Tuesday, October 31, 2017

One more thing about French cheese

My wife and I were recently at our local cheesemonger. We were picking up some cheeses that we had acquired affection for in Paris. I was interested in the Camembert, ubiquitous in the cafes there. Thinking of Camembert just now this phrase popped unbidden into my mind: "The whipped cream of cheeses."

I have no idea why.

I asked the cheesemonger about the Camemberts. These were whole cheeses, not ones for him to cut, so he showed them to us. When asked about two of them he describe one of them as being redolent of Barnyard Fruits.

My wife asked what were the smells of Barnyard Fruits, a question I too was cautiously interested in hearing the answer to.

Without much hesitation or shame the cheesemonger answered "Things like urine soaked hay."

So I bought the cheese.

It was delicious.

Monday, October 30, 2017


A regular library goer was chatting with my co-worker and I at the front desk. The subject was an upcoming snowstorm. He said he was over near a tire place and there was a huge line of people trying to get in and get some snow tires on their cars. Derisively he added "That's so typical of people, procrastinating to the last minute and all trying to get it taken care of at once."

I said "Maybe since over the past ten years it hardly ever snows anymore until the middle of November all these people planned to change tires in a timely manner and only the unusual early storm drove them in?"

He regarded me for a good moment and said "Fair point. Maybe they did."

I really don't mind people saying foolish things so long as they can accept correction.

Especially as I am so keen to do it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Possibly still with a touch of fever

I did pretty good with coming to work sick. I was miserable and tired. I went through eighteen boxes of kleenex. My coughing was overwhelming. And I worried terribly about infecting everyone, but somehow no one seemed to catch what I had at all. It was all my own personal cold. I struggled and I survived and made it to this week where I felt fine.

And somehow that was more difficult. Maybe it was the sheer quiet of the library these days. I had nothing to contend with and the days sort of shuffled along without much spirit. Or it easily could have been the ever-presence of my managers, who, while relatively inoffensive towards me lately, were nevertheless always appearing from out of nowhere like spiders or something. I thought they'd gone home hours ago, but no, they were just off in some crevice somewhere, biding their time, waiting for me to start innocently looking up videos of Messi or John Oliver and then, bam, suddenly they're there!

"Hi." I'd say.

I try to stay on friendly terms with everyone.

I feel that people are less inclined to try and eat you if you're on friendly terms with them.

What I really think it was is that while I was sick everyone at work, patrons, co-workers, managers,  were all really happy to keep a good ten feet away from me, maybe even a little more if they could. And while hooting and coughing and blowing and sneezing I didn't so much notice, when they all came back to their usual distance I was suddenly aware: The closer people are to you the easier it is for them to eat you. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Totally about my birthday

As I sit down to write this it is my birthday tomorrow. As you read this my birthday will have been yesterday. What this means functionally is that my town, Minneapolis, will have gone from an exotically beautiful Autumn paradise full of strange plants, gouts of dazzling leaves, moody winds, and unexpectedly late flowers lurking mysteriously in a chaos of gone wild Midwestern yards to a blighted black-gray lunarscape of death.

I find this a little too metaphorical for a birthday. I mean maybe when I'm 120 or something, but the way Fall spends October in buoyant, off-kilter enthusiasm, bolstering my optimism and my feeling that it could simply go on forever, and then, usually just before my birthday, almost on a whim, pulls up suddenly in a killing frost and a 30 degree drop in temperature, is always a little hard for my spirit to take. But this is the first time I can remember it having the audacity to happen directly on my birthday. The weather for my birthday, which, to capriciously invoke the calendar, is hardly even a third of the way into Autumn, is best defined by the alarm banner that shows up in any weather search of it: WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY.

Tonight the temperature will plunge 30 degrees, into the twenties! We could see four inches of snow tomorrow, though we probably won't. We'll just see everything die and start to rot into the ground, which, once we're all agreed it isn't a metaphor in any way at all, is kind of pretty in its way too.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Totally not about my birthday

Today is my birthday. But I say this not to make a fuss, or to elicit...

Oh. Well, thank you. That's very kind. No, you don't have to s...

Thank you. I didn't know there were so many extra verses in that song. Usually I just hear the one. Anyway, I was saying that...

Oh, I don't need anything, but it's so kind of you to ask.

No, really, I have everything...

I... Okay, fine. Dream gift? Uh. I'd like a Major Metropolitan Newspaper. I've always fancied one.

No, I didn't expect you to get me one. No, I understood that. No, just because you asked.

Er, maybe an electric bike? With snow tires on it?

This? What's this?

No, really, you didn't need to.

I really don't...

Okay. Thank you.

It's really nice. It's uh...

Oh. It's a rock?

Yes, I can see that by how, er, hard it is. Thank you?

Naw, I like it. I find the older I get the more I appreciate things that last.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Singing praises

A patron came up to front desk and she was singing the praises of one of our children’s librarians. She wanted to know where she could write a comment extolling her virtues to our manager. I showed her, but there weren’t any comment forms there so I got her some. She filled out the form for awhile and then praised the librarian some more to me. “She’s so great, isn’t she? I just want her to get credit for being so great. She’s always so helpful to me and has been for years.”

She finished filling out her form. Then she said “Thank you. You too have always been so kind and helpful to me here too. You’ve been here a long time, haven’t you?”

“Yes.” I said.

“I should fill out one of these forms for you too!” She exclaimed.

“Aww.” I replied humbly “You don’t need to do that.

So she didn’t.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Republicans at the book return

I suppose over the years I've run you through this a few times, but we better do it once more as this story relies upon it. At my library we have a big automated self check in machine. There is a drive-up return to it outside. An automated return door lifts up as you move books towards it and a slightly too loud and very clear voice says "Welcome to the automated book return. Please return your materials one at a time."

Most people return their materials one at a time. Only a small number of people return them in stacks. These people are very irritating. Some of my colleagues yell at them through the little door. "ONE AT A TIME. Please! One-at-a-time!"

I don't yell. I reflect, vigorously.

Yesterday someone returned their items in little stacks. I like to think of it like dollops of poop maybe, like if your dog looked you in the eye as it pooped on your beautiful new rug, moved, pooped again, all sort of staring at you. Anyway, here came the little stacks of books, which I had to then spread out in order to get them to check in and sort properly, and as I felt from this a spike of insult and irritation I thought "Are they evil? Or are they just ignorant?"

Then I thought "This is just what I've mused my whole life about Republicans!"

And as I realized this it struck me that the analogy may be even more apt than it at first would seem.

What might cause someone to return a stack of books in a place where they are asked to return them one at a time?

1. No one is going to tell them how to return their books. It's probably bullshit anyway that it makes any difference. Why would the library know more than them!

2. They're in a hurry. Their way is a little faster and it's the library's job anyway to work out any problems.

3. They didn't hear the instructions cause they were on their phone while yelling at their child and having a snack.

I think all of these would work pretty well in the Republican response to virtually any issue.

Let's randomly grab Climate Change:

1. No one is going to tell them what kind of industry they can do, or whether they can drive the car they want. It's probably bullshit that it makes any difference. Why would a bunch of "scientists" with cushy jobs know more than them anyway!

2. They've got stuff to do and Solar Power is not gonna power a chainsaw.  If the eggheads are gonna go on about Climate Change being so bad maybe it's on them to invent a battery or something to take care of the problem.

3. Yeah, they may have heard something about how there may or may not be Global Warming while yelling at their child, eating cheese-its, and looking for something to watch on T.V. 

But to bring these two strains all back together does it really matter so much if someone returns their materials in stacks on our automatic check in machine? What can really go wrong?

Well it could cause the machine to overheat, melting the polar ice caps, drowning vast coastal cities, causing catastrophic weather extremes, fires, and floods killing billions of people. It also might prevent the books from checking in properly.

But other than those, I guess these people all have a point.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Failure's no success at all

In a particularly unfortunate hour at the front desk of my library I was repeatedly unable to track down books and movies for patrons. By all accounts they were supposed to be there; a movie checked in three weeks ago, then a requested book from the morning of the previous day. The patrons really wanted them and waited patiently and without complaint while I searched. I pulled out every trick in the book. I looked behind the rows of books in case it was shoved in back of them. I scanned deeply for misshelves in all the surrounding area. I looked on the carts they could have gone to if one error was made, and then if two. No luck, no luck at all. One lady's hold was not on the shelf anywhere, in order or out of it. I looked where it would be if we missed that it was on hold. Nope. I searched in the catalog. Ah, we have another copy that had been returned yesterday. I'll just get that instead. Three carts where that should have been later, and two where it shouldn't, and we didn't have that one either.

I sent them all on their way empty handed, they were undaunted and resolved to return later. Then I ruminated. And then I thought of a quote about failure. I just had time to write the quote on a post-it note, but not time to write anything more. Two days later I found my quote. Then, in the comfort of home, stalling in my writing of, well, this, I looked up quotes about failure to see where mine stood in the pantheon.

Samuel Beckett said:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

George Bernard Shaw said:

“When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work.”


"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

Well, they all looked a little "rah rah" for my poor quote, which goes like this:

"Success may not be all it's cracked up to be, but failure is never any fun."

Which brings me back to my account of not finding peoples' books. It can make one a little crazy when one looks so hard at my library for things that are supposed to be there but aren't. It made me question myself. But when I finished up at the desk I was off to shelve in non fiction, and it was a mess! Things were horribly shelved, stacked up, out of order. No wonder I couldn't find anything if I had co-workers bumbling around and shelving like this! This was actually kind of comforting. Or at least it was until I read a quote form the 19th Century Nature Essayist John Burroughs, who said:

“A man may fail many times but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.”


Monday, October 23, 2017

Grape's birthday keeps coming

As is our tradition here on Clerkmanifesto we celebrate October 23 as the birthday of Grape.

Why do we do this?

Um, because October 23 is Grape's birthday, so then, that would be the time...

No, no, why do we do this?

Oh. the answer to "why" is ever in the blogposts. Here are two answers:



And now I offer another. But first I must say that if there are an infinity of October 23rds to come, well then, surely there is an infinity of answers. 

For this birthday: The rattlesnake.

Oh the rattlesnake. Back in the early 1980's there were rattlesnakes. These are warm weather snakes who lay coiled in the day and hunt at night. Peaceable unless surprised, threatened, or hungry, they have a rattle at the end of their tail that they shake when alarmed and two poisoned fangs up at their very front that they will stab into anyone they feel they would prefer to be dead. What a creature, a creature out of a fable! 

I wish there were still rattlesnakes.

In those days Grape and I often drove to the top of Stunt Canyon Road and then took the short boulder-hopping walk to the peak of the wee Mountain there, Stunt Mountain, where one could see the Pacific Ocean and The San Fernando Valley both, great hills of chaparral rolling away heedlessly, improbable houses dotting the hillsides dangerously, and skies smeared with dry white clouds by day and strange gouts of shooting stars at night. What did we do there? Well, we went there and that was enough. It is hard to work out how such young men could be so sensible. It was not native to us.

One day driving down from the peak we saw a snake coiled in the road. We pulled off to the side. We debated for a very long time as to whether said snake was dead or alive. Then we got a stick.

What was this stick? Neither of us were keen on being bitten by a rattlesnake, and we both of us suffer from Imaginations. So we did not grab a stick, no. We grabbed a branch, fifteen feet long. No, we grabbed an oak tree, and we said hello with it to the snake, to see what the snake wanted to do.

The snake wanted to be in snake heaven forever. 

So we took his body home.

At Grape's house we were out of time for the day. So we found some tupperware, and we put the snake in it in his family garage freezer. And we put notes on it that said something like "You probably don't want to check into what this is or you will be even more worried about your favorite child than you already are."

Yes, I'm afraid Grape was both his parents' favorite child and I say that merely to call it as I see it, nevertheless hoping Rubin, Eli, and Alisa, the siblings of Grape, aren't reading this. And if they are that they have either made peace or know better than me that I am wrong.

It is a hot day on the edge of the Valley. I am at Grape's family house. For some reason a multitude of his Grandparents are visiting, maybe some from Argentina, some from Israel. With the strange judgement of, well, us, we decided this was the correct time to take the snake out of the freezer and cut it apart.

So we did. In the hall bathroom.

I remember so little of this. Like, strangely the dissection was immaculate, bloodless, and easy, despite our total lack of facility and experience with such things. But it must have taken a long time because ever was Grape's mother knocking at the door. "What are you doing in there?" She asked.

I may be making this up, but I think we must have finally answered "Dissecting a rattlesnake."

With an assortment of knives we carefully removed the fangs. One for each of us. I sent my fang to the woman of my dreams. Perhaps this was the exact right thing to do because, after all, my dreams came true. I don't know what Grape did with his fang. What did you do with your fang, Grape?

We skinned the snake and packed that meaty skin away for later. I ended up curing it with salt, nailed to a board, at my house. We would have shared that stiff skin, I am guessing, but our family dog Cashew chewed it all up one day soon after. Yum, salty!

In the end the pressures of people needing the bathroom and the growing smell of warm snake on a hot day led us to wrap things up. We cleaned up, gathered our chosen and still to be worked on parts, and decided to share the rattle. Grape and I share the rattle.

Back and forth it went between us. Or it still does. Grape sent it once in an aluminum can. I made a golden apple for it. It's been in jewel cases and miles of Styrofoam, pill bottles and things I will never remember again. Where is it now?

I don't know. I have this feeling that I might have it somewhere down here in my basement. If so I should send it on to Grape. If not he will probably send it along to me. But really where is it now? The rattle is faded, a ghost.

Now the dream rattle is more real than the original work of nature. Now the rattle is in my heart. It's part of how my heart is made. Aren't we just packed together out of things like this? There's a rattlesnake rattle in my heart.

And that is how we observe Grape's birthday.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

My own madeleine

There used to be a different blog post here.

And I used to think what I wrote here was protected, that it might be good or bad, but that it could not do or go wrong. But it went wrong here and all it took was my looking away. All it took was forgetting that all of this, all 1,800 or so blog posts, that you may or may not have read, are real.

I'm just saying these matter. And things that matter, misused, are dangerous.

What used to be here? Something that was supposed to be pretty and grand. It was about food and a lovely night with my wife in Paris, but trying so hard to tell it and be big and important and beautiful, trying so hard to make of it a great towering confection of words, I walked into it like a piece of fiction, like I could do anything with it. So I made lavish noises about Proust, and wine and the streets and smells and the waiter and the chef and food and epiphany and love, and I got all taken with how grand it was.

But I forgot to taste it. I never tasted it.

I can taste it now. It tastes like ashes.

It was never real.

Here is the real story:

Once upon a time I went to Paris with my one true love. And there were pretty paintings and wonderful foods, lovely things to see and interesting things to do.

But I could take or leave everything, everywhere, there and in all the infinities of all the universes,

except for her.     

Saturday, October 21, 2017

200 Reviews of Paris: The Louvre

Let's get the star thing right out of the way:


Three out of five stars.

Oh yes, I knew that one would rock you back on your heels. A mere three out of five stars from a passionate aesthete for one of the most acclaimed museums in the world.

Impossible! You say.

Well, I'll admit the second removed star is a bit of pique. But the first removed star is wholly deserved.

What a crappy sort of museum. Oh sure, the collection is arguably better than any other museum's on the face of the earth. The pyramid entrance is a stroke of near genius. The history is rich. A dog could run this museum and it would pull down four stars. 

Someone should go out and get a dog.

"Boy, he really hated the Louvre." You must be thinking.

Au contraire mes amis. Oh lord those Rembrandts. The Mona Lisa. The Caravaggio, Death of a Virgin, poorly presented away from its natural home (fuck the 17th Century Carmelites!), but still such a wonder. I had to duck out before we even saw a tenth of what I wanted to see. What miracles!

But alas, poor maps, unexplained sub entrances, broken, inaccurate detours around areas under repair, hideous and questionable security lines, mediocre gift shop, an unpleasant crowd vibe, and, oh boy, this is the painful part, no, I can't say it. It's too horrible. It's beyond human comprehension, fine, I'll say it:

Poor museum cafes!!!!

In Paris! In the Louvre!

I should remove another star.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Typhoid me

I don't much write here about coming to work while sick. There's almost five years of daily posts in this blog so odds are it might have happened once or twice, but the fact is that I stay home pretty easily. Aching foot? I better rest it in the privacy of my house. Small bruise on my forearm? I think it would be for the best if I kept an eye on it at home to make sure it doesn't develop into a cancer.

But some strange psychology and confluence of circumstances drove me to work this week despite having a particularly wet, ugly, and outsized cold.  Perhaps I just wanted to see if I could manage it, stumbling around the library with an increasingly red nose and an ever present box of Kleenex. Perhaps having taken off sick time shortly before my trip to Paris I felt it would look suspicious if I came back only to stay home sick some more. Perhaps it all comes down to my being the supply person at work and knowing that we were particularly well-stocked with tissues, unlike the situation at my house where I could soon be down to toilet paper rolls. This afternoon I asked a co-worker to ask me how much shelving I got done.

"How much shelving did you get done?" She asked.

"Half a box of Kleenex worth."

Did I mention how it's a very wet cold? Ohhhh, it's not pretty.

If I weren't me I would be pretty mad at me for coming in and spreading infection. I am spreading a lot of infection! You would think one of my large team of managers would kindly send me home, but no, they seem delighted I have shown the fortitude and dedication to not call in. And maybe there's the real answer. Maybe the reason I have come in to work, hacking prodigiously, at a library no less, and spewing horrible fluids, is so that the next time I take a day or two off, maybe because I'm coming down with a slight case of being irritated by my job, or because my ear feels funny and there's a very important soccer game on, everyone will say in hushed and concerned amazement "Wow, he stayed home? He must be incredibly, dangerously ill!"

So it's an investment, as long as I don't get pneumonia or something, and the 300 people I infect with a cold don't mind too much.