Thursday, January 31, 2019

One last fun fact about our epic cold wave

It's late at night. I'm up in our aerie apartment, not quite ready to sleep, looking over the city and also looking over my upcoming blog posts about the record arctic front sweeping through my town, trimming my essays down and preparing them, like a sushi chef. Cars are still out on the streets outside, though not many. One limps by, seeming almost crippled. Strange noises occasionally explode to punctuate the silence of a night where the city retreats into cloaks of steam. But oddly nothing looks that different. I feel chilled, ice collects in the inside corners of our windows, but the temperature is the same in here as it ever is in the winter. And unlike in a snowstorm, outside the view is still, and unchanged.

But then this fact occurred to me, and it makes me happy:

It is exactly one hundred degrees colder outside, three feet away from me, than it is, right now, where I am.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Not freezing to death

A terrifying, bitter cold, the likes of which has not been seen around here for 25 years, has descended from out of the Arctic, leaking from a broken jet stream, upon the Twin Cities. It is all any of us can talk about at the library today. Or maybe that's just me, and I am steering every conversation in that direction. It's so subtle you might not be able spot it in the following:

"Have you gotten the tax forms in yet?" Someone asks me.

"They say there could be windchills down to minus 55!" I answer with a fevered relish.

It was in the part where I mentioned "windchills".

Even though this plunging of temperatures fascinates me, a product of Southern California who never liked heat, and even though the upper Midwest is collectively losing its mind over it with every school closing, grocery stores shutting down, retail businesses shutting up, and even, astonishingly, the postal service suspending mail delivery, my library is completely nonplussed. Our hours are normal and unchanged. We more or less have a full house; a few old schoolers roaming the stacks looking for something to read, a handful of people reading or studying in comfy chairs and at tables, and the usual raft of humans populating the great banks of Internet computers in a way that never fails to evoke for me that image of warehoused bodies in The Matrix. 

Red pill, or blue pill?

The library is always just a little bit different than the rest of the world. We are like a little bubble of warm air in all the vastness of existence. Outside the world is closed down. The winds howl. Citizens shutter their doors. The end of all life has come. It is minus 22 degrees for hundreds of miles in every direction. Trees explode in the night. Stars shudder. And the temperature keeps dropping.

Minnesota has come down to two places for any person to be tonight and two places only. Home and the library. Red pill, blue pill. 

Nobody knows which is which. 

So take both.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Dear Minnesota Department of Transportation

Dear Minnesota Department of Transportation:

On foot I was approaching a rather large, 5-way intersection in Minneapolis. Though I wasn't paying close attention, I am pretty sure, as a point of reference, that I had not merely just missed my turn. The sign placidly said, and had said so for awhile "Don't Walk". So I didn't. I pushed the walk sign button and put my mittened hands in my pockets and settled in.

The walk sign button said, and I hope you'll read all of this carefully, the walk sign button said "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait."

You didn't read all of those, did you? You just looked at them. Ah well.

 But if you were to read them properly, at each comma you would have to pause for about four seconds. If you read it like that then you would know how long I waited, in the bitter cold, in the snow drifts covering the corner, while cars that were two miles away when I arrived at the crosswalk, passed me by.

I know what you are thinking. 

You are thinking I am a crank.


Eh, well, maybe I am a little. But you would be too if you waited on the corner in the freezing cold for four minutes to cross the street.

Now you are wondering, "Maybe the walk sign was broken."


I submit to you: Any walk sign that does not change to green the second one touches it is broken!

Let me give that to you again:

Any walk sign that does not change to green the second one touches it is broken!

Now you are remembering that I am a crank.

If I am then I am the crank who is going to save the planet! If we are going to save the planet we have to stop indulging cars.

You're indulging cars.

Stop it or all your children who aren't killed in catastrophic flooding and famines will be picked off by brutal gangs marauding across a shattered, post apocalyptic America.

Unless, of course, like me, you have no children.

In which case, like, whatever.

Yours for a brighter future,

F. Calypso

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sweet and sour

Oh, don't mind me, I'm just cooking. I'm making Sweet and Sour Shrimp! Well, sort of Sweet and Sour Shrimp, but actually a little more like Fried Shrimp and Seared Broccoli in Sezchuan Sauce. Yeah, that.

It's going to be so good!

But it is taking a very long time to cook. I wonder if I will ever get to eat it. I don't think it helps much that I have had to come work at the library for eight hours in the middle of the process.

Last night I peeled the shrimp. Then I dredged them in flour, salt, pepper, and a little corn starch. I dipped them in beaten egg. Then I coated them in panko bread crumbs. Then I fried them in walnut oil until they were golden and crispy.

It was a lot of work. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. They'll try to. I've seen them do so in those fancy cookbooks. But Thomas Keller won't. He is a revered and very famous chef and I saw a glamorous ad for some online class he was doing. At the end he said something like, and I wildly paraphrase here, "Cooking great food requires commitment and time. And remember, patience, patience, patience." 

I don't have a lot of patience. Like when I dropped all my shrimp in the panko bread crumbs BECAUSE IT WAS SO TEDIOUS ONE AT A TIME!

First you had to peel each little shrimp. Then you had to wiggle each little string of gut out of each little shrimp. Then you had to roll each shrimp around in the flour. Then you had to dip each shrimp in the egg. Then you had to AAAAUUUUUUGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

So I only have great food occasionally.

But where were we? Oh, then we set aside the golden shrimp and cooked cut up broccoli in the oil, adding chunks of onion and baby sweet peppers until they were all softened and glossy. I set that aside too. Then I went to sleep. Then I woke up and had coffee and toast with my wife. Then I went to work.

That's where I am now, so I can see that it's all kind of a recipe cliffhanger. Surely you are wondering: What happens next?

Imagine how my stomach feels.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The life of a library reader

When I start reading a book while I'm working at the library it has three pages to completely hook me. If it hasn't woven me in by three pages I put it down. I have work to do! There are items to shelve, patrons to help, machines to poke, cats to feed, and more books to try three pages of!

When I start reading a book while I'm at home it has 300 pages to hook me. If it hasn't hooked me after 300 pages I put it down, usually because it's over.

"Well, that wasn't very good." I say. And then "Oh, look, it's two in the morning."

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The latest indictments

I read a lot about the disastrous Trump Presidency and in particular the developments regarding the Mueller investigation. I rarely talk about any of it in this space because, and it pains me to admit it, I don't understand most of what I read. I am half lost, stumbling around in the dark desperate for a recognizable object. "Wait, so who is Roger Stone again? What did he do? Right, he's an advisor to Trump in cahoots with Wikileaks and he told a guy to testify something or he would hurt his dog." I'm just saying it's hard to keep it all straight and the discussion gets nuanced, legal, conjectural, bizarre, and interpretive very quickly.

I hate to commend and refer to the Internet, but I am occasionally compelled to do so. Someone wonderfully posted, to some small four hour notoriety (I already can't find it again), a little gif of what it feels like to follow the Mueller Investigation and the crumbling of this Presidency. It shows a big truck barreling along at a relentless speed heading for a very solid looking, short, stout metal post. A series of quick cuts are made of the truck bearing down, each angle increasing the tension of the imminent collision, but it just keeps going on. The edits keep happening. The truck keeps tearing towards the post, but it never ever hits it.

Maybe this is how revenge feels. Maybe there is no satisfaction possible. Maybe the thing will never happen. Yes, one day the President will not be Donald Trump. A thousand cuts will take their toll, but I think that what we are hoping for is that something dies that maybe cannot die. It is baked into the heart of humankind. It is dark and cannot be slain. We fight on because evil sucks. But it is relentless. And that winning, that triumph over it, each time, is so small it is hard to see.

Friday, January 25, 2019


I work at a library. Old guys tell me stories here all the time. I write a blog, one essay every single day. So one would think it would be fantastic for me to be told stories by these old guys. I could then just turn around and tell you! It would be like a free day. And I suppose it would be fantastic to hear these stories, but only if these stories had beginnings, middles or ends. It would be fantastic only if there seemed to be any point to these stories. It would be fantastic if I had any idea what the story was about that they just told me.

But I don't. So it's not fantastic, it's just mildly interesting and not very useful.

Today I was shelving in non fiction. I was all alone in my aisle when, with an alarming closeness, my name was whispered. There was a smaller gentleman of my acquaintance in the next aisle over, calling my name through the gap in the books.

He talks very fast, in an agitated manner. He gets sort of excited and then kind of stutters a lot. He's also has an apologetic manner combined with a curious persistence. Whispering at me through the stacks I was immediately put in the mind of Peter Lorre; sinister, strangely appealing, and dismissable all at once.

We talked, though it was mostly him. First he was telling me about a book he was halfway through about Billy Martin, the baseball player and manager. His story was filled with tangents, was not very interesting, and ended up in a biker bar in Minneapolis. There was something about a theory he had that the bar was named for Billy Martin's son based on no evidence I could see him presenting to me. I also couldn't tell why it would be interesting if the bar was somehow named for Billy Martin's son. He talked about how he quizzed the bartender about his theory, and then there were two discussions there with a barmaid (his term, which fascinated me as I've never heard "barmaid" used in actual modern conversation). One conversation took place 25 years before the next. It was all bewildering. 

Then, as the story was sort of dimming into confusion, whether mine, his, or, I suspect, both of ours, he said he had met Jane Goodall at that bar. This was about 20 years ago. She was older than him and they just happened to be sitting next to each other. He asked her to dance. He didn't know she was Jane Goodall. She said no, but nicely. When she said who she was he thought maybe she was messing with him. He said they later went across the street and had pie. Some time after that he went to The Primate Institute, which I researched and actually was at the University of Minnesota at that time. He saw her there. She said "What are you doing here?"

I never did quite get what he answered.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Good bye party week

Pretty much everyone is leaving their job at my library this week, retiring or moving on. Well, not everyone, just three out of 60 people, but if that happened here every week after roughly five short months a person would walk into my library and they would see no one working, absolutely no one at all. That lone person would wonder "Where is everyone?", but they would, and here's where it gets tricky, they would have no one to ask!

Me and 56 other people are still here to ask, fortunately, just in case.

The first going away party was today. The cake didn't look half bad, but I resisted eating it because I only knew 34 of the 73 ingredients, which was two shy of my fastidious requirements.

After awhile I tore myself away from the party, which had devolved into a discussion of College Tuition, and I went to put a cart of non fiction in order. One of my co-workers came up to ask about the cake and the party.

"You know what the worst thing about a co-worker leaving is?" I asked.

"That they monopolize the break room all afternoon." My co-worker answered, which was pretty funny, but not what I was going to say and this is my blog.

"The worse thing about a co-worker leaving" I said. "Is that now you have to get to know a new co-worker."

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

We are history

In a sort of epic retirement event at my library no less than three old-timers are retiring this week. These are people who had long been working here when I started in the mid nineties. Also in the same week a teen librarian is moving on in order to run some distant surburban branch in another system. 

So there's going to be a lot of cake. 

There might even be a speech. You know it's big if someone gets up and gives a speech. Well, there probably won't be a speech.

Do I like the people who are leaving? Sure. Just an hour ago I was upstairs and saw one of these prospective retirees all alone at the reference desk. She wasn't doing much because, I don't know, she's retiring soon, or the Internet stole most of the reference work, or things were just slow. She has three days left here after showing up for about 8,000 of them.

"One day you'll look back on this and laugh." I said to her.

She laughed and said she hoped so. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

A cheesy fan letter

Dear Edelweiss Creamery,

What are you people up to? The Gouda you make is really good!

There's nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, but I just find it all so confusing.

Although maybe this is the time to admit to you, and to myself, that I find cheese confusing. Sometimes I go looking for a cheese and they're all like $30 a pound. So I get some over the top Comte upgrade where the cows are all individually tucked in at night and read a story to by milkmaids, and it's really good cheese. I mean, it's delicious! Then sometimes I go looking for a cheese and there's like, some Edelweiss Gouda, from Wisconsin, and it's less than $12 a pound and it's really good! It's amazing really. This happens with Bleu d'Auvergne sometimes as well, although only at one store where I sometimes wonder it they have the wrong price in their computer. Then occasionally there's a cheese and it's maybe $18 a pound, you know, some Manchego or Stilton for instance, and I buy it and it's really really good.

These cheeses are all good! They're fantastic, to tell you the truth. How can they all be that good?

I could put all these cheeses on a plate and maybe pick a favorite, but it would generally be whichever one I happened to be eating at that moment.

I like the way your cheese has the crunchy bits in it, like Parmesan. I like its dense creaminess too. It has a lot of flavor. I am also really keen on the way if I hand over $6 for this cheese I get a nice big chunk of it instead of a frail slice.

I think what's really going on is I like good cheese. There's a lot of good cheese. But I think your wonderful cheese marks the starting point at which price per pound no longer necessarily indicates higher or lower quality. This means that your cheese is better than all the cheeses that are cheaper than it while being as good as, basically, you know, give or take mood, need, and accompanying wine, all the other cheeses in the world.


Well done, and, thank you. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Walk sign robots

My wife and I have spent much of our long weekend walking around the city, so we are particularly well acquainted with the walk sign guy. I don't know if you have him where you live. He says "Wait" when one presses the street crossing button, sometimes obsessively ("Wait wait wait w-w-way-w-wait. Wait."), depending on how many dozens of times I depress the street crossing button.

Street crossing buttons kind of get me worked up.

The walk sign guy also comments on when it's okay to walk. For the first two years this sounded to me like he was saying "Alzeimaslana sauce, Spaglin abnu!" But one day my wife cracked the code and told me he was saying "Walk sign is on to cross, (Franklin) Avenue."

So I'm not saying this robot guy was particularly good at his job, but at least he was fairly neutral about it.

Yesterday we came to an intersection and it had a new walk sign button. It also had a different guy! He said all the same things, but he was an asshole.

"Wait!" He ordered like a fascist cop.

"Walk sign is on to cross." He threatened with a kind of angry contempt.

This is a bad robot.

I am a fan of robots. I think robots tend more towards the good than bad. And though I don't yet know what is up with this horrible new walk sign guy, I will warn you with this:

Whenever you see a bad robot, someone is making money.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Day 2,193

I have in the past compared my library clerking to how Messi plays soccer. It was self aggrandizing to compare myself in that manner to the greatest soccer player who has ever, er, kicked a ball. But because the context of working at a library is so wildly different than playing soccer it was also comically self effacing. After all, if one scores one goal and makes seven brilliant passes in a soccer game, one has, in the course of maybe five minutes, contributed enough to the team that one can now spend the other 85 minutes walking around looking faintly interested and still cumulatively be the best player in the game. On the other hand if one has a few deeply helpful interactions with library patrons and then fixes some out of the way shelving errors, one has contributed so much in 30 minutes that if they spend the other seven and a half hours wandering around eating yogurt and offering amusing comments to their co-workers then those comments better be supremely fucking amusing.

Much as I like to dream it, even I can't be that amusing. Nothing is that amusing. 

To have any hope at all I'd better be at something more like a 1:3 work:yogurt eating ratio, and then I still have to be pretty funny or at least pleasantly distracting to keep in the upper tiers of clerking.

But this is just the recap. I am not here to talk about how I am like Messi at work. Rather, I would today like to tell you instead all about what soccer player I write blog posts like. 

I write blog posts like Arturo Vidal plays soccer.

Alas only a tiny percentage of my audience here knows about Arturo Vidal. So I will explain:

In second and third grade all of us kids played soccer in the big lower field at Chaparral Elementary School. There were few rules and little organization. The skill level was quite low as well. Simply put it was two masses of small kids running madly at the ball wherever it happened to be and trying their hardest to kick it.

Arturo Vidal is one of the greatest soccer players, one of the greatest athletes in the world. This above is not really what he does. But it is very much in the spirit of it. He is like the God of second grade soccer players, so good at it that he has risen to near the top of his sport, where he tends to be a little underrated.

I would love to write essays like Messi plays soccer, writing things from out of nowhere that are so dazzling people just read them over and over, ensorcelled. But it is not so. The ball is rolled out into the Internet and like a man possessed I simply go running at it pell-mell, no plan, as fast as I humanly can. And as soon as I get near it I leap for it, sliding in at risk to my life and limb, and I miss, or not. But if I miss I get up and run again, absurd, tireless, convinced. And the moment my foot hits the ball, well...

that's the essay for the day.

Until the next day, for ten thousand days in a row.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Library smell

No Tooth Faerie, no Santa, no Heaven at all. But oh Faerie of good smells, I believe. I believe.

I believe in you.

I did not call for you last week when my co-worker's son spontaneously vomited just behind the front desk of the library. Surely you were too busy wandering in the fields of new strawberries.

I did not call for you earlier this week when someone peed on the teen book shelves. What if you were cavorting in a grove of blossoming lemon trees?

I did not call for you yesterday when something backed up in the men's entryway bathroom and wafted out. How dare I interrupt your sacred Winter Dance of the Cold Pine Trees?

But today a person came to the library and SHE DID NOT SMELL GOOD!

She smelled like she had not washed in many months. 

She did not smell of sweat, or vomit, or pee, or poo. 

She smelled of death.


I do not like that smell. It makes me gag

I can live with pee.

I can soldier through poo.

I can endure vomit.

But I could not take this smell of death. 

It lingered. It swallowed up sections of the library until long after she left, and she moved around a lot! It settled like a dark green miasma. It fogged my precious library. It was horrible.

So I call on you, gracious Faerie of Good Smells. Hear my cry.

Turraloo ra loo ra O la ray!

Leave your fields of almond blossoms! (please)

Leave your gardens of yellow roses. (if you would be so kind)

Leave your French Chestnut Forest in the rain. (help!)

We need you.

We believe.

We believe, we believe, we believe!

Please, let believing make it so.

Friday, January 18, 2019

How I request replacement printer paper rolls

I had to order some replacement printer paper rolls from our Automation Services Department. Unfortunately doing this took not just much of the work time I had set aside for it, but it also spilled into, and completely overwhelmed my dinner hour.

I was going to write a blog post during that dinner hour!

Seeking to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear I have decided to share my requisition request with you here. My job is more complicated than you would think...

Description of problem:

Through a careful analysis by our supply coordinator it was determined that we were getting low on both the white and the yellow printer paper rolls. This suggested a trend (see chart below) in which we, at some point, would have no paper rolls. Without these rolls we would be structurally unable to provide our library patrons with a printed notice of the dates upon which their material would be due. Seeing a prospective breakdown in Library Operations a committee was swiftly formed.

I won't bore you with the complete details of what the committee of 11 members discussed over the course of six hours spread across three sessions, but a variety of solutions were put forward and carefully examined. These included but were not limited to:

1. Switching from printed slips of any kind to a fully Internet ready, email notification system.

2. The elimination of due dates and/or of any requirements for system returns of library materials.

3. Replacement and restocking of said printer paper rolls in an attempt to forestall running out.

In discussion among the committee no consensus was reached and so a vote was taken. Five members voted for option three, three for option two, and two for option one, with one committee member in the bathroom during the vote. And so the choice for option three was carried: We would replace and restock paper printer rolls.

As the vice secretary designate for the committee it is my role to put forth the official request that you deliver to us:

1 box of white paper printer rolls
1 box of yellow paper printer rolls

Thank you for your attention to this matter.