't have the patience for how long it seemed to be taking the books to disappear. So I resolved to collect my wits, concentrate my energy, and shelve the last half of my cart as fast as I could.

I speedily shelved precisely one book before coming upon a slim collection of short stories by Amy Hempel. Mysteriously stopped in my tracks, I read the glowing things about the book and the author that were printed on the back of the book, praise written by Nobel Prize winners no less. I opened the book and, standing in the fiction aisle, I read the first short story in its brief entirety.

Then I shelved the book.

Then I wrote this as fast as I could.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The smell of books

There is something fishy afoot when I step into a new bookstore. The books all smell the same. It's a good smell, a fresh print, cut paper from the mill sort of smell. Honestly it can't be described, not many smells can. But I do love the smell. It is all evocation, though mostly the smell of new books always reminds me of The Lord of the Rings, which I got in a nice paperback boxed set forty years ago and inhaled.

But it's all just one smell, and it no longer seems normal to me.

I've also been in a lot of used bookstores lately. One would think the books there would have a variety of smells. But they don't. The books there all blend together not long after sitting on the shelves in such close proximity. This singular book smell is a more of a pure book smell, one with a touch of mustiness and cured paper. It is an old smell, plainspoken and comfortable.

But I, after so many years, am now used to a library. And the books where I work have an infinite number of smells. I know this even though I long ago learned to not let any of them too near my face. But even though I avoid sniffing I don't have to get anywhere near the recently returned Bill O'Reilly book I am shelving to know that it smells strongly and mysteriously of gasoline. Perhaps someone was thinking of burning it and backed down. I'm glad for that. I certainly couldn't care less what happens to Bill O'Reilly books, or Berenstain Bears books, but I believe enlightenment is the solution, not burning. Just yesterday there were books I encountered at work smelling of deep mildew and possibly mold, of fake candy strawberry, and of cigarettes, ozone, chocolate, tacos, and pine. I can see how that might seem fun; working in a smorgasbord of smells. And maybe it would be if I worked at a thousand flavor jelly bean plant. But here at the library these are not pure smells. These are not wholesome smells. These smells are underlaid by human grease, old food, stresses of heat and cold, and a slew of other incompatible, lingering smells that are now almost, but not entirely, eclipsed.

So I don't much like to think about where these books I'm handling have been. I wash my hands a lot. I try to keep completely in present with every book I shelve while at work. I try to let these books, as objects, have as little history as possible. But sometimes my nose tells me things, whether I want to know them or not.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How to be the greatest writer in the world

I can take no real credit for this. I was just writing a daily blog, mostly for my own entertainment because blogs are widely reviled and it is unwise to expect anything else, when I stumbled upon the secret. Many have sought this secret and even labored their whole lives for it, waking at four in the morning before work to pursue hours of searching. Me? I was just trying to come up with a two paragraph post for Thursday, hoping it might be mildly amusing, when I saw it.

The answer.

It wasn't fancy. And not at all like I expected. It was like it was half out of the dirt. At first I was just confused. Then I thought "It can't be." But it was.

There are individual prospectors out in California still mining for gold. Some of them work incredibly hard. Some are no doubt fantastically clever, pulling out every trick in the book in their pursuit of that wily, hidden precious metal. What if I went out for a little walk to see what I could see, and, skirting some poison oak and a little mudslide caused by the rains, I came upon a boulder made of gold?

I'm just saying I got lucky. I found the secret of how to be the greatest writer in the world, valuable yes, incredibly valuable, but as it is due to little merit of my own, how could I not share it with you, who only by chance have not found it yourself. 

Of course, you might wonder, if I were to share this secret of how to be the greatest writer in the world with everybody, how could I be the greatest writer in the world?


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A public service

I am in a good mood, so let's talk about who I hate.

I hate managers and corporations. I hate the Internet. I hate politics, Shake Shack, The Berenstain Bears, the board of the Barcelona Futbol Club (but possibly all boards of everything everywhere). I hate the publishing industry, Google's search parameters, popular taste, Jimmy Johns, and Centrists.

I hate God, but not as much as I hate the Devil, who I don't hate nearly as much as I hate all the people in the world who are not reading this now.

And I tell you this not because I am bitter, or choked with rage, but in case you needed a couple more things to hate, and wanted some good ideas.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

American hegemony

Hi, I'm at the mall again. If you are among the small number of people in the world who don't want to see everything that is beautiful in the world die you will have been following this blog closely. And if you have been following this blog closely you will know I have been at the mall a lot lately.

I come here because it is important for an American to spend some time seeing everything in the world as a product available for purchase.

Can I buy that?

Yes, you can buy that.

And then once you can buy everything a real American says "Wow, look at all the things I don't need." while fake Americans... don't read my blog, vote wrong, and... continue shopping.

So I stand in the mall, writing, and I judge all the people walking by. Until I say to my self:

"Self, it's okay. You don't have to judge any of them." And I don't. And they all become real Americans, blossoming like a field of wildflowers. And they all read my blog, which allows me to speak freely to them (you!), and say:

We are going to take over the world. It will be beautiful. We will be ale to buy everything. But there will be nothing we don't already own.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Let the library help you

I'm not saying this is a happy story.

Having no great love for the contemporary drift of my library into the Social Services end of the spectrum, I took no particular delight in our new "Community Resource Advocate" program. This is where we regularly have some Social Worker person come in for people who need help with housing, public aid, and related sorts of things. I'm not saying I think it's a bad program, but I do take a slightly jaundiced view towards it. This reflects my feelings of what the mission of a large library is and should be, but it also reflects my views on most modern American Social Services in general; namely, that their primary engagement is to sustain themselves. Helping tends to be secondary.

So there I am, being not thrilled about "Community Resource Advocates" when someone shows me a letter.

It is a heartwarming letter.

It's written by a young man who I know well by sight, someone who's here at my library everyday.

He's homeless. He's drifting through life, stuck, living rough, when he hears about our Community Advocate. He decides, as he puts it, to stop feeling sorry for himself. He decides to see the Advocate and turn his life around.

So, as he relates in his nice letter, he went. The Advocate helped him with a number of issues and sources for help, and this kid was going to take advantage of them; resumes, housing, clothes, aid, etc. He felt hope again and just wanted to thank us.

It was a nice letter. Everyone in the program felt happy and proud. 

But now, alas, we must roll the clock forward half a year to today.

And I must report that that same kid is still here everyday, in his same unwashed hoodie, at the same computer, all day long.

I'm just saying, maybe not counseling, and job training programs, and resume helpers, and non profit agencies, and Community Resource Advocates. Maybe if the County wants to help him, just, give him a decent job. I think he can handle it. Hell, he can work at the library. He's already demonstrated the main requirement for the job: He always arrives here on time.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Where we are in numbers

Hey, it's time to write you a blog post. Well, write you and me both. And what shall I tell you in essay number 1,632 about my 4,343rd day working at this library?

There are things that happened today that have happened countless times: There is a requested book that is hard to hunt down. There is a patron who steps away while I'm getting something for them and never comes back. An almost old man eagerly approaches the desk to tell me a joke about being an old man.

And there are things that happened today that have never happened: Someone, for some reason, donated an early sixties Polaroid Land Camera. A quiet regular who has never said a word to me said "Hi."

At some point today I got very angry at the state of the romance fiction shelving. Later I got angry at the mysterious and suspicious way all the bins on the machine filled up in the first few minutes that I was working there.

But then contrawise I got happy when I figured out how to open the Polaroid Land Camera. And I got happy when my co-workers asked me a lot of questions about soccer over lunch.

There are 1,632 posts. I've worked 4,343 days. There are 16,892 public libraries in America. Almost all of them are open as I write. There are 832,000,808 people using the Internet at this moment. There are almost 8 billion people in the world today.

All I know is that there continues to be nothing to say and everything.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Nobodys quote is by anyone and they're all wrong anyway

I was thinking of two quotes by Mark Twain, and I was thinking it would be amusing to have the first correct the second:

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.


There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Which would thus become:

There are three kinds of lies: lies, lies, and statistics.

Of course, I would have told this story in an amusing way, but there was no point because I ran into some problems. 

First, it's

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Not "damn" lies. 

I could maybe have gotten away with that. But then, second, Mark Twain didn't write the statistics quote, he merely sited Benjamin Disraeli as doing so, which probably isn't even an accurate attribution to begin with. And though my joke is vastly too fragile to hold up under such magnificent burdens, by this time I had invested a lot of time in it and so was willing to do anything, until, third: 

Mark Twain didn't write the damn "editor" quote either!

And that was the final nail in the coffin.

What the hell did Mark Twain do all day anyway!

Friday, August 11, 2017

200 Reviews of Rome: The Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, or National Gallery of Modern Art


4 Stars

Let's start what will generally be a favorable review with a petty criticism: The front stairs of this museum are way too sunny!

If one is approaching this museum in the way I firmly believe one should, one will be descending from out of the Borghese Park. It is a long way down a lovely, but mostly decrepit and shadeless, set of weed and garbage fields, crumbling marble staircases, and occasional dead fountains and obscure parking lots. At the bottom of that hill is one of those 20 lane Roman Roads that are ever roaring with muffler free traffic. After one manages to cross that insane breadth of roadway one finally meets up with the white stairs up to The Modern Museum.

These are the stairs I'm complaining about. Nowhere in all of this is any shade. There are 619 stairs up to the museum. I speak as a person who visited in early fall. Imagine it in the Summer!

I am not here to provide a solution. I am just here to tear beautiful things down on the Internet. I will say though that if Rome would just do something about its SUN maybe everyone who goes there in the Summer wouldn't hate it so.

I don't want anyone to hate Rome. It's so wonderful.

However, once one has made it up the stairs I have no real complaints. The Roman Modern is a big place full of interesting art. It is not the sort of museum one should go to to see all one's favorite modern artists, rather it is a place to see a lot of very good and interesting art from all over the 20th Century. Yes, one will occasionally come upon work by people one knows, but mostly one won't. And if one is prepared for this one won't mind too much because there is a good high standard in this collection.

It is housed in a hundred or so year old building, which by Roman standard is hilariously modern, but it sure doesn't look it. It's a big place and very comfortable to roam around in. In the general crush of Rome and all its staggering sights, this one is a pleasurable and low key relief of quiet and space. I also love its cafe, though, curiously one has to leave and go around to it from the outside for some strange reason. The museum store isn't great, but it's interesting enough, and yes, I'm afraid this museum costs some money. I almost gave the Modern five stars, but that just seems perverse against what all else is in Rome, plus there are the stairs.

In conclusion I would like to relate a mostly irrelevant story. Early in our trip to Rome my wife and I went to this museum and though the building and lobby were open, the museum was undergoing, um, some paintings being moved around or something. We asked when it would open again and they gave a date that was more than two weeks hence! So we said "Okay, we'll see you then." Because we were in Rome for a month!

It was wonderful.

Please don't be jealous.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Your famous quotes

"The course of true love never did run smooth." and "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." and "I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal." are all fine and well respected quotes by truly great authors; Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Jane Austen. But it is my contention that we all, in our lives, dash off a few hundred thousand remarks, and if one were to choose out the very best from so magnificent a pile, surely each of us could be memorialized as being brilliantly clever and insightful.

Here, try this: When you die (hopefully a long, long time from now), first thing you do, ask what was was the most clever and insightful thing you said in the course of your (long) life.

When you hear it, I am quite certain you will say, amazed "I said that?"

And the angel will reply "Yes indeed you did. Many of us here have made it into cross stitch samplers and needlepoint pillows."

And you will say "Really?"

And the angel will say "No. But it was a really good quote."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

200 Reviews of Rome: The MACRO (Museum of Contemporary Art)


3 Stars

There are many ways to approach an Internet review. Generally the most appreciated is a knowledgeable, well-informed, and yet concise as possible look at the thing or place being reviewed. A personal response to the subject of the review is appreciated so long as it is tempered and composed and most of the opinion is invested into the authorial, informed, and godlike voice of the overall review.

Another approach to an Internet review is one in which the reviewer takes his or her sometimes short term and limited experience to be of profound and essential importance. Basing their review strictly and passionately upon themselves they trust the mosaic of other reviews to provide the wide ranging picture that their isolated interaction cannot.

A third approach to an Internet review is one in which the reviewer uses their review, and his or her experiences with the subject of the review, as an opportunity to express themselves and their relationship to the world, and through that wider lens give a feeling of what the subject of the review might more fully be. This can also give a reader an insight into what their own experience with the review subject could, and might, be. 

All of these approaches to an Internet review can be valid and of great value to the wider community of the Internet. Indeed, there is probably only one kind of Internet review that is utterly reprehensible, and that is one in which the author of the review never even mentions the subject of the review and instead mysteriously expounds at great length about the very nature of Internet reviews themselves.

Fortunately, as far as I understand it, this last type of reprehensible Internet review is phenomenally rare, and I know of only one that exists on the whole of the Internet.

Unfortunately you have found it.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Old man

There is an old man who comes to the library every day. He is about to die. This is not a curse. It merely seems apparent.

I don't know what he does all day, but sometime around half an hour before we close he parks in our lot, in handicapped spaces across from the front doors. He uses a multi pronged cane to move. This meager device seems wholly inadequate to his needs. A journey that might take you or I fifteen seconds takes him a full fifteen minutes. As soon as he's in the library he grabs one of our small, ill-advised book shopping carts and uses it as a walker. Once it rolled away from him and he fell on it and bled all over our floor, but then he is often bleeding a bit here or there from his paper thin and marked up skin.

He does not seem well, and this is magnified by the fact that he is in his nineties. His pants are hanging down and much of his adult diaper shows. He is quite crabby, and hard to communicate with, but I am not sure if that is native disposition or he has so little energy to work with that there's nothing left but sheer cussedness. He can't be in the library for more than a handful minutes before he has to begin the process of leaving. He can't hurry, obviously, but he also doesn't seem to want to go. He lingers for as long as possible in the front lobby entry, perusing any number of uninteresting postings we have hung there. It is invariably at least five minutes after we are closed before he finally clears the building.

Though myself and no doubt some of my colleagues look upon this man with a certain amount of alarm, and, liking to leave work in a timely manner, a certain amount of irritation as well, there is a tiny part of me that is awed by his profound, obstinate, and mysterious perseverence out on what appears to be the very borders of his life. His ferocious ability to come to my library on the brink of death is astonishing.

And there is another part of me that is honored by his tenacious desire to spend what appears to be his final, brutal, intrepid, and miserable last days, or weeks, or months of his life enjoying the curious pleasures of our library. Though his interests seem alien to what I value about my library, namely our collection and charming staff, I nevertheless raise my hat to him. "Thank you for the compliment. We are deeply honored." I say. "Now please leave. We are closed."

No hard feelings. Rest in peace.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A letter with a small amount of presumption

Dear Publisher:

It is time to publish my magnum opus, the elven volume masterpiece of American Letters: The Clerk Manifesto.

Go to it. Feel free to start on it today. I know you'll do a fine job. We'll work out the contract soon enough.

Wait, let me guess; you object to my cold call solicitation being presented as a fait accompli. I totally understand. A professional wants to be accorded the respect of his or her position. A professional doesn't want his or her judgment presumed upon. I know that when I am working at the front desk of my library and some patron comes up and is all like "Waive my fines!" I'm thinking "I'll be the judge of whether or not to do that."

I'm just saying I understand your feelings.

But wait, you're probably objecting to my likening your sophisticated, well-honed, New York Publishing House literary acumen of the highest order to my discernment as relates to a 40 cent overdue charge. Perhaps you find such a comparison a bit insulting.

Well now look who's full of presumption! You should be ashamed of yourself!

So now you're probably thinking "But I didn't say anything about finding the comparison between myself, a celebrated New York Publisher, and you, my newest star author, to be anything other than one of utter equality!"

I am gratified to hear it. I'm so looking forward to working with you on this publishing endeavor. I'm certain we will have a great success of it together!

Yours most cordially,

Feldenstein Calypso

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Can't win for trying

While standing around in what I hoped were unobtrusive places in the stores of malls, writing essays on post it notes, various members of the public occasionally come up to me and ask "Do you work here?"

"No." I reply curtly, irritated by the very question to such a degree that I find it offensive.

After this happened a few times I reflected that the only thing that quite bugs me like this is when I am attentively sitting at the front desk of the library I work at, waiting to help someone, and a member of the public approaches me and asks "Do you work here?"

Duh! See my desk? See my computer?

It does occur to me at this late moment that these people simply cannot win.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

200 Views of Rome: Gelateria dei Gracchi


4 Stars

So here I am doing archeology on yet another one of these Roman Gelaterias, trying to trace back what I had and how it tasted. Reserving 5 stars for my 3 favorite gelaterias in Rome, this one, not being among that exalted trinity, only gets 4 stars. But what kind of 4 stars?

The good kind!

You can get here pretty easily from Piazza Del Popolo, and though you may have any number of reasons for passing this by I am personally incapable of imagining them. Standing at a clothes display table in a store called A'GACI, in The Mall of America, writing the draft of this review on some post it notes I had in my pocket, I so desperately wish for a nice three (or four!) flavor cup of dei Gracchi gelato that my judgment is impaired. And the idea that there are people right now, walking past Gelateria dei Gracchi without getting any gelato, is utterly bewildering.

In Rome, back when I could do so last Fall, I often got fruit flavors. At dei Gracchi I am pretty sure I got apple and fig. But then I also have this weird sense that I went to Gelateria dei Gracchi ten years ago as well and also got apple and fig. And though I know you want a clearheaded review of this gelateria, what I am trying to tell you is that there is a small possibility that I am imagining everything.

Well, everything except that they have some pretty good gelato, which I believe should be adequate for you to go on. But I'll add this: There was something slightly rough around the edges about their gelato that, while making it less perfect, also made it more distinct, and real seeming.

So I apologize for the 4 stars. I'd give it a fifth if I could have some now.