Thursday, February 28, 2019

Elevator surprise

We live on the top floor of a building with an elevator. Sometimes I use the stairs, sometimes I take the fancy way, especially if I'm heading out for my solitary morning walk commute in the bitter conditions of this Winter. It gives me extra time to finish putting on my vast array of outerwear. Even though my building has dozens of units in it it's rare to run into anyone on the elevator and it's easy to take it for granted that one will have it to oneself.

So when today, on the first floor, the elevator opened up to suddenly reveal a woman with her rambunctious dog I was startled. I was so startled I sort of yelped.

"Sorry." she said, tugging her dog into the elevator with her as we passed.

"You just never expect anyone in the elevator." I said to explain. 

It's the fifth time I've said so this week.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A study

An important new study on studies came out today. This study shows that 82% of all news venues will report the results of any study given to them without even reading beyond the first few main points of the study. It also shows that studies are regularly reported in an uncritical fashion, and that people reporting studies rarely fact check, consult peer reviewed commentary, or even examine the conclusions against common sense. The study further goes on to find that more than nine out of ten study reporting venues are run by colorful tea cozies and that the Capitol of France is now located in my kitchen sink. People prefer the taste of wood shavings to that of strawberry ice cream. A nickel is worth way more than a quarter. And nearly everyone agrees that the clever people who come up with and conduct studies should all be paid 20 times more than they currently are. 

The study concludes that 86% percent of reporting venues are vulnerable to being eaten by chipmunks, evil turtles rule the U.S. Senate, and that I have a winning smile and a delightful way with statistics. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A windy little story

This month, I tell you. First there were the minus 60 wind chills. Then there were the endless snowfalls which have so buried our dear cities that only the chimneys poke up out of the quiet, vast sea of whiteness. All we can see from our high up building is that great blanket of snow and the little red rectangles poking occasionally out of it, blowing pure white trickles of smoke into a vast blue sky.

Now has come the wind.

It is a terrible, terrible and fierce wind. It is dangerously cold. Most of us cower in our abodes, but winter is long. So even though it's a battle some of the neighborhood kids have struggled out to the great snow hill with their sleds. The wind fights them at every step. It tries to steal away their toboggans and inner-tubes. It is too strong against them to allow them to slide down the hill towards the river, the blinding wind blows far too hard for that. It is an epic wind too mighty to be moved against.

But there is still a way. Far at the bottom of the hill they simply sit down on their sleds, as if in defeat, and the wind blows them to the top.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Parking the car

One of our prominent work areas looks out on the carpool and disabled parking spots. And so I have much cause and opportunity to look up and gaze with horror upon my fellow humans. The carpool spots are filled mainly by textbook revolting American stereotypes. Emerging alone from their obese vehicles, they save themselves 40 steps as they walk to the slightly nearer front doors of the library from their stolen parking spots after spending the morning in Church praying to their grotesque, insane President.

I don't wish them well. Though I know enough of some of these people, from helping them in the library, to understand that they are in a constant cycle of both perpetuating and paying for their sins. And I try to keep in mind, to temper my rancor, that there are worse sins than parking in a carpool spot illegally...

Like, for instance, parking in the Handicapped spots illegally.

Unlike the carpool spots which are used by two clearly identifiable populations, planet hating miscreants (solo patrons), and welcome users (non solo patrons), the Disabled spots are used by people on a vast, murky ethical scale. You tell me: who, if either of these, are in the wrong: The retired firefighter with a ruined right leg and two replaced hips, who, though she has no handicapped tag, limps in agonizing slowness to our front doors, or the middle aged business executive who has a legal handicap tag but in every way seems perfectly spry, able, and unpained by his quick journey to our relatively nearby front doors.

While I cannot see whether or not any people using the disabled parking places have the required handicapped permissions, I can say that most of the people I see emerge from those cars seem well and able enough. Certainly I cannot judge hidden conditions. But because the majority of people who use the Disabled spaces who seem reasonably able is so vast I am compelled to conclude that a huge number of disabled parkers are up to at least some measure of ethical malfeasance. 

A couple of hours ago I looked out the window at an old car that had just parked in a handicapped spot. An older woman slowly emerged from the car pulling out a walker with her. She had only one leg and maneuvered and kept her balance in the snow using the walker. She worked her way to the back door of her Dodge Dart. With struggle she got it open. She pulled out a folded up wheelchair and awkwardly got it set up properly in the snow. She folded up the walker and shoved it into the car while gingerly getting herself situated in the wheelchair.

"Now that's what I'm talking about!" I exclaimed with admiring satisfaction.

Then I felt a little funny about it.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The helpful note

Working in common with a lot of different people at a public library sometimes the only feasible way to communicate is through a post it note. Sending out an email to dozens of people about "computer number 14, the one to the far right at the front desk" will likely be forgotten by the time any of its readers encounter "computer number 14, the one to the far right at the front desk". Whereas a post it note stuck on the keyboard of that computer that says "The Caps Lock on this keyboard is broken. A work order has been submitted" Is completely informative exactly where and when it needs to be informative.

Well, not completely. But even then it provides a relevant context for discussion. If further information is required one can turn to one's co-worker and say "Hasn't this note been on here for, like, two years?"

To which your co-worker will reply "At least!" because our technical services department has been profoundly dysfunctional for over a decade now.

But this brings up an important issue regarding these notes: Always date them! When one writes a note the date does not seem particularly important as one thinks it will be clear to everyone that the time referred to on the note is "now". But time is weird, and by some device that even the greatest geniuses of the World have been unable to fathom, "now" irresistibly becomes an element of history, the past. We can see this trick of the universe in play by looking at a post it note attached to a chunk of plastic that looks as if it were chewed over lovingly by a medium sized dog, maybe a terrier of some kind. And on it is a post it note reading "Louise Finkelstein will pick up." With no date on this Louise Finkelstein will always be in to pick it up. Louise Finkelstein will be imminently arriving for eternity. With a date on it the march of time will reveal the mendacity of Louise Finkelstein, and allow for the throwing in the garbage of said disgusting object, relieving the library of a terrible burden. In the first scenario all are perpetual losers. In the second scenario, in the end, only a Bull Terrier in Mahtomedi is a loser, and he was doomed in either case.

But even more important than the inclusion of a date on any note is the inclusion of the note author's initials. Including one's initials is taking responsibility for what one writes on the note. If one is uncomfortable taking responsibility for the content of one's note, that is probably an indicator that the note is neither useful nor wise. Including one's initials indicates humbleness and wisdom. It allows for the possibility that something on the note may be unclear despite one's greatest efforts. I regularly extract information and make use of information on the unsigned notes I come across, but I don't respect them and throw them away at the slightest provocation. A post it note stuck to a safe with the combination written on it that has no date or initials on it is clearly the work of an incompetent lunatic imperiling our entire workplace. A post it note stuck to a safe with the combination written on it that also has the date and the note author's initials is a work of daring usefulness that indicates that nothing valuable is kept in that safe, but that we nevertheless, for some ridiculous reason, keep stuff in there that we all need to get to.

This morning there was a note by the phones announcing some barely valuable item that a patron lost and was looking for. It included the patron's name and number. It was unsigned. If we were to find this item, which is extraordinarily unlikely, we would not look for a note to match it up to. Which brings us to my final bits of note advice:

Just because somebody asked for it doesn't mean you have to write it down, and, just because it was written down doesn't mean it is worth keeping.

And so to my co-workers I would just like to add: If you are looking for that note about the lost wireless mouse, I threw it away. 



Saturday, February 23, 2019

Work orders

Attention End Users:

We will no longer be responding to problems outside of our work order system. If something goes wrong, if there is an emergency, if equipment appears to be malfunctioning do not stop us in the hallway. Do not call us. And do not take the elevator to our work area to tell us about it. You must fill out an Intranet work order. There are no exceptions to this process!

Unfortunately, since our work order system is currently down, we have not yet had a work order submitted for its repair and so are currently in a holding pattern.

We will let you know when it is operative again.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Complaint quota

I don't like complaining about our wonderful library patrons, but sometimes they're simply so infuriating, so inexplicable, and so exasperating! So I try to keep it down to just a few such complaining posts each year.

What did they do this time?

Thank you for asking.

Did they yell at you and call you names? 


Did they steal things?


Did they physically attack the librarians?

No no no.

It's much worse than that.

They created pointless work for me.

"Huh." You might say, quickly losing interest. 

But don't you see? That's exactly it! There we are, me and the library patron. We're on the phone together and we're having a fine time. She is pretty sure she returned that Jude Devereux book, but when she called one of our other branch libraries they looked for it and they didn't have it!

"So why are you calling me?" I ask, though I put it more gently than that, though I can't think of how, so maybe I didn't.

The other branch suggested I call you.

Then I ask for the patron's library card number.

It never occurred to them that they might need such a thing because they naturally think I am magic.

I am totally magic but I want their library card number.

"I have to go to the local Kwik-E-Mart to get that." They say with a touch of irritation that they modify with a quick consideration of how if they have to go to the Kwik-E-Mart they might as well pick up some barbecued corn chips while they're there.

So they set the phone down and head to the Kwik-E-Mart while I, waiting on the line, watch the entire second half of the Atletico Madrid V. Juventus soccer match, which, even though it wasn't a Barcelona game, was pretty good. Then she came back to the phone and I fixed all her problems in the way that my colleague at the branch library should have done in her first call.

"So I don't understand." You say. "What is your complaint about the patron? It sounds like it all worked out okay for you."

To which I can only say, then this doesn't count against my designated yearly quota of complaints about library patrons.

I am, however, complaining about my idiot co-worker at the other branch. But don't worry, I'm allowed to do that as much as I like.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Stopping by a library on a snowy evening

One of my several dozen managers likes to draw cartoons on an informational whiteboard that greets us at the back entrance of the library. I was totally charmed by today's, which featured a signature (borrowed) character of his, standing, waiting in a blizzard at a bus stop, with the snow up to his neck, saying resignedly "My bus may be a few minutes late."

I can look out the back window of the library now, at sunset, and see the snow gently falling among the trees back there and into the parking lot. It is literally snowing, but I was tempted to describe it as "not snowing" merely because it is no longer snowing heavily. This month has been the snowiest February in all recorded history in my cities. My sense of snow normal has grown skewed. But interestingly this is also the same month in which we encountered astonishing, record breaking cold weather as well. At the start of the month we saw temperatures close to minus 30 F., and the windchills on our balcony reached 754 degrees below zero, though, of course, that's not official, and you probably shouldn't quote me.

Nevertheless this has been an awesome February. It has gotten to be so over the top that I'm not even mad at it anymore. It may snow some more on the weekend and instead of dread I feel a vague curiosity. How much snow can pile onto a railing before the height of the snow frosting becomes structurally unsound?

The extreme weather has had a curious effect on the library I work at. There is an almost split personality to it. And my own reaction has taken on its own self-contradictory quality. Every single day events are cancelled here left and right. I'm not sure if we've even had an event in the library this month that hasn't been cancelled. Everything from "Meet a dog" to "Learn why you will never be able to properly work your smartphone" has been called off due to the weather. This has outraged me. I'm here! Why are we cancelling everything? I wander around the library telling everyone that Minnesotans have grown soft.

And yet, as eight inches of snow dumps onto the city and driving the roads becomes a loose-wheeled dance with death, I sit at the front desk of my library and watch person after person still finding their perilous way to our front doors. "My god!" I cry. "Are these people without any sense? Why don't they just stay warm and cozy at home?"

I have been thinking these two reactions make no sense together, but I might have figured it out. If the weather is terrible and I still manage to make it to the library to work, so should anyone else. But since we did all make it here we really shouldn't have to do anything. I've got so many blog posts to write. So, so many blog posts. And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Busquets at the library

As I write, my dear little soccer team from Barcelona is playing a very important game that I cannot watch.

"Aren't they all important?" You inquire.

I'm so glad you understand!

I will watch a replay of this game later, but now I have to shelve some novels- something (Johansen) I'm (Johansen) doing (Mphahlele) between (Paretsky) each (Patterson) word (Pope) I (Rivers) write (Roy). But I will console myself for this terrible soccer deprivation by telling you about Sergio Busquets. He is a soccer player, a midfielder on said Barcelona team. And when I tell you about soccer players I like to try and connect what they do on the pitch with what we library workers do (at least sometimes) in our jobs.

My second best skill at the library I work at is like what Sergio Busquets does. There is a quiet line of self aggrandizement here, so let me carefully qualify this by saying I only manage to do this for a handful of hours a week, in between the snacking, Internet surfing, chatting, loafing, helping people ostentatiously, complaining about the management, performing, shelving while blogging, and wandering aimlessly.

But I do do this fabulous clerking sometimes, so there.

What do I do?

Oh, right. I work like Sergio Busquets.

There is a famous quote about Sergio Busquets which, if you follow the Barcelona Futbol Club you will have heard often enough for it to have passed into an almost tiresome cliche, but is otherwise fascinating to the uninitiated. It goes like this:

If you watch the game, you don't see Busquets. If you watch Busquets, you see the whole game.

What does this mean about Busquets?

I don't know, I watch the game.

Ha ha ha ha ha. Just a little soccer humor.

It means he's the metronome, the heart beat, the houndsmaster. He's the weather worker. He let's fly the arrows. He crafts the conditions under which the game plays. If he can. If he's at his best he sets the flow of play and makes it open up under his deft touch.

And so, in this mode at the library, which I enter into almost unwillingly, led along to it by workflow, solitude, and an often infuriated desire for perfection, I quietly, humbly, and behind the scenes, take care of the minor details that make everything else flow. I fix the shelving errors. I put in the labels that were missing. I repair things and set them up better. I line it all up to go at a touch. I say the right word. I work in a way a casual observer can't even tell is working, but is massively efficient and quietly industrious. I take care of small details that would be problematic for others later on and that they won't know was actually taken care of. I set it all... spinning.

And most of all, like Busquets, I tend to kick a lot of things when I'm doing it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A really boring blog post you won't be interested in, though George Clooney might like it

It is a well acknowledged fact that no significant amount of people will read anything on the Internet without being tricked into it. This is why I considered titling this particular post:

Five Shocking Things You Never Knew About George Clooney!

The reason I didn't title this post that way is that, well, besides there not being any shocking things you don't know about George Clooney, I, like many writers, am averse to lying. That's what institutions are for.

If I wrote my blog for a big institution, like The New York Times or something, they would lie for me and they would title my blog post:

Five Shocking Things You Never Knew About George Clooney!

And I would tell everyone: I hate that they titled my blog post Five Shocking Things You Never Knew About George Clooney!, but my editor insisted!


Don't tell him though. He's just doing his job.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Dear Editor: I am finally ready

Dear Editor:

Yes, I have submitted my work to you now 47 times for your consideration.

Yes, you have said no every time.

"Maybe," You are thinking "He hasn't taken my 'no's' to heart."

I have taken each and every one of your no's to heart!

And if it were as simple as all that I would not write you again proposing that you publish my book. I would understand that you really were seriously not interested in publishing my writing.

But there were mitigating circumstances. 

Things have changed.

Those other 47 times I submitted my manuscript I wasn't ready. Deep down I did not really feel that I should be published, even if on the surface I was certain that I was ready. I was self sabotaging.

You might not remember it that way. You might just think each of those 47 times you simply didn't feel that my manuscript was up to the standards of your publishing company. You might not have recognized my self sabotaging even as you reacted to it on multiple levels.

With that in mind let me refresh your memory with some of the devices I have subconsciously used to dissuade you even as you simply ascribed your reticence to the quality of my writing. Once you see that your negative response was due to my self destructive tendencies, and not to the shortcomings of my literary acumen, you will be ready, I believe, to open your heart to the new, fully actualized me, and to my finely crafted works of popular literature.

The following then is a list of self sabotaging elements that have appeared in my previous 47 submissions:

1. Calling your fine publishing house a "den of cowardly corporate fascism".

2. Demanding first class airfare before signing any agreements.

3. The inclusion of fish in the envelope with my submission.

4. Lying about Nobel Prizes when it's super easy to look up whether someone won a Nobel Prize.

5. Having Bob Dylan call you, especially considering how much he mumbles.

6. Any reference to fonts, all 207 of them.


8. Printing my manuscript in invisible ink.

9. Asking preemptively for my postage money back.

10. Showing up at your summer house in my swimsuit.

11. The whole thing with the pigeons.

12. Impersonating Nicholas Sparks.

13. The thing with the Cheetos bag (I'm glad everyone is okay!).

14.  Telling you that my writing is mysteriously unpopular.

15. Tear-stained manuscript pages.

Now that all this is out in the open I am hoping we can move beyond it and start afresh.

I humbly ask that in the spirit of new beginnings, and speaking as a person finally ready for this next big step in my writing career, you will take an unbiased look at my enclosed work of non-fiction essays. Hopefully, unfettered by my self-defeating actions of the past, you will see their merits and be interested in working with me to publish them at your lovely and esteemed press. 

If this is so please do let me know at your earliest convenience, and I will release your dog.

With hopes for a bright future together!

F. Calypso

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The secret mission

Because our attempts at prayer here have recently gone awry, we offer this prayer:

Please, oh lord, I pray for all the peoples of the world everywhere, and I have a special idea. 

I think a fair measure of atheism would be best for everyone. Please god, make all the people in the world atheists. You know it's for the best. You can do it.

You and I can soldier on together, the only ones knowing the truth. We can do good in secret, away from the eyes of the world, the way it's meant to be done. 

You know, like on this blog. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Lost to God

It is Saturday, so let us pray. Please bow your heads.

Wait, WAIT! You can't see the screen if you've bowed your heads! Ugh! Look up! Look up!

Ach, I've lost them. 

Should we wait them out? I mean, at some point they're going to get curious about what the next instruction is and they'll have to look up, even if just a peek. 

Look up!


Hmm. Nope. They're very spiritual. This could take awhile.

I've got time.

I'm patient. I can wait it out.

Still, I should have been more careful about my initial instructions.

Look up! Look up! Look up!


Look up! Look up! Look up!

No, they're with God now, communing.

We'll just have to...

Hey, wait! What are you doing here then?

Still, it's nice of you to stick around.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Crazy rich

There are crazy people who come to my library and then there are crazy people who come to my library.

I'm just saying that there are odd people who come to the front desk of the library and say strange things that no one understands, and then there are people who come to the front desk of the library, make no eye contact, mumble bizarrely, whether trying to communicate or not, and check out only items related to serial killers.

One of this second kind came in for her weekly visit today. She had found some nice Charles Manson materials and was steadfastly not looking at me or saying anything at all while she rooted around for her library card. She did not look well, morbidly obese and in filthy clothes covered in what I took to be food bits but, considering her interests, could have been anything at all. Waiting patiently for the card I did not need because I knew her name, I noticed her indeterminable color fleece jacket featured a fancy logo from The U.S. Polo Association.

"Ah!" I exclaimed gesturing "A Polo fan are you?"

She did not answer.

Ah well, at least she comes from money.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The river

It is not in my nature to consider myself lucky. My professional dreams have come to little. My 2,200 plus and counting daily missives of extraordinary understanding and wit that you see here have decidedly not captured the world's imagination. My health always seems a little ragged and I currently have a wheezing cough. I scooted one of the rolly chairs at work today under the table and pinned a bit of my palm between the unfortunately raised armrests and the counter edge, pinching it painfully. There is a red mark there still that hurts to touch.

I keep count.

When I am out at the front desk of the library with another person 62% of the unpleasant patrons end up with me. Compared to how, on talent and skill, my favorite sports teams should fare, they do 18% worse. I've never won any notable prize in any contest. My clothes wear out faster than other peoples. Electronics are 3% more likely to be defective sent to me than they are on average when sent to everyone else in the world. The movies I like are too unpopular for the studios to make anymore. If I am hoping that something will come in the mail it won't, at least, not that day. If I want it to snow it doesn't. While Tuesdays and Thursdays are equally long for everyone else, for me the Tuesdays are actually considerably longer than the Thursdays.

I don't work on Thursdays.

I have never been appointed to the board of anything. No one has asked me to do an important and well regarded job. I can't run fast.

And I never forget any of this.

But on this day of the year I feel it is fair to add up all the pluses and minuses. And while I'd hate to tempt fate by saying too much, it is clearly apparent that somehow this great deficit in fortune has been paid in full, though it hardly seems it could be possible, making it all the more astounding. And the pure cool spring of my good luck so overflows as to run like river through my life, making everything that would be just a little bit dead, come wonderfully to life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Purple balloon

On rare, special occasions when I was in Elementary School, the teacher would bring in a film projector. Oh heaven! And we would sit in the dark and watch a film. Because rolls of film were valuable and precious commodities in those days, with no alternatives, there were only 11 films to go around in our school. So those are what we watched, over and over. And of those eleven films the one, for reasons forever lost to the mists of time, that we watched most of all was The Red Balloon.

I could look it up in two seconds on my computer, maybe even watch it in full, and learn many interesting, surprising things about this loosely remembered movie, but this isn't that kind of post. So instead I'll tell you what I remember it as:

The Red Balloon is a French film about a curiously sentient red helium balloon that follows a boy around Paris. It was either a boring movie in which nothing much ever happens, or a quietly enchanting film about everyday magic and the delicacy of love. I can't remember which.

Today I saw a purple balloon.

I looked out the window from my roost high above the city, and there it was, level with me in the air, floating down the Wintry street. 

Since I first watched The Red Balloon, in let's say 1972, I have seen thousands of loose helium balloons. I have seen them rising into the sky. I have seen them floating en masse along with the wind, and I have seen them trapped in the large atrium of my library, long ago escaped and now dipping and bobbing out of reach with gentle aimlessness in our quiet atmosphere. But this purple balloon, in all that time since The Red Balloon, was the first balloon I had seen with a sense of purpose. It was the first balloon acting on its own volition. It was the first balloon anything like the red balloon.

Except it was purple.

At a steady 75 feet above the street the purple balloon made its way towards The Mississippi River. Its path was straight and pure. Its pace did not alter. I, like any rational person, most of the time revert to not believing in magic, and so I expected the purple balloon to hit the turbulent air currents of the river gorge and to be wildly tossed about.

But no.

The balloon continued its steady, purposeful way up the bridge, as unaffected in its journey as any car down below it was in theirs. Then, at the midpoint of the bridge the purple balloon stopped. It rose another 100 feet in the air, and then it headed down The Mississippi River and disappeared from my view.

As I write this I fully assume that balloon is still somewhere on its journey. Please keep an eye out for it. I believe there are many unexplained things in our world. Maybe almost every single thing is so. But ever I live in hope that it is not forever, and one by one everything will be revealed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Cardinal and the Mona Lisa

I was walking along the river today. It has been snowing all February and so the world is full of this strange glow, not white exactly, almost grey, but a grey full of light. There was the ground, covered in snow, and I trudged, slipping along it, the ground giving away under my feet. There were the trees, weighed, ribboned, and outlined in snow. The river was as frozen as it could manage, and then it too was covered in snow. Grey, white, grey, white. And then there was a cardinal. There were several cardinals. Red, red. All alone in its red. Jewel red like fresh blood and Summer sour cherries.

I talk about birds that I see on my walks quite frequently in this space. I talk about turkeys and crows, robins, geese, and eagles. I mention the woodpeckers, and if I see a hawk I'll probably say something. But for a cardinal I'll hardly say a thing. It seems like cheating.

They are so red.

On a major industrial website of the Internet someone posed a question to the millions of people: "What's a tourist attraction you've been to that was 100% not worth the hype?" Among the top answers, that is, among the most popular and highly rated answers, was The Mona Lisa. They said it was small and insignificant. They said far greater paintings lurked unviewed nearby while crowds fought for a glimpse. They were unimpressed, these nameless denizens of the Internet.

I too have seen images of the Mona Lisa all my life. I have seen mock versions. I have seen it in its faithful reproductions. I have seen, in untold places, its ubiquitous image. There, even you too see it in your mind as I say its name. It is everywhere! But before I saw the Mona Lisa in person I had rather less the hype about it than the blowback from the hype: I had heard it is a small, not so impressive painting, that it's not up to its reputation and that the crowds ruin it anyway. And while I thought it a mildly interesting looking portrait in my picture book views of it, there were hundreds of paintings in the Louvre I was more interested in seeing. If not for the wisdom of my wife I probably wouldn't have taken the trouble to go see it.

It is incandescent. It is rich. It is meticulously painted and full of life. It is an absolute miracle of a painting. The person shimmers alive, 500 years later, in the small frame.

You just have to look at it. The real thing. There is magic there for the taking, but you do have to take the magic.

Like any magic.

I suspect that nearly every cheap nature calendar produced in the past fifty years includes, maybe for February or March, a picture of a cardinal in the snow, on a little branch, often with a couple colorful Winter berries nearby. It's a red bird, so brightly red, against the white snow. Who wouldn't take that picture? Why wouldn't you put it in your almost pleasant little calendar? It is pretty, but forgettable. It is not a strange or rare bird, especially to most of us North Americans. No one around here would have any more trouble identifying it than they would, say, The Mona Lisa. We've seen it a million times.

And so, when on a snowy Monday morning in February, with no birds around, a few cardinals fly by, I don't get excited. I am not amazed. It is business as usual. I have seen the calendar photos. I already know them.

But then, possessed by weariness perhaps, or having had enough of the endless blank white scene,  I look into the grey-brown trees, into the flat glow of the snow. And there one is. A cardinal. The only color in a thousand miles.

And I have missed everything up until then.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Emperor's new clothes

Anyone functionally capable of enjoying my posts enough to actually read them is fully aware, all on their own, by the simple nature of comprehension, that the President of the United States is unwholesome. He is deficient in wisdom. He is disingenuous. 

Oh, dash it all, he's an idiot!

And I don't mean this in the charged up way that I might have said Reagan, or George W. Bush was an idiot. I don't mean this in the emotive, frustrated, our-political-system-is-broken way it is commonly spoken. I don't mean it complexly. At least not here. I mean it matter of factly, in the same way that the Earth is round. That the Beatles wrote catchy tunes. The Godfather was a well made movie. Maple syrup is tasty. Rainbows are colorful. I mean it as a point of fact, unadorned. The way myself, the Editor of The New York Times, and Mitch McConnell all mean that Trump is an idiot is wildly variant, and how freely we express it is equally diverse, but the basic, raw fact of it is bluntly shared. Of this I have no doubt.

Why do I have no doubt? 

Because it's true. Some things simply are. These are the elements we agree on so that we have the building blocks to discuss more subtle things. If I keep having to explain that the color of a cloudless sky in the afternoon is blue, basic discussion breaks down.

And this is the problem. This is where reporting and public discourse fall apart: How, day to day, does a nation discuss a President who is an idiot?

At work today someone casually mentioned something about political correctness and, as it ever does, it rankled me. Its meaning has been stolen to express some sort of idea that one can no longer say slightly racist, or sexist, or homophobic things without people thinking it means one is a little racist, sexist, or homophobic. But the true expression of political correctness is in how a random reporter for The New York Times, for instance, cannot say, or operate from the assumption, that Donald Trump, who is an idiot, is an idiot. This has a warping effect on the discourse. It alters the plainest of reporting. It sucks the air out of any information anyone is trying to convey, making the simplest things twisted and complex. It's a constant, intentional stripping of context.

Donald Trump is not an uncommon type of character, though elevated to wealth and the Presidency he seems to be. At the library I work at I deal with people like him regularly. They are bombastic, terribly sad, broken, a little funny, heartbreaking, stupid, and so absorbed in their own self interest they easily lose rationality and common sense. In the context of my job I like these people. Someone has to. But I suffer them. And I nurse them along. And they have no real power over me or anyone else in the library. But I do not forget who they are. I do not look away from their relentless delusion in their own favor to try to find something more complex. I don't have to. But if some newspaper suddenly felt they had to spend two years writing thousands of articles about them that very attention would twist the plainness of their tragedy. How many times can one say the sky is blue without going a little mad.

We've gone a little mad.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

New people

Three new people started work today at my library. I've been going around introducing myself as "The eleventh most important person at this library." Of course, I'm just kidding. I'm not the eleventh most important person. I'm either way higher than that, or I'm way lower.

What I was really saying was "If you like me, I'll like you."

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Kids today

Yeah, sure it's cold. It was minus nine this morning when we were driving about on the frozen streets. As you might know it almost hit minus 30 last week. And we have snow too. A beautiful blizzard swept through The Twin Cities yesterday, all charming fat snowflakes for those of us watching inside, but a bit more grim for the folks trying to get around on their usual business. A full eight inches of snow they say.

But I just want to note this is nothing compared to when I was a kid. And I know it's a bit of a cliche to get a bit older and opine about how much tougher we had it, but that doesn't mean I should forsake the truth. That doesn't mean I shouldn't call them as I see them. That doesn't mean that it really wasn't, way back then, a time of but a few, crappy TV stations, inferior Juvenile literature options, and vastly more cruel weather!

And it's not just that the weather was worse. Do you know how many days the schools closed over weather here over the past couple of weeks? Neither do I, and it's too boring to look up on the Internet, but it was at least three days. Three days, possibly even four! Do you know how many weather related school closure days I experienced in my miserable 12 year run in public schools? 


I had a total of two days off because of weather in the course of 12 years of crappy, elementary education!

And while I am grudgingly willing to acknowledge it never got colder than 48 degrees during the course of my schooling in Southern California, I cannot begin to express how chilly that can feel in the terrible, low quality windbreakers a person could acquire back in the seventies.

So my advice to everyone here is to just put on a quality hat, toughen up, and head on outside to freeze to death. Literally freeze to death.

The planet is doomed anyway.

Friday, February 8, 2019

How to judge a coffee shop

Decades and decades ago, or something like that, my wife and I went to Rome and fell under the spell of coffee shops. Il caffe, as they maybe say in Italy. I'm not sure, mainly because they're speaking in Italian. Nevertheless they have brilliant coffee places in Rome, but they are of a different style than those in America, most of which weren't very good at the time. Fortunately, shortly after our dawning interest we suddenly began to see the first iterations of excellent U.S. cafes in our own twin towns, led at first by Kopplins in St. Paul, and then followed by lesser (albeit some quite good) others. But this is still American Capitalism, and quality is ever the exception. And while coffee shops are everywhere in America, tracking down good ones can still be a challenge.

We mostly stick to our local favorites, but sometimes we wander far afield, and sometimes we stumble upon some coffee shop and wander in, asking "Should we get a drink here?"

Superficially it can be hard to tell. Fortunately, if you know the signifiers to look for, it can be pretty easy to tell. I am here to help.

I mean, if you want help. If you don't want help you should read this anyway because, um, in for a penny, in for a pound. Or, on the other hand: where else are you going to go on the Internet? The Internet, feh. To quote John Lennon:

The dream is over
What can I say?
The dream is over

But don't worry. I'll still weave dreams for you. I am totally the walrus now. And in today's dream I have two complimentary lists for you:

Three things that will tell you a coffee shop is not great

1. Packaged snack food of any kind available for purchase.

Yes, a place with interesting, organic chips is likely to be better than a place selling Doritos, but neither, deep down, can be trusted to make a proper cappuccino.

2. Morani or Torani Syrups

Just, no. This relates to item one, and you can employ the following corollary "The more things made in house the better the drinks will be."

3. A self-help bar with things to doctor your drink with.

This seems like it would be a positive. It isn't. You're paying five dollars for a 40 cent drink! You shouldn't have to assemble it yourself.

And three things that tell you a coffee shop might indeed be great

1. Their milk is organic and comes from out of a glass jug.

This is an easy way to see if they're serious about ingredients.

2. Pretty croissants for sale (or other serious looking pastry)

If you can't see their milk this is your next best indicator. You can have one if you want.

3. Focused baristas

When you watch them make a drink they should look like they're crafting something.

That should be enough to get you going. Now get out there and have yourself an absurdly expensive beverage. They make some nice eight dollar ones at Kopplins, where any syrups are their own, and the wee selection of pastry gleams and crackles.

Thursday, February 7, 2019


I try not to talk about sports, primarily soccer, too much in this space, but I occasionally do. When I do I like to, as with all subject matter on clerkmanifesto, apply it like a crowbar to the secret wisdoms of the universe.

So let me briefly explain what I like about sports:

They are what America fantasizes it is.

The fact that your dad was a merciless real estate mogul who made a fortune, or your mom a successful Federal Judge, is not going to give you any meaningful advantage in becoming the starting striker for the Real Betis soccer team. And likewise not terribly relevant skills of diplomacy, saying the politically right thing, or treating people up a hierarchical chain from you in a way that subtly flatters them, will not have a deep influence on whether you might be the defensive midfielder on America's Women's World Cup team.

Of course, this is true in fields other than sports. Like, look at this blog.

This is not true of fields other than sports. There are no fields other than sports wherein the skill in the thing itself is commensurate with success in that field.

But we like to pretend it is. We like to pretend CEOs and University Presidents are the best available business leaders and educational and research administrators. We enjoy the idea that a top Doctor is a great healer, or that the best library workers will be promoted and cherished. We relish the fantasy that doggedly writing a thoughtful, faithful, witty blog will attract hundreds of thousands of fervent readers (well, maybe that's just me). We like the conceit that the President of the United States is a person who combines realism, vision, communication, and humanity to extraordinary effect, like Messi combines shooting, dribbling, passing, and understanding of the game to the greatest success. But out of all the 100's of millions of people to choose from, Obama possessed only two of those ideal qualities. The current snack food in the White House actually manages to possess zero.

That's an impressive number.

It took cultural mathematical geniuses to invent zero. The amount of credit they got for it was probably...


But it might have reflected well on the chief or king or whatever of the time.

If someone could somehow make library customer service into a measurably objective competition, with the best in the field being fought over and lavishly rewarded, I suppose I'd follow it with an interest equal to the one with which I follow the Barcelona Football Club. "Look how nice they were to that patron, all while they headed off that problem there. And then how they even knew the answer to that question! My god, I hope we renew their contract for 50 million dollars! I've never seen anyone better."

And that's just it. In competitions the rules are articulated. Winning is the satisfaction and goal. Scoring goals is difficult and quantifiable. In the rest of our jobs nothing is so clear. If making the most money as quickly as possible is the goal we become morally depraved. If it's to have the most power we become empty. If it's to make our workplace better, happier, and more effective we lose all measurement of what we do and our work is hijacked by people operating under more mercenary and sociopathic rules.

Outside of sports I find that mainly people do their jobs on the side, kind of on their own recognizance. What they're really doing in the forefront is expressing their position. They are maintaining, or, sometimes, expanding their status. Our eyes are ever on small things. We are cynical, embittered. All of the wrong things about us are judged. 

All of the wrong things about us are judged...

Unless we step onto a field of sport, where the rules are clear and absolute. Or, if by some luck or skill, we step into the radiance of love.